Monday, February 28, 2011

What Is Sweden's Biggest Problem? Just Guess!

By Barry Rubin

The New York Times recently ran an article on Sweden, much of it on the city of Malmo. That place has a high proportion of Muslim residents some of whom have become so militant that the city’s Jews have reportedly fled due to harassment. The Swedish mayor said that he didn’t want racist movements like Zionism in the city.

There have been many reports of increased lawlessness as areas of Swedish cities where immigrants from the Middle East live have become no-go areas for the authorities. Sweden is also facing an epidemic of rapes, anti-Jewish incidents (including a mob attack on an Israel-Sweden tennis game and an assault by a Muslim on a Jewish youth soccer team), violent leftist attacks on conservatives, and official crackdowns on freedom of speech.

So the Times interviewed a couple of people including the mayor of Malmo—no mention of his anti-Jewish activities—and an anti-Israel professor from the Social Democratic party.

And what did the article conclude? Why, of course, that the big problem in Sweden is Islamophobia!

Egypt's Revolution and Israeli Interests: A Strategic Assessment

Please be subscriber 18,923 (daily reader 33,323). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

What does the Egyptian revolution mean for Israel? A great deal and, unfortunately, none of it is particularly good, though Israel will have to adjust to these new circumstances.

People who don’t know very much predict some great chance for peace in a rosy democratic dawn.  I've even heard moderate Egyptians claim that the only reason people there hated Israel was because it was associated in their minds with the Mubarak regime and now there's no reason for friction. But this kind of argument has nothing to do with reality.

The implications for Israel should be divided into two categories: those that relate to Egypt directly and those arising from the event’s fall-out on the regional situation.

Even if one assumes a best-case outcome in Egypt—a stable, moderate Egyptian democracy—it presents Israel with some difficult problems. The simplest way to put it is that certainty has been replaced by doubt.

The single most salient issues is whether or not the next government will maintain the peace treaty with Israel. Not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the two best-known oppositionists (Ayman Nour and Muhammad ElBaradei) have spoken of the need to revise the treaty, hold a referendum, or dispense with it altogether. Even if they never do it, Israel must assume that this kind of thing is in the realm of the possible.

What is most likely is that the treaty will not be formally torn up—due to Egyptian fear of losing U.S. aid or of Israeli retaliation—but rather emptied of content. If Egypt violates the treaty without admitting it, Israel may have trouble convincing the United States to act. And how does Israel respond without triggering a confrontation?

There are many steps the Egyptian government could take: letting weapons flow and terrorists walk across the Egypt-Gaza border; not trying too hard to stop terrorists from crossing the Egypt-Israel border; not providing proper protection to Israeli citizens travelling in Egypt or to the Israeli embassy; recalling Egyptian diplomats from Israel; stepping up hostile and official anti-Israel incitement; and so on.

The most critical, which would be a treaty violation, would be to disregard the limits on Egyptian troops being stationed in Sinai. The Egyptian army might want to avoid this as being too provocative. But if it did send additional forces, Israel would have to turn to the United States and ask President Barack Obama to keep the U.S. pledge to enforce the treaty by putting massive pressure on Egypt. And you can complete this paragraph on your own.

There is another and most critical point being swept under the rug. Even if the Egyptian government doesn't actually violate the treaty, Israel cannot depend 100 percent on peace with Egypt surviving a number of potential crises. If Hamas or Hizballah attacks and Israel retaliates will Egypt remain passive? What about the possibility of a future Israel-Syria confrontation?

Arguing that Egypt will not provoke or go to war with Israel is based on a Western assessment of Egyptian interests. The regime might well decide to interpret those interests in its own way. Thinking this could not happen is the same kind of reasoning that implied Egypt would not provoke a war with Israel in 1967, Iraq wouldn't invade Iran in 1979, Saddam Hussein wouldn't pretend he was working on nuclear weapons and thus incur sanctions and then an American attack, and Yasir Arafat would accept a compromise solution to get a Palestinian state.

In other words, it is a line of reasoning that has repeatedly failed in the past, yet those asserting it have learned nothing from decades of harsh experience.

This altered Egyptian factor will now have to be taken into account in every major Israeli decision. Beginning after the 1967 war the strategy of the PLO and other groups was to attack Israel with terrorism to try and trigger a crisis that would bring the Arab states into a full-scale war. In the late 1970s, with Egypt-Israel peace, this ceased to be a threat. It has now become one again, with Hamas, Hizballah, and even al-Qaida in place of the PLO.

Another problem is border security. Again, we are told that it is in the interest of Egypt, especially the army, to avoid having terrorists cross the border into Israel. Yet similar logic has often proven mistaken in  previous, similar cases. With junior officers and soldiers sympathizing with Islamism or radical nationalism, the orders of the generals back in Cairo might not be followed with a high degree of discipline. There are already reports of al-Qaida planning to infiltrate into the Sinai to launch cross-border attacks.

And so Israel is going to have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild its defenses along the long border with Egypt. Thousands of Israelis will have to spend more time in reserve duty to man the reinforced Southern Command. No matter how many international or Egyptian assurances are given, Israel cannot depend on what might turn out to be wishful thinking.

Then there’s the Gaza problem. Helping Hamas is considered a national and religious duty by most Egyptians. Maintaining sanctions on Gaza and a tightly controlled border is unpopular. Can any elected government resist the popularity to be obtained by opening the border or want to sustain the unpopularity in maintaining the status quo? Here's an Israeli intelligence evaluation of Iranian efforts to expand arms shipments to Hamas.

Such a step would further embolden Hamas and entrench it in power. More arms and more sophisticated weapons are going to flow across the border. With the Muslim Brotherhood legalized, it will be free to stir up massive support for its Palestinian branch, Hamas. Indeed, these things are already happening. Consequently, the possibility of a renewed Hamas-Israel war in several years is increased.

And, as noted above, suppose Israel needs to retaliate against a Hamas attack as happened in Operation Cast Lead? Can one assume that an Egyptian government would stand by and do nothing? Maybe; perhaps even probably; but not definitely. As we have seen in the last round, even if Hamas fires scores of rockets and launches cross-border attacks the Arab world (even the world more broadly) would not support Israel's retaliation as a reasonable act of self-defense.

A less important bilateral issue is the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline. Out of economic interest the Egyptian government wants to keep open the pipeline. But what if it comes under repeated attacks by terrorists, the first of which has already happened, and soon no longer functions? Egypt could also demand a price increase for gas, which will end up losing it Israel's business--but that would be a public relations' plus for an elected Egyptian government. Of course, Israel now has its own natural gas reserves so this is not a big problem if there is time to make the transition.

Finally, there is the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood itself. While the likelihood of the Brotherhood taking power in the near future is very low, the chance of it gaining power in the long run is now enhanced. At any rate, the Brotherhood is going to be an important force in Egypt and perhaps an influence on the government. As it spreads its message of hate, this is not likely to lead to a love-fest for Israel.

And the situation also enhances the threat to the Jordanian monarchy from the Muslim Brotherhood there as well as the threat to the Palestinian Authority from Hamas.

Yet the most likely alternative to Islamism in Egypt, radical nationalism, is also a threat. An Egypt that goes down that road could renew its alliance with Syria, for instance.

But won’t the Egyptians just concentrate on raising living standards and enjoying freedoms? Perhaps. Yet the problem is that there is no money for improving the Egyptian economy and angry frustration is more likely than prosperity. We have seen often in the Arab world how a government that cannot deliver the goods provides foreign scapegoats instead.

In light of these factors and of the possibility of anarchy and terrorism within Egypt, Israeli tourism is likely to become untenable. It certainly would not be advisable.

The situation can be summarized by saying that so far Egypt has gone from positive to neutral. The question is whether it will go over into the negative.

What about the regional situation? Is Egypt likely to be a democratic light unto other Arabic-speaking societies? The radical regimes—Iran, Syria, Hizballah and its allies in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip—are not going to politely surrender to Facebook-organized demonstrations. Their armies and security forces are willing to shoot to kill. There may be demonstrations but there won’t be revolutions.

The wave of popular upheavals is more likely to destabilize more moderate regimes that aren’t hostile to Israel than radical ones that are. In the end, though, probably no governments will fall. But they—and especially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA)—will be intimidated. They know that any compromises with Israel or friendly relations with it will not sit well with the masses and those who would agitate them into anger and action.

