The Mubarak regime is likely in its last days and the Muslim Brotherhood has now endorsed former IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) director Mohamed ElBaradei to replace him. The wise move by the Islamists will allow them to control the next government while soothing the fear over the creation of the Islamic Republic of Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood has allowed ElBaradei to lead a new coalition called the National Association for Change that also includes secular democrats and other opposition figures like Ayman Nour and Dr. Osama al-Ghazali Harb. This coalition led by ElBaradei is going to begin forming a national unity government that will exclude President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, removing a potential secular voice in the next regime. Once this national unity government is put together, it will force the U.S. to pick either the Mubarak regime or the opposition regime as the government of Egypt.
The Brotherhood decided to embrace ElBaradei because it will make it easier to pursue an Islamist agenda. One of the group’s officials did not try to disguise this, saying “The Brotherhood realizes the sensitivities, especially in the West, towards the Islamists, and we’re not keen to be at the forefront.”
The West should not find comfort in the prospect of ElBaradei leading Egypt instead of an official Brotherhood member. He may be a secular democrat ideologically, but his foreign policy stances are not much different than the Brotherhood and he is a stalwart defender of the organization. He has just compared them to “new evangelical…groups in the U.S., like the orthodox Jews in Jerusalem” and says “[t]his is total bogus that the Muslim Brotherhood are religiously conservative. They are [in] no way extremists.”
He also asserts that the Brotherhood has “not committed any acts of violence in five decades,” drawing a deceitful distinction between the Brotherhood and its Palestinian branch, Hamas. The constitution of Hamas states it is “the arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine” and in March, a top Hamas operative reaffirmed that it remains so. There are already unconfirmed reports that armed members of Hamas are now entering Egypt to link up with the Brotherhood. ElBaradei has in the past defended “the Palestinian resistance,” saying that “the Israeli occupation only understands violence.”
An Egypt under ElBaradei would be friendly to Iran. As the director of the IAEA, El-Baradei was repeatedly accused of covering-up incriminating evidence about the Iranian nuclear program. He opposes sanctions on Iran and says “they are not like the stereotyped fanatics bent on destroying everybody around them. They are not.” It has been reported that an Iranian official gave $7 million to an associate of his in Hungary to finance a presidential campaign and the Iranians also offered other forms of assistance, including information to undermine Mubarak. This could be an attempt by Egypt’s Arab allies to undermine ElBaradei but at the very least, the Iranian state media is supporting the revolution.
The U.S. is currently in a difficult position as the stability of the Mubarak regime is in its geopolitical interests. However, preserving the West’s strategic position requires siding against democratic change and it would reinforce the Brotherhood’s narrative that the U.S. supports dictatorships as part of an imperialistic agenda.
The Muslim Brotherhood leader in Jordan is making that argument right now, stating that “We tell the Americans, enough is enough” and that “Obama must understand that the people have woken up and are ready to unseat the tyrant leaders who remained in power because of U.S. backing.” Likewise, ElBaradei blames the U.S. for Mubarak’s “life support” and says that the U.S. is “losing credibility every day.” Secretary of State Clinton’s earlier description of Mubarak’s regime as “stable” and Vice President Biden’s remark that Mubarak is not a dictator and should not resign assists the Egyptian opposition in making these arguments.
Tawfik Hamid, a former member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, says that the U.S. must now force Mubarak to resign because it is the “ONLY thing that can calm the political situation sufficiently [emphasis original]” and have him replaced by a secular military leader. Hamid argues that a new presidential advisory office that includes the opposition must be created that the U.S. can work with.
The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl argues that the U.S. should support the replacement of Mubarak with a transitional government led by ElBaradei. He feels that if elections are held off for six months to a year while a new constitution is written, this would undermine the Brotherhood.
“Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt’s growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections—not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative,” Diehl writes.
However, a poll last year shows strong support for an Islamist agenda. Over 80 percent support stoning adulterers; over three-fourths support whippings and the cutting off the hands of those that commit robbery; 84 percent favor the death penalty for apostates and 59 percent would vote for “Islamists” over “modernizers,” who would get only 27 percent of the vote. One-fifth express a favorable view of Al-Qaeda, 30 percent view Hezbollah favorably, and 49 percent view Hamas favorably.
The other problem with Diehl’s analysis is that the opposition coalition has not stated how long of a period there would be before elections. The Brotherhood would push for a minimal delay so its opponents could not organize effectively. ElBaradei has tried to ease concerns about his alliance with the Brotherhood by estimating they would only have the support of “maybe 20 percent of the Egyptian people.” This is unlikely given the results of the aforementioned poll, but even if it were true, the Brotherhood would still be in a position to have a significant say over the direction of the government.
The decision by the Brotherhood to rally behind ElBaradei is a trick to win power without bringing scrutiny that could derail its agenda. El-Baradei may not share the Brotherhood’s ideology, but his advent will empower the group and he will make Egypt an opponent of the U.S. and Israel and a friend to their enemies.
With Hezbollah taking over Lebanon and Mubarak likely on his way out in Egypt, the balance of power has shifted in favor of Iran and its Islamist allies. The pro-American Arab regimes may feel they have to cave to Iran after having lost their powerful Egyptian ally. The fall of the Mubarak regime may pave the way for a Middle East whose future is dictated from Tehran.