As 2010 became 2011, the people of Tunisia, spurred on by a random incident of police brutality, awoke from the slumber of oppression and took to the streets. Within days their government was high-tailing it for quieter climes.
Then the 30-year old regime of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was beset by thundering masses. Despots in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Algeria warily eye similar rumblings. Even the quietude of Amman, Jordan, ruled with a reasonably light touch by benevolent monarch King Abdullah II, has been interrupted by ominous rumblings of late.
Meanwhile, the United States, tied to the region through multi-billion dollar aid to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and regional pariah Israel, has responded with… well… Leon Panetta is still watching CNN.
Now, the governance of Egypt has fallen to the military; meaning the new boss may be no better than the old boss. The takeover, seen by many as a coup, has spawned not only a new round of concerns about the direction of the most-populous nation in the Arab world, but a veritable tsunami of cheap jokes based on Who lyrics.
Egypt’s military have issued opaque “communiqués” promising their ultimate goal is to:
"…discuss what measures and arrangements could be taken to safeguard the homeland… and the aspirations of the great Egyptian people."
That would presume that the Egyptian military, which until recently held out Mubarak as an icon (Mubarak is a former Air Force commander and is considered a hero from Egypt’s second place finish in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war), has the same idea about the aspirations for “the great Egyptian people” as do “the great Egyptian people.”
Behind this whole tableau is the shadowy hand of an increasingly important group named the Muslim Brotherhood. Though the Obama administration’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has described them as a “"largely secular" group that has "eschewed violence," the reality is that an influential Muslim Brotherhood is nothing approaching good news for Western interests, or even Egyptian interests which don’t share the same aspirations as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a worldwide organization, the oldest active Islamist group in the world. Though there is some debate about their goals, there is no ignoring the mountain of evidence suggesting that those goals are nefarious by non-nefarious standards. There are reputable reports of ties to terrorist groups like HAMAS and Hezbollah. In the words of former White House counterterrorism Chief Juan Zarate:
"The Muslim Brotherhood is a group that worries us not because it deals with philosophical or ideological ideas but because it defends the use of violence against civilians."
The Brotherhood’s key figures also have ties to Osama bin Laden through Youssef Nada and the Al Taqwa group, which is alleged to have served in a financial advisory capacity to al-Qaida for some time.
With the Brotherhood taking the potential foray in upheaval in the Middle East, the question turns to the role the United States might play in the unfolding drama. Although some might immediately suggest that the United States should stay the hell out of internal affairs in the region, I would counter that that camel has already strolled. Moreover, an isolationist U.S. leaves an influence/intelligence gap wider than the Suez Canal.
With recent polling indicating that the majority of respondents would appreciate a more stringent type of Islamist system. A recent Pew poll showed that 95 percent of Egyptians would prefer Islam play a “large role in politics.” Read: No separation of mosque and state. The same poll also revealed “84 percent favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim faith.” Get thee to a mosque, Mr. President, and make it snappy.
President Barack Obama, like Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter before him, is operating under the misapprehension that freedom and democracy mean the same thing to Akbar, Haji and Muhammad as they do to Tom, Dick and Harry. The Islamist beliefs of many in the Middle East color their worldview to include Sharia, stoning and the subjugation of women; all anathematic to Americans (except perhaps that last one — relative to ex-wives).
Somewhere between George W. Bush’s “shoot first, ask about a transitional government later” style of diplomacy and Obama’s “WHAT happened in ‘Tunafish-ea’?” obliviousness is the likely proper path. Obama and his minions “diplomacy via television” has trapped America in God’s little acre:
East of the rock, west of the hard place.