Another consequence, then, of the Egyptian revolution is to put the peace process, already frozen, into the very deep freeze. Those who believe that events in Egypt and anti-government demonstrations accord some great opportunity for advancing negotiations overlook this basic fact of how internal politics restrain the flexibility of leaders in the Arab world. To make matters worse, friendly Arab governments now have to worry whether America is a reliable ally that would protect them. Who knows whether Washington might declare them to be a dictatorship and support their opponents?

And there’s also a message for Israel. How can Israel be expected to take risks and make concessions when it sees the very real possibility that anyone with whom it makes a deal may be overthrown and their successors not honor their pledges?

Finally, since Iran, Syria, and other Islamist forces see the Egyptian revolution as, at minimum, the destruction of their strongest Arab opponent and, at best, a possible gain for their side. They are likely to be emboldened. After all, they have virtually taken over Lebanon without any strong U.S. response and have entrenched the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

How can I present such a gloomy analysis while the Western world is celebrating a joyous event in Egypt? Because it’s unfortunately an accurate assessment. Yet the gap between Israeli and Western perceptions is still another aspect of the problem.

Ignorant authors with far bigger audiences than mine will assure people with a wave of a hand that no problems exist and that everything will be just fine. But even in the best case analysis, the main Arab power opposing the expansion of the revolutionary Islamist forces--the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah-Lebanon government-Turkish government alliance and the Egyptian and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhoods--is gone.

Will the example of Egypt and Tunisia prove to Arab peoples that democracy is better than Islamism? Will it so shame the Iranian regime and its allies that they will leap into the dustbin of history? Well, first these would-be role models have to succeed and that's a long way from happening.

When one looks at how Egypt weighs its national interests, consider the following story that I heard first-hand: The U.S. government some years ago came up with an idea to  fund  Egypt-Israel-Jordan cooperation to keep the Red Sea clean. A U.S. official was sent to Israel and Jordan. Both agreed. He then went to Egypt. A high-ranking Egyptian official told him that Cairo would not participate in the plan. The American asked why  since Egypt would also benefit from the project. The Egyptian explained that his government couldn't do anything that helped Israel even if it also helped Egypt.

The current situation reminds me of an old joke. The passengers are seated and everything is ready on the airplane when a voice comes over the loudspeaker from the cockpit:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the world's first fully automated airplane, piloted by an infallible computer and not a mere human being. It has all of the most modern and sophisticated technical devices. Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...."

There’s no danger like one that potential victims refuse to notice. Hoping for a best-case outcome is one thing; basing one's strategic calculations on it is quite another.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Amr Moussa To Run for President

By Barry Rubin

As I have predicted, Amr Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League head, has declared his candidacy for president of Egypt. I'd bet he is the most likely to be elected, as a nationalist and "anti-Islamist" candidate.

While very possibly the best alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Muhammad ElBaradei, Moussa is a flamboyant demagogue who is sure to try to score points by bashing the United States, the West, and Israel. 

Syria, and thus also its ally Iran, would be pleased by his election; the Saudis will be horrified. Israel will do its best to deal with him, knowing he will be a rhetorical headache but hoping his actual behavior will be pragmatic. He will be no great bargain for U.S. interests either.

It will be interesting to see if President Obama positions himself as favoring ElBaradei despite his Muslim Brotherhood connections. That would make Moussa angrier toward Washington and the United States more unpopular in Egypt.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Egypt's Future Starts Coming Into Focus: There's Good News and Bad News

Please be subscriber 18,914 (daily reader 33,314). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

“All that [glitters] is not gold;
Often have you heard that told...
Gilded tombs do worms enfold….
--William Shakespeare, “Merchant of Venice”

Is this the long-awaited Arab Spring of Democracy or is it a stealth Islamist revolution? Every country is different and most governments other than Egypt and Tunisia, possibly Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, will survive. One should not assume the results will be the blessings of democracy or the sufferings of an even worse dictatorship. Facts, not assumptions, should produce conclusions.

There are, however, serious reasons to worry about Egypt. The two leading contenders for president so far are Muhammad ElBaradei and Amr Moussa. It is an interesting exercise to figure out who would be worse. ElBaradei is an inexperienced politician  dependent on Muslim Brotherhood support. Moussa is a mercurial, irresponsible radical Arab nationalist known for demagoguery.

And so while ElBaradei would probably run a government characterized by growing Islamism at home and support for Hamas, attacking Israel, and subverting Jordan abroad; Moussa would probably head a government using an economically ruinous nationalist populism at home and support for Syria, attacking Israel, and subverting Jordan and Saudi Arabia abroad.

Neither would be particularly friendly to the United States and Western interests, though keeping American aid might make them somewhat cautious. Unless a strong moderate, liberal democratic or a conservative status quo oriented candidate appears, Egypt and the world will be stuck with one of those two choices.

While it is too early to figure out what is going to happen, we are now at the point where it is possible to make an educated guess. So here it is: there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news is that the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to take Egypt over and turn it into an anti-American Islamist state eager to go to war with Israel.

The bad news is that the next government of Egypt is likely to be a radical nationalist regime that is anti-American and likely to push relations to Israel to a limit where conflict might result.

And that is what goes for an optimistic assessment in the Middle East.

We now have two polls and while both are flawed the basic theme is extremely telling. A Siraj poll for al-Aan television concludes that 49 percent think Moussa will be the next president. Another poll—focuses on urban, middle class Egyptians (so it is misleading but still gives some sense of proportion) gives Amr Musa 29 and ElBaradei 4 percent.

What all this means is that ElBaradei is totally dependent on the Muslim Brotherhood since the urban liberal middle class--supposedly his fans--don't back him. The Brotherhood would have to turn out a really massive vote among the urban poor and in the villages to win. Very few people will vote because they like ElBaradei on his own merits. It doesn’t matter whether the Western media likes him (or thinks him moderate), only Egyptians have a vote.

In other words, even if the Brotherhood could produce a vote of 30 or 35 percent for ElBaradei, he still wouldn't win if he faced a strong nationalist candidate like Moussa.

The Muslim Brotherhood is also forming its own party, for the parliamentary elections, and it has given us an important hint (not yet noticed by anyone in the Western media) by naming the party, “'hurriyya wa adala,” which means the Freedom and Justice party. This is very close to the Turkish Islamist party, the Development and Justice Party (AKP). Some might take this to mean the Brotherhood is going to be moderate. I take it as showing that the Brotherhood is going to be crafty, pushing Islamism step by step so that, among other things, the Western media and governments don’t wake up and see what’s happening.

Again, the Brotherhood isn't going to win a majority in parliament. But unlike the presidential election, the ability to elect, say, one-third of the members in a multi-party legislature will give them enormous influence in shaping the new Egypt. The U.S. government has already announced--without being asked--that it doesn't mind the Brotherhood being in government.

So consider, for instance, that the Brotherhood enters a coalition as a junior partner. It takes social welfare, labor, religious affairs, and some other "unglamorous" ministries where it can wield influence, broaden its base, hire its people, and seize control of institutions. We could have the prospect before year's end of Muslim Brotherhood ministers spending U.S. tax dollars to teach young Egyptians to hate the United States and support an Islamist state in Egypt.

Maybe they won't be part of the coalition. But in that case the Brotherhood is likely to lead the opposition. And if the government fails--economic problems, rising disorder at home, disappointment at the revolution's results--the Brotherhood can prepare itself to lead some future government. Or, alternatively, the nationalist government would try to outbid the Brotherhood by proving its own militancy, piety, and hostility to the West and Israel.

The political battle lines forming are quite different from what Westerners think. Take the yuppie, Facebook, Google hero Wael Ghonim, the symbol of the “anti-Islamist” moderate democratic reformer. He was reportedly not even allowed on the stand for Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s massive pro-Islamist rally in Cairo. Nonetheless, Ghonim tweeted:

“I loved Sheikh Qaradawi['s semon] today. Was truly inspired when he said: `Today I'm going to address both Muslims and Christians.' Respect!”

And then:

The pleasure of the presence of a sermon by Shaykh Qaradawi. Today I more than liked what he said..."I will say O Muslims O Muslims and Copts because you are all Egyptians.” (sic)

Notice what is happening here. Ghonim endorses the most moderate thing Qaradawi said—about Muslim-Christian understanding--but ignores the rest. Is he afraid of Qaradawi? Trying to flatter him? Trying to use Qaradawi for his own purposes?

