Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Republican praise for Al-Sisi

Republican Party candidates in the 2016 US presidential elections have heaped praise on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, seemingly to the chagrin of the US liberal media, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

During their presidential primary debates earlier this month, a number of high-profile US Republican hopefuls teamed up to heap praise on Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.  The key American conservative media also spoke highly of Al-Sisi, lauding his role in standing up to Islamist terrorism, pressuring Muslim clerics to modernise religious discourse, and calling for “a religious revolution”.

As part of his response to a question on how he would deal with the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group, US Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a debate on Fox News on 6 August sharply criticised US President Barack Obama by heaping praise on Al-Sisi.

Cruz blasted Obama “for not demonstrating the same courage that Egypt’s President Al-Sisi — a Muslim — did when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.” Cruz described Obama as an “apologist” who was doing his best to justify Islamist terrorism, while Al-Sisi was a “tough, terror-fighting commander” who should be both befriended and emulated.

“Why don’t we see the president of the United States demonstrating that same courage as Al-Sisi, just to speak the truth about the face of evil we’re facing right now,” Cruz asked.

Mike Huckabee, another potential Republican presidential contender, also said in an interview with NewsMax TV “thank God for president Al-Sisi in Egypt.” Huckabee praised Al-Sisi for his role in fighting Islamist terrorists and for his calls for Al-Azhar to cleanse Islam of militant jihadist ideology.

Huckabee and other conservative figures said “Al-Sisi’s speech in Al-Azhar University last January could be as historically resonant as US human rights activist Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.”

Some, like conservative commentator George Will, went so far as to suggest that “Al-Sisi may deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Jeb Bush, another Republican candidate and brother of former US president George W. Bush, also joined forces, wondering “why the White House has told Al-Sisi you are not on our team as jihadism spreads like wildfire through the Middle East.” Bush told the US news channel CNN that “Al-Sisi gave an incredible speech about Muslim extremism, saying it’s the responsibility of the Arab world to step up to fight this.”

Another conservative, Republican Louie Gohmert, said “I hope one day that our top leaders in this country will have the courage of President Al-Sisi of Egypt and they will reflect, as Al-Sisi has, the will of the people of their country.”

The increasing popularity of Al-Sisi in America’s conservative circles, however, has not gone down well with the US liberal media, especially such TV and newspaper behemoths as CNN, the Washington Post and Newsweek, which have led a hostile campaign against Al-Sisi, describing him as Egypt’s “new dictator or strongman,” or a “military coup leader”.  

On 6 August, Newsweek ran a story with the sensational headline “in Republican debate, Cruz praises the Egyptian dictator Al-Sisi.” In two articles entitled “the GOP’s new favourite Arab leader” and “Republican debate highlights GOP obsession with Egypt’s Al-Sisi,” the two liberal media outlets joined forces to attack Al-Sisi.

Egyptian political analysts who follow the American presidential debates said they were not surprised by Al-Sisi becoming a contentious issue. Hassan Abu Taleb, an Al-Ahram political analyst, said he was “not surprised by the American liberal media’s anti-Al-Sisi rhetoric.”

“This media, coupled with the Obama administration and other similar organisations like Human Rights Watch and American think tanks like the Carnegie Institute, have been for years promoting an extremist liberal agenda that has led to the Middle East languishing in chaos and terrorism,” Abu Taleb said.

 “These liberal circles have a very simplistic view of political conditions in the Middle East. They believe that organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood are moderate and should be integrated in the political process as part of what they call ‘inclusive democracy’ and that this would put an end to terrorism.”

“The result of this view, which has been espoused by the Obama administration and was evident during his speech in Cairo in June 2009, has been a ‘destructive democracy’ that has allowed extremists and terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to ride the wave of the Arab Spring, turning it into a religious revolution.”

“The problem with these American liberal fanatics is that they have not been able so far to see the catastrophic results of their views or of Obama’s pro-Brotherhood doctrine, and they still insist on portraying people like Al-Sisi as a military dictator who usurped power from a democratically elected president,” Abu Taleb said.

