House Foreign Affairs Committee Debates the Muslim Brotherhood, Conditional Democracy, Israel…oh, and Egypt!
From Josh Rogin over at Foreign Policy:
Today’s first hearing of the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee was dominated by the question of how much the United States should fear the empowerment of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and what leverage should be used against the Egyptian military to get them to behave in accordance with U.S. interests.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) opened the hearing with a broad criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis in Egypt, which she said is now tilting too far in support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and is failing to counteract the threat posed by the rise of Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Instead of being proactive, we have been obsessed with maintaining short-term, personality-based stability — stability that was never really all that stable, as the events of the recent week demonstrate,” she said.
“Now the White House is reportedly making matters worse by apparently re-examining its position on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, but also stating that a new Egyptian government should include a whole host of important nonsecular actors. The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt.”
Ros-Lehtinen repeated her argument that the United States should try to impose strict criteria on the process to ensure only “responsible actors” can participate in Egyptian governance, which she defined as those who renounce violent extremism and pledge to uphold Egypt’s international commitments, including its peace treaty with Israel.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Ros-Lehtinen’s Democratic counterpart, didn’t have any nice things to say about the Muslim Brotherhood either.
The experts disagreed on how the United States should handle the Muslim Brotherhood. Abrams said that “conditions that forbid religious parties are actually quite useful.” Satloff urged a middle-of-the-road approach.
Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, argued that there are plenty of other secular political organizations in Egypt for the United States to work with besides the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We have to stop presenting ourselves with the choice that Mubarak gave us. There are groups in the middle,” he said.
But Ackerman was skeptical that those groups were ready to take on a leadership role after decades of suppression. “If you over-pesticide your garden, you only get the weeds that survive,” he said.
What was that flushing sound you just heard? That was the sound of any hopes for a new, more pragmatic, principled and objective direction in our Middle East foreign policy going down the crapper.
I love the ideological balance of those appearing before the committee (*cough* *cough*).
What’s interesting is that many have pointed out how the U.S. seems to be speaking out of both sides of their mouth- on the one hand the government is saying that the future of Egypt is in the hands of the Egyptians, because, you know, it is their country. But there’s a caveat- should we not like the democratic choices of the Egyptian people, we’re going to step in and do everything possible to ensure an outcome acceptable to us. How exactly we plan on doing that isn’t quite clear. And of course, the revolution in Egypt is decidedly secular in nature, but lets not let that fact get in the way of some good old fashioned fear-mongering.
Steve Clemmons of the Washington Note is right- we simply must start to deal with the fact the democracy in the Middle East will likely involve political participation by Islamic groups but that does not necessarily mean they will be automatically uber-hostile to the US or Israel. Might they be less willing to engage our every whim? Yes, that is very likely.
It’s difficult to see how ripping up a peace treaty with Israel would be in any Egyptian government’s best interest, regardless of its makeup. ElBaradei has already said no one is interested in that. At the same time, might a future Egyptian government use it’s leverage (from maintaining the peace treaty) in the region to move the parties towards a just resolution of the conflict rather than simply maintaining the pro-Occupation status quo? Yes, that is very likely. And not necessarily a bad thing given this conflict has been going on for decades with no current end in sight.