I do not think Ghonim supports the Muslim Brotherhood. What's happening is worse: He knows that the Brotherhood is too powerful for him to criticize, so he must endorse the most "moderate" aspect of its message, that is, the coexistence of Muslims and Christians, hoping to steer it in a less radical direction.

It doesn’t matter. Qaradawi is the one who draws the masses with his Islamist ideas. Ghonim knows it and that’s why he doesn’t mention the fact that he was thrown off the stage. And he also doesn’t mention the chants of, “To Jerusalem we go, for us to be the Martyrs of the Millions."

Look at a picture of the massive crowd for Qaradawi and you know who’s boss.

We should remember that not only does Qaradawi endorse terrorism but he’s the kind of guy who can say that the Jews are so evil that God sent Hitler to smite them, though he adds, having it both ways, that the Holocaust is exaggerated by the Jews. Pro-Hitler revolutionary Islamists are not the best bet for building the kind of democracy Westerners seem to expect in Egypt. Here’s a detailed bibliography of past statements by Qaradawi.

As part of this reality check, we should already note that the military regime is gradually easing up on travel and trade between Egypt and the Gaza Strip (publicly) and also on trying to stop weapons’ imports by Hamas (secretly).

Meanwhile, for comic relief, the U.S. government has announced that it will give Egypt another $150 million (that’s about $1.50 for each Egyptian) to assist the country’s democratic transformation. Egypt is going to need more like $150 billion.

But, as I noted above, most Egyptians at present don't want the Brotherhood to run the country. They are looking for an alternative. The only other fully realized world view available is nationalism and the only alternative identity is Arab.

Let’s assume that Moussa is the next president of Egypt. What can we expect? He won’t abrogate the peace treaty with Israel but, to be popular, will violate to the greatest possible extent and denounce Israel regularly as a (the?) cause of Egypt's problems. Moussa (though less than the Brotherhood) will help Hamas (bad news for the Palestinian Authority) and get along with (but mistrust and keep his distance from) Iran. He covets popularity which means—especially when he can’t solve Egypt’s economic problems—he will play the demagogue and stir up hatred against the United States, the West, and Israel.

I would bet that he gets along well with the army, giving it what it wants, and also seeks good relations with Syria. In other words, this would be bad news for Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Not as bad as ElBaradei perhaps but bad enough.

Asad Abu Khalil, aka "The Angry Arab"--sometime consultant to the U.S. Defense Department by day, anti-American radical by night--defines this situation well by writing:

"We don't know how the foreign policies of new Arab democracies will shape up. But here is a simply formula: FPAD (Foreign Policy of Arab Democracies) will at least be: at least the current foreign policy of Turkey PLUS the Arab factor. That can only result in...panic of Israel and Zionists."

I must say that I have not detected any panic in those quarters. It is a revealing idea that Israel should be the one most upset at the idea of Arab peoples trading a chance for democracy, freedom, and progress to prefer decades more of fruitless strife and scapegoating. I'd think Arabs should be the ones most upset by such prospects.

Perhaps they should learn something from Germany and Japan after 1945, turning away from past ambitions and aggressions. Or the Central European countries escaped from Communism, dispensing with ideology, mobilization for perpetual strife, and state-sponsored enmities.

Instead, it's like someone not merely angry but quite mad, raving: "You think I'm going to settle down, turn away from failed battles I always lose, and raise living standards, avoid conflict, get along with the West, and expand freedom! I'll show you! I'm going to hate even more and fight even harder! Mu-ha-ha-ha!"

They don't understand that Israel's success is based on an ultimately pragmatic approach that puts first its own people's welfare rather than seeking revenge or impossible ambitions.

Yet the apparent satisfaction of the perpectually Angry Arab about how much this is supposedly going to upset Israel, indifferent to how much this will hurt Arabs, is indeed the very stuff Arab politics has been made up of for about the last sixty years.

Certainly, the Western countries aren't panicking since they aren't even aware of what's going on. After all, we are already hearing that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate and so is Moussa. Wait for when they discover he even has his own Facebook page (albeit only in Arabic)!

It makes me want to paraphrase an ancient Greek saying in this way: Those whom the gods would destroy they first make define their enemies as well-intentioned moderates.

A Note on Sandmonkey and the Problem of Frank Discussion

By Barry Rubin

"Sam Sandmonkey" has written me asking if I was accusing him of being "anti-Israel" or a Muslim Brotherhood supporter. Absolutely not on both counts. I analyzed what he wrote in the context of praising him highly for his courage and moderation. If he or anyone else got that idea from what I wrote, I'm baffled and such ideas never crossed my mind.

I have re-read my article and believe that nothing in it shows any such conclusions. Let me make clear that I have closely followed the pro-democratic liberals in different Arabic-speaking countries and Iran. My book, The Long War for Freedom, is a tribute to their efforts and an analysis of the problems they face. We are talking here of people who have faced arrests, torture, and all sorts of harassment in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their people.

My point was rather on the very real objective problems that affect moderate Egyptians who know that others who may not be so moderate could gain power in the future. Again, nothing in my article was meant as a criticism of someone for whom I have the greatest respect.

PS: He has written that he has re-read my article and understands it was not an attack on him.

Let us all be clear that if Egypt achieves a stable democratic and moderate state in which the government works hard and at a high priority to improve the lives of its people then everyone will benefit. There are concerns that this won't happen. How can one best assure that Egypt does succeed? By honestly pointing out the problems and pitfalls in order that people can try to avoid them.

There is a wider problem here in which people seem to believe that NOT discussing problems is somehow beneficial. It is argued, for example, that it is better not to talk about the radical aspects of Islam in politics lest people become bigoted against Muslims. Or that it is better not to highlight the extremism and threat of Iran lest this lead to (incredibly unlikely) an American attack on Iran. Or it is better to shut up about the realities of Palestinian politics lest this damage the chance (already seriously damaged by reality) of achieving peace.

Self-inducted blindness or self-censorship due to wishful thinking benefits no one.

Why Policy Forces the U.S. Government to Become the Muslim Brotherhood's Press Agent

By Barry Rubin

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee recently that he thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is against the Egypt-Israel peace treaty but isn't really sure and also doesn't know much about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Clapper earlier famously said that the Muslim Brotherhood is a secular and moderate group. Is Clapper that stupid? Well, he was stupid to go so far as to say that the Brotherhood is secular but the rest seems policy-oriented.

Remember that the Obama Administration earlier said (without being asked) that it would accept the Brotherhood in an Egyptian government if it met two very vague conditions--rejecting violence and supported democratic goals--which U.S. officials said had already been fulfilled. Since everyone seems to think that the Brotherhood has somehow already rejected violence (it hasn't, it just doesn't use violence within Egypt and thinks that terrorism abroad is just dandy), this shouldn't be much of a barrier.

Policy often reasons backward. Since the Obama Administration has accepted a Brotherhood role in government, it cannot say that the Brotherhood is radical Islamist, pro-terrorist, antisemitic, seeks to wipe Israel off the map, and will do everything it can to help Hamas. Because if the U.S. government does say such things the next question from a member of Congress or the media would be: then how could you possibly accept its role in Egypt's government and seek a dialogue with such a group?

So the policy must make the analysis stupid. Of course, this is a major mistake by the Obama Administration. It has painted itself into a corner in which it cannot say anything bad about the Brotherhood or try to urge (or even help) the Egyptian military to keep the Brotherhood out of power. It and the supportive media also thus need to suppress quoting what the Brotherhood says in Arabic about such things.

In short, the U.S. government has paralyzed itself from doing anything to combat or even publicize the greatest threat to democracy and stability in Egypt. Or, to put it another way, U.S policy scored an "own goal" and thinks it won the game.

Note: "own goal" is a football (soccer) term for when a team accidentally kicks the ball into its own net, thus giving a point to the other team. The closest American football equivalent would be a safety, though in this case it is a reduction of safety for everyone in America and everyone in the Middle East.

New York Times Picks Saudi Prince As a Liberal Reformer. There's Just One Problem...

With its usual deftness in choosing op-ed contributors, the New York Times has given its readers, “A Saudi Prince’s Plea for Reform by AlWaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

He is held up, thusly, to all New York Times readers as a noble democratic reformer, the kind of person we would like to overthrow dictatorships and take over countries, right?

