In his recent article, Dennis Ross, a former aide to US President Barack Obama on Middle Eastern affairs, and currently a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, issued clear warnings to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. According to Ross’ point of view, preliminary indications regarding the rights of Copts and women and media freedoms do not bode well, and likewise the behavior of the current Egyptian administration is elusive about its relationship with Israel, with which Egypt has a peace treaty, and which is also not sending reassuring messages. Yet Ross’s article also reveals much about the US political stance in the region.
The importance of the words of someone like Dennis Ross – in addition to the fact that he is influential in directing public opinion among the political elite in Washington, with regards to the policies that should be adopted in the Middle East – is that the Obama administration previously gave its “blessing” to the Arab Spring, with the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm. It extended the hand of friendship towards the Brotherhood and even applied pressure on its opponents, the latest of which being the successive warnings issued to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) not to “obstruct” the Brotherhood’s progress in seizing all aspects of the Egyptian state. There were recent demonstrations of outrage at America’s intervention in the country in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pelted by some protestors during her recent visit to Egypt.
Ross places dual blame on the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt and the Obama administration’s “soft” approach towards the Brotherhood’s policies. In his article published in the American press and in Asharq al-Awsat, he says: “The administration’s position needs to be clear: If this behavior continues, U.S. support…will not be forthcoming. Softening or fuzzing our response at this point might be good for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it won’t be good for Egypt”.
The American experimentation at this stage, namely supporting Islamist currents as they rise to power, resembles an earlier American experiment, shortly after September 11th 2001. At that point the US supported dynamic Shiite currents based on the assumption that the Shiite doctrine had greater potential for democracy and dialogue, unlike the Sunnis, as was the theory of the American thinker of Iranian origin, Vali Nasr. The experiment continues, this time under the pretext that the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Arab world will bring several benefits to the West and America. The Americans believe that the Brotherhood will fight jihadist currents – this time in the name of religion rather than in the name of “secular” nationalism, it will maintain the integrity of borders and relations with Israel – this time in the name of “jihad”, and it will not change much on the ground except certain “details”. After all, what remains important is preserving national interests, does it not? The Brotherhood will do all this with a mass, legitimate cover.
Can you blame the Americans? Certainly they are looking out for their own interests, whether through the Turban, the Tarboush or the Quba’a. But how long will the American experiment last this time? How much are the people willing to pay?
One final question remains, regardless of America’s pragmatic thinking: Will the arrival of the Brotherhood to power in the Islamic world curb the dynamism and fanaticism of religious groups, or will they be let loose in a dangerous fundamentalist “arms race”? This is a pertinent question against the backdrop of what is happening in Tunisia, Gaza and Egypt these days.