The Muslim Brotherhood bogeyman

Nicholas Kristof writes:

Maybe my judgment is skewed because pro-Mubarak thugs tried to hunt down journalists, leading some of us to be stabbed, beaten and arrested — and forcing me to abandon hotel rooms and sneak with heart racing around mobs carrying clubs with nails embedded in them. The place I felt safest was Tahrir Square — “free Egypt,” in the protesters’ lexicon — where I could pull out a camera and notebook and ask anybody any question.

I constantly asked women and Coptic Christians whether a democratic Egypt might end up a more oppressive country. They invariably said no — and looked so reproachfully at me for doubting democracy that I sometimes retreated in embarrassment.

“If there is a democracy, we will not allow our rights to be taken away from us,” Sherine, a university professor, told me (I’m not using full names to protect the protesters). Like many, she said that Americans were too obsessed with the possibility of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in elections.

“We do not worry about the Muslim Brotherhood,” Sherine said. “They might win 25 percent of the votes, but if they do not perform then they will not get votes the next time.”

Sherine has a point. Partly because of Western anxieties, fundamentalist Muslims have rarely run anything — so instead they lead the way in denouncing the corruption, incompetence and brutality of pro-Western autocrats like Mr. Mubarak. The upshot is that they win respect from many ordinary citizens, but my hunch is that they would lose support if they actually tried to administer anything.

For example, in 1990s Yemen, an Islamic party named Islah became part of a coalition government after doing well in elections. As a result, Islah was put in charge of the Education Ministry. Secular Yemenis and outsiders were aghast that fundamentalists might brainwash children, but the Islamists mostly proved that they were incompetent at governing. In the next election, their support tumbled.

It’s true that one of the most common protester slogans described Mr. Mubarak as a stooge of America, and many Egyptians chafe at what they see as a supine foreign policy. I saw one caricature of Mr. Mubarak with a Star of David on his forehead and, separately, a sign declaring: “Tell him in Hebrew, and then he might get the message!” Yet most people sounded pragmatic, favoring continued peace with Israel while also more outspoken support for Palestinians, especially those suffering in Gaza.

I asked an old friend here in Cairo, a woman with Western tastes that include an occasional glass of whiskey, whether the Muslim Brotherhood might be bad for peace. She thought for a moment and said: “Yes, possibly. But, from my point of view, in America the Republican Party is bad for peace as well.”

Little does she seem to know: the Democratic Party is no better.

Let the Islamists share in governance — then they’ll lose their popularity.

It’s easy to see why this argument appeals to many an American liberal. Strangely, an equally persuasive argument — let them govern, they might govern well — has yet to gain any traction, at least in the US.

But look at Turkey. Are we supposed to believe that the success of the AKP has come in spite of them being Islamists, or, is it possible that lack of corruption presents such a stark contrast with politics-as-usual that the success of the Islamists has more to do with their integrity than anything else.

If the contest is not between Sharia and democracy, but between integrity and corruption, shouldn’t we be rooting for integrity, irrespective of the banner it might carry?

Hannah Allam reports:

[T]he Brotherhood said earlier this week that it would recognize all of Egypt’s international treaties, a thinly veiled reference to the country’s longtime peace agreement with Israel.

To many observers, the reference signaled a willingness by the Brotherhood to negotiate with Western powers. Still, the Brotherhood eventually would like to put Egypt’s pact with Israel on the ballot in a national referendum, which would all but assure its rejection.

Israeli leaders have long professed the desire for peaceful relations with all their neighbors — as though the Egyptian people and the Jordanian people counted for nothing, Mubarak and King Abdullah being the sole peace contractors.

The fictitious peace that may soon be in jeopardy has merely been secured by American bribery, without the consent of the American taxpayer. Shouldn’t we be demanding a real peace and shouldn’t Israelis want such a peace — one that does not hinge on the “stability” of dictatorial rule?

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6 thoughts on “The Muslim Brotherhood bogeyman

  1. Vince J.

    I would be more afraid of the ‘extremeist’ ‘terrorists’ ‘facist’ North American government who supported Mubarak for 30 years.

  2. rosemerry

    when a party wins an election, they should at least be given a chance to rule eg Hamas in Palestine. if the Muslim Brotherhood have support and then perform, who can complain? (besides Israel and the US).

  3. Christopher Hoare

    If Egypt winds up with another dictatorship and the gallant protesters are hunted down and punished, the blame will rightfully fall on the western governments who created and succored Mubarak and his regime — and now have been shown incapable of controlling the Frankenstein they have produced. Lesson number one from this attempt to rid Egypt of this evil is that the people need more information, more leaks, more revelations, to show up the lies of their political and economic masters.

    Pax Americana is revealed to be as corrupt and evil as was the British Raj, the Quai d’Orsay, and the Thousand Year Reich — birds of a feather that treated their subjects as tools to be manipulated. The world does not need more of Washington’s peacemaking — it needs less of its meddling.

  4. Norman

    We shall see where this leads. The American public needs to keep a keen eye on what is taking place in the M.E., not from the perspective that the Arabs are bogeymen, but that their own Government creates the bogeyman. This is done, as in all countries that subvert the will of the people for the benefit of the few. The M.E. is not the only place where this is going on, just where they have had enough of the suffering at the hands of their leaders. This has been allowed to fester for far too long, hopefully, the killing will be small, not to return to something just as cruel or worse. The hand writing is front & center, to continue to turn a blind eye will only bring downfall.

  5. Shilpa

    “The fictitious peace that may soon be in jeopardy has merely been secured by American bribery, without the consent of the American taxpayer. Shouldn’t we be demanding a real peace and shouldn’t Israelis want such a peace — one that does not hinge on the “stability” of dictatorial rule?”

    Sadly, this is a bold and extreme view in mainstream American political thought. I was struck by the eloquence of its wording- those statements that remind me that as cognizant as I am of the hypocrisies of American democracy and its foreign policy, I don’t think it’ll ever stop being jarring how much I alone am paying for it.

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