Early Friday morning, the Obama administration announced its decision to back “the Arab street” in Egypt:
issuing a call for the Egyptian military to quickly hand over power to a civilian, democratically elected government.
In so doing, the president opened up a litany of risks, exposing a fault line between the U.S. and the Egyptian military which, perhaps more than any other entity in the region, has for 30 years served as the bulwark protecting a critical U.S. concern in the Middle East: the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
In explicitly warning the military to swiftly begin a "full transfer of power" to a civilian government in a "just and inclusive manner," the White House served notice that the army in Egypt would continue to receive the Obama administration's support only if it, in turn, supported a real democratic transition. (“Obama sides with 'the street' in Egypt”).
President Obama had been hoping to ride the fence on this, but as usual forces beyond his control – and beyond his demonstrated ability to manage – have forced him into being decisive -- decisively wrong.
Even liberal observers recognize that supporting a movement whose public face is a mob of demonstrators with uncertain motives is a big risk. (Didn’t the Democrats just learn this lesson with Occupy Wall Street?).
Martin S. Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, says Obama’s message to the Egyptian military is, "We want you to play the role of midwife to democracy, not the role of military junta."
Indyk also says this strategy is “a high-risk one,” but his mealy-mouthed English offers a great example of why diplomats’ fuzzy thinking does more harm than good. Indyk admits that the ones who benefit most from a rushed “transition” to civilian rule are “the Islamists,” but then blurs the danger by calling them “the people who don't necessarily have our best interests in mind,” and “who might not be as wedded to the peace treaty [with Israel] as the military.”
Let’s clean up Indyk’s spongecake English a bit. The Islamists Indyk says “don’t necessarily have our best interests in mind” don’t have our best interests in mind. And the ones who “might not be as wedded to the peace treaty as the military” hate the peace treaty, because they want Israel to be destroyed. When Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile to Cairo last February, his speech in Tahrir Square got the crowd of a million chanting ““To Jerusalem we go, for us to be the Martyrs of the Millions.”
Only people who talk like Indyk have trouble figuring that out.
“The Islamists” are the Muslim Brotherhood, the group whom all the Middle East experts agree are the most highly organized and best situated to win a majority in a parliamentary election through their political front, the Freedom and Justice Party.
But for anyone, whether it’s the Egyptian military or the U.S. or any of the western powers, to play “midwife to democracy” requires that what Egypt is laboring to being forth is, in fact, democracy. And that depends on who the baby daddy is.
Jeff Jacoby wrote last winter:
The Brotherhood is the world's most influential Islamist organization, and Islamism -- the radical ideology that seeks the submission of all people to Islamic law -- is perhaps the most virulent antidemocratic force in the world today. In Daniel Pipes's phrase, "it is an Islamic-flavored version of totalitarianism." Like other totalitarian cadres, Islamists despise democratic pluralism and liberty in principle. But they are quite ready to make use of elections and campaigns as tactical stepping-stones to power.
As with Adolf Hitler in 1933 or the Czechsolovak communists in 1946, Islamists may run for office and hold themselves out as democrats; but once power is in their grasp, they do not voluntarily relinquish it. Just months after Hamas, a self-described "wing of the Muslim Brotherhood," won a majority of seats in the Palestinian elections in 2006, it violently seized control of the Gaza Strip. More than 30 years after Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran promising representative democracy, the Islamist dictatorship he built instead remains entrenched. (“No room at the table for the Muslim Brothers”).
Last February in Tahrir Square Qaradawi saluted “the Egyptian army, which is the shield of the people and its support . . . [b]y Allah, they will not let me down.” He also told his minions: “Beware of the hypocrites, who are ready to put on a new face every day.” On Tuesday he was criticizing the military, calling for “quick elections.” On Thursday he returned to Cairo.
Indyk interprets Obama throwing in with the “Arab street’ (gawd, I hate that expression) in demanding quick elections, as the U.S. “essentially coming down on the side of democracy."
We’re not. To improve on that irritating slogan of the American liberal “street,” this is not what democracy looks like.
We’re coming down on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the mob.