Brookings & the Brotherhood

Why is the left-wing think tank giving Egyptian Islamists a pass?

The Muslim Brotherhood is in talks, which it threatens to break off any minute now, with the very Egyptian regime that bans it as a terrorist organization. Not to worry, say Brookings Institution Middle East watchers.

“Westerners should not lose sleep over the Brotherhood’s inclusion,” writes Brookings’ Shadi Hamid. “A pragmatic organization at its core, the group will avoid getting tied up in foreign policy, knowing that this might cause the international community to withdraw support.” Bruce Riedel, a Brookings senior fellow, assures readers at The Daily Beast that the Brotherhood “renounced violence years ago” and is judged by scholars to be “the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today.” Americans, he concludes, “should not be afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Had the Brookings Institution not received word that Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers, was a member of the Brotherhood? What about Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command? And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” according to The 9/11 Commission Report?

Strange that so many odious characters came out of this one organization. Americans should be afraid of that; Egyptians, more so. In 1948, a Muslim Brother assassinated Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nokrashi; in 1954, a Muslim Brother attempted to assassinate Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser; in 1981, Muslim Brothers assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The actions of the Brotherhood should have clued the Brookings Institution in to their extremist nature. Their words should have too.

The group’s motto would seem to undermine the generous assessment of the Brookings scholars: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

Eliot Spitzer’s CNN interview last week with Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Morsy illustrated the contrast between the face the Brotherhood shows to the West and its face in the Arab world.

Three times Spitzer attempted to ask the Brotherhood spokesman if his group came to power would they recognize the state of Israel. Three times Morsy evaded, labeling it a “heavy question.” It was “ridiculous to ask about the future,” he incredibly told the former New York governor. He assured the host that the Brotherhood condemned violence, then added the caveat that the Palestinians engaged in “resistance,” not violence. Especially instructive was his response to Spitzer giving him the opportunity to condemn 9/11. “We are against whoever did this to the civilian people,” Morsy explained. “We are against this act and we said we want a fair trial, not just an accused, and if you prove by a fair trial—you Americans, if you prove by a fair trial who did this, we are against that whoever did it with you. We stand with you against whoever did this if you can prove really who did this.” [Emphasis added]

So many caveats; so few condemnations. Is 9/11 really such a whodunit? What type of renunciation of violence assigns euphemisms to violence committed by allies?  Does an inquiry about the recognition of Israel not lend itself to a simple “yes” or “no” answer? The Muslim Brotherhood’s ambiguity isn’t very ambiguous. Their avoidances and evasions tell us as much as any straight answer.

Alas, such forked-tongued spokesmen enable Westerners wanting to believe in the Brotherhood to tout them as credible reformers. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt, they reason, particularly when they stand against as loathsome a character as Hosni Mubarak? After all, Morsy sort of condemned 9/11, didn’t quite say that the Brotherhood wouldn’t recognize Israel, and claimed his group condemned violence. The Muslim Brotherhood understands the Brookings Institution better than the Brookings Institution understands the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s 80-plus-year record of assassinations, terrorism, and bigotry, Brookings Institution scholars talk as though the group remains an enigma. “The real question—what the Brotherhood is—is very much an open question,” Brookings’ Dan Byman told PolitiFact. “In Egypt, in a way, we don’t know. It’s hard to know what part of its rhetoric to believe.”

Would any Brookings scholar express such agnosticism toward Hosni Mubarak? Born in Egypt in 1928 just like the Society of Muslim Brothers, the Egyptian president has made enough history for Brookings to rightly regard him as an autocratic thug. But a jury-is-still-out tone pervades the Brookings Institution assessments of Mubarak’s Muslim Brotherhood enemies. There seems to be an unwillingness to believe that bad’s enemy is worse.

The very people who regard the mixture of religion and politics in America as incipient fascism dismiss warnings about an Islamic takeover in Egypt as proof of Western intolerance. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, their Western flaks have one line for the West and another line for the Arab World.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at