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.