The Times does not, of course, remind its readers that this is the very prince who offered to pay New York City a lot of money to help it rebuild after the September 11 attacks. Oh, there was one condition put on the aid by this democratic hero of a prince:  Mayor Rudy Giuliani had to condemn Israel in order to get the cash.

Now there's a guy who understands democracy, right?

PS: I thought about making a joke in which the prince offers to let the Times publish his oped only if it bashed Israel first but then I realized...(you finish the sentence). 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

J'Accuse: The New York Times Promotes Muslim Brotherhood Lies, Covering Up For Nazi Collaborators

By Barry Rubin

Recently, Tariq Ramadan, considered by the Western intelligentsia to be the very epitome of enlightened Islamism, wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he was not only allowed--among other total lies--to deny that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and his grandfather, who then led the group, were  Nazi collaborators before, during, and even after World War Two. In fact, he dares claim--because he knows the mainstream media will not expose this lie--that the Muslim Brotherhood was an anti-fascist organization!

Here is my detailed discussion of Ramadan's lies.

I wrote a short but detailed letter to the newspaper on this point at the urging of my readers but, not surprisingly, it went unpublished. Meanwhile, a student at an elite American college wrote me how this oped article was taught by his teacher as the absolute truth.

We have crossed the border into "The Twilight Zone."

Dr. Wolfgang Schwanitz, probably the world's leading authority on Germany and the Middle East, and myself are writing a book entitled Germany, The Nazis, and the Making of the Modern Middle East that will be published by Yale University Press next year.

The book will revolutionize people’s understanding of this issue. But I’d like to present you with three draft paragraphs from the book—fully documented by German documents—on the particular issue of the Muslim Brotherhood and fascism.

Here’s the first one:

“The Islamists of the Brotherhood were well-financed by the Germans, both directly and through [Amin] al-Husaini [leader of the Palestinian Arabs and a collaborator with the Germans]. Wilhelm Stellbogen, director of the German News Bureau in Cairo, an Abwehr [German Military Intelligence] man, and acting press attaché, paid sums of 1,000 Egyptian pounds to them several times during 1939 alone. To put this sum into perspective, the Brothers high-priority fund-raising effort for Palestine netted only 500 pounds for that entire year. The mufti of Jerusalem, leader of the Palestine Arabs Amin al-Husaini who was in Berlin cooperating closely with Hitler, also supplied money through his contacts in Cairo like Auni Abd al-Hadi, Muhammad Ali Tahir, and Sabri Abd ad-Din.”

Al-Husaini, with the Brotherhood’s cooperation, planned to kill all Jews in the Middle East once the German army conquered the area. In preparation, he sent three of his men to an SS course to learn about mass extermination.

Here’s the second section:

“On the evening of July 7, 1942, [when it seemed as if the German army would soon conquer Cairo] the Voice of the Free Arabs [the station controlled by Amin al-Husaini, mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian Arabs] broadcast to Egypt the following message:

"Kill the Jews who took your valuables….According to Islam it is a duty to defend your lives. This can only be fulfilled by the liquidation of the Jews. This is your best chance to get rid of this dirty race. Kill the Jews! Set their possessions on fire! Demolish their shops! Liquidate those evil helpers of British imperialism! Your only hope for rescue is to annihilate the Jews before they do this to you."

The Muslim Brotherhood, along with the neo-fascist Young Egypt party, had been given German weapons which an Arab commando team in the German army had hidden in western Egypt. It was ready to spring into action to murder Egyptian Jews and deliver the country to the Nazis. But it was prevented from carrying out this plan by the British, who seized control of Egypt in a virtual military coup at this moment. In addition, on the very day this broadcast was made, the advance of General Erwin Rommel’s forces was stopped.

But the Nazi weapons were used eventually. After the war, the Brotherhood dug them up and used them to arm their forces sent to wipe out Israel in the 1948 war. One of those in the unit--as was demonstrated in my biography of Arafat--co-authored with Judith Colp Rubin--Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, was Arafat himself

The New York Times and other newspapers that printed Ramadan’s false account should publish the truth about the Muslim Brotherhood’s collaboration with the Nazis as well as its virulent and frequently expressed antisemitism that continues to this day.

The fact that Middle East experts, historians, and others have not deluged the Times with criticism for this travesty is astonishing.

Persecution of Christians Begins in "Democratic" Egypt

By Barry Rubin

Once the revolution began, Egypt’s Christians knew precisely what to expect. It isn’t that the regime of Husni Mubarak protected them so well from Muslim wrath. On the contrary, it was reluctant to prosecute Muslims who attacked and killed or wounded Christians as well as damaged or destroyed churches. The government often arrested Christians who defended themselves. But at least the regime’s power restrained anarchy, caught terrorists, and kept the Islamists at bay.

Now all that has changed. Despite the widely publicized statements by Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi in favor of Muslim-Christian amity in his big Cairo rally, this has no effect on the ground. In Assiut, a Coptic priest was stabbed 22 times by a man yelling “Allahu Akhbar.” Next, the Egyptian army—the guardian of democracy as it is now styled—attacked the St. Bishoy monastery outside of Cairo and the St. Makarios monastery near Alexandria, using tanks and bullets. One monk was wounded and several were beaten.

Why? This is a point of tremendous significance. According to Islamic law, in countries governed by Islam new churches or synagogues cannot be built and existing ones cannot be repaired. The goal, of course, is to foster the decline and extinction of all religions other than Islam. Even in Turkey, the government has frequently tried to enforce this in practice.

During the revolutionary disturbances the monasteries had built walls to protect themselves and Christians who flocked there for refuge. Now the army is tearing down those walls so they will not be available in future to defend Christians.

Of course, the existence of these walls threaten no one. There is no conceivable reason--except for Islamic law--that they not be left in place. Indeed, with all the other problems Egypt has for the army to make this demolition a top priority tells a lot about the nature of the new Egypt.

This is only the beginning. What should be obvious is the following: a democratically elected Egyptian government—even a non-Islamist one--will not protect Christians and arrest, prosecute, and imprison Muslims who attack them. Why? Because it won’t be popular with the voters. The government would be branded as anti-Muslim and in the pay of the Pope, the West, and the Zionists. That’s how Middle East politics work, as I pointed out with this historical example.

Many of these attacks will be perpetuated by radical Islamist groups whose members have come to consider the Muslim Brotherhood too cautious. This is precisely what happened in the 1990s, when scores of Christians were murdered with virtually no prosecution of those responsible.

And presumably whether or not Egypt becomes a state based on Sharia law--something that could even happen under a non- or even anti-Islamist government--the new regime will enforce restrictive provisions of Islamic law on the large (but probably shrinking through desperate emigration) Christian minority.

Persecution against Christians will grow, whether or not it is reported in the Western media.

New Word Order: Iranian Admiral Coins New Political Sin: Iranophobia

By Barry Rubin

During an interview on Iranian television, the Iranian admiral who led a two-ship flotilla up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, and to Syria--asserting Iran's expanding power--made the following statement:

"Of course, what has caused the raising of tensions is normally the action of the enemy. It uses any action by the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to promote its agenda of Iranophobia."

Of course, according to him, everyone loves Iran except the evil "Zionist regime." But since, he adds, everyone else in the world hates the "Zionist regime" that's not much of a problem.

Will "Iranophobia" become the latest no-no on the Politically Correct (rather than Factually Correct) list? Stay tuned.

Oh, and by the way, now that the Iranian navy can use the Suez Canal, it is beginning joint training with its ally, the Syrian navy. Hasn't the U.S. government spent two years engaging Syria to wean it away from Iran? Guess that didn't work out, did it? Any sign that policy is being reconsidered? No, not at all.

Oh, and speaking of Syria and the idea that we are all anti-dictatorship now, Vogue magazine just did a glowing piece about how wonderful the anti-American, terrorist-supporting dictatorship there is. I guess an anti-American, terrorism-supporting dictatorship is much better than a pro-American dictatorship that maintains regional peace and fights terrorism.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Change in the Middle East? Much More Never Changes At All

By Barry Rubin

In 1938 the Saudi diplomat Hafiz Wahbah secretly met with Zionist leader (and future Israeli prime minister) David Ben-Gurion.

