July 8, 2013 | Quote
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Dramatic Fall in Egypt
Early on, Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood cohorts made all the right noises. In April 2012, as Egypt was preparing for its first elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, leading Muslim Brotherhood figures — including the Islamist political group's chief strategist, Khairat el-Shater — held convivial conversations with a visiting delegation of U.S. lawmakers. As one member of that congressional group reported to me then: “They all go out of their way to say what we want to hear. They are going to fully protect women's rights, minority rights, the constitutional assembly. They all made great pains to emphasize, without being asked–Shater included—that they will respect all international agreements.”
Above all, Shater, a successful businessman (and at the time Morsi's superior), and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders indicated that they wanted to make Egypt prosperous, and to accomplish this they would have to compromise their dreams of immediately installing a narrow form of sharia, or religious rule, as the law of the land.
When he was elected president, Morsi met those promises part of the way, especially by not breaching the Egypt-Israel peace treaty (although the Brotherhood does not officially recognize Israel). Morsi even enjoyed a brief interlude of international acclaim when he brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in 2012. But the new Egyptian president seemed to think that he could pretty much have his way domestically, forcing through an unpopular sharia-inspired constitution, appointing fellow Muslim Brothers to key ministries, sacking generals and above all failing to understand the needs of a modern economy. And, unfortunately, the Obama administration may have encouraged that view, with what amounted to a mostly hands-off policy toward Egypt's internal politics, at least until recently.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is losing legitimacy at an astonishing rate, faster than I thought likely,” says Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert who is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and is an expert in the region. Yet the secular protesters in the streets can't win either by acclaiming or supporting a coup. And here, perhaps, the Obama administration can provide a helpful nudge. “The administration should do what it has not done, and rip Morsi and the old MB guard for trying to set up majoritarian democracy and that runs roughshod over minority concerns,” says Gerecht. “We have little financial leverage here–except through the military. But we should use the bully pulpit. It may be a bit late, but better late than never. The administration needs to take Egyptian civil society seriously.”
So do the Islamists. One can only hope they digest the latest lesson from the Arab street.