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House Foreign Affairs Committee Debates the Muslim Brotherhood, Conditional Democracy, Israel…oh, and Egypt!

February 10, 2011

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. HillaryFan permalink
    February 10, 2011 11:27 am

    Ros-Lehtinen is a right-wing ideologue, no doubt about it. She’s going to be trouble for Secretary Clinton. She wants to put a whole bunch of conditions on foreign aid, except for Israel.

    The arrogance of that panel is pretty amazing isn’t it. How do we demand a future egyptian govt do anything?

    Doesn’t stuff like this have the effect of turning the egyptian protesters against the US and Israel because we insist on dictating the terms of their democracy to them and because we’ve been trying to turn their non-religious non-ideological movement into some great Islamic threat?

  2. discourseincsharpminor permalink
    February 10, 2011 11:39 am

    Israel is extremely well armed – much more so than Egypt. Any fight-picking would certainly end badly for them, especially when you consider that we would be on scene in full force in no time. Also, why would a poor country who had just seen what a popular uprising can do want to rip up a treaty that nets it a billion and a half dollars just for looking across the border at Israel and waving with all their fingers instead of just the middle one. It makes no sense. Neither does our conviction that no muslim, no matter how seemingly moderate, can ever resist the urge to harm us or Israel and therefore must all be held under authoritarian rule.

  3. February 10, 2011 11:58 am

    I don’t believe even these biased individuals think any Egyptian government would launch war on Israel (just as Iran, IF they ever develop a bomb, would be suicidal to bomb Israel. And I don’t think the mullahs are suicidal). But will a new government enforce the Gaza blockade to the same extent, keep the peace treaty with Israel indefinitely, and allow the US military and Israel to use the Suez Canal with as favorable conditions as they probably are now? That is unclear.

    And I am not naive enough to think that the US cannot act to secure an outcome in Egypt that we (e.g., Israel) favor. Look at 20th century history. Whether through our aid packages, CIA ops, and/or military ops, we have interfered with many countries’ political processes.

  4. Thain permalink
    February 10, 2011 12:17 pm

    Wow, I love the diversity of not only the experts but also the committee members. Not.

    I wonder how we’d feel if a bunch of Arabs in Qatar or…Egypt…got together and decided how the US and Israel should operate in terms of who should and shouldn’t be POTUS? Maybe they’d like a POTUS that didn’t start wars in the region?

    I think we’d resent it.

  5. discourseincsharpminor permalink
    February 10, 2011 2:36 pm

    Our 20th century meddling in out countries has lead to many 21st century problems. I think that we would be furious, and rightly so, if some foreign entities made a big effort to sway our elections to further their own agendas without a bit of regard for what the people want.


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