Wahbah explained to Ben-Gurion why it was impossible to negotiate a lasting peace. A few years before, Wahbah recounted, when he had called for peace in Jerusalem, Wahbah had mentioned that Jerusalem was a holy city for Jews and Christians as well as for Muslims.

In response, he continued, he received a stack of cables and insults asking how much the Jews had paid him to say that.

Compromise could not take place, Wahbah concluded, in an atmosphere where everyone was afraid he might be accused of treason.

Recently, in the "Palestine Papers" controversy, the idea that Palestinian Authority negotiators might have made in passing on one occasion--though they then abandoned the idea--a couple of real proposed concessions--led to the officials involved going into hiding, denying, and resigning.

Now with political upheavals and even revolutions in the Arab world--which many Arabs attribute to the rejection of governments too friendly with the West and too willing to make peace with Israel--the idea that compromise would be equated with treason is as likely today as it was in 1938.

Oh, and by the way, in 1938, Egypt had a parliamentary system with free elections. Four years later, though, the British surrounded the king's palace with tanks and forced him to appoint another government. The existing one, you see, favored a Nazi victory and with General Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Corps crossing into Egypt the British could no longer afford that luxury.

Of course, in principle the Middle East can change for the better. It just doesn't seem to do so too much in practice. And that's a problem for people who live in Western societies where change for the better is assumed as universal and inevitable.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The GLORIA Center's site is and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Egypt's Revolution: The More They Reassure Us, The More We Worry

Please be subscriber 18,887 (daily reader 33,287). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

I think I was the first person to warn that the Egyptian revolution wasn't all roses but also had a dangerous amount of thorns. And the more Western governments and media reassure us, the more we worry. Why? Because it shows they have no idea what they are facing and no idea of what they are doing.

Well, there is a welcome exception, Michael Slackman, writing from the Gulf, has obviously been talking to some Arabs there trying to make the Americans see reality. His article is entitled, "Arab Unrest Propels Iran as Saudi Influence Declines" and here's the lead:

"The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia, regional experts said....Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence, the analysts said."

Unfortunately, this is not affecting coverage further west, where the "loco weed" (see note) of Israel makes observers insane.

Here are some of the things we've seen so far:

--An Iranian-made Grad missile fired at the Israeli city of Beersheva. These have been rare in the past because they are hard to smuggle into the Gaza Strip. But now, through bribery, indifference, and ideological agreement, smuggling weapons to Hamas has become far easier. Might this not lead to a new Israel-Hamas or even Israel-Hamas-Egypt war?

--Two Iranian warships were allowed by Egypt to transit the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Could this perhaps produce a stronger Iran and a weaker U.S. position?

--In 2009, Qaradawi called on the Arabs to get nuclear weapons in order to overturn the peace which Israel wants.

--Egypt has begun opening the border with the Gaza Strip.

--The Muslim Brotherhood has begun a campaign to replace Egypt's top clergy with its own men, a move that would give them control of mosques, religious education, and lots of money and media access.

--The Brotherhood also has a long record of helping Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas, showing growing confidence, is more likely to attack Israel believing--wrongly or rightly--that Egypt will "guard its back."

Now the American media at least is covering Israel's concerns (a story that could have been written three weeks ago)  but only to show that they are wrong! Take a recent article in the New York Times (albeit three weeks after this point became obvious):

"Israelis worry that Arab democracy movements will ultimately be dominated by extremists, as happened in Iran after the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah. They worry about the chaotic transition between revolt and democratic stability, if it ever comes. They see Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, even if it remains a minority of Egyptian opinion, as pressing for more solidarity with the Palestinians and Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. And they fear that Israel’s regional partners in checking Iran are under threat or falling."

Shouldn't these factors also bother U.S. policy?

For example, another story reports:

"Senior Hamas military commander Ayman Nofal, who escaped from confinement in Egypt during a mass prison break, returned to Gaza where he told an interviewer: `We’re preparing for the next battle.' Two Israeli officials familiar with intelligence reports said this week that Hamas, emboldened by Mubarak’s resignation and its own successful crackdown on popular discontent at home, had stepped up the smuggling of militants and weapons through Egypt to be stockpiled in Gaza for use against Israel. `It’s not just terrorists coming in. It’s dangerous equipment–Grad-type missiles, anti-aircraft missiles,' a senior Israeli official said."

This was said before the Grad missile hit Beersheva. Shouldn't this also be a U.S. and European concern?

Going back to the New York Times piece, it answers Israeli concerns with a "reassuring" response:

"Arab analysts counter that new Arab realities and democracies should be welcomed by Israel, because the new Arab generation shares many of the same values as Israel and the West. [That remains to be seen, doesn't it? BR] They argue that there is no support among Egypt’s leaders for the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty, though it is unpopular with the public, and that the Egyptian Army will not disrupt foreign policy."

No support? The two best-known reformist leaders--Ayman Nour and Muhammad ElBaradei--have called for revising the treaty. So has the Muslim Brotherhood, which can mobilize millions of people. Even the extremely moderate Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey takes for granted that the treaty will be unilaterally altered.

"`There is no regime that is going to be against or hostile toward Israel in the near term,'” said Mohamed Darif, a political scientist at Morocco’s King Hassan II University. `There has been an evolution in the Arab world, among political elites and in civil society. Israel is a fact.'”

Notice the phrase "near term," meaning over the coming months. The medium term and long term are, however, also matters of strategic interest, aren't they? Also the statement misses the most obvious point: it is precisely the existing elites that are being challenged or overthrown. And, of course, this does not apply to those now ruling Syria, Lebanon, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

I'll go here with the assessment of the radical Arab (who is also a consultant to the U.S. Defense Department) As'ad Abu Khalil ridiculing the idea that the "overthrow of the regime would not change Egyptian foreign policy...."

More than a century ago, the great German Socialist leader August Bebel said that antisemitism was the "socialism of fools. Might it also turn out--as happened in Germany later--to be the "democracy of fools" in our own era?

After all, there has been no Arab leader more consistently anti-Israel than Libya's Muammar Qadhafi. Yet in posters and effigies, opposition demonstrators are putting a Star of David on him to suggest that he's an Israeli agent! That gives some sense that huge numbers of people in the Arab world--perhaps even a higher percentage among those rebelling against existing regimes--view Israel as a demonic evil behind everything they don't like at home and in the region.

[I will resist the opportunity to compare this view to that held by various European politicians, journalists, and academics.]

 U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told students in Qatar that some Middle Eastern rulers were using the Israel-Palestine conflict as a distraction from their own oppressive regimes. That's true. The problem is that it is such a good distraction precisely because doing so is wildly popular with the Arab masses, who may well want more militancy than those governments are willing to provide.

Qadhafi: The Israeli/Jewish Devil (Reuters)

The New York Times article continues:

"But new governments are more likely to increase their support for the Palestinian cause, with Egypt already reopening the crossing with Hamas-run Gaza. That new attitude could pressure Israel to do more to find a settlement, some analysts argue. Most others believe that Israel will instead resist, arguing that it cannot make concessions because it is now encircled by more hostile neighbors."

You think?  In other words, if Syria, Iran, Egypt, Hizballah-ruled Lebanon, and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip give more help to Hamas; if the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are intimidated and take a harder line to survive, then does that tell us Israel should make more concessions? That's sort of like saying that when next-door Germany was taken over by a new government in the 1930s it was the ideal moment for France to give up the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

Remember that the concessions made by Israel in the 1990s to the Palestinian Authority did not advance a comprehensive peace and that Egypt seems close to changing its own peace treaty to Israel. Why should Israel expect that another agreement would not be overturned by some new revolution, change of mind, or cynical long-term plan?

And what is the thrust of this article? Why that instead of supporting Israel against the heightened strategic danger, the Western response should be to pressure Israel for more concessions (supposedly for its own good). In other words, all of the events of the last year--correction: the last two decades--have taught these people absolutely nothing. That's why Israel will ignore their suicidal advice.

Often such articles say something so stupid that you know the author has no idea what he's talking about. In this case, the writer goes extolls how wonderful it is that Turkey is becoming more influential and then adds:

"The Turkish model would be a good outcome for Israel, many Israelis agree. But as they also noted, relations with Turkey have been deeply strained by its new closeness to Muslim neighbors like Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas."

