This article, by FPRI Trustee Amhed Charai, originally appeared in the New York Daily News on September 1, 2013. Writing from Cassablanca, Charai is publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L’Observateur and President of MED Radio, a national broadcast network in Morocco, MEDTV network and chairman of the board of Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya Arabic daily newspaper.
Obama must send a clear message: The Muslim Brotherhood is unacceptable
The twin crises of the Arab world today — Egypt and Syria — are not just humanitarian tragedies. They represent key strategic choices that will decide America’s role in the region for decades to come.
The significance of Egypt’s civil war is almost impossible to overstate. Nearly one out of every four Arabs — some 82 million people — live in Egypt. Its films and newspapers, its universities and intellectuals shape debate across the region.
It is also the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, which now has influential branches in every Arab nation. The Brotherhood created political Islam. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of its leading thinkers, summarized the group’s totalitarian ambitions: “Islam is a comprehensive school of thoughts, a creed, an ideology, and cannot be completely satisfied but by (completely) controlling society and directing all aspects of life, to the construction of the state,” a caliphate.
A caliphate would unite the Muslim world under a single unelected ruler who would harness the economic and military might of Muslims and rule according to Islam’s 7th-century rulers, known as caliphs. While the true values of Islam are tolerance, coexistence and humility, the Brotherhood has a different, darker vision.
If the Brotherhood returns to power, it will use Egypt’s economic might to sponsor civil wars in other Arab states. Egypt would have a foreign policy akin to Iran’s.
Whatever is decided in Egypt may well be the verdict for the rest of the Arab states. That is why Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab states and Israel have forged an “axis of reason” to back the new military-led government. They know that their futures will be written in Cairo.
Washington is focused in the humanitarian, not the strategic, angle. Even more unrealistic is Washington’s demand for a “political solution.” The Obama administration simply fails to grasp that two mutually exclusive visions of society are at war.
What is the compromise position between female equality and total subjugation? What is the compromise between legal rights for religious minorities (including some 9 million Christians) and legal apartheid for all who fail to follow the Brotherhood’s line?
The Obama administration also seems blind to America’s own strategic interests in the stability of Egypt and peace along Israel’s borders. America’s allies in the region are not. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia openly support the Egyptian army today, because their own internal security is at risk. In both countries, terror cells supervised by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have been recently dismantled.
While the Brotherhood’s foes are among America’s strongest allies in the region, its friends are more revealing. The Brotherhood’s most significant non-Arab ally is Iran.
Iran is also the most significant supporter of Syria’s dictator. And Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terror group funded by Iran, has entered war against the rebels. Here, again, Washington is distracted by the human toll (now at over 100,000 lives). What it fails to see that the Syrian struggle determines whether Iran keeps its Arab satellite, Syria.
More economic sanctions are not the answer. Human suffering will deepen and distrust of the West will grow. Instead, an international summit should focus on building democratic institutions. America’s government-funded Arabic radio and TV networks should teach the elements of establishing a free society.
Above all, the summit must clearly acknowledge that a religious political party is a dangerous hybrid, combining otherworldly purities with the political compromises that are needed in any democracy. Too soon, religious parties become intolerant of “impure” compromises and then with democracy itself, producing a new autocracy.
My country, Morocco, strikes a unique balance between mosque and state. King Mohammed VI is “Commander of the Faithful,” the country’s highest religious authority, overseeing Islamic affairs and blocking Islamist parties from imposing chauvinistic interpretations.
Recently, the king made a televised address. The elected Islamists, he said, need to stop fixating on ideological priorities and focus on human needs.
If Washington continues to waste its words deploring violence, cutting aid and mulling sanctions, America will lose its credibility. If, however, the administration can admit that sometimes elected parties are threats to democracy itself, it could play a vital role in restoring peace in Egypt and blazing a path to stability.