- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Egyptian people are reentering history. The masses have awakened, swarming in the streets against autocracy, chanting “Yes we can!” It’s too bad they hate America.

In June 2009, President Obama launched his heralded outreach effort to the Muslim people with a speech in Cairo. Now the residents of that city of 1,000 minarets are clamoring for reform, but their view of the United States is worse than it was at the height of the George W. Bush administration. According to survey data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project released in June 2010, America had a 30 percent approval rating in Egypt in 2006, which at the time was higher than U.S. approval in Spain. This dropped to 22 percent by the end of the Bush years. The burst of enthusiasm that attended Mr. Obama’s outreach effort boosted favorability slightly to 27 percent, but in 2010 disappointment set in and approval dropped 10 points to 17 percent, leaving Egypt tied with Turkey and Pakistan for the most negative view of the United States of any country in the world.

Only a third of Egyptians think America will do the right thing in world affairs, and 31 percent of Egyptian Muslims expressed confidence in Mr. Obama, which is down 10 points from 2009. The radical Palestinian Hamas movement, by contrast, enjoys 49 percent approval. Seventy-three percent oppose U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and 81 percent want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. The Egyptians discovered that Mr. Obama’s outreach did not exceed his grasp.

The worst-case scenario in Egypt is an Iran redux, a revolution in which a staunchly pro-U.S. autocrat is replaced by a virulently anti-American Islamic regime. Some say relax, it can’t happen there. Pew survey data from December 2010 showed only 20 percent of Egyptians are concerned about extremism in their country. But American views of what constitutes extreme differ from Egyptians. The same survey revealed more than 80 percent approve of hard-line Shariah-compliant laws such as capital punishment for leaving Islam, and 77 percent think whipping and cutting off hands for crimes like theft and robbery are a great idea.

Events in Egypt are being described as a “leaderless revolution,” but what that means is the best organized faction will take power. In this case, it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest Islamic extremist movement, with deep roots in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament and is in talks with protest leader Mohamed ElBaradei to form a “national unity” government. On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs genuflected to the group, saying the Obama administration believes a new government “has to include a whole host of important nonsecular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.”

That’s an odd statement considering the Muslim brothers despise America and see President Hosni Mubarak as a puppet of America and Israel. Brotherhood leader Muhammad Ghannem told the Iranian news network Al Alam, “The people should be prepared for war against Israel.” Hardly a recipe for stability.

It’d be great if the wheel turned and Egyptians in the street ushered in Mr. Obama’s vision of a liberal democracy based on fair elections, a competitive party system, freedom of worship, respect for women, a stable judiciary, secure property rights and friendship with the United States. But don’t bet on any of that.

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