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Topic: Mohammed Morsi

Can Obama Resist the Morsi Temptation?

The victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian presidential election has presented the United States with an interesting dilemma. After more than a year of vacillating between support for democratic change in the Arab world and a willingness to leave authoritarians in place, Morsi’s triumph represents what many in the Obama administration may think is a fresh opportunity to have an impact on the changing situation in the Middle East. They need to resist it.

As Jackson Diehl noted in today’s Washington Post, President Obama has much to answer for in the way his waffling between support for democracy and authoritarians contributed to the way the Arab Spring became a disaster for both the peoples of the Middle East and the United States: Though it is not likely that his enormous self-regard will allow him to accept that blame, there’s little doubt that the president wants very much to have an impact on events in Egypt and throughout the region even if he prefers to “lead from behind” in the tricky conflicts within each nation. It should be remembered that in May of 2011 he devoted most of a speech on the Middle East policy to his views on the Arab Spring, though it is best remembered for the closing section in which he ambushed Israel. The Arab world cared little for the president’s ineffectual and ultimately irrelevant views about their future, but what is most worrisome about the current situation is that the president may view Morsi’s election as a second chance to influence events in Egypt.

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The victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian presidential election has presented the United States with an interesting dilemma. After more than a year of vacillating between support for democratic change in the Arab world and a willingness to leave authoritarians in place, Morsi’s triumph represents what many in the Obama administration may think is a fresh opportunity to have an impact on the changing situation in the Middle East. They need to resist it.

As Jackson Diehl noted in today’s Washington Post, President Obama has much to answer for in the way his waffling between support for democracy and authoritarians contributed to the way the Arab Spring became a disaster for both the peoples of the Middle East and the United States: Though it is not likely that his enormous self-regard will allow him to accept that blame, there’s little doubt that the president wants very much to have an impact on events in Egypt and throughout the region even if he prefers to “lead from behind” in the tricky conflicts within each nation. It should be remembered that in May of 2011 he devoted most of a speech on the Middle East policy to his views on the Arab Spring, though it is best remembered for the closing section in which he ambushed Israel. The Arab world cared little for the president’s ineffectual and ultimately irrelevant views about their future, but what is most worrisome about the current situation is that the president may view Morsi’s election as a second chance to influence events in Egypt.

It was perhaps inevitable and perhaps even necessary for the United States to send its official congratulations to Morsi, but what follows now will be crucial to America’s chances of at least not worsening the situation in Egypt. But that is exactly what the president will do if he begins to act as if Morsi and the Brotherhood represent democratic legitimacy while the Egyptian army — their opponents in the struggle for power in Cairo — is a symbol of authoritarianism. Though the United States has good reason to think ill of the army’s strong-arm tactics and ought not to let itself be tainted by openly supporting these holdovers from the Mubarak era, it would be an even bigger mistake to act as if the Brotherhood is synonymous with democracy.

As the Bush administration learned when it attempted to foster Palestinian democracy, elections are meaningless if the only choices are corrupt authoritarians and Islamists. That is just as true today in Egypt when it comes to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as it was for the Palestinians when their options were Fatah and Hamas. When those opposed to democracy win elections, the result is not democracy.

While the attempt to market the Brotherhood as moderates is meeting with some resistance in the West, it will be just as important for the administration not to get tricked into viewing Morsi as a free agent who can be peeled away from his party, as today’s New York Times dispatch from Cairo hinted. Morsi’s resignation from the group yesterday is meaningless. Any American wooing of this ideologue will only give his party undeserved credibility and make it even harder for either the military or the small groups of genuine Egyptian liberals to resist the Brotherhood’s first attempts to remake the nation in their own image.

The most dangerous aspect of this situation is the way a desire to entice Morsi to play ball with the West will appeal to President Obama’s ego. Obama has repeatedly shown he believes the power of his personality and the historic nature of his presidency can transcend all sorts of differences. That is why he finds Islamists like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so appealing. He flatters himself that their curious friendship rises above the differences between American democracy and Erdoğan’s ideology.

Obama may believe he can use the $1 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt to romance Morsi into transforming the Brotherhood into a peaceful democratic movement, but this is as much of a delusion as any notion of reforming the army. As badly as the administration has messed up in the Middle East, the Morsi temptation is an opportunity for the president to make things a lot worse. Let’s hope his re-election campaign will act as deterrent to any new overtures to the Brotherhood.

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U.S. Must Avoid Embrace of Morsi

Many in the Obama administration may have heaved a sigh of relief this morning when Egypt’s election commission declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi the winner of the country’s presidential election. There were justifiable fears that the Egyptian military would complete the coup d’état it began when the country’s high court tossed the Islamist-controlled parliament out of office by stealing the presidential contest for its preferred candidate. By choosing to attempt to live with the Brotherhood rather than attempt to destroy it, the army may have avoided a bloody civil war that would have drowned Egypt in blood and destabilized the region even further.

But as much as Washington is relieved that the next stage of life in post-Mubarak Egypt will not be one in which the military rules alone, President Obama must resist the impulse to embrace Morsi or to behave in any manner that might lend support to the Brotherhood leader in the power struggle in Cairo that will undoubtedly ensue. As much as the United States should support the principle of democracy, Morsi and his party are no apostles of freedom. Though worries about the U.S. being tainted by association with a military who wishes to perpetuate authoritarian rule are well founded, the danger from a rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring is far more dangerous to American interests.

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Many in the Obama administration may have heaved a sigh of relief this morning when Egypt’s election commission declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi the winner of the country’s presidential election. There were justifiable fears that the Egyptian military would complete the coup d’état it began when the country’s high court tossed the Islamist-controlled parliament out of office by stealing the presidential contest for its preferred candidate. By choosing to attempt to live with the Brotherhood rather than attempt to destroy it, the army may have avoided a bloody civil war that would have drowned Egypt in blood and destabilized the region even further.

But as much as Washington is relieved that the next stage of life in post-Mubarak Egypt will not be one in which the military rules alone, President Obama must resist the impulse to embrace Morsi or to behave in any manner that might lend support to the Brotherhood leader in the power struggle in Cairo that will undoubtedly ensue. As much as the United States should support the principle of democracy, Morsi and his party are no apostles of freedom. Though worries about the U.S. being tainted by association with a military who wishes to perpetuate authoritarian rule are well founded, the danger from a rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab Spring is far more dangerous to American interests.

Too many in the administration have been taken in by the Brotherhood’s propaganda in which they have represented themselves as having no interest in imposing their fundamentalist principles on all of Egypt and the region. Inviting Brotherhood representatives to meet with senior administration officials earlier this year was mistake. As Eli Lake reported in the Daily Beast this week, this even extended to granting a visa to a known member of an active terrorist group.

The Brotherhood claims they will use Turkey’s Islamists as their model. That’s something that should provide little comfort to those who have watched as a secular state heads down the path of extremism at home and confrontation with Israel abroad. But the extremist character of the Islamist movement is difficult to conceal. Were the Brotherhood ever to seize control of all power in Cairo it would not only mean an end to any hope for democracy in Egypt, it would undermine the stability of other Arab countries.

That’s why it would be folly for President Obama to side with Morsi in the coming months or to give the impression that he supports the Brotherhood’s efforts to stop the military from acting as a check on its power.

It bears repeating that there are no good choices available to the United States in Egypt. President Obama has been woefully remiss in attempting to promote democracy, a policy that he seems to associate with the George W. Bush administration and therefore something to be avoided. There are not enough genuine liberals in Egypt, meaning the only real options are the military and the Brotherhood. America should choose neither.

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