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Obama must back Egypt's regime, or face a disaster like US did in Iran

It is morally good for the US to speak about support for protestors, but it is also quite dangerous. Mubarak may go, but his regime is necessary for US and Israeli security, regional stability, and keeping at bay the Islamic extremists that would rise in its place. Obama must support it.

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Muslim Brotherhood is popular and extreme

Rajab Hilal Hamida, a member of the Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament, proves that you don’t have to be moderate to run in elections:

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"From my point of view, bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists.…[On the other hand,] he who kills Muslim citizens is neither a jihad fighter nor a terrorist, but a criminal murderer. We must call things by their proper names!"

A study of the Brotherhood members of Egypt’s parliament shows how radical they have been in their speeches and proposals.

But it is also being said that the Brotherhood is not so popular in Egypt. Then why did the party get 20 percent of the vote in a 2005 election, even when they were repressed and cheated? This was not just some protest vote, because voters had the option of voting for secular reformers, and very few of them did.

The deeper question is: Why does the Brotherhood not engage in violence in Egypt?

The answer is not that it is moderate, but that it has felt the time was not ripe. One deterrent has been the knowledge that it would be crushed by the government, and its leaders sent to concentration camps and tortured or even executed. It is no accident that Hamas and Hezbollah – unrestrained by weak governments – engaged in violent terrorism, while the Muslim Brotherhood facing strong and determined regimes in Egypt and Jordan did not.

Little US influence over post-regime vacuum

Unfortunately, US influence on these events, already rejected by Egypt’s government, is minimal. It is morally good to speak about freedom and seem to support the protestors, but also quite dangerous. Such support will not reap the gratitude of the Egyptian masses in the future. The Egyptian elite wants to save itself, and if it has to dump Mubarak to do so – as we saw in Tunisia – the armed forces and the rest will do so. But if the regime itself falls, creating a vacuum, that is going to be a very bad outcome.

Consider this point: Egypt’s resources and financial capital are limited. There aren’t enough jobs, land, or wealth. How would a new regime deal with these problems and mobilize popular support? The more probable outcome is that a government would win support through demagoguery: blame America, blame the West, blame Israel, and proclaim that Islam is the answer. That’s how it has been in the Middle East in too many places.

US must support Egyptian regime

The emphasis for US policy, then, should be put on supporting the Egyptian regime generally, whatever rhetoric is made about reforms. The rulers in Cairo should have no doubt that the United States is behind them. If it is necessary to change leadership or make concessions, that is something the US government can encourage behind the scenes.

But Obama’s rhetoric seems dangerously reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s in 1978, regarding Iran. He has made it sound – by wording and nuance, if not by intention – that Washington no longer backs the Egyptian government.

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Without the confidence to resist this upheaval, the Egyptian system could collapse, leaving a vacuum that is probably not going to be filled by friendly leaders.

Nothing would make me happier than to say that the United States should give full support for reform, to cheer on the insurgents without reservation. But unfortunately that is neither the most honest analysis nor the one required by US interests.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are “Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis,” “Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East,” “The Israel-Arab Reader,” “The Truth About Syria,” “A Chronological History of Terrorism,” and “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.”


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