Politico reports that the Obama administration has decided to sit down with the Muslim Brotherhood. “The political landscape in Egypt has changed, and is changing . . . It is in our interests to engage with all of the parties that are competing for parliament or the presidency,” an official said who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
The reasoning wears thin, however, for several reasons.
First, the Obama administration has been seeking to engage the Brotherhood even before the Arab Spring. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo, for example, sent ten members of the Muslim Brotherhood invitations to attend Obama’s June 4, 2009 speech at the University of Cairo.
Second, the Obama administration puts too much trust in the rhetoric of the Brotherhood and focuses too little on its ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood’s fundamental animosity to the trappings and principles of the modern nation-state remains constant. While the Brotherhood has long told Western diplomats and scholars that they now eschew violence, their own communications belie such a statement. Their own website in recent years has hosted a series of articles encouraging violence against Jews, Christians, and non-Muslims.
Certainly, the Muslim Brotherhood is a player in Egyptian politics. The Obama administration, however, constantly fails to understand that engagement comes at a price: By sitting down and talking to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration legitimizes the group and the violence which has propelled it to prominence. Obama’s reluctance to engage liberal reformers and democratic dissidents underscores the message that violence brings diplomatic legitimacy.
Obama’s supporters and even aides often talk about America’s declining power. Ironically, the White House’s inability to recognize the power and importance of the legitimacy it bestows on its adversaries is what is squandering the American diplomatic position. Simply put, Obama does not recognize that adversaries and enemies need the United States more than the reverse.
Rather than embrace the Brotherhood, the Obama administration should be seeking to ensure that the group cannot dominate Egypt. Most analysts agree that the Muslim Brotherhood is by far the best organized group in Egypt, but that it only enjoys perhaps 25 or 30 percent support. The secular opposition remains weak and fractured. If the Obama administration wishes to remain engaged in Egypt’s future and shape the best possible outcome for both U.S. national security and the Egyptian people, it should be pushing for electoral reform to change Egypt’s dysfunctional system to a proportional representation model in which the secular majority can form a coalition to check a Muslim Brotherhood minority for which true democracy is anathema.