Commentary Magazine


Egyptian Outlook Grows More Desperate

While the Obama administration appears to be convincing itself that there’s nothing wrong with the Muslim Brotherhood acquiring a monopoly on power in Egypt, it looks as if that country’s military is panicking about the prospect. Though the Egyptian presidential race–in which the Brotherhood’s candidate and one from an even more extreme Islamist party are the favorites–may be in a state of flux, the decision of a former key member of the army leadership to enter the race may be a sign the generals are far from confident about what may be about to happen in Cairo.

The entry of Omar Suleiman, who served as head of military intelligence during the regime of Hosni Mubarak, into Egypt’s presidential sweepstakes adds one more element of uncertainty in a situation that may be about to unravel. Suleiman, who reportedly is still close with the army’s ruling council, is a much-hated figure among both secular liberals and the Islamists for his role in suppressing dissent under the Mubarak dictatorship. Even though observers give him little chance of winning, the decision of the army to have one of their own get into the race may show just how scared they are of the Brotherhood and its allies imposing its beliefs on the country. The fact that President Obama isn’t scared too may be even more frightening to those Egyptians wondering what their fate will be once the Brotherhood assumes control of the presidency as well as the parliament and the constituent assembly writing a new constitution.

As Eric Trager writes in The New Republic, the Brotherhood’s Washington offensive has convinced many in Washington that there is nothing to fear from their drive to obtain absolute power in Cairo. But for the military, which seemed for a while to be confident it could go on governing Egypt in partnership with the Brotherhood without allowing the latter to enact fundamental changes in society, the group’s behavior in recent months is alarming. Though it has presented a smiling face of tolerance to American journalists, as Trager points out, there has been no alteration of their ideology or of their determination to transform Egypt into a theocracy.

As for Suleiman, he can expect especially rough treatment from the Brotherhood if he actually gets on the ballot for the May election. As the Associated Press pointed out, the Islamists were quick to brand him not so much as the official torturer of the Mubarak era but as the man whose task it was to manage the country’s relationships with the United States and Israel. The Brotherhood’s mocking welcome to the Suleiman candidacy was to post a picture of him in which he is posed against the backdrop of an Israeli flag. Those administration officials confident that a Brotherhood-run Egypt will keep the peace treaty with Israel or remain an ally of the United States (for which they receive more than $1 billion in annual U.S. aid) may eventually have a lot of explaining to do.