The Senator leads the Obama administration’s troubling outreach to Egypt’s Islamists.
As the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry might be expected to be wary of bestowing legitimacy on Islamic extremists. But no such caution was in evidence last Friday, when the Senator met with three of the top officials in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). What makes the meeting all the more notorious is that the three officials – FJP Vice-Chairman Essam El-Erian, FJP Secretary-General Mohamed Saad Katatni, and FJP chairman Mohamed Morsi – are outspoken Islamists who belie the Brotherhood’s much-cultivated image of tolerance and moderation.
Take Mohamed Morsi. He has been quoted on the Brotherhood’s website calling Israel a “Zionist usurper” that “has been created by the international terrorism and injustice.” Morsi also believes that Israel, and any nation that supports it, is perpetrating “genocide” against the Palestinians. Both Essam El-Erian and Mohamed Saad Katani, meanwhile, have made it clear that they wish to see Sharia become the law of the land. “If you want to know what principles guide our party let me tell you: the principles of the Islamic Sharia law,” Mohamed Saad Katani told Aljazeera in November. El-Erian has gone further, echoing Egypt’s Salafists by declaring: “No one dares oppose the application of Sharia law.”
If Kerry was aware of his interlocutors’ views, he did not show it. Instead, he heaped praise on the recent Egyptian elections, which saw the FJP win nearly 40 percent of seats, as a model of transparency and integrity. Kerry also pledged American support for Egypt’s new Islamist government and called for the U.S.-funded International Monetary Fund to shore up the government with financial support. Not only did Kerry not take the opportunity to challenge the Brotherhood’s more extreme views, but he rewarded them with the promise of additional assistance.
Kerry’s diplomatic blessing of the Brotherhood dovetails with a growing courtship of the Islamist group by the Obama administration. Last February, the administration’s national intelligence chief bizarrely described the Brotherhood as “largely secular.” This November, the administration further tried to smooth the course for outreach to the Brotherhood when William Taylor, the U.S. “special coordinator for transitions in the Middle East,” said that the U.S would be “satisfied” if Egypt’s elections produced a victory by the Brotherhood. Now it seems the administration is expanding its contacts to the Islamist group. Accompanying Kerry to the meeting was Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt. The sit-down marked the third time in as many months that an American official has met with the FJP.
Ironically, this outreach comes a time when the mask of moderation that the Brotherhood donned in the run-up to the elections appears to be slipping. After conducting a series of interviews with Brotherhood leaders in recent weeks, New Republic correspondent Eric Trager reported: “Far from being moderate, these future leaders share a commitment to theocratic rule, complete with a limited view of civil liberties and an unmistakable antipathy for the West.”
Trager offered abundant evidence to justify the charge. Despite suggesting that they would respect Egypt’s past treaties with Israel, Brotherhood leaders clearly view Israel in much the same way as their Palestinian offshoot, Hamas. One Brotherhood MP Trager interviewed displayed an image of a burning Israeli flag in his office. Brotherhood leaders also regard Sharia as the primary basis of Egyptian laws, and there are indications that the Egyptian government is preparing to put in place Sharia-based laws like bans on interest banking, alcohol, so-called immodest dress, and mixed bathing on Egypt’s regionally famous beaches. And for all their lip service in support of democracy and free speech, a Brotherhood-dominated government is unlikely to respect either. As Brotherhood leader Abouel Fotouh told Trager, “It’s not allowed for Christians to come and say that the Sharia is wrong.”
Less than a year after Hosni Mubarak’s fall and the celebrations of Tarir Square, Egypt’s future is looking decidedly bleak. Along with the even more extreme Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood now holds nearly 70 percent of the seats in Egypt’s government. All indications are that it is trying to realize its long-held conviction that “Islam is the solution.” Given that possibility, the least one would expect from America’s diplomats is to avoid justifying the Brotherhood’s aims by giving its top leaders an uncritical hearing and pledging American support for a Brotherhood-led government. Yet that is exactly what Kerry and the Obama administration have done. It won’t be long before they regret it.
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