Belmont Club

A Reversal of Fortune

Remember when the Muslim Brotherhood was reckoned to be part of the movement for democratic change in Egypt? That was then. This is now. The New York Times reports that “Gaining Power in Parliament, Islamists Block a Cairo Protest”. Who could have seen that coming?

CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood flexed its muscles here on Tuesday as hundreds of its young members linked arms to block a protest march from reaching Parliament while its lawmakers inside dominated the selection of leaders for legislative committees …

The protesters had set out to demand that Egypt’s military rulers surrender power now, before a new constitution is drafted and without any guarantees of immunity from prosecution. But when they confronted the Brotherhood barrier, they quickly shifted their ire to the new target.

“The people want the fall of the Brotherhood,” they chanted. “No Brotherhood, no officers. Down, down with military rule!”

The confrontation was a vivid illustration of the inversion in the Brotherhood’s status. Once outlawed and persecuted, the Islamist group is now the party in power, with half the seats in the newly elected Parliament.

Civilian members of the Brotherhood are even playing the role of informal police officers in keeping the peace, as they did during demonstrations in Tahrir Square last week. On Tuesday, members of the central security police stood idly behind the Brotherhood’s lines, some officers leaning casually on riot shields.

Maybe the State Department can get the Muslim Brotherhood to help the US ambassador out. “Egypt’s justice minister said on Tuesday he had sent back a letter from the U.S. ambassador that asked for an end to a travel ban on Americans being investigated for alleged illegal funding of pro-democracy groups.” America is only the biggest aid donor to Egypt, which is kind of nice for the Muslim Brotherhood because they’re going to have money to spend. You would think that the MB should be going out of its way to do America a favor.

You would think. But why isn’t it happening?

Punidits in the capital are perplexed. The Washington Post thunders, in an editorial, that Egypt shouldn’t keep believing that America can be kicked in the teeth and like it because Washington just might turn off the money to the Army.

There is a grotesque incongruity in the tour around Washington this week of an Egyptian military delegation even as seven Americans who work for congressionally funded pro-democracy groups are prevented from leaving Cairo and threatened with criminal prosecution. What makes it worse is that the ruling military council refuses to recognize the seriousness of the crisis it has created in the U.S.-Egyptian alliance.

But maybe the “ruling military council” probably recognizes the seriousness of the crisis just fine. It’s just that, unlike the Washington Post, they are probably betting that the administration will keep handing out the money however hard they get poked in the eye. After all, it is still “friends” with Pakistan in spite of what the Land of the Pure has done to its nearest and dearest Western ally. And if you can be friends with Pakistan, how can you even have enemies?

Already the administration is taking the line that it’s Bush’s fault.

Administration officials say Gen. Tantawi has been warned repeatedly that the aid money is at risk. But they tend to blame Congress, which attached conditions to the 2012 military funding over the administration’s objections. Before aid is disbursed, the administration is required to certify to Congress that Egypt is holding free elections and protecting freedom of expression and association.

It’s a sad day indeed when President Obama has to hide behind the comparative resolution of Congress (only when compared to himself) to stiffen his spine. “They’re gonna make me do it!” he says.  But the Egyptians have already got his number. They’ve got him figured out. Thus, they are probably betting that the administration will certify that Egypt has met every possible test of democracy and expression whatever they do since up until now he’s never missed a chance to stand up to Congress nor an opportunity to cave to foreign tyrants.

Now they say Egypt is bankrupt and sinking fast. “Unlike in Libya, there’s no significant oil wealth in Egypt to tap.” Since the Arab Spring things have been going to hell in a handbasket. Anything that isn’t nailed down is being sold by the military for cash. You would think this is a sign of vulnerability.

Any warehoused resources or stocks that can be sold for cash are being liquidated, resulting in shortages of fuel, foodstuffs, and even medicines in a number of localities according to numerous reports. Egypt has a population of over eighty million, and it can’t support or feed its own; food imports are a necessity, and there is less and less money to do so, or for consumers to buy it even if it were available.

But quite the contrary, Egypt’s plight ties the administration’s hands. For the mismanagement can only mean — in the language of diplomacy and ‘engagement’ — that it is even more important than ever to support Egypt: to flood it with money, fill it with hope, to take the moral high ground so that the Muslim Brotherhood won’t extend its influence. If America uses food as a weapon it would marginalize the moderates and ruin the President’s leadership from behind in the Middle East.

Anyone who disbelieves this has only to look at North Korea. Guess who Pyongyang’s biggest food aid donor is?

Unfortunately the Muslim Brotherhood had this figured out even before the Washington Post could write an editorial. They know the iron rule of extortion: the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Be a nice guy and you get zip. Be the Muslim Brotherhood and the other hand and … as applied to Egypt this implies that the Copts get nothing; America gets nothing, but the Muslim Brotherhood gets everything. It’s been that way for so long under this administration that it’s probably established policy.

Well he did say “irreversible”, didn’t he?

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