Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:
1) The Obama administration's failure
Jackson Diehl asks Is the Obama administration to blame for the Arab spring failures?
Taken together, these disparate comments actually add up to a coherent critique. Obama’s biggest failing in the Arab Spring is not that he chose the wrong side; it is that he has waffled back and forth. He has been consistently indecisive, irresolute and reluctant to act. As a result he has alienated both regimes and revolutionaries, and squandered U.S. leverage.There is an element of consistency to the Obama administration's approach that Diehl doesn't explore.
Before pushing Mubarak out, Obama embraced him; now his aides are criticizing — but so far tolerating — the military’s attempts to hang on to power. Obama insists Assad must give up power and facilitates military aid for the rebels at the same time that he endorses a U.N.-brokered settlement between the regime and opposition. He demands change in Bahrain while continuing to back the regime even when it refuses to reform.
In short, Obama has made a difference during the Arab Spring mostly by not making a difference. By failing to decisively use U.S. aid, diplomatic influence and military power to support the removal of dictators and the beginning of democratic transformation, he has helped tip the balance toward the old regimes — or chaos. No, the mess is not his fault. But he deserves a share of the blame.
Recently Barry Rubin observed:
This is in tandem with the continued Obama Administration support for the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Congress (SNC)? Despite the fig leaf of putting a Kurd as the head of the group, the Brotherhood’s control continues. Since U.S. policy is being coordinated with the SNC, despite the opposition of other Syrian rebels, one can assume that the Brotherhood will be the big winner from this arms’ supply.Similarly, Eli Lake reported (via Jennifer Rubin)
Now there are those in the West who favor the survival of Bashar al-Asad’s regime because they say that a revolution will bring something worse, that is, a radical Sunni Islamist regime. And there are also those in the West—like myself—who favor the overthrow of that regime because we believe that there is a chance for a better regime (better for Syria’s people and U.S. interests). Still others, believing no good solution is possible, think it best that the fighting continue, keeping Syria weak and reducing Iran’s strategic power.
Yet nobody should want to see U.S. help that makes the creation of a radical Sunni Islamist government, determined to wage jihad on America and on Israel, more likely. None should want to see a revolutionary and repressive Salafist state installed in Syria that would link up with other radical Sunnis (in Tunisia, limited by a coalition; in Egypt, if it beats the army challenge; in the Gaza Strip and the main opposition in Jordan) to form a bloc that would further destabilize the Middle East.
Instead, the visit this week looks like it’s turning into a political fiasco. Included in the delegation of Egyptian lawmakers was Hani Nour Eldin, who, in addition to being a newly elected member of parliament, is a member of the Gamaa Islamiya, or the Egyptian Islamic Group—a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The group was banned under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and is now a recognized Islamist political party. Its spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman—also known as the “blind sheik”—was convicted in 1995 of plotting attacks on New York City landmarks and transportation centers, and is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina federal prison.The common element is that the administration hasn't been too careful to avoid boosting Islamists. This could the consistent failure that Diehl was looking for.
Eldin, according to his Facebook page, was born in 1968 and resides in Suez, near the canal that unites the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. He was arrested in 1993 on terrorism charges after members of Gamaa Islamiya got into a shoot out with Egyptian security officials at a mosque. He has proclaimed his innocence in the shooting and says he was arrested because of his political activism against Mubarak.
In an interview, Eldin confirmed he is a member of Gamaa Islamiya. By U.S. law, that means he would be denied a visa to enter the country. Nonetheless, he says, he got a visa from the State Department. A State Department spokesman said, “We have no information suggesting that he or anyone else in the delegation is a member of the Egyptian Islamic Group.”
In The West's embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood Dore Gold notes that supporting Islamists isn't just an American problem.
Nevertheless, according to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. officials said on Monday that they were "deeply concerned by an Egyptian military decree giving the generals sweeping powers to pass laws and decide whether to go to war." This was a stunning statement, considering that the Muslim Brotherhood might still emerge as the winner. Right now, given the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ties to its Palestinian branch, Hamas, leaving Egypt's war-making powers with the Egyptian military is far safer for the world than transferring them to a Muslim Brotherhood government.
The British even went a step further than the Americans. The spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, Rosemary Davis, was interviewed this week by the Palestinian Maan news agency and reportedly declared that Britain was more concerned with the Egyptian military than with the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a self-defeating approach. For if the West continues down this course and uncritically embraces the Muslim Brotherhood, then it will be extremely unlikely that it will temper its confrontational political program in the future and become a more moderate movement as many in the West presently hope.
