Huffpost WorldPost
Neil Hicks Headshot

How Not to Write About the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

Posted: Updated:

In a ludicrously alarmist piece that appeared on the The Daily Beast, “Egypt’s Simmering Rage” Douglas Schoen and Randall Lane assert that "clearly and unambiguously" the political climate in Egypt is moving in a new direction that is "inimical to American and allied interests."

They make this stunning accusation, that is likely to garner the undeserved attention of too many U.S. policy makers, on the basis of flimsy polling evidence, and they further slant their shoddy analysis with a misleading characterization of the military's role in Egypt as protecting democracy "from the Islamists."

First, it is impossible for a poll carried out in late June and early July - before the dates of the election had been announced, or the voting system decided upon, or the political parties and coalitions had coalesced - to say anything "clearly and unambiguously" about the outcome of an election process that it now appears will take place in November over a period as long as 60 days. The political landscape in Egypt will look different in November than it did in June.

Without the benefit of Schoen and Lane's not very enlightening poll, most observers would have guessed that the Muslim Brotherhood backed political party, Freedom and Justice, will enjoy the largest, but far from the majority, share of the vote in any election and that Amr Moussa is the probable winner of a presidential election, now not likely to take place until February or March next year. There is little to be added to this speculative guess from Schoen and Lane's data, which showed the Freedom and Justice Party polling at 17%.

Clearly (and rightly) not very excited by the 17% of respondents who said that they intended to vote for the Freedom and Justice Party (meaning that 83% of respondents do not intend to vote that way), Schoen and Lane find it "ominous" that just 35% said that a Muslim Brotherhood majority would be a "bad thing." Their own polling data strongly suggests that such a majority is not in the cards, but Schoen and Lane want to raise the Islamist alarm flag anyway.

The Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood that stands behind it may legitimately be questioned about its commitment to democratic values and to the rights of women and minorities, but there is little to suggest, either in the actions of the Brotherhood since February, or in Schoen and Lane's polling data, that it has any intention, or any capacity, to make a power grab in the forthcoming elections. It is committed to not running a presidential candidate, and the Egyptian system makes the presidency the most powerful political office. It may be critical of the peace treaty with Israel, but nothing suggests that it would make any serious effort to break it -- a decision that will rest in the hands of the military, whatever happens in the elections.

To fit their slanted analysis, all Schoen and Lane can find to say about presidential candidate Amr Moussa is that he "made his name criticizing Israel." Amr Moussa has had a long career in diplomacy as an ambassador, foreign minister and head of the Arab League. He is a known quantity who alarms nobody. If elected, Moussa is likely to be at least as sympathetic to American interests as Hosni Mubarak, and he won't stay in office for 30 years.

Contrary to what Schoen and Lane suggest, far from seeking to contain the influence of the Brotherhood and other Islamist elements, the ruling military council has in recent months repeatedly made common cause with them in taking decisions that run counter to the interests and wishes of newly emerging liberal democratic parties. The military and the Islamists campaigned together against activists calling for a new constitution to be written before any elections take place, which they believe would have created strong safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms that any new government would have been bound by. The military and the Islamists work together to discourage continuing street protests calling for swifter implementation of democratic change, and they have found common cause in defaming and demonizing civil society activists as being inauthentic, un-Egyptian and un-Islamic -- thereby behaving exactly like the Mubarak regime.

Far from moving in any new direction, dangerous or not to American interests, the Islamist-military alliance currently evident in Egypt is a return to the old authoritarianism of the Mubarak era. This is profoundly not in the interests of the United States: military backed authoritarianism with an Islamist veneer is precisely the type of environment in which virulent anti-Americanism and violent extremism tends to flourish.

America's interests in Egypt are best served by a transition to democracy and the building of strong legal protections for basic rights and freedoms for all Egyptians. These are values that the majority of Egyptians support, and they should guide U.S. policy towards the transitional and the newly elected authorities in Egypt. Groundless speculation about threats to U.S. interests in Egypt's transition creates needless fear and uncertainty, in both Egypt and the United States, and risks becoming self-fulfilling. By far the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the region would be the failure of the democratic transitions currently underway in Tunisia, and especially in Egypt. Avoiding that danger will require patience, clear-sightedness and sustained commitment to the strategic goal of advancing democratic values in the Arab Middle East.