Yes, many Israelis agree that "the Turkish model" would be "a good outcome for Israel," but only in the context that a revolutionary Islamist or radical nationalist Egypt would be much worse!

If you want to be well-informed about the Middle East, I'm sorry to say that reading Western newspapers is largely counterproductive.

Let me repeat what I've been saying for years:

The main threat in the Middle East is revolutionary Islamism as embodied by the Iran-Syria-Hamas (controls Gaza Strip)-Hizballah (controls Lebanon)-Iraqi insurgent-Turkish government alliance and also by the Egyptian and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

The required strategy is to put together a counter-alliance of the United States, Europe, relatively moderate Arab regimes, and Israel. This also means supporting the oppositions in Lebanon, Turkey, and Iran.

The Egyptian revolution removes the most powerful Arab country countering the Islamists (and opposing Iran). It will produce a new government that will not be allied to the United States but will work more closely with its enemies. Eventually, a revolutionary Islamist government may emerge.

Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gets it, noting, "It is quite probable that hard times are ahead [in the Middle East]including the arrival at power of fanatics. This will mean fires for decades and the spread of extremism."

Yet almost everyone in the Western establishment is telling us that this is a good thing. Go figure.

Note: Loco weed, the name given a plant in the old American west that when eaten by horses made them go crazy. See also, drinking the (poisoned) kool-aid.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Media and Middle East: Wow, These People Are Repressive Dictators! Who Knew?

By Barry Rubin

For those of us who have been trying to talk about Middle East dictators for a long time--I wrote my book on the subject, Modern Dictators, more than a quarter-century ago--it is amusing to see how people are lining up to be "horrified" by those evil repressive regimes.

Some of these people have built their whole careers on saying that the only problem in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict, then adding this was Israel's fault. Indeed, many of them extolled these dictators, especially the anti-American ones.

Reminds me also of how Yasir Arafat was regularly whitewashed in the media--with little about his extremism, lies, corruption, and direct involvement in terrorism--until he was dead and thus bashing him had no political implications about the Palestinian movement's nature, behavior, and goals. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein also enjoyed a pretty good press until overthrown by the United States.

If there was time,  I could dig up dozens of examples of mass media howlers (send me any you find) but since a friend of mine has done a case study on Libya in this regard, I'll publish it here with some small additions.

The New York Times has an article entitled "Libya’s Butcher" that tells us:

"Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya vowed on Tuesday that he would “fight on to the last drop of my blood” and die a “martyr.” We have no doubt that what he really meant is that he will butcher and martyr his own people in his desperation to hold on to power. He must be condemned and punished by the international community."

"Colonel Qaddafi, who took power in a 1969 coup, has a long, ruthless and erratic history. Among his many crimes: He was responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2003, after years of international sanctions, he announced that he had given up terrorism and his pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

But how has the Times dealt with this horrible monster in the past?  Well, Qadhafi was given space for his views.

Or here where Saif Qaddafi, son of the dictator, was allowed to justify the release of a murderer.

Or here with a puff piece celebrating the eco-friendliness of Saif

The Times had no problem promoting this guy in different ways over the years. It's current portrayal of him as a butcher should have been confirmed by its shunning of him in the past.

Or in other words, it is now saying: I'm shocked! Shocked! To see that dictatorship is going on!

But now the Times is busy working to make the next generation of would-be dictators and extremists look good, notably regarding the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its charismatic spiritual guide, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Not one word about the Brotherhood's collaboration with the Nazis, support for terrorism, and hysterical antisemitism has appeared in most of the American mass media.

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy: Listen to Those Who Know Best

Please be subscriber 18,881 (daily reader 33,281). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

The Western media continues to portray the Muslim Brotherhood--without citing any actual evidence and ignoring everything said or written by its leaders in Arabic--as moderate and full of diverse factions.

But what does it mean when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most important Islamist cleric in the world and of the Muslim Brotherhood, says, "The revolution is not over yet." He means that, like the Russian revolution of 1917, Egypt should have a two-stage revolution: first, the overthrow of the dictatorship and the development of democracy; second, the revolution to implant an Islamist state. Between one and two million Egyptians listened to that speech and cheered.

There are three additional points that should be made about this fallacy.

First, why has the Brotherhood been legally banned in Egypt for so many years? The argument used was that no party should be able to "monopolize" religion. In other words, since Islam is such a potent symbol and powerful source of identity no political party should be able to label itself as "Muslim," as if other parties were non- or anti-Muslim.

One might view this as an excuse by the regime but it is still a valid point for the future. Going into an election as the "Muslim" party is a tremendous advantage. The Brotherhood is a disciplined organization with a clear leadership hierarchy. Now that it has real prospects for victory why will people who stuck with it in the hard days of illegality rebel against the leadership?

If anyone in Egypt is going to have quarreling factions it is all the non-Brotherhood forces that have no organization, no discipline, no clear leadership, and no program.

Second, while the Brotherhood is organizing its own party, the first party reportedly registered officially has been the al-Wasat party. This is very significant. Al-Wasat was the party that the relative moderates in the Brotherhood repeatedly tried to organize about a decade ago. The government did not want to register it as legal and the Brotherhood's leadership also opposed it.

What this latest development means is that the real relative moderates in the Brotherhood have despaired that the group will be more moderate and have left it. These are the people who should know best about the Brotherhood's nature. In other words, a moderate Islamic party is going to be organized outside the Brotherhood, not inside of it.

And what is the evaluation of  the former leader of the Brotherhood's moderate wing, Abou Elela Mady (not my preferred transliteration)? Here is a quotation from the interview he gave to Reuters:

"The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression."

So in other words the former leading moderate in the Brotherhood is frightened, predicting  that the Brotherhood might win a parliamentary election. I don't think they are likely to win but they are going to do very well.

I don't think the Brotherhood is going to take power in the next couple of years and make Egypt an Islamist state. I think that either the Brotherhood will be a very powerful and increasingly strong opposition party or will participate in a government coalition and leverage that into growing power.

Having an anti-Brotherhood president would mitigate their power. But if the first government falters--not being able to deliver better living standards--the Brotherhood will be waiting for its opportunity in several years. The liberal blogger Sandmonkey predicts they may well be ruling Egypt in six years.

Third, Middle East Transparent has been the most important international Internet publication for Arab liberals. Now this publication, in an Arabic-language article, is really worried about events in Egypt, particularly the composition of the constitution-writing committee the military has appointed.

According to the article, Tariq al-Bishri is considered not only to be pro-Muslim Brotherhood but also hostile to Christians by Middle East Transparent. Another member is the openly Muslim Brotherhood Subhi Salih. The author wonders whether this indicates that the army is more Islamist-leaning than we think.

So if  the Brotherhood's own moderates believe it is still radical and if Arab liberals believe it is still radical might they know more than the Western media and (allegedly) intelligent intelligence agencies?

By the way, here's a collection of Muslim Brotherhood statements you might find to be useful.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

American Pundits and Policymakers Don’t Understand that Democracy Isn’t Necessarily More Moderate

By Barry Rubin

What must be written in order to promote one’s career in Washington or popularity in the Western world, and what must be written in order to understand the Middle East are two very different things.

Consider the following theme, as expressed by a president, a former secretary of state, and a leading pundit. I could have added dozens of other examples including newspaper editorials. All agree on a certain principle that makes sense in established Western democracies (and thus appeals to their audiences) but is totally at variance with history and reality in the Middle East.

The theme is this: The people are inevitably moderate. They are mainly concerned with material well-being (fixing pot-holes in the street, collecting garbage, providing good schools and jobs) that thus makes it impossible to have a radical or ideologically driven government. Thus, if radicals do take power in a country they will inevitably become more moderate.

In fact, every example shows the exact opposite. A brief list of forces that weren’t moderated by taking power include: the Free Officers in Egypt, 1952; the Ba’th party in Syria, 1963 and in Iraq, 1968; Iran’s Islamist revolution of 1979; the Taliban in Afghanistan; Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority starting in 1994; and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That is a very partial list and we can add to that Hizballah’s new regime in Lebanon, the Sudan, and others.

But this isn’t what we’re told by people who cannot account for all of those real-world examples. Former Secretary of State C. Rice:

“The Brotherhood…should be forced to defend their vision for Egypt. Do they seek the imposition of sharia law? Do they intend a future of suicide bombings and violent resistance to the existence of Israel? Will they use Iran as a political model? Al-Qaeda? Where will Egypt find jobs for its people? Do they expect to improve the lives of Egyptians cut off from the international community through policies designed to destabilize the Middle East?”