In its commentary, CNN insisted that Al-Sisi had “ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president in a coup,” crushed political dissent, let foreign journalists languish in jail, and jabbed at the US by greeting Russian President Vladimir Putin as a hero. And while Jeb Bush in a TV interview described Al-Sisi’s speech at Al-Azhar as “an incredible speech about Muslim extremism,” the Washington Post insisted that Al-Sisi’s speech was “standard stuff”.

According to the CNN report, “Al-Sisi’s remarks in Al-Azhar University were not that unusual and a number of Arab leaders have previously given similar speeches to limited effect.”

Daniel Pipes, a US political analyst, disagrees with CNN, countering that “Al-Sisi’s call for religious revolution in his speech was unprecedented, not to mention that it was delivered in a highly symbolic venue — Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, one of the most vaunted seats of learning in the Muslim world.”

In his speech before Al-Azhar clerics on 1 January, Al-Sisi warned that Islam was “being torn and destroyed by extremism.” He said it was “inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, killing and destruction for the entire world,” asking “does this mean that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven billion people — so that they themselves may live?”

Gamal Zahran, a political science professor at Suez Canal University, said that “the popularity of President Al-Sisi in some American political circles clearly shows that there is a large sector of the American elite that has begun to see the truth about what is happening in Egypt and that the US liberal media’s coverage of events in the Middle East has always been misleading.”

“This media, especially CNN and the New York Times, has proved itself to be flawed and biased since the Arab uprisings in 2011, and we see now that many circles in America have become highly sceptical of this media,” Zahran said, adding that “different sectors of the political elite in America and even in Western Europe have decided to change their views since Egypt led its revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.”

“These sectors now realise that the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings were stolen by the Islamists and that Obama’s ‘inclusive democracy’ has paved the way for these Islamists, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, and that the secularist backlash against these Islamists was necessary to stem the tide of extremism and put the Arab Spring back on track,” he said.  

A US diplomat also warned in an interview with the WorldViews Website this month of “the dangers of Morsi-style majoritarianism,” referring to the ways in which Islamist dictators like Egypt’s ousted former president Mohamed Morsi or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erodgan can win elections not to establish democracy but to build religious totalitarianism.

Zahran, however, believes that “the persistent anti-Al-Sisi rhetoric in America’s liberal circles will continue to keep Al-Sisi’s relations with the Obama administration out in the cold,” adding that “I do not think there will be any improvement in these relations despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Egypt and growing talk about an expected visit by Al-Sisi to America next September.”

He warned that “the election in 2016 of another liberal Democratic president like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden will not help improve Egypt’s relations with America because these adopt the same Obama doctrine that still sees Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as moderates.”

At the same time, Zahran warned that “the conservative praise for Al-Sisi could be deceptive.” He said it was important not to forget that “former US president George W. Bush, a Republican, was the first to hold talks with Muslim Brotherhood leaders as an alternative to [Egypt’s former president] Hosni Mubarak,” recalling that “the Bush administration received them as independent MPs who believed in democracy.”

 “The Republicans might see Al-Sisi as a major force against Islamist terrorism, but they hold the same liberal view that Al-Sisi has stifled freedoms and cracked down on political opponents,” Zahran said.

Zahran and Abu Taleb both think the best way to deal with American misconceptions could be gradually to phase out Egypt’s strategic relationship with Washington. “I think President Al-Sisi is moving in this direction, although he is keen not to cut all ties with Washington. He is giving the US the message that it is no longer reliable,” said Abu Taleb.

Zahran was particularly happy that Al-Sisi had been able to neutralise Egypt’s dependence on American weaponry by forging stronger military cooperation with countries like Russia, China and France. “Al-Sisi’s visit, with other Arab leaders, to Moscow this week is very important in telling Washington that we have become fed up with Obama’s hollow jargon about democracy and its lack of will to fight IS. It is a way of saying we cannot trust the US,” Zahran said.

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