The sharks are circling as hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to pour into the streets of Egypt and the government of Egyptian dictator President Hosni Mubarak is tottering. The radical Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized opposition group in Egypt, is trying to insert itself into a governing coalition to take over the reins of government. This would be a very bad development for the region as well as for the United States, because it would open the door to what we have seen in Iran, Lebanon and Gaza – the use of democratic means to achieve a radical Islamist end.
On the “O’Reilly Factor” last night, Bill O’Reilly gave the Obama administration a grade of B for its handling of the crisis in Egypt so far. Surprisingly, his left-wing guest Marc Lamont Hill gave the Obama administration a D-. The reason for grading the president whom he reveres so poorly, Hill explained, is the Obama administration’s continued attachment to Egypt’s dictatorial president over the last two years. I think it is too early to pass judgment on the Obama administration in this instance, but its handling of the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover will be crucial.
The Obama administration is walking a tightrope. It is calling on the United States’ long-time ally Mubarak to listen to the people and not stand in the way of an “orderly transition,” while at the same time trying to avoid a repetition of the 1979 Iranian revolution’s devolution from a student-led protest against another dictatorial friend of the United States, the Shah of Iran, to an Islamic fundamentalist theocracy under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini.
The United States has grave security and economic interests at risk if Egypt falls into extremist hands and we do have some leverage over the American-trained Egyptian military. However, at times like these, any direct, overt U.S. intervention can only make matters worse by fueling even more anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment on the streets.
The Egyptian military, from whose ranks the last three Egyptian rulers emerged, will play a crucial role in the coming days and weeks. It appears to be serving as a buffer between the protesters who want Mubarak out immediately and Mubarak who refuses to exit quietly. A military spokesman tried to calm the waters by declaring on state television yesterday that
the armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people [and] affirms that freedom of expression through peacefully means is guaranteed to everybody
However, the elephant in the streets is the Muslim Brotherhood. While it does not appear that they initiated the current protests, they are working overtime to exploit them. The Muslim Brotherhood has been in talks with other anti-government figures to form a national unity government, including the pliable former UN nuclear watchdog chief, Mohammed ElBaradei.
I am afraid that the Obama administration may mistake the Muslim Brotherhood’s “moderate” facade that engages in economic, social, educational and political initiatives as an expression of who they really are. One indication of this was the decision to invite at least ten Muslim Brotherhood members to attend President Obama’s Cairo University address to the Muslim world in June 2009. The Egyptian daily Al-Masyroon reported that the invitations were extended at the request of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt.
If the Obama administration decides to go along with the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood under the guise of a ‘peoples’ coalition government, it will be pursuing yet another lethal engagement in its pursuit of approval in the Muslim world.