Rice’s implication is that of course Islamists cannot make attractive arguments. But what if no government of Egypt can raise living standards because the country lacks resources and money? Then sharia law at home and suicide bombings abroad sound attractive. If Rice knew anything about Egypt—and this statement reveals she doesn’t—she would know that Iran and al-Qaeda are not factors on the agenda for the Brotherhood. Oh, and where will jobs come from? The government will create them, which means a statist Egypt is pretty inevitable.

By the way, if one has any doubts about Rice knowing anything about Egypt, she writes: “Egypt's institutions are stronger and its secularism deeper” than Iran before its revolution. Actually, I think the truth is the exact opposite. Egypt is an extremely religious country.

Next, as the Washington Post put it: President Obama warned Middle Eastern nations, including longtime U.S. allies, that they need to "get out ahead" of surging aspirations for democracy.

One of the most basic factors in Middle East politics is that precisely when people think the government is weak and giving way, they escalate demands. This is what happened in Iran in 1978 and in Egypt now. If governments don’t show a strong face, they can disintegrate. All the leaders who hate America understand this principle. If the army had been willing to put down demonstrations from the start, there would have been no revolution in Egypt. And that’s why there will be no revolution in Iran or Syria.

The idea that the popular is always the more moderate fails to comprehend a great deal of world history.

This is why nonsense like this by Thomas Friedman is dangerously false:

"The Arab tyrants, precisely because they were illegitimate, were the ones who fed their people hatred of Israel as a diversion. If Israel could finalize a deal with the Palestinians, it will find that a more democratic Arab world is a more stable partner. Not because everyone will suddenly love Israel (they won’t). But because the voices that would continue calling for conflict would have legitimate competition, and democratically elected leaders will have to be much more responsive to their people’s priorities, which are for more schools not wars."

Now nobody has written more than I have--in books like The Long War for Freedom, The Tragedy of the Middle East--about how this system worked. Yet the "voices that would continue calling for conflict" would include Hamas and a large portion of Fatah. Indeed--and read this carefully--the most obvious successor to Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority is Muhammad Ghaneim, who opposes any deal with Israel and would tear up any such agreement made by Abbas.

Logic has nothing to do with how people write about these issues. Hasn't the "Palestine Papers" affair once again shown how angry is the reaction to even the slightest compromise with Israel? The head of the negotiations' unit, who dared suggest some concessions, had to resign. Isn’t it democratic Egypt, not autocratic Egypt, threatening to abrogate the treaty with Israel? Of course. Would there be any possibility of a democratic Jordan, after overthrowing the monarchy, keeping their treaty with Israel? Of course not.

Let us assume for the moment that the peace treaty Israel and Lebanon came close to signing in 1982 was completed. Would the Hizballah-dominated regime, that came to power in free elections, abrogate that treaty? Of course it would.

If democracy is established in Arabic-speaking states there will be Islamist, leftist, and radical nationalist parties that will use demagoguery to get votes. In no Arabic-speaking country is there a strong liberal party, and that includes places where there is a relatively open political system like Kuwait, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Television Interview on Egypt

By Barry Rubin

Although a little dated, you might find this television interview I did on the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath to be of interest.

Egypt: The Most Moderate Democracy Advocate Speaks And Says A Lot

Please be subscriber 18,871 (daily reader 33,271). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

There is no more courageous, sincere, and moderate person in Egypt than the blogger who is known as Sandmonkey. He faced serious harassment under the Mubarak regime and is a big supporter of the democracy movement in his country.

It is interesting to examine some of his recent tweets. I have fixed spelling, put them into paragraphs, and added capitalization but been careful not to alter any of the meaning. My responses are in bold:

"Ok, just so we can calm the nerves of our Israeli twitchy neighbors, let me assure you: we aren't going go to war with you. The Egyptian army and economy are both not equipped for such battles and we have too many targets for your air force to hit. However, we do have numerical superiority and no fear of death and we can draw this out forever, so don't think you're all that [?] either."

I think his point about war being unlikely, during the next several years, is probably correct, though an Egyptian government can miscalculate--as happened in 1967--and set off a conflict. His last sentence, though, is a reminder that even he might not be entirely sure of peace being durable.

"But there are 3 things you can expect [to] change, and they shouldn't allow them to alarm you. They have to happen. OK?

"1) The Rafah gate [to the Gaza Strip] will be opened for goods and travel. It will relieve the situation, improve the economy & give us leverage over Hamas. And it will also end the talk about "Gaza under siege" and you know that this is good for you even. Don't fight it.

Israel won't fight Egypt's opening to Gaza because there is nothing Israel can do about it. Personally, I don't think Egypt is going to have any leverage over Hamas. The Mubarak government tried for many years and couldn't get either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority to do anything. If there's a Brotherhood-dominated government, Egypt will become an ally of Hamas; if there's a radical nationalist government it will be friendly to Hamas and the Brotherhood will smuggle in huge amounts of arms. The idea that this is good for Israel is quite questionable.

"2) You will start paying market price for our gas. Maybe even a markup. You've been getting it cheap & we could use the money."

 In principle, that's ok but two points: First, it sets a bad precedent for the new Egyptian government not feeling itself bound by previous agreements. Second, I think that what will happen (and of course I could be wrong) is that whoever is in power the pipeline will be sabotaged and attacked until it is put out of commission. As we've seen before with Arab governments, money isn't everything especially when it clashes with demagoguery.

"3) The army will return to Sinai. After 34 years of peace, we have proven good intentions. It has to come back at least for border protection."

This is a hugely problemmatic point. For this means that the agreements worked out in the treaty, that limits the deployment of Egyptian troops in Sinai, will be void.  Since the whole peace agreement has been thrown into question the fact that there has been peace for 34 years is irrelevant. And is Israel going to think that any large-scale deployment of Egyptian troops near its border will be for stopping smuggling alone?

"That is all. Also the Islamists won't take power. Maximum 20% in Parliament & presidential contender. They don't want to inherit this mess. Because whoever takes over will have to clean up 30 years of Mubarak rule. That won't happen overnight. Our next president is screwed."

A lot of this makes sense, though I think they will do better than 20 percent. But this also raises a problem. If the next government is going to be non-Islamist and it is going to fail doesn't this suggest that Egypt's people will become discontented with the radical nationalists and turn to the Islamists? Or that the next president, in the face of that failure, will use the usual tactics in response: blame the United States and Israel, stir up hatred against them and take dramatic, dangerous steps to appease popular anger? 

"Expect them to compete in 6 years at least for power. But Islamists won't be a problem for now. So, chill. Ok? Chill!"

So we have six years before the Islamists might come to power? Perhaps we need to start making plans for this timetable. And that schedule would roughly coincide with Iran getting nuclear weapons. I don't feel too calm with that assessment.

As I said, Sandmonkey is a good guy. He is among the most moderate one-hundreth of one percent of the Egypt people. (I didn't pick that statistic at random.) That's another factor that doesn't make me feel so reassured.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Israeli Member of Parliament--Guess Who?--Bashes Obama

Please be subscriber 18,854 (daily reader 33,254). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

This is a fascinating and revealing scoop by the Muqata blog. A member of Israel's parliament attacked President Barack Obama in the nastiest terms:

"After the exposure of lies from the US, we must say frankly to Obama: You no longer scare us and you can go to hell.

“Obama cannot be trusted. We knew his promises were lies. The time has come to spit in the face of the Americans.

"...He is no longer wanted in the Middle East and that he can go to hell."

Wow! And who was this Israeli? Ibrahim Sarsur of the Ra'am-Ta'al party, head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

But this is the president who gave the Cairo speech; tasked NASA to make Muslims feel good; pressured Israel into easing sanctions on the Gaza Strip and sent hundreds of millions dollars of aid there; engaged Syria and Iran; didn't interfere with the Hizballah-Syria-Iran takeover of Lebanon; and helped push out the Mubarak regime in Egypt, disregarding allegedly alarmist talk about Islamism taking over there.

So what made Sarsur sore? Islamists hate America. No change in American policy, flattery, bashing Israel, or aid is going to change that fact. But the appearance of weakness brings out more aggressiveness on the other side. Suppose Sarsur was scared of the United States, would he speak like that?

