Remember that U.S. policy is to support the Brotherhood as a “moderate” group to block the even more radical Salafists. Yet this strategy misses out on four points: The Brotherhood itself is radical; It often cooperates with the Salafists on everything from writing the constitution to trying to stop the construction of churches; The Salafists push the Brotherhood to be more militant; The Salafists get awaywith extra-parliamentary violence against Christians, women, anti-Islamists, foreign embassies, etc. all with Brotherhood support or tolerance.
Meanwhile, what of the National Salvation Front? It is led by ex-nuclear agency director Muhammad al-Baradei who in the past himself was a Brotherhood ally. He is also a dreadful politician with little or no personal appeal to the masses. It is comprised of two dozen parties, including far left and radical nationalist ones. Two of its best-known members are the New Wafd Party, which is nominally liberal and pro-capitalist but can engage in radical demagoguery, and the truly anti-Islamist Free Egyptians Party. It even includes ex-foreign minister and radical nationalist Amr Moussa.
And the New York Times gives the official line on this aspect also:
Nonetheless, the boycott by the…National Salvation Front, underscores the depth of its animosity toward the governing Islamists. And it reveals the opposition’s continuing distrust of Egypt’s nascent political process. Well, yeah, but most of all it underscores the depth of their foolishness and incompetence as the opposition is about–if it doesn’t change its mind–to turn over the country totally to an Islamist regime. A boycott of the election is suicide, turning future legislation over to whatever the Brotherhood and Salafists agree on. Such a strategy would be the death knell of any remaining shreds of hope in a democratic Egypt. Indeed, U.S. credibility with the opposition is so low that it refused the State Department’s urging to participate in the elections.
If the differences among Islamists seem wide, those of the other side are even broader. Boycott or no boycott are these people really going to stick together?
The likely result is a mess, conducive to anarchy or—more likely—an increasingly entrenched Islamist regime than to a moderate democracy. We are going to be told often in the next two months that things are going to get better in Egypt. I think it likely that they are going to get worse. A proper U.S. policy would be working covertly to strengthen and encourage the National Salvation Front, persuade it to participate in elections, and stop praising the Muslim Brotherhood regime.
Instead the opposition boycotted Secretary of State John Kerry because U.S. policy is deemed to be supporting the Islamists. One of the slogans of the small anti-Kerry demonstrations was that U.S. policy wanted to turn Egypt into Pakistan. Think of that: the moderate, non-Islamist forces in Egypt (and in Turkey and other countries for that matter) believe the U.S. government is their enemy, helping to foist Islamist dictatorships on their countries!
And that opposition isn’t wrong in thinking that’s what’s happening in practice.
And so, as one of my readers wrote me: “You know the world has turned upside down via two American presidential elections when there exists more ardor for an Islamist government in the U.S. [government] than in Egypt at large.”
Egypt favors the Brotherhood by around 40 to 50 percent and backs the Islamists as a whole by around 66 percent. The U.S. government favors the Islamists by 100 percent.
To summarize, while Western coverage will stress the election as a defeat for the Brotherhood and a step toward greater moderation, in fact the probable outcome is a government based either on a minority Brotherhood regime with Salafist support from outside the coalition or a Brotherhood governing alliance with al-Nur. Despite continuing protests, the majority of the Egyptian people aren’t objecting against too much extremism; they are demanding even more.
While Salafists might join with moderates on some actions to limit government power overall, they can be expected to support the Brotherhood on any steps toward more Islamization of Egypt. The al-Nur Party is working hard to avoid any conflict with the Brotherhood. It’s People’s Party rival is going to criticize the Brotherhood for being too moderate! The idea of a Salafist-moderate alliance in any meaningful way doesn’t make sense. And the government will have less incentive to counter any Salafist violence as long as it isn’t directed against the regime, the main exception being armed struggle against the government in the Sinai.
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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