Who’s Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?
It was billed as a delegation of the Muslim Brotherhood, traveling to America for the first time. And they were treated like a true diplomatic delegation (i.e., one with diplomatic immunity), despite representing not a government but an eighty year-old totalitarian political party. They paraded before foreign policy establishment gurus at the Council for Foreign Relations, Brookings Institute, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace like Egyptian Eliza Doolittles, parroting innocuous platitudes to the frustration of Egyptian secular dissidents who did their best to pepper the M.B. delegates with probing questions about the Caliphate, Sharia law, the treatment of women and Coptic Christians, and peace with Israel . But the Western audience was unfazed, and nothing disrupted the M.B. charm offensive as they were hosted at the State Department, and met with White House staff.
They lied seamlessly for Western consumption, saying one thing in English while their less telegenic superiors back in Cairo said the opposite in Arabic. It’s an old Middle East trick from the days of the Oslo accords, and the usual suspects are still falling for it.
You really can fool some of the people all of the time.
But those who know the Muslim Brotherhood best aren’t fooled. Throughout the Arab states, the remaining regimes are increasingly petrified of the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood expanding its revolution, and they’re taking whatever steps they can to prevent it. Consider that only one month after the beginning of the Tahrir square uprising, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pulled all Muslim Brotherhood literature from their schools and libraries despite having permitted their presence in the Saudi educational system for over three decades. The United Arab Emirates revoked the citizenship of several Brotherhood operatives, claiming the men were involved in terror finance and a threat to the Emirate’s stability. This sparked a war of words between Dubai’s chief of police and the Muslim Brotherhood with Dubai threatening to arrest the M.B.’s spiritual leader Yusef Al-Qaradawi. The feud even resulted in Arab League intervention. In Jordan the parliament has taken under consideration a draft law which would effectively ban the Islamic Action Front, the political party of the Jordanian Brotherhood. Recently, the Egyptian election commission appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) banned a number of Presidential candidates, including Muslim Brotherhood leader and businessman Khariat Al-Shater, presumably because of Al-Shater’s previous conviction for money-laundering under the Mubarak regime. While Al-Shater may yet appeal the ban, the implication is that SCAF, which has previously been accused of cutting a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to split power, may now believe that the M.B. intends to seek complete control in Egypt, shunting the military to the side.
Of course the Arab regimes have no reason to be surprised by American naivety regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. For decades the Saudis and other Gulf states have spent millions to fund Muslim Brotherhood front groups in America which have orchestrated influence operations to numb the ability of U.S. political elites to speak intelligently about the Middle East and Islam, and millions more in academia to corrupt American scholarship. The Muslim Brotherhood delegation was hosted by the Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding, at Georgetown University, the academic wellspring of American foreign policy bureaucrats. As Egyptian secular activist and scholar Essam Abdallah noted in February:
Why were the bureaucracies in Washington and in Brussels partnering with Islamists in the region and not with their natural allies the democracy promoting political forces? (…)
One of the most powerful lobbies in America under the Obama Administration is the Muslim Brotherhood greater lobby, which has been in action for many years. This lobby has secured many operatives inside the Administration and has been successful in directing US policy towards the Arab world.
Not the words of an easily dismissed “right-wing Islamophobe,” but a voice from the region that understands the Muslim Brotherhood for what it is, and knows how it operates. Those who know the Brotherhood best understand that while it may attempt to change its tone for Western consumption, this leopard won’t change its spots. It remains the same organization founded by Hassan Al-Banna in 1928, guided by the same motto, “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” As Irfan Al-Alawi of the Center for Islamic Pluralism points out:
But regardless of its honeyed words and the slick, updated, Westernized vocabulary of its travelling exponents, the Egyptian MB cannot, in its middle sectors, its base, and its fundamental outlook, change. It is a thoroughly Islamist party with a profoundly retrograde vision of a state based on religious dictates… [A]s soon as the Egyptian MB thinks it is strong enough to prevail, the mask will fall, and the promises it made in Washington and elsewhere in the West will be shrugged aside.
So, to answer the question, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?”
Those who know them best.