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America's interests and Egypt's new president

Matt Ellis
Matt Ellis photo

It is easy to speculate why U.S. officials appear to favor an Egyptian president affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood as a preferable alternative to the country's ruling generals. In contrast to the generals, who have stymied Egypt's democratic transition, trampled on human rights, and accused the U.S. of undermining the revolution, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has promised a modern democracy, peace with Israel, and a free market economy.

However, State Department personnel, prominent American lawmakers, and other U.S. officials should exercise caution rather than meeting, congratulating and endorsing the Brotherhood's rise to power. The movement's history and ideology suggest that a government dominated by the Brotherhood will be unlikely to genuinely promote democratization and an inclusive society in Egypt. Therefore, the U.S. should avoid picking winners, especially those whose history and ideology sharply contrast with American interests and principles.

The lack of democratic initiatives in the Brotherhood's 84-year existence suggests that the FJP will not uphold its platform to promote democratization throughout Egypt. Despite the Brotherhood's insistence on its internal democratic practices, its leaders allow no space for discussion or criticism. Further, the movement's internal elections for the Guidance Office and Supreme Guide are accomplished through an entirely undemocratic and non-consultative process.

The Brotherhood's recent activity in post-revolution Egypt reflects the movement's continuing discomfort with democratization. The movement initially refused to back the uprising and during the aftermath sided with the military against the democracy-demanding revolutionaries. Throughout the parliamentary and presidential elections the Brotherhood employed illegal tactics to acquire votes and sought to dominate the constitutional assembly. These instances indicate that the Brotherhood views democratization as a means of empowerment and rejects a broader democratic culture that emphasizes pluralism and individual freedoms.

The Brotherhood's insistence that Islamic institutions should guide cultural, political and social structures reflects an exclusive ideology unable to accommodate Egypt's diverse populace. Egypt's Christians are particularly concerned that the Brotherhood's promotion of religious ideology in the public sphere will further spread sectarian violence in post-revolution Egypt. These concerns may be justified considering the Brotherhood's unwillingness to address or confront the forced conversions of Christian women to Islam and attacks on churches in Alexandria, Cairo, Aswan, Sinai, Helwan, Ain Shams, and Wadi Natrun since January 2011.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the Brotherhood's refusal to even acknowledge the existence of sectarianism in Egypt, as evident in a statement made by a FJP representative who asserted that “the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Egypt is always good.” Such sentiments exasperate Egypt's Christians and give rise to feelings, as voiced by an Egyptian Orthodox priest, that the Brotherhood “does not want us in Egypt; they view us as second-class citizens and according to their ideology we should not be in Egypt.”

The Brotherhood's lackluster track-record promoting democracy and inclusivity demonstrates that the U.S. should hesitate before fully embracing the FJP as a preferable alternative to the ruling generals. There are numerous Egyptian voices better aligned with U.S. interests than the Brotherhood, and after all, most Egyptians didn't want Morsi but only brought him to power because he was the lesser evil.

Matt Ellis is an Alaska resident who has lived in Egypt for the last three years. He recently moved back to Alaska after working for several Egyptian NGOs that promote democracy and civic engagement in the Arab world.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.