US Should Tread Carefully in Egypt

Tuesday, 26 Jun 2012 01:48 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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The United States urged Egypt's military to move swiftly on plans to transfer full power to an elected civilian government and suggested failure to do so would prompt a review of U.S. ties, which includes billions of dollars in military and civilian aid.

This step from the US administration and Congress could actually make things worse for the Egyptian people and could hamper US interests in the region as well. These interests include keeping the peace treaty with Israel, cooperation in counter terrorism efforts, smooth transportation through the Suez Canal, assistance in possible military operations against Iran, and respect for human rights.

egypt-celebrates.jpg
The U.S. must avoid putting its interests at risk by alienating the military in Egypt.
(Getty Images)
The more pressure the US exerts on the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the more the chance an Islamist regime such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will control all the affairs of the country. The implications of an Islamist government's control of power will be against these formerly mentioned US interests.

First, it is very unlikely that an organization that avoids mentioning the name "Israel' on its website and organizes huge celebrations to promise the Egyptian people that the MB presidential candidate will declare war on Israel, will respect any peace treaty with Israel.

Second, it is also very unlikely that the MB that praises Said Qutb — the person who inspired Ayman Al Zawahiri with the ideas of violent Jihad — would cooperate with the U.S. in counter-terrorism efforts against fellow Muslim brothers in radical Islamic groups.

Third, allowing an Islamist regime to have control over the Suez Canal will give a global Islamic movement such as the MB more ability to manipulate world trade and politics, as well as to have undue influence on U.S. actions, such as Navy ships transiting between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Fourth, Unlike the SCAF, the MB will never cooperate with the U.S. when it comes to launching any military actions against another Muslim country like Iran. Relying on a Shia-Sunni divide in this case is a very primitive way of thinking.

Irrespective of their sectarian differences, Muslims can easily unite once one of them fights a non-Muslim enemy. Iranian support (Shia) to the Hamas group (Sunni) against Israel is an example.

Fifth, when it comes to human rights it is important to realize that one of the earliest laws that the Islamist Parliament in Egypt discussed was banning demonstrations, permitting female genital mutilation, and halting punishment of men for sexual harassment against women.

The aim of the latter law was to force women to wear the Hijab to avoid sexual harassment. In this case, the MB can say to the world that it did not issue a law to force women to wear the Hijab — while at the same time 'indirectly' achieving its aim of making women wear the Hijab via such a law.

Are these the kind of people that the U.S. wants to see controlling the power in Egypt?

US pressure on the SCAF is actually turning many Egyptians against the U.S. At least 50 percent of the Egyptians who voted for Shafiq (the former member of Mubarak regime) and most of those who stayed at home are likely to be against the Islamist agenda of the MB.

Pushing to give full power to the MB would be contrary to the will of most Egyptian people — and damaging for the U.S. and one of its allies in the area — namely the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). The SCAF is not perfect, but it is vital to the stability of Egypt, and helping to keep Egypt’s international commitments.

Additionally, Islamists appear to be losing their public support based on election trends since the election of Parliament, essentially the period after the revolution through the latest presidential race.

Initially, Islamists won nearly 80 percent of the seats in Parliament and currently their presidential candidate (Mursy) barely won the election with little more than 51 percent. This decline in popularity was partially caused by a backlash to the Islamists and their Sharia agenda. This backlash — evident in both traditional and social media — is likely to be aborted if the secular military loses its power to an Islamic regime.

Interfering in Egypt’s politics at this stage should be limited to general statements that encourage respect of law and peaceful co-existence.

The Obama administration needs to realize that the Egyptian people are not simply made up of the military and civilians. It must be seen as having a third and separate faction — the Islamists.

Handing power completely to the civilian faction is very different from delivering it to the Islamists.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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