The Stubborn Brothers

The US foreign policy today is largely a reflection of the temperament of President Obama, a sensible man and a Harvard lawyer, who always tries to chart a middle course. This temperament is especially ill-suited to deal with the current situation in Egypt, and more specifically with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers possess the legendary Egyptian stubbornness in undiluted form. For Egyptians, stubbornness is both a virtue and a vice. For the Brothers it has been a survival mechanism. There is a common theme of alarm about the near collapse of the “state” in Egypt. The truth of such a possibility should not blind us to the more important imperative of seeking long term stability and prosperity for Egypt. The response from the US has been to propose a series of incremental and reasonable sounding measures to stave off the collapse. The Brothers see this as simply another tool to strengthen their grip on power. By refusing to enact any measures that might dilute their popularity but point the country toward long-term stability and progress, they are holding it hostage to further their political fortunes.  Trying to meet the Brothers half-way is a fool’s errand.

The economic numbers are clear. In 2010, the last full year of Mubarak’s rule, Egyptian growth exceeded 7%. Since the revolution, under the guidance of the military first and then the Brotherhood, the growth has been less than 2%.  The Brotherhood agenda is largely social. There is no clearer demonstration of that than their rapid and forceful response to the UN declaration on violence against women. Two years of economic collapse have elicited little from them beyond bleats about the “Nahda” project, while the possibility that women might not be subservient to autocratic patriarchs has unleashed their full roar. It is only fair that they be tagged with their failure. President Morsi campaigned on a promise of obtaining foreign investments from Qatar, Turkey and other “Islamic” sources of more than $200 Billion in his first four years.  He should fulfill his promise, even partially, if accountability has any value in politics.

The second and equally important reality is that the Brothers are no democrats and have little interest in sharing power or achieving political consensus. That is their choice. Our choice, as Americans, should be to see to it that they leave power as rapidly as possible. There is the persistent fear that the alternative to the Brothers is a nastier regime. The US ignored Mubarak when he tried to play that card in January 2011, and should do so with the Brothers. The nastier regime will likely be terribly nasty for them as well, and that should be incentive enough to try to find a political accommodation out of the mess they created.

The failure of the Brotherhood is an important historic inflection point. They have wielded religion both as a cudgel and as a magic wand. It serves no one, most of all Egyptians, to ignore the reality of these false prophets.

What Samira Ibrahim Can Say

Samira Ibrahim, the Egyptian activist, is being honored tomorrow along with 9 other women at the US State Department. The First Lady will be there. Given the flap over what she may have said on her Twitter account it might be useful for her to settle the issue with a few simple remarks, something along these lines will do.

“Thank you for honoring me today with this award. In recognizing me you are expressing faith in the future of my once great country, Egypt.  I come today from an ancient land in the throes of a new revolution. My country has struggled with the effects of decades of misrule and centuries of stagnation.  We have allowed our education to decay and our social discourse to grow crude and divisive in spite of our increased religiosity. I, like many other young Egyptians, have fallen into this trap at times. But it is never too late for any one to change. It is never too late for any woman to stand up for the rights of women and those who are religiously different. We can affirm the rights of the Palestinians without de-humanizing the Jews. We can denounce one crime without denying another.

I stand here with nine other women, nearly half of them are Muslims and almost all of them are not from the West. We all need to forge an authentic path to progress and prosperity, but we can do so without denying the brilliant contributions of the West.  And above all we need to recognize that we will be at last free only when everyone of us is free at last”