Home inContext Obama’s Misguided Stance on Egypt

Obama’s Misguided Stance on Egypt

Lauren Stone

The Obama administration has officially decided to reach out and establish contact with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. “We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday. “And we welcome, therefore, dialogue with those Muslim Brotherhood members who wish to talk with us.”

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, created in 1928, is a political Islamist group. Although the Brotherhood was banned under Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, Brotherhood members ran in elections as independents. The U.S. previously opened lines of communication with those Brotherhood affiliates, but only to deal with them as Members of Parliament.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Shura council members outside the new Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo.

The Brotherhood long ago renounced violence and is not labeled as a terrorist organization by Washington, but it has sketchy ties and a violent past. The Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, was the first to promote jihad as a tool for fighting the West, and in its early years the Brotherhood openly advocated violence against anyone standing in its way of Islamizing Egyptian society. The Brotherhood’s ideology was the inspiration that spawned various Islamist movements in the region and is the foundation of modern Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden’s former right-hand man and successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Moreover, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas started out as the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood was identified as the creator of the Holy Land Foundation, a U.S. charity that collected funds for Hamas. Brotherhood members recently said they favor the establishment of Sharia law in Egypt and showed deep feelings of anti-Semitism. Currently, the Brotherhood is reportedly working to end Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel and is attempting to strengthen ties with Iran.

The Brotherhood has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reform Egypt – as is its stated purpose – and now the Obama administration is empowering the Brotherhood by publicly supporting the group. But in the absence of a clear strategy on what the White House wants to gain from its connections with the Brotherhood or from Egypt as a changing state, given the Islamist group’s background, the administration’s actions are highly misguided.