Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1321, (24 - 30 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

America’s love of the Brotherhood

American support for the Muslim Brotherhood is a myth that too many Egyptian opinion-makers have taken seriously, writes Yassin El-Ayouty

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the non-merited victory of US President-elect Donald Trump in the presidential elections, there was elation in the Egyptian media in the form of a non-merited political victory in America causing euphoria in the local media caused by the faulty assumption that Trump’s victory would diminish the Muslim Brotherhood’s sway in Washington.

This Egyptian mythology becomes more intriguing as some Egyptian opinion-makers have claimed that Democrat Party candidate Hillary Clinton and outgoing US President Barack Obama “conspired with the Brotherhood against Egypt.” This is a direct quotation from a message from a senior former Egyptian ambassador.

I cannot falsely claim that I am neutral in my assessment of Trump as a post-modern thug, or of the Brotherhood as a dangerous vehicle of terrorism in the name of Islam. Neutrality in either case would constitute, for me at least, giving my brain and my reasoning a holiday.

Having dealt in my previous articles with Trump, my focus now is on the fraudulent assumption that the Brotherhood had so far held sway in Washington. This myth of affinity is nothing more than Brotherhood propaganda which the unwary Egyptian media and thinkers have come to take seriously.

Never wishing to lecture, except in my classrooms in New York City, as this would be false self-elevation, I only wish here to share thoughts and observations gained from my close proximity to the American political environment. This proximity is continually enriched by my research and writing, as well as by my interactions with a steady stream of my own students and interns.

New knowledge is my daily business. Old assumptions are my daily feed of the trash bins. This has been impressed upon me since my senior year in my beloved high school in Egypt (Zagazig) where, in the science section, I competed for a prize in the Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolve or perish. I choose the former.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi declaring himself to be above the law. That declaration in November 2012 marked the rise of Brotherhood fascism subverting the democratic goals of post-Mubarak Egypt.

It also mercifully marked the beginning of the end of Islamist rule of a country of nearly 100 million Arabs, or nearly one third of the Arab nation. The demise of that dark rule was also by a popular uprising in June 2013 whose success had to be guaranteed by the might of the Egyptian armed forces.

America’s grumbling about those developments, ignorantly calling the 30 June Revolution a military coup, was never due to the influence of the Brotherhood. Instead, it was due to America’s sticking to the false measurement of “every opposition is a form of democratic expression.”

But this is not so.

For the “right to self-determination,” a right derived from the sovereignty which resides in the populace, implies the right to determine what form of democracy the populace chooses. There is no global consensus as to what democracy is, or how it should be practised.

Did the choice of Trump as US president-elect come about through what should be considered “democracy?” No – it is the result of the Electoral College, an anachronism in the US Constitution intended to keep the mob away from having their votes directly counted. My vote for Clinton, who got the majority of the popular vote (63 million to 58 million), did not register, for example. It was swallowed in the bowels of a perennial quirk in American democracy.

There is another anomaly in America’s early support for the Brotherhood in Egypt. That support, now vanished, was manifested by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton meeting in Cairo and elsewhere with Brotherhood representatives. But this was not to assist in the political aggrandizement of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau in Egypt. Instead, it was to serve national American interests in the largest Arab country.

Those American efforts are the legitimate pursuit of American interests. This is what national sovereignty is all about. There is no love or hate in international relations. There are only national interests. When these converge with foreign national interests, we call this convergence an alliance.

But alliances are not marriages. They are temporary liaisons which may sour at any moment. Relations with other nations are changeable – also a lesson of Darwinian evolution. This is why outside intervention in national affairs is the riskiest form of relationship. Good fences (they are called borders) make for good neighbours, and that good neighbour might be far away, but it is brought closer by mutual interests.

Another reason why the Brotherhood failed in Egypt, and ended up marked as “terrorist,” was because in its terrorist acts in Egypt it kept looking for support from beyond national borders.

TRAITORS: An organisation which calls for foreign intervention, whether through diplomacy, arms, funds or propaganda, is a traitor organisation. That is why the most odious charge that Trump addressed to Obama was to call him a “traitor.” There has never been a scintilla of proof of that.

