On July 4, clashes again broke out between protesters and security forces in Cairo after a court released on bail seven police officers accused of killing 17 protesters in Suez during the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. After an initial outburst of violence at the Cairo courthouse, protesters blocked the highway linking the Egyptian capital to the city of Suez. (Bikyamasr, July 5) As popular patience is growing short with Egypt’s interim military rulers, comes word that the White House has sought contacts for dialogue with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Reuters on June 30 quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful, and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency.
This verbiage should be understood as Orwellian propaganda. By parties “committed to non-violence,” Clinton means parties that will acquiesce in the violent repression of those who continue to protest in the post-Mubarak order. More from the Secretary:
Now in any of those contacts, prior or future, we will continue to emphasize the importance of and support for democratic principles and especially a commitment to non-violence, respect for minority rights, and the full inclusion of women in any democracy.
By “democratic principles,” Clinton means accepting limits on democracy. By the “full inclusion of women in any democracy,” she means paying lip service to the inclusion of women while conniving with the forces that oppose the inclusion of women. The slightly panicked second reference to “a commitment to non-violence” is another admonition to the Egyptian people to accept authoritarian rule.
Not coincidentally, Clinton’s overture comes just as the Muslim Brotherhood has defected from the protest movement. The divisive issue is the protesters’ demand for a delay in elections to give time for opposition parties to organize. The Brotherhood, as the best-organized opposition force, stands to gain from early elections, and this fact has drawn it into an informal bloc with the ruling military council.
It also comes as the LA Times reports (July 6) that the Brotherhood has purged five of its youth leaders, “signaling that Egypt’s most potent political force is unwilling to tolerate dissent within its ranks as it heads toward parliamentary elections in September.” Starting to get the picture?
Yet where is the stateside protest to Clinton’s embrace of the Brotherhood coming from? The right, of course. FrontPageMag is predictably aghast. Their Robert Spencer, co-author with the vile Pamela Geller of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America, decries Clinton making contact with a group “dedicated in its own words to ‘eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within, and sabotaging its miserable house.'”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also gets in on the act. “If the State Department thinks its going to convert the Muslim Brotherhood and dissuade them from their anti-Semitic beliefs, it is the height of folly,” said the Center’s founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, in comments to the Jerusalem Post.
We have already noted how the right is divided on the Egyptian and Arab revolutions—between neocons who have deluded themselves into thinking the Egyptians are following their “regime change” playbook, and more hardcore Islamophobes who can see only a fundamentalist threat in Arab masses rising to shake off their oppressors. The American left is also divided. There is the paranoid sector that actually buys the neocon hubris, and sees the entire Arab Spring as a neocon conspiracy. They tend to see the Islamists as only a tool of US imperialism, oblivious to everything that has happened since the Mujahedeen war of the 1980s in Afghanistan—and the fact that the neocons hate the Islamists. Then there is the naive sector that refuses to see the Islamists as anything but benign, on the logic that if the neocons hate them they must be OK—for instance, cheering on the prospects of peace talks or power-sharing with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
They are all missing the point. The US is not now embracing the Muslim Brotherhood to bring down the Egyptian regime, as the paranoid leftists would have it. Nor is the US embracing the Muslim Brotherhood in spite of its dangerous radicalism, as the Islamophobe righties would have it. Nor is embracing the Muslim Brotherhood a good sign of the administration’s tolerance, as the naive lefties would have it. The US is embracing the Muslim Brotherhood because it is a fundamentally conservative force in the context of contemporary revolutionary Egypt, and could serve as a proxy force to put the breaks on potentially uncontrollable revolutionary currents.
Ironically, the embrace of the Brotherhood, and the admonitions to use “non-violence,” are—like NATO’s decidedly not non-violent bombardment of Libya—part of imperialism’s imperative to control the political trajectory of the Arab Spring.
There are just a few voices on the American left that support the Arab Spring, while having no illusions about the reactionary Islamist forces at play in the region. (See, e.g. “Arab Revolutions at the Crossroads” by Kevin Anderson, US Marxist-Humanists.) There are vital, legitimate reasons to oppose Washington’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is demoralizing to see the right beat us to the critique, and thereby frame the debate in a way inimical to Arab freedom and international solidarity.