2) More about Morsi
David Kirkpatrick profiles Mohammed Morsi in Named Egypt’s Winner, Islamist Makes History:
Even after the two-month presidential campaign, Mr. Morsi remains an unfamiliar figure to most Egyptians. He was living and working in Los Angeles during the tumultuous period after Islamic militants assassinated Anwar Sadat and his successor, Mr. Mubarak, cracked down on the Brotherhood. Those who knew him in America say Mr. Morsi never appeared notably political or religious. But he became a leader in the Brotherhood after his return to Egypt, and he won election in 2000 to the Mubarak-dominated Parliament, and was chosen to lead the Muslim Brotherhood’s small bloc of 18 members, playing a key role in the group’s experiments in multiparty democracy and coalition-building. But as he rose in the leadership, he gained a reputation as a conservative enforcer, known for discouraging dissent.Kirkpatrick goes on to report that some number of secular voters also welcomed Morsi's election as they viewed his victory as a victory against the military rulers. (Given the narrowness of Morsi's victory, doesn't it suggest that more than a few secularlists feel like Tarek Heggy?)
Five years ago, when the Brotherhood adopted a draft party platform that called for barring women and non-Muslims from the presidency, Mr. Morsi was a chief defender of the controversial planks, inside and outside the group. He argued that Islam required the president to be a male Muslim, in part because the head of state should promote the faith.
Since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, the Brotherhood has jettisoned those proposed restrictions from its platform, but during the campaign Mr. Morsi said that he personally still thought that only a male Muslim should hold the office.
Eric Trager wrote an in-depth profile of Morsi back in April. That profile was notable for this:
First, for the final four years of Hosni Mubarak’s reign, Morsi was the primary point-of-contact for State Security within the Muslim Brotherhood. State Security was the repressive domestic security apparatus through which the Mubarak regime monitored and infiltrated opposition groups, and Morsi negotiated with State Security to ensure the Brotherhood’s participation in various political endeavors, such as parliamentary elections. “Mohamed Morsi has very good security relations,” former deputy supreme guide Mohamed Habib told me during a March 2011 interview. “State Security likes a connection point who has the confidence of various Brothers, and [top Brotherhood leaders] pushed for him.” Indeed, Brotherhood leaders trusted Morsi because they viewed him as ideologically rigid, and therefore unlikely to concede too much to the regime during negotiations. Brotherhood leaders also believed that Morsi’s longtime political experience, including his membership in the Brotherhood’s political division since 1992 and leadership of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc from 2000 to 2005, made him an effective negotiator.This casts Morsi's candidacy and victory in a somewhat different light than the New York Times did. The Brotherhood (and Morsi) were willing to work with the Mubarak regime to the degree that it benefited their ambitions. Morsi wasn't exactly a shunned outsider who suddenly won an uplifting victory. He was willing to work with the now reviled old establishment to achieve his organization's political goals.
Interestingly, Morsi inherited this role from Khairat al-Shater, the man whom he recently replaced as the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate. Prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections, Morsi assisted al-Shater in negotiating with the regime over the number of candidates that the Brotherhood would run. When the Brotherhood won 88 of 454 total seats in parliament—including a majority of the seats that they contested—the regime was infuriated, and it is believed that its subsequent prosecution of al-Shater was, in part, a punishment for his failure to reduce sufficiently the number of Brotherhood candidacies. Following al-Shater’s conviction, Morsi became the Brotherhood’s sole liaison to State Security.
Morsi’s willingness, in the years afterwards, to negotiate with a Mubarak regime that brutally repressed the Brotherhood for decades is a testament to the organization’s political gradualism during that time. “Our program is a long-term one, not a short-term one,” Morsi told me during an August 2010 interview. “If we are rushing things, then I don’t think that this leads to a real stable position.” Indeed, under Mubarak, the organization’s primary aim was survival—which is why it frequently coordinated its activities with the regime, and typically refused to join the various protest movements that emerged during the waning years of Mubarak’s rule. “We never participate in some randomness movements before,” Morsi told me in his stilted English. The Brotherhood thus initially refused to participate in the January 2011 mass demonstrations that ultimately toppled Mubarak. And despite having been arrested as the revolt reached its climax, Morsi participated in early February negotiations with then-vice-president Omar Suleiman that, unsuccessfully, aimed to end the protests.
The source for yesterday's item about Nathan Thrall came from an e-mail sent by Challah Hu Akbar.