On the reverse side, it was the billionaire Trump who openly encouraged Russia to intervene in the American elections through hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Convention. Trump is now to become president of the nation he deceived.

There is also the falsehood of Brotherhood claims of amity with the Democratic Party, and its treacherous attempt to subvert Egyptian sovereignty through soliciting foreign intervention. This led to unfounded claims by the same Egyptian source that “the lady [meaning Clinton] is the worst” and that she and Obama “conspired... against Egypt and other Arab countries.” These are mere words without the requisite backing of proof.

My disparaging such reasoning is not based on my being an attorney searching for proof before I open my mouth. Attorneys do not have that dangerous luxury. It is based on my having taught political science before I taught law. And my political science background has kept me a willing ally of national sovereignty. Our world is made up of the nation-states. The United Nations is an inter-state system, not an inter-nation system. Even in Islamic jurisprudence, Islam did not create a state. Instead, it created an umma (a community). What holds a state together is internal strength.

Thus a state that complains of a “conspiracy” is a weak state that blames its misfortunes on others. Competition about national interests is not conspiracy. So when my Egyptian respondents cry about what they erroneously see as an Obama/Clinton conspiracy against Egypt, they in fact convey a lack of awareness that the New Egypt is no longer buffeted by outside conspiracies.

Where is my proof? Egypt is rapidly transitioning to a strong state, and that transition is even recognised by Trump. One of his main lieutenants, Rudolph Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City and the author of the foreword to my 1999 book “Government Ethics and Law Enforcement,” admitted to this publicly.

Asked on 13 November about Trump’s envisaged ban on Muslims entering the US, Giuliani, who might be considered for a high post in the Trump administration, gave a response that was testimony to the effects on America of the strong state. In effect, he cited Egypt as an example of an Arab state with which a Trump administration could vet applicants for immigration to the US “because President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s government, a strong ally, has done a good job at combatting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”

Where do you find the value of the Brotherhood megaphones in Times Square, New York or Washington? In this early recognition of Trump’s recognition of Egypt as a strong state there is a repudiation of the criticisms American NGOs have been heaping on Cairo.

These NGOs are valuable to an interventionist America. They are its cats’ paws. But the Obama administration reduced their credibility due to the Obama doctrine of “leading from behind” that also reflects America’s pivoting away from the Middle East and shifting resources to Asia and trade.

Those still claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood is Washington’s darling should learn an essential fact about America and the world, especially the Middle East. This is that the American centre is no longer the federal government. The centre now is defused among the 50 states calling themselves the United States of America. By the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, powers not given by the Constitution to the federal government belong automatically to the states.

As they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Trump won the presidency by vilifying Washington and gambling on his support from the state legislatures fashioned through gerrymandering, vote suppression and strong voter ID requirements, all of which are non-democratic methods.

But they worked for him, and for the entire Republican Party which now has Republican governors in 38 states, majorities in the two houses of Congress, and now the Oval Office. The party of Lincoln is now owned by Trump, a man who ferociously attacked Clinton, a Yale Law School graduate, and cuddled up to US politician Sarah Palin.


CONVERGENCES: A point of convergence between the Cairo of today and the Washington of Trump is the emphasis on “jobs and the economy.”

For if the opposition in Egypt claims that 25 per cent of Egyptians are below the poverty line, so does the opposition to Obama, claiming that 40 million America children go to bed hungry. Former US president Bill Clinton, a governor from Arkansas, won the presidency twice largely on the slogan “it’s the economy stupid.”

No wonder that the chief operating office of a major American bank (Pharos Investments) spoke optimistically about Egypt, which has been approved to receive $12 billion as a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Angus Blair, reflecting the attitude of fellow bankers about the New Egypt’s floating its national currency, said “there is new thinking, which is what Egypt needs.”

Please, Mr Banker, say this to the doom and gloom-sayers in Egypt. Tell them to leave Cairo and go to visit the countryside. This is where Egypt’s pulse is. Even a weak pulse is a sign of life – the life of a new rebirth of the strong state, now recovering from 60 years of military dictatorship.

