Elections on the horizon.
US government officials have had a meeting with members of the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to several recent reports in the media.
The website Bikyamasr reports that high ranking US diplomats -- including the First Secretary of the US embassy in Cairo and a member of the National Security Council -- attended a meeting at the Freedom and Justice party headquarters in Cairo with the Secretary General of the FJP. The FJP is the political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of President Hosni Mubarak's removal from power.
The Brotherhood is preparing for parliamentary elections to be held in late November and is widely expected to emerge as the largest bloc, although far short of a majority. And in a major development, the liberal Wafd party has parted company with the Islamists, supposedly because they want to run more candidates than they could if they allied themselves with the Brotherhood. However, it is possible the Wafd party realized they would be the junior partner in any alliance with the MB and decided they would be better off without them.
Why would high ranking officials of the US government sit down with an organization that created a terrorist group like Hamas? Was it simply a matter of real politik -- a realization that since the MB was going to come out on top in the coming elections anyway that it was better to have contact with them than give them the diplomatic cold shoulder?
That could be one reason. But there may be another, simpler reason; the administration of President Barack Obama doesn't believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to anyone and that their disavowal of terrorism can be trusted.
Recall the testimony of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last February when, appearing before House Intelligence Committee he startled onlookers and Members of Congress by saying the the MB was "largely secular" and that they had pursued "social ends," and "a betterment of the political order in Egypt."
"In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally," he told the committee.
Flash forward to a mass rally in Tahrir Square held at the end of July where tens of thousands of Salafists demonstrated, including masses of Brotherhood members, chanting Islamist slogans calling for the implementation of Sharia law, and warning that the constitution that will be written must be based on Koranic law.
Even in the clarification Clapper's media office released a few hours after those shocking statements, he made it clear that he didn't think there was much to worry about when it came to the Muslim Brotherhood. "To clarify Director Clapper’s point - in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation," the statement said. Mubarak's regime literally arrested MB members on sight. How that translates into working "through a political system" Clapper didn't elaborate on.
What could have possessed the DNI -- a man with the most sophisticated intelligence analyses at his fingertips -- to make such a ridiculous statement? It is apparent that the administration has made a decision to treat the Brotherhood as a political party rather than an Islamist organization hell bent on the destruction of Israel, and the establishment of a Sharia-compliant Egyptian government.
In an interview with Egypt’s Al-Hayat TV last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it plain exactly how the administration will be dealing with the Islamists in Egypt:
We will be willing to and open to working with a government that has representatives who are committed to non-violence, who are committed to human rights, who are committed to the democracy that I think was hoped for in Tahrir Square.
Since the MB and their Islamist allies will almost certainly come out on top in the elections next month, it seems clear that Clinton believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is "committed to non-violence," and "democracy."
This also appeared to be the attitude of our diplomats who met with the FJP. They included Prem G. Kumar, the National Security Council Director for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs and Amy Destefano, the First Secretary of the US Embassy in Cairo. Their host was Dr. Mohamed Saad Katatni, the Secretary General of the FJP. Katatni apparently lectured our diplomats on the new state of affairs in Egypt, reportedly telling them,“If America wants to build balanced relations with the countries of the region after the Arab Spring, it should re-read the new scenario in accordance to the will of the peoples of the region."
No doubt this sentiment went over well with the diplomats as Kumar told Katatni that the US "is seeking dialogue with all the political forces in Egypt, especially after the changes post-revolution.”
Barry Rubin suggests that rather than dialoguing with the Brotherhood, the US should be working to forge alliances between the more secular, liberal, and moderate parties. The CIA ran such a covert program after World War II saving Italy and France from a Communist takeover. There's no reason to believe it wouldn't work again, given the stakes involved and the united belief of non-Islamic parties that religion should play a minor or non-existent role in the new Egyptian government and constitution.
Despite their exalted position as the best organized political entity, the Freedom and Justice Party has its own problems that could very well shrink its numbers in the election. The defection of the Wafd party from their alliance is a significant blow considering that while they may not be as large as FJP, their name recognition is equally as strong. The party also suffered significant defections among the youth, and some of its more radical members who didn't like the MB dealing with the military government.
But the JFP has correctly analyzed the situation and has made common cause with the generals running Egypt. A recent agreement between the military and many of the larger parties would put off the presidential election until 2013 while allowing a committee of both the upper and lower houses of parliament to draft a new constitution. The agreement guarantees a power sharing arrangement where the Brotherhood would be in virtual charge of the legislative branch while the military maintained executive authority.
However, this alliance is not likely to lead to stability or peace. The young demonstrators who acted as shock troops for the revolution have been totally frozen out of the political process and deal making. This has angered them, as they have lost faith in the transition process. Might they take to the streets once again to force change more to their liking? Egypt's military fears them more than they do the Muslim Brotherhood because the youth represent real, substantive change that would unseat the generals from their privileged role in society.
The Brotherhood can threaten street action but their concerns are more likely to cross the generals on issues such as peace with Israel and American aid. Neither the generals or the FJP care as much about issues like economic liberalization, the break up of state monopolies, or equal access to media for all.
Because of that, they may pay for their dismissal of the young revolutionaries with more destabilizing protests that will hinder any economic recovery and further plunge Egypt into disarray and despair.
On Thursday, Egyptians marked the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. They don't call it "Yom Kippur," but rather the "6th of October." As Wendell Steavenson in the New Yorker points out, the date marks "the only time in four Arab-Israeli wars that the Egyptians had the better of the Israelis." Despite warnings from several quarters, the Israelis were woefully unprepared for the attack on the eve of one of their most sacred holidays, and the gains made by the Egyptians -- taking back the Sinai captured during the 1967 War -- allowed the Egyptian leaders and people to fool themselves into believing they actually won the war. (The Israelis pushed the Egyptians back in less than a week and advanced within about 50 miles of Cairo before being stopped by Nixon.)
The Israelis returned the Sinai to Egypt as a result of the Camp David accords in exchange for a "cold peace" that is fraying at the edges as a result of the revolution. Muslim Brotherhood leaders have made it clear that they hate the peace treaty and several of their leaders have said that they want to scrap it.
And yet, several high ranking members of the Obama administration sat down with these anti-Semites and made it clear that they would deal with them as if they were a legitimate political party on the cusp of taking power. Sweet words about "democracy" and "human rights" and accepting the fait accompli of an organization taking power that birthed al-Qaeda and Hamas to this day reveal an administration either fooling itself or glutted with wishful thinking.