And when people like Sarsur aren't scared of America, its friends should be scared for America.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Monday, February 21, 2011

My Adventures with NPR: A Case Study of Media as Political Warfare Operation

Please be subscriber 18,785 (daily reader 33,185). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

Here’s an experience that I think is very revealing. I was asked by an NPR program to be interviewed on the situation in Egypt. I agreed and they telephoned me for a 12-minute taped interview. Just before we began they told me that I would be on with Professor Fawaz Gerges. I knew that would be trouble. They also thanked him for his repeated appearances. Apparently, he was often on their shows. I have not been asked before, and perhaps will never be again.

They began asking Gerges about Egypt and he gave a reasonable answer. To my surprise, they did not ask me about Egypt at all. They did ask about Israeli reaction to the revolution there. I gave a brief analytical answer about Israeli concern regarding three points: the future of the peace treaty, the question of arms smuggling to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the wider regional situation, emphasizing on the last point the fall of the most important Arab state in the anti-Islamist camp.

To my surprise, they then asked Gerges to “respond” to me. Notice that they had not asked me to respond to his statement on Egypt. Gerges then launched into a long speech about how Israel and the United States always depended on dictators, that Israeli policy was the big problem, that Israel had to want a two-state solution (as if it had never backed one for years), that Israel had to stop oppressing the Palestinians, and ending with a call for a freeze on settlement construction. In other words, not exactly on the actual topic.

I objected on the grounds that he was invited to respond to my statement but that I was not invited to respond to his initial statement. Moreover, he had just made a political speech that went way off the topic and could have been made at any time over ten or twenty years. I had responded to the issues rather than making a propaganda polemic. And I was not allowed to make a response to his specific statements since the program would then move on to another question entirely. I then said that if that is what they were going to do I could not participate in this interview. And I hung up.

NPR called me back and the show’s executive producer apologized personally and said that she agreed with me (which I took as politeness rather than sincere). I explained in detail that I had interesting things to say about Egypt for their listeners. I also mentioned—which appeared to shock and perhaps make her angry—that this is the kind of thing that made people complain about NPR. She audibly gasped and made an angry noise. Nevertheless, she asked several times if they could do a one-on-one interview with me on Egypt. I agreed. She said they would call me back in 45 minutes to one hour.

As of now I have received neither a telephone call nor an email. I don’t think I ever will. They have my phone number; they have my email. I am of the traditional school that if someone says they are going to call you they do so.

What kind of journalistic operation (not to mention one funded by tax dollars) apologizes, tells someone that he was "completely right," says its going to interview you in one hour, and then never calls? Answer: A political movement pretending to be a journalistic operation.

I wanted to discuss the next steps in Egypt in some detail. I had no interest in scoring political points. I assume they aired the interview with Gerges, either with or without my answer about Israeli reactions, presumably followed by his polemic. Perhaps that is wrong. I also assumed that they will have him on many times more and me not at all.

Oh, by the way—and I’m not making this up—I was invited a few days later to be on another NPR show. They said I would be on a panel discussing Egypt. And who would be be on the air with? Fawaz Gerges, I kid you not. I said, No, thank you. That is not a joke. That is precisely what happened.

People like me do want to be interviewed. We have spent years accumulating knowledge that we want to impart, especially when a generally obscure issue we’ve worked on for a decades becomes the world’s main story. But what's the point when they only want to use you as window dressing to claim they are balanced when in fact they aren't?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Remember Lebanon: The Counter-Example to Egypt's Revolution?

Please be subscriber 18,898 (daily reader 33,298). Put email address in upper right-hand box:

We need your contribution. Tax-deductible donation by PayPal or credit card: click Donate button: Checks: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Fl., NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

It is completely understandable that Arabs, having waited decades for the democratic moment, are rejoicing at events in Egypt and elsewhere. One wishes them well and hopes that this all works out in a new Middle East of democracy, peace, progress, and rising living standards.

Yet everybody--and I repeat everybody--has acted as if this is the first time a massive uprising of people have demanded freedom and democracy in the Arabic-speaking world. In fact, just a little over five years ago the same thing happened in Lebanon. In the Beirut Spring, as it was called, a far higher proportion of the total population--arguably 50 times more--than in Egypt rallied to demand the end of Syrian control and the return of democracy Lebanese-style.

There are two important lessons here that should well be heeded.

First, an equally huge crowd demonstrated on behalf of Hizballah and continued Syrian control. That is, it is possible to generate mass support on behalf of anti-democratic movements and for Islamism. This phenomenon of the "reactionary masses" is well known in modern European history but has been forgotten in the West today. Indeed, in Egypt many of those demonstrating for "freedom" define freedom as having a Sharia-dominated society at home and a radical foreign policy, including support for terrorism.

Second, the Lebanese experiment failed, and it failed due to the results of free elections (along with a bit of strategic violence). Nobody--and I repeat nobody--has pointed out that at this very same moment as Egypt was celebrating, Lebanon was succumbing to the rule of Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. It decayed into the present situation despite the fact that Lebanon has the strongest record of democracy of any Arabic-speaking country.

Events in Lebanon mark another advance for the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah bloc with support from the Turkish government. This, too, is being ignored in the celebrations that history in the Middle East can only go in one direction.

Might the comparison be worth considering?

At least the New York Times has finally noticed that Hizballah and its allies are taking over Lebanon's government. That's progress of a sort. Note that Hizballah isn't going to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic and suppress the Christians and Sunni Muslims. What it wants is control over Lebanon's foreign and military policy. Now it has achieved that goal and Lebanon--as the great minds of the West don't even notice--is now a satellite of Iran and Syria.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

Egypt: Qaradawi, World's Leading Islamist Tries to Take Charge of the Revolution

By Barry Rubin

Let history show that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported on the return of the world's single most important Islamic cleric to Cairo to begin what he hopes to be the transformation of Egypt into a revolutionary anti-American state.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi spoke to a giant cheering crowd in Tahrir Square. He praised the army--to ward off it's repression and encourage it to support a thoroughgoing transformation of the country. He preached caution and patience, working with the army.

And he also lavished praise on the pro-Islamist chairman of the committee to write the new Constitution, which may not be a good sign at all.

There is one easily missed word in his speech that is the most significant. That word is "hypocrites." In the Islamist lexicon, hypocrites means Muslims who do not practice "true" Islam according to the radicals. To take Egypt out of the hands of hypocrites is to put it onto the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood--or at least similarly minded people--which, contrary to the best and the brightest policymakers, intelligence analysts, experts, and journalists is not a moderate organization.

History may show that while President Jimmy Carter may have "lost" Iran, one of his successors may have helped give away Egypt. Is that alarmist? I hope so. Watch and see.

As so often happens, Israel will be left to pay the bill. Qaradawi said he looked forward to a similar ceremony in Jerusalem, and he did not mean after a two-state negotiated solution. One of Qaradawi's main points is--sorry, I must say it to show my credibility--precisely as I predicted from the first days of the revolution, the total opening of the Egypt-Gaza border. This would mean an Egypt-Hamas alliance and a huge flow of arms into Gaza.

The army will not let this happen for now. But what might happen after elections?

Turkish Government Repression Steadily Escalates

By Barry Rubin

Repression in Turkey steadily increases and is ignored by the international community. The latest event is the jailing of a famous columnist for Hurriyet, Soner Yalcin, and three journalists for a website publication called Odatv.

The crackdown came the day after Odatv reported that it had videos showing the state’s case in the Ergenekon conspiracy, the made-up case used to imprison military officers and dissidents--to be false. Odatv had reported:

"These videos will change hundreds have been arrested and held without bail, including intellectuals critical of the regime and scores of people who are obviously innocent. The trial has been going on for almost two and a half years without any convictions."

The next day, the station was closed down.

Finally, the U.S. government got up the nerve to criticize mildly the ongoing repression of journalists in this case. The ruling Islamist AKP government responded sternly: "Ambassadors cannot interfere with our domestic matters, they cannot design our domestic policies.”

So criticism and demand for reform is something supposed to happen in Egypt or Bahrain. The problem with unfriendly regimes is that they ignore the United States and bark back in an intimidating fashion, after which the U.S. government generally gives up. Friendly governments, in contrast, are pressured to make concessions. There's something wrong going on with this kind of  policy.