Why did Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt endorse an American no-fly zone in Syria? In Islamic terms to invite in an infidel power to “invade” an Arab land cannot be justified by any Islamist in contrast to a non-Islamist Muslim-majority state. The Muslim Brotherhood can justify this support because the goal of this action will be to install a Muslim Brotherhood government, that’s why.
There are four places where U.S. policy is not (not yet?) backing the Brotherhood.
First, because of pro-Israel sentiment in the United States, the Obama Administration is still anti-Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood group which rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas has also committed too many terrorist attacks and is in revolt against the U.S.-backed nationalist Palestinian Authority.
In an unguarded moment, Obama’s then counterterrorism advisor let slip that he would engage Hamas if he thought he could get away with it. But this would be too big a step for even pro-Obama Democrats to accept. And besides right now Hamas is in a conflict with Egypt so that doesn’t have to be faced right now.
The second problem is with Jordan, where the Obama Administration still supports the monarchy though it often seems only absent-mindedly so. The Brotherhood, which is the chief opposition group, wants to overthrow the king but is afraid—precisely because the regime is so tough–to try violence. Who knows what will happen, though, if Syria is ever taken over by the rebels? The third case is in Lebanon. The leadership of the Sunni Muslims there is pro-Western and moderate. Radical Islamists are in a small minority. Both Sunni groups hate Hizballah, which is of course the ally and now co-belligerent of Iran and the Syrian regime. Still, there is no sign that the United States is going to do anything on Hizballah’s home court. It is somewhat ironic that the one place where the Sunni Muslim leadership is most moderate is where Obama isn’t acting even though Hizballah (another force Brennan declared moderately not long ago) is now a proven enemy beyond denial.
And fourth, the Obama Administration has not yet supported the Muslim Brotherhood against Israel. The strategy on this point is to get a two-state peace agreement and thus defuse the issue. Of course, the Islamists will not be satisfied with that result even if it happens, which it won’t.
Why is the United States backing the Brotherhood in Syria? Most immediately it is being done in order to prevent an Iranian bloc victory in Syria, even though the Brotherhood and al-Qaida are on the same side there. Except in Iraq, U.S. policy is backing the Sunnis over the Shia.
Beyond that, however, the Obama Administration has argued that the Brotherhood is the best way to defeat al-Qaida, which wants to attack American directly. It has also claimed that the Brotherhood will inevitably moderate, the same argument that was once heard about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Yasir Arafat, Ruhollah Khomeini, and Saddam Hussein.
Are the Sunnis the lesser of two evils compared to Iran? Arguably, yes. But that doesn’t mean that the Sunni Islamists are better than the non-Islamists who range from nationalist army officers to traditionalist conservatives, and pro-democratic liberals.
At any rate, the new policy is in place. America has had many unlikely allies in its history—including Stalin and a number of Third World dictators. But have any been such strange partners as those who would like to kill all the Jews, wipe out Christianity, reduce women to permanent second-class citizens, and murder gays? Indeed, these are not only strange but unnecessary and mistaken allies.
An interesting MEMRI piece gives an example of Sunni closing of ranks. Muslim Brotherhood and chief Sunni Islamist guide Yusuf al-Qaradawi attacks Hizballah (Islamist but on the Shia side) and extols his friendship with King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia (anti-Islamist but on the Sunni side).
And here’s another Sunni Islamist, a Kuwaiti, wishing in a MEMRI video that he could personally slit the throats of Hizballah soldiers. Why is this significant? Because Kuwait has a lot of Shia with whom the Sunni Islamists have worked pretty well. The new Sunni-Shia conflict may also bitterly divide Kuwait. What this all means is that the Sunni Islamist war against the Shia supersedes the Islamist war against the non-Islamists.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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