The New Egypt should rid itself of the stale thoughts of the past, replacing these by the facts that matter. Together with a convalescing economy and a strong army, ensuring non-porous borders, Egypt needs opinion-makers trained in connecting the dots. They say that camels walk faster at the sound of the flute. Let Egyptian writers play their flutes to help this caravan move forward across even non-chartered deserts.

 Opinion-makers in America expect trouble in Trump’s America. Describing Trump’s victory, one of them, David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine, characterised it as “an American tragedy.” He went on to call it “an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine”.

Uncertainty about America does not augur well for the rest of the world. In fact, within 96 hours of his victory, Trump proved that his ultra-right bluster during the campaign threatened to become policy. In a TV interview he affirmed that the wall between America and Mexico would be built, from two million to three million illegal immigrants would be the first instalment of deportees, and, looking menacingly at the cameras, he sternly ordered anti-Trump demonstrators to “stop it.”

He is already proving that those who said “his bark is worse than his bite” are dreamers. With internal instability being ushered onto the American streets, countries like Egypt should redouble their efforts to rebuild themselves from within. It has always been my belief that national deliverance happens from within and that planning on the basis of reliance on help from abroad is a national gamble.

Observing our world today, it doesn’t take much to conclude that it is pivoting to the right. From America to Europe, both west and east, to Russia to India to Japan, the right is ascending. From globalism our world is, in many ways, returning to tribalism. That is why the sovereign response at the national level is the strong state. Alliances between strong states, whose national interests intersect, will last as long as that intersecting lasts.

For the Arab people, following the settlement of their national upheavals, their future as a regional grouping can only be served by the fulfilment of an old dream: The formation of the United Arab States (UAS). This would not be a union, but a federation in which the internally sovereign state would go hand-in-hand with the sinews of foreign affairs and defence in the hands of a federal council.

This is the Swiss model of cantons, adjusted by the American constitutional model of the supremacy of the state in which powers are not allocated to the federal council. Is this an Arab mythology? Maybe. But it is more logical than the present League of Arab States in which the future of some of its members is being shaped by non-Arab states.

The Arabs have the fabric for a future UAS, but so far neither the will nor the tailor. To those who say that Clinton would have been worse for America than Trump, I say that you don’t understand America. Comparing Clinton to Trump is like equating experience and demagoguery.

EPIC MISTAKES: What occurred in America on 8 November has been described as “an epic mistake” (Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics).

Within 24 hours of that characterisation being published, Trump appointed Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon, the editor of the US Website Breitbart News, is the guru of the white supremacists, the propagator of Islamophobia, and a man who made hate an industry.

By such indicators, Trump is not embarking upon healing America’s wounds. He is launching a reign of racial, ethnic and religious hatred, thus raising the spectre of civil strife. For now, rage has overcome sanity, and ignorance is about to overwhelm recognisable norms of governance. As the least politically experienced president-elect in modern American history, Trump is especially known for his “I alone can fix it” mantra – all pretentious bombast.

A number of Arab leaders are scampering today to befriend Trump, trying to get to his boat by climbing over the edges. To them, I offer the following: Remember that that boat has a hole in the bottom allowing the waters of Islamophobia, racism, war-mongering and the Trump family business to rush through it; remember that under a Trump administration “America First,” “deals are people,” and sudden changes of mind are all more than likely.

Remember that Trump’s history reflects no lasting loyalties. But remember, too, that a changed America might still offer opportunities for an Arab renaissance subservient to no outsider, for in this period of world tribalism and rage the way to national success is to put diplomacy in the service of clearly defined national goals. Trump is temporary. And Hillary is gone. But prudence calls for expecting the return of the Democrats under new leadership to oust a regime that came to power despite the popular vote.

Remember that under the US Constitution, the federal government is one having enumerated (limited) powers. The states, and by extension, the cities, are where most of the powers reside in the US. New York City, for example, has already defied Trump on immigration. Its police is not federal, and nor is its educational system or voter ID system.

Because of Trump, the United States may be reverting to the Athenian democracy of the city-state.


The writer is a professor of law at New York University.

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