For days now, the twittersphere and even the mainstream media have been agog at the anti-Semitism spewing in a now-viral video by Mohammed Morsi in 2010 when he was head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He called President Obama a liar as well, but the administration is doing its best not to let it matter.
It’s not as if they didn’t know. The Muslim Brotherhood is more than 80 years old and is organized around anti-Israel, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic claptrap. It also does not hide its anti-Western, anti-imperialist rhetoric that shares the stage with an interpretation of Islam that is homophobic and misogynistic. Last summer, the Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Badie, accused Jews of corrupting the world and slaughtering Palestinians. Essem al Erian, Vice President of the Brotherhood’s political party, last month invited Jews to return to Egypt — not because he likes them, but, as he said, “Why stay in a racist entity, an occupation, and be tainted with war crimes that will be punished? All occupation leaders will be punished.” The “Zionist project,” he added, will end.
It is unimaginable that President Obama thought Morsi would dump the Brotherhood and become a small-d democrat at precisely the moment his party took power in Egypt and he had the opportunity to implement the agenda to which he has devoted his entire adult life: the Muslim Brotherhood. Just as President Obama did not win the American presidency with the intention of governing the way George W. Bush did before him, Morsi did not win to govern as a liberal democrat. His goal, like that of any electoral victor, is to enshrine his views in law and ensure their continuance.
The Obama administration placed a very heavy bet on its ability to manage relations with Morsi, and the world’s discovery of his virulent anti-Semitism will not change it. Key to “managing relations” with Morsi is ignoring almost everything related to the Muslim Brotherhood and everything Morsi does that defies democratic norms. This includes ignoring the Brotherhood’s lie that it would not run candidates for all the seats in Parliament and would not run a presidential candidate. It includes ignoring massacres against the Coptic Christian community; the hasty construction of the constitution; the dismissal of judges; the quick-and-dirty “referendum” that claims 63% of the vote without noting that less than 25% of Egyptians voted; and the December protests. It requires, then, allowing Morsi to run roughshod over the Egyptian people, much as his predecessor did.
The White House stepped gingerly at first. In an interview with Telemundo in September, President Obama hedged: “I don’t think that we would consider (Egypt) an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They are a new government that’s trying to find its way.” But by November, Morsi was a star. National Public Radio (NPR) reported, “Analysts say Morsi has proved himself and his organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, to be major political players on the world stage, and if the cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel holds, it will be a shining achievement.” According to The New York Times, “Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology.”
“Surprisingly little ideology” is a strange turn of phrase for an organization that is defined by little else, and a man defined by his organization.
Following the video, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced Islamic anti-Semitism. “The mainstreaming of Jew hatred in the Arab and Muslim world will not only end hopes for any Middle East peace deal, but puts Jews in jeopardy around the world.” He added, “America must not signal that it will be business as usual with the government of the Arab world’s largest and most powerful nation.”
That last bit will fall on deaf ears. Between “business as usual” with Egypt and words coming out of Morsi’s mouth, the words take a distant back seat.
The administration has simply returned language for language. Morsi’s words were met by words from White House press secretary Jay Carney and the State Department’s Victoria Neuland. Carney called the language “deeply offensive.” Neuland said the Egyptian President’s first attempt at an apology wasn’t quite good enough, adding, “(We expect) President Morsi and Egyptian leaders to demonstrate in both word and in deed their commitment to religious tolerance and to upholding all of Egypt’s international obligations.”
But the F-16s will be delivered and aid will go forward.
Discussing the recently finalized U.S. decision to deliver the advanced aircraft to the Egyptian military, retired Brigadier General Safwat Al-Zayat told Al-Ahram Weekly, “It is obvious that the finalisation (sic) of the deal on 11 December, which happened to be at the height of the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square against Morsi, conveyed a political message. Between the lines, Washington was sending a message to three parties. The first was to Morsi and it stated, ‘We support you. Move ahead.’ The second was to the army and it said, ‘We are encouraging this man,’ meaning Morsi. The third was to the opposition forces and it said the same thing.”
In this you have President Obama indeed governing as George W. Bush — and Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, in fact.
Domestic Egyptian politics — including Morsi’s anti-Semitism, which President Obama has no reason to believe is in the past — have been and will remain a distant second priority, to the chagrin of those who thought change in Cairo and change in Washington would produce something better for the Egyptian people.