The Presidential race in Egypt is now down to two candidates, who will confront each other in a runoff election on June 16th and 17th to determine who will replace the deposed ruler Hosni Mubarak. One of those candidates, Ahmed Shafik
, was the last Prime Minister under Mubarak. The other, Mohammed Morsi, represents the Muslim Brotherhood. Given that Morsi took the most votes in the first round of voting, that the Brotherhood already effectively controls Egypt's Parliament and that the Brotherhood has a massive organizational machine to support him, Morsi must be considered the clear favorite to claim the Presidency.
To understand the implications of that for the United States and the world, we would do well to remember a little history. The Brotherhood is an overtly religious, that is to say Islamic, party. In the West, a party which calls for prayer to be allowed in schools or for a Nativity scene to be permitted in front of the court house may be branded as being threatening and reactionary. That is not what we mean when we say that the Brotherhood is "religious".
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by an Egyptian schoolteacher and admirer of Adolf Hitler, Hasan al-Banna. The group was created in accordance with Banna's belief that Islam should be granted "hegemony" in all matters of life. The Brotherhood was dedicated to the destruction of all non-Islamic governments wherever they existed and to making Islamic sharia law the basis for all jurisprudence everywhere on the planet. It gave birth in a very literal sense to Hamas and Al Qaeda.
In 1948 a member of the Brotherhood assassinated Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmud Fahmi Nuqrashi. In 1954, a member of the Brotherhood tried to assassinate Egyptian President Abdel Nasser. In 1981, members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya, a militant terrorist group spawned by the Brotherhood, murdered Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Khalid Shaykh Mohammed, the planner of the 9/11 attacks was a member of the Brotherhood. So was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of Al Qaeda.
The Brotherhood remains committed to this day to the imposition of sharia law, the creation of an Islamic caliphate and violent jihad. During the first round of campaigning for the Presidency in Egypt, the Brotherhood's candidate, Morsi, repeatedly and explicitly promised to implement sharia law in Egypt if elected. His rallies included pledges to work for the release of the release of the group's "spiritual leader," Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Islamic cleric imprisoned in the United States for plotting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Morsi has also called for a reexamination of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
All of Morsi's events were liberally punctuated by references to the Koran and his prophet Muhammed and frequently included calls for mass prayer. Morsi's campaign rallies also featured numerous appearances by Safwat el-Hegazi, a radical cleric who has called repeatedly for the destruction of the state of Israel and the recreation of an Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital.
Speaking on his own television program in 2009, al-Hegazi had to this to say about the caliphate and Jerusalem. "Jerusalem belongs to us. Al-Aqsa belongs to us. Jerusalem belongs to us, and the whole world belongs to us. Every land upon which Islam has set foot will return to us. The caliphate will return to us, on the platform of prophecy. The greatness and glory of Islam will return."
Egypt is in many ways the crown jewel of the Islamic world. It has by far the largest population, over at 83 million at last count. It also has an ancient political and cultural history and tremendous influence over the course of events throughout the Middle East. Egyptian music, television programs and films are hugely popular throughout the Arab world, and what happens in Egypt has immense symbolic significance in the region.
Egypt is also the linchpin in American national security policy in the Middle East. Prior to the signing of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, there were four wars fought over the existence of Israel as an independent nation. Since then there have been none.
Egypt, once a virtual client state of the Soviet Union, and virulently hostile to American interests, has become one of our most dependable allies. Military to military cooperation is extensive as are similar efforts in the realm of security and intelligence. Last year alone, the United States gave Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid.
Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, born November 1941, is an Egyptian politician and candidate for the presidency of Egypt. He was a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force and later served as Prime Minister of Egypt from the 31st of January 2011 to the 3rd of March 2011, a period of 33 days. | Photo: Associated Press | Ahmed Shafik, Egypt, President, Candidate,
China was not always a Communist state. It became one when the People's Liberation Army and Mao Tse-Tung drove the Nationalist Chinese, lead by Chiang Kai Shek off the mainland to the island of Taiwan. The United States made no significant effort to prevent that occurrence, and the emergence of a powerful Communist state in East Asia became a significant campaign issue for years to come. The debate over who "lost China" resonated for years in American politics and had a major impact on our willingness to come to the defense of South Korea and attempt to halt the further spread of Communism.
Similarly, Iran was not always a radical Islamic regime with a covert nuclear weapons program and a close relationship to anti-American terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. It was once a close American ally and a key element of our national security policy in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. All of that ended with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, and we have yet to hear the end of the debate over who bears responsibility for the "loss" of this key ally.
Since the beginning of the "Arab Spring", the Obama Administration has chosen to view all of the revolutions and uprisings across the Arab world through the prism of American politics and the American experience. Rather than seeing the complexity of upheavals caused by a powerful brew of economic and social forces, it has chosen to imagine that the Middle East is simply awakening to the need to become more "like us", that is more liberal, more secular, more tolerant and more inclusive.
Underlying this attitude has been the unstated assumption that left to their own devices, the people of these nations, most of which have no tradition of democratic institutions or the rule of secular law, will somehow "do the right thing". That is, they will experience some bumps along the way, but what will emerge will ultimately be to our liking and to the benefit of the citizens of that nation as a whole. We should not intervene in an attempt to moderate the unfolding events. We should trust simply that it will all end well.
It is not necessarily so. The brutal truth is that those that take power need not be friendly to us nor that they govern in the most responsible and progressive manner. What will happen in Egypt is as yet unknown. It may yet be that Egyptians will pull back from electing a President from the Muslim Brotherhood. Right now, however, it appears most likely that they will elect a candidate from a party dedicated to the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state and that this new President will enjoy the support of a Parliament dominated by his own party and its ideological allies.
What happens then may well be catastrophic. Absent intervention by the Egyptian military, something this Administration has strongly opposed, we may see the Egypt we have known for decades dissolve before our eyes to be replaced by a hard line Islamic state once again threatening the state of Israel and the stability of the region as a whole. We may find ourselves, in short, in very much the same posture vis a vis Egypt as we are now with Iran.
By this time next year, we may have a new question. "Who lost Egypt?"