EDITORIAL: Shut up, Egypt is Muslim

Major Arab ally is on the brink of becoming Islamist

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Supporters of Egypt’s various new political parties gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday for what was supposed to be a unity rally. In a portent of things to come, however, the gathering was hijacked by masses of Islamists who intimidated the members of liberal and secular parties out of the square. America’s most important Arab ally is hurtling toward an Islamist takeover and the Obama administration is egging on the transition.

The Islamist factions in Egypt, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the more strident Salafists, have been cautiously and quietly building their political organizations ahead of November’s parliamentary elections. Earlier this year, they were circumspect about involvement in partisan politics, making statements that gave the impression they would serve more as spiritual guides than contenders for power. This was a ruse. The objective of the Islamist groups has always been to implement Sharia law in Egypt, and the downfall of the Hosni Mubarak government has presented them with their best and perhaps only opportunity to get it done. After all, it is a revolution; the time to impose radical change is now.

The move toward extremism in Egypt has been obvious to everyone but the members of the Obama administration. The White House has consistently downplayed the implications of radical change in that strategically vital country and encouraged the belief that the Muslim Brotherhood could be a future U.S. partner. This reached absurd proportions in February when Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the Muslim Brotherhood is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” Mr. Clapper’s staff soon clarified the point, claiming what he meant to say was that “the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak’s rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation,” which is a point hardly worth making since the group was outlawed in the Mubarak era. An organization whose slogan is “Islam is the answer” is certain to look to the Koran to define every aspect of its political program.

Some early opinion polls didn’t show Islamist parties to be overwhelmingly popular, but a July 7 public opinion survey by Al Jazeera paints a different picture. Forty-six percent of those polled indicated they would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, running under the misnamed Freedom and Justice Party banner, in the November parliamentary elections. An additional 27 percent would support the Salafist-backed Nour Party. The Wasat party, which represents a watered-down form of Islamism, came in third with 6 percent. The youth-based Hizb ElAdl, or Justice Party, was the top ranking secularist group, with only 5 percent.

The Justice Party is the type of group the Obama administration should be reaching out to. It and other smaller parties represent the educated, Western-leaning, nonsectarian, tolerant center. It could be counted on to work with the United States to maintain stability in Egypt, pursue market-based economic reforms and preserve the rights of women and religious minorities.

Instead, the White House has prioritized currying favor with the people who were carrying signs in Tahrir Square that read, “Shut up, secularists, Egypt is Muslim.” A spate of recent international opinion polls shows Mr. Obama’s strange obsession with Muslim outreach has actually resulted in lower American approval ratings than during the supposedly Islam-hostile George W. Bush administration. In Egypt, Barack is less popular than al Qaeda. Mr. Obama should stop indulging his personal quest for legitimacy in the eyes of Islam and begin pursuing more realistic policies that better protect American interests. In Egypt’s case, it may already be too late.

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