Rethink ties with the Brotherhood!

Faced with the highly unlikely prospect that engagement with the Brotherhood would reap political benefits, the US should reconsider Chabot’s proposal.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders 311 (R) (photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders 311 (R)
(photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Thursday that the US would have contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of America’s “dialogue” with the parties competing in Egypt’s September elections.
“We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interest of the US to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency,” Clinton said during an official trip to Hungary.
Could the Obama administration’s decision to “engage” with the Muslim Brotherhood be a product of realpolitik? After all, the organization will soon become a major player in Egyptian politics. Though senior members of the organization originally promised not to run candidates for more than a third of the seats in the parliament, in order to quell concerns of an Islamist takeover in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, members of Muslim Brotherhood’s new political party, “Freedom and Justice,” have since announced they would vie for as many as half of parliamentary seats, saying they increased the number of nominees to make sure they would win one-third of the seats.
And despite assurances that it would not run a candidate for president, in April Dr. Abdel Moneim Abu al- Fotouh, a veteran Muslim Brotherhood member, announced his intention to be elected Egypt’s next leader.
Under the circumstances, it is only natural that the US would be interested in fostering ties with an up-andcoming force in Egyptian politics. Additionally, the US’s official position is that unlike its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization.
As White House official Danielle Borrin, who is a liaison with the Jewish community, pointed out in an email to The Jerusalem Post, “There is no legal bar for such meetings [between the US and the Brotherhood].”
But while there may be no legal obstacles to direct relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration would do well to reconsider its position. Presidential candidate Fotouh, who was portrayed in The Wall Street Journal in May as a man “widely considered the leader of a more moderate group within the movement’s leadership,” has made quite extreme statements in recent months.
Commenting on Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of American Navy SEALs, Fotouh had the following to say in an interview on Egypt’s Al-Mehwar TV in May, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): “Gang-like political assassinations are worse when carried out by a state... This behavior is wrong when done by bin Laden against the Americans – if he really did it [9/11], because after all, I haven’t investigated the matter – and it is wrong when done by America against bin Laden... Since America was able to kill him, it obviously could have captured him and placed him on trial. All this makes us doubt whether there is [such] a thing as al-Qaida or bin Laden to begin with.”
CONSIDERING FOTOUH’S refusal, nearly a decade after the fact, to admit that bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11 or that there is even such a thing as al-Qaida, is there truly common ground for dialogue between the US and the Muslim Brotherhood?
The benefits the Obama administration would derive from ties with the Brotherhood are dubious, while the dangers are many. By recognizing the Brotherhood and fostering diplomatic ties with it, the Obama administration would not only forfeit its chance to influence in some small way internal Egyptian politics, it would actually encourage a radical organization to maintain its radical course.
Why, after all, should the Brotherhood desist from its anti-American, anti-Western positions if it has nothing to lose by keeping them?
Annual US aid to Egypt amounts to over $1 billion. Several members of Congress, such as Ohio Republican Steve Chabot, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, have recommended – including in an interview with the Post this spring – conditioning any aid to Egypt on the Brotherhood’s exclusion from the government.
Faced with the highly unlikely prospect that engagement with the Brotherhood would reap political benefits, the US should reconsider Chabot’s proposal.