Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today's Reading: Totten on Egypt

Michael Totten is one of our most astute observers of the Middle East. He has two articles of note that shed a great deal of light on the situation in Egypt. The first, written in 2005, is Nassar's Biggest Crime wherein he discusses why the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant opposition in Egypt today and the ramifications thereof, while secular political parties are nascent and disorganized. And do note the parallels between Sadat's strategy and that of el-Baradei, who is today championing the Muslim Brotherhood:

“When Nasser took over,” Big Pharaoh said, “people were angry at Britain and Israel. He nationalized all the industry. He banned political parties. He stifled everything. Banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Banned the Communists. Banned all. When Sadat took over in 1970, he had two enemies: the Communists and the Nasser remnants. So to counter these threats, he did what the United States did in Afghanistan during the Cold War – he made an alliance with the Islamists. He brought back the Muslim Brotherhood which had fled to Saudi Arabia when Nasser was around. He used them to destroy the left.”

“That was part of it,” he continued. “During the oil boom of 1973 a lot of Egyptians went to Saudi Arabia to work. Then in the 1990s, two important things happened. After the first Gulf War, Saudi Arabia began to Saudize its economy and said they no longer needed Egyptian workers. When the Egyptians came home they were contaminated with Wahhabism. Egypt’s economy kept getting worse. Unemployed members of the middle class either sat around and smoked shisha or got more religious. That was when Islamism moved from the lower class to the middle class. Now it is moving even to the upper class.”

“Egypt will get over it after a while,” I said, “just like Iran is getting over it now.”

“That will take 25 years! I don’t have 25 years!”

The Iranian theocracy has been in power for 26 years.

And here is Michael Totten today in PJM, interviewing Abbas Milani, Prof. of Iranian studies at Stanford, about the parallels between Egypt of today and the Iranian revolution of three decades ago:

MJT: I find this very disturbing. Iran in the 1970s—and I guess today, too—was much more liberal and modern than Egypt.

Abbas Milani: Oh, absolutely.

MJT: And yet Iran got this government. If it can happen in Iran, it can certainly happen in Egypt where the middle class is very small and people are not nearly as well educated.

Abbas Milani: And there are a lot more Islamists, and they are much better organized.

MJT: The liberals in Egypt are, what, ten percent of the population?

Abbas Milani: I’m not sure about that, but I do know something about the Muslim Brotherhood.

MJT: Okay, so what do you know?

Abbas Milani: They are extremely well organized.

MJT: Are they moderate? Many experts are saying so now, but I’m skeptical.

Abbas Milani: There are moderate elements within the Muslim Brotherhood. But if the Muslim Brotherhood still stands behind Sayyid Qutb, then no. He, along with Hassan al Banna, was one of its founding fathers. You should read him. He was absolutely uncompromising.

MJT: What about the guys running it now? There is all this talk about how they’re no longer as dangerous as they used to be, that they’ve renounced violence and want a democracy. I don’t really buy it, but some people insist this is the case, that the Muslim Brothers have gone mainstream and we have nothing to worry about.

Abbas Milani: I don’t know the Egyptian scene as well as Iran, so let’s look at the Iranian case. If you look at the whole Islamic movement you can see that there were moderate forces in the early part. There were quietist ayatollahs who took part in the revolution, including some who were senior to Khomeini in clerical status. They had an enormous popular base. They were truly moderate and they truly understood the dangers of Khomeini.

Within this movement was also Fadayan-e Islam, the Islamic terrorist group founded by Navvab Safavi who was very much enamored of the Muslim Brotherhood. He even met with Sayyid Qutb. If you look at how this vast network, that included moderates and radicals, evolved once the revolution came, it was the radicals who won. Because they were the most ruthless. They were the most brutal.

Everything I’ve seen indicates that there are moderate Muslim Brothers, but if the society goes into a protracted struggle, I have no doubt that the radicals would win.

Almost every radical group in the Middle East is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. . . .

Do read both articles in full as they contain a ton of insightful material. My take away, from reading both, is that I am even more convinced that our government should be doing all they can to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of the government while buying time for secular opposition parties to develop and gain a following. It is our last and best hope. But if yesterday's report in the LA Times is accurate, however, the point is moot, and Obama is making a huge mistake.

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