Commentary Magazine

Don’t Subsidize the Muslim Brotherhood

To the Editor:

I agree with Michael Rubin that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would like to turn Egypt into another Iran [“Whitewashing Islamists,” October]. But, fortunately for us, Egypt lacks the oil wealth that is used by the Islamists in Iran to gain the support of the peasantry. The much smaller middle classes in both Iran and Egypt are generally opposed to the Islamists. Consequently, Western journalists and diplomats, given their close contact with the middle class, mistakenly believed that the Islamists could not win in fair elections.

In Venezuela, another “oil democracy,” oil money pays for the government jobs and welfare that keep Hugo Chavez in power, in spite of a disaffected middle class. Lacking oil wealth, it is unlikely that the Islamists in Egypt will ever achieve their goals. Their economic failure may even serve as a warning to the rest of the “Arab Spring” countries. The Islamist threat in Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest oil country of them all, is a different story. We must do everything in our power to prevent the Islamists from gaining control (democratically or not) of a country that effectively controls the world’s oil supply and the power that comes with it.

Armin Sommer
Venice, Florida


To the Editor:

Michael Rubin provides a thorough history of the Muslim Brotherhood and makes a compelling case for the organization’s continued illiberalism. Mr. Rubin, to his credit, goes where few journalists dare tread these days when he writes: “Funded by generous contributions from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, groups such as the Islamic Society of Germany, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) formed to lobby governments and interact with journalists, purportedly on behalf of the Muslim community living in each country.”

So the Brotherhood is an enemy of freedom at home and abroad. But just as a doctor who diagnoses a malady without offering treatment options has done only half his job, Mr. Rubin does not offer enough policy prescriptions and leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied. He relies on a comparison between the Arab Spring, especially its Tahrir Square element, and the French Revolution. Is Mr. Rubin saying that past is prologue, and cluing us in on a nasty piece of history about to repeat itself? If so, it’s a fait accompli; if not, he should tell us just what lessons we are to learn from this comparison.

Mr. Rubin writes, “Democracy is a noble goal, but too often its advocates prioritize the process of democracy rather than democracy as a verifiable result. The actions of the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrate that the two are often mutually exclusive.” Fine, but the Muslim Brotherhood won and is currently in power in Egypt. Is this the fault of democracy advocates, or is it the result of the country’s two most powerful political blocs—the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood—joining forces to preempt the entry or development of a political party or movement that could challenge them? Could this have been prevented from the outside? I think not, but Mr. Rubin seems to suggest as much.

And finally, I would ask Mr Rubin: What now? We presumably need Egyptian cooperation with regard to frozen conflicts such as Gaza and would almost certainly prefer Egyptian influence in the region to Turkish or Iranian influence. Should the Brotherhood’s illiberalism even enter into our policy considerations at this point? If greater instability is the price of idealism, is it worth it?

James Griffin
Atlanta, Georgia


To the Editor:

Michael Rubin is right that Westerners, and certainly the Obama administration, have whitewashed Islamic extremism—the latter in policy changes that undermine American homeland security and our relationship with Israel. For example: the embrace of Muslim Brotherhood regimes in Egypt and elsewhere; purging “radical Islam” and “war on terror” from the government’s official language; censoring Islamic references in counterterrorism training materials used by the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Pentagon (which has handcuffed federal law enforcement); and, according to former FBI special agent John Guandolo, removing the names of hundreds of high-risk Islamists tied to the Muslim Brotherhood from the U.S. no-fly list.

Anita Colman
Mission, Kansas


Michael Rubin writes:

I thank Armin Sommer, James Griffin, and Anita Colman for their thoughtful letters. I am less sanguine than Mr. Sommer regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to transform Egypt for two reasons: First, many countries that lack oil, such as Cuba, North Korea, and Eritrea, are able to co-opt their people or terrorize them into submission. Additionally, Egypt may not lack petrodollars, even if it lacks oil. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and perhaps even Iran may choose to subsidize the Egyptian state in exchange for Egyptian acquiescence to certain political or diplomatic positions. 

To answer Mr. Griffin’s excellent questions would require the space of a full article. But, in short, under no circumstances should the Muslim Brotherhood be entitled to U.S. aid and assistance; rather, it should be allowed to fail. To subsidize the Brotherhood would be to enable it to act upon their ideological prerogatives knowing that American taxpayers would always blunt the effects of their worst domestic policies by providing food aid and subsidies. To allow it to fail, however, would be to signal that the religious rhetoric is no substitute for good governance.

Democratic legitimacy should not be based upon a single election; the reason the Brotherhood is casting aside its democratic trappings now is that it recognizes it will fare much more poorly in future polls. It should be in America’s interest that those polls occur freely, fairly, and on schedule. Too many pragmatists argue that the Brotherhood is a fact of life, that Washington has no other partner. This is no excuse not to try to develop a partner among the millions of Egyptians repulsed both by the excesses of Hosni Mubarak’s ousted dictatorship and those of Mohamed Morsi’s new one. Nor should the United States ever fall into the trap of embracing dictatorships for the stability they allegedly enable. Not only does this empower them to constantly provoke crises and fan the flames of Arab–Israeli discord, but kicking the can down the road can be far more costly to American interests.

I fully agree with Ms. Colman’s observations. As I argued in “After Bin Laden,” in the June 2011 issue of Commentary, there can be no compromise with an Islamist ideology that identifies as its chief grievances Western liberalism, culture, and democracy.

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