The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.
An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.
As the Times details, Morsi’s governing party has several bones to pick with what might otherwise be considered an anodyne resolution condemning violence against women.
According to the Brotherhood, men should not be liable to being charged with the rape of their waves or be subjected to harsh punishment if they were called to account. They also say that women should not have equal rights of inheritance or be allowed to work, travel or use contraception without their husband’s permission.
Given that the group believes women are generally at fault when they are beaten by their husbands, this is hardly a surprise.
Morsi’s official spokesperson, who is still trying to convince the Western press that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization that has no intention of subjecting the entire nation to Islamist interpretations of religious law, tried to distance the Egyptian leader from his party’s declaration. But Egyptians understand which way the wind is blowing.
That the Brotherhood would issues such a salvo against women’s rights right at the time when the regime is encountering increased resistance to its rule and with new parliamentary elections in doubt is telling. Rather than moderate their stands, they are doubling down on their effort to use their newly acquired power not just to dominate every branch of the government but to transform society in their own image.
Part of the Brotherhood’s confidence stems from their belief that there is virtually nothing they can do that would prompt President Obama to cut off the more than $2 billion in U.S. aid that the country continues to receive. The administration has bought into the idea that, as Vice President Biden claimed last week in his speech to the AIPAC conference, there is no alternative to engagement with Morsi and his crowd. But what non-Islamist Egyptians are discovering is that bolstering the regime with the hundreds of millions more in U.S. funds, such as the big check Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Cairo earlier this month, is only worsening the situation.
Unlike the Obama re-election campaign theme, the Brotherhood’s war on women is not a partisan farce aimed at demonizing opponents but a genuine wave of repression that will set back human rights in that country. That the same administration that was re-elected in part because of its pro-women policies and which trumpeted its concerns for women’s rights abroad is subsidizing a regime that oppresses women in this fashion is more than merely hypocritical. It is an indictment of a president and a State Department that have lost their moral compass.