After doing numerous radio interviews in the past several days on the situation in Egypt, and getting such diverse reaction from listeners, and from my last Blog, Freedom Is Just Another Word for Nothing Left To Lose, I realized it was important to explain several inalienable facts that had somehow eluded me.
One of those facts is to provide the historical impact of the Muslim Brotherhood not only on Egypt but on the entire Arab world. The other is to understand that like it or not, any discussion, debate, uprising, or war in the Arab world directly affects Israel. And, what affects Israel is taken into serious political consideration in the United States.
Beginning with Israel, the question often arises as to why we, in the United States, are prone to support Middle East dictators and absolute monarchs who, while not the paragons of human rights, have been willing to maintain peace accords with Israel. Even more pointed is why we, in the United States, have our fate and our moral compass so intrinsically entwined with that Spartan little democracy in the middle of the Arab world.
Even to the most cold-blooded, Israel is a country which hardly ever evokes a neutral reaction. The most simple example of this either/or, black and white mentality when it comes to the Jewish State, happened to me several years ago. Traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza filming a documentary about women suicide bombers entitled Army of Roses, Palestinians would ask me, “Are you for or against suicide bombing?” I would always reply that I am against inhumanity of any kind.” The next question was almost predictable. “Are you in favor of the Israeli occupation?” And I would say no, that I was in favor of a peaceful two-state solution. But I could see the reaction on the faces of the people in the street. How could I be against blowing oneself up under the guise of freedom or liberation and not be against the Palestinians having a homeland. It just didn’t seem to make sense to them—the them who were taught that dying while taking the enemy along was the highest honor they could achieve.
The inevitable emotional response to Israel covers a vast spectrum of reasons. Beginning with a powerful Jewish lobby and a fervent Evangelical population that would neither vote for nor tolerate a candidate for President of the United States coming out in favor of compromising Israel’s security for a Palestinian state is a more cynical reason why we in America are Israel’s best friend. The other reason is more historic. Once upon a time when the Soviet Union existed in its old form and supported the Arab world either with weapons or training camps for terrorists, Israel was the only bastion of democracy in that region. Continuing on to certain phrases or comparisons such as Sarah Palin using the words “blood libel,” to describe banal accusations that had been hurled at her, to others calling the genocide in Africa or Cambodia or Serbia a “Holocaust,” to comparing what happened to six million Jews during the Nazi regime to any other unspeakable massacre, is often construed as trivializing the enormity of that dark era in European history. That is one memory that does not disappear quietly into the annals of history. As recently as last week, the head of the SNCF, the company that runs the trains in France, made a formal apology to the Jewish community for having transported French citizens to the death camps.
On one of the radio programs I did the other day, another guest joined the discussion, a man who was the head of a Jewish organization, cited by Reuters to be the most “anti-Israel organization” in the United States. The debate began and continued rather calmly until he stated that the entire Arab world was willing to recognize Israel and cement peace treaties with her if she would just retreat to the pre-1967 borders. Technically, that is true. Realistically, it is nonsense. The Israeli offer of withdrawal at the expense of maintaining strategic depth was never enough. The Golan would go to Syria, the West Bank to Jordan, Gaza to the Egyptians, and half of Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian State. Of course, the other extreme side of that equation is that the current Israeli Prime Minister persists in building illegal settlements on Palestinian land. As for peace in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders or a full stop to building new Israeli settlements, they are both possible compromises in the world of make-believe. In the real world, Hamas, the Hezbollah, along with the different more extreme factions of the PLO, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and of course Iran (though a bit out of the loop of the Middle East) constantly call for the destruction of the State of Israel. And, if their leaders are retrained enough not to actually make those statements, there are organizations within those countries which are tolerated that do call for the disappearance of Israel. Which gets me to the second inalienable fact that had somehow eluded me since the uprising in Egypt began.
Many American experts believe and they are not wrong that every prominent Islamic movement in the United States and throughout the world is based on the edicts and controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Currently, affiliate branches of the organization are present in more than one hundred countries worldwide. Beginning in the 1930s, the group had links to the Nazi movement, and were closely aligned with the Mufti of British Mandate Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Hussaini, who spent time in Germany with Nazi leaders, and who mobilized Palestinians to fight in the German army. Ultimately Hussaini was imprisoned by the British for his Nazi sympathies.
The late PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, while an engineering student at Cairo University, joined the Muslim Brotherhood and fought alongside them in the 1940s until 1954 when they were banned in Egypt after the Brotherhood was accused of trying to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser. Banned though not forgotten as the organization still has the support of about one-third of the population. Those political candidates who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and who run for office manage to get on the ballots as “Independents.”
When the unrest began in Cairo last month, initially the Muslim Brotherhood was not involved, at least not glaringly. As the days went by and a vacuum of leadership became increasingly obvious, the Brotherhood became vocal, present, and even part of the attempt at a “peaceful transfer of power.” Unfortunately, this is an old story that has been tried and tested successfully. It falls under the heading of what I call the fatal cocktail—dead-end economy, men and women who have no futures, a huge disparity between rich and poor with no middle class, and a belief in religion and God that teaches that life is just a preparation for the afterlife. Add to that, as I have written numerous times, is the fact that the Muslim organizations provide more sustenance and basic necessities for the people than either the despotic rulers or absolute monarchs don’t. The Arab world is not the United Kingdom where the people get some kind of a vicarious thrill seeing their monarchy dressed to the nines with enough jewels on their garments to feed the entire West Bank. How long can Arab leaders be that dull and insensitive to imagine that human beings will continue to starve while their leaders are basking in luxury? It happened in the Soviet Union. Eventually it happens everywhere where someone raises the consciousness of the people.
The classic argument is that the men and women in the streets in Cairo are college- educated, intellectual, intelligent, and don’t want an Islamic regime that puts them back to the 12th century. The reality is that part of that fatal cocktail does not become apparent in the beginning of any “peaceful” or not-so-peaceful power transition. Get rid of one dictator at a time before you implement the real and complete agenda. For example…
On Monday, Muhammad Ghannem, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told the Arabic-language Iranian news network Al-Alam that the people should “prepare for war against Israel.” Ghannem reportedly told Al- Alam that the Suez Canal should be closed immediately, and that the flow of gas from Egypt to Israel should cease “in order to bring about the downfall of the Mubarak regime.” Ghannem went on to praise Egyptian soldiers deployed by President Hosni Mubarak for using restraint in not “killing their brothers.” The Muslim Brotherhood has not survived for all these decades because they were not in touch with the street. They would never, at this point, announce that if they came to power, all those educated women would be obliged to cover their bodies and heads or risk beating, stoning, or worse. The protestors in Tahrir Square understood the future in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem is that not many people watching the events unfold throughout the rest of the world really understood or had even heard of the Muslim Brotherhood and its historical impact not only on Egypt but on the entire Arab world.
Perhaps the most sophisticated approach to the ideology of Pan-Islam began in the1920s and 1930s when, in 1928, Hassan al-Banna, an Islamic scholar and Sufi schoolteacher, founded the Muslim Brotherhood or Muslim Brethren. The son of an Imam, Al-Banna was responsible for the policies of the organization as they concerned Egypt’s domestic affairs. Eventually, as the movement spread to other Arab countries, Al-Banna developed his vision of Pan-Islamic Nationalism when he preached that Islam and was both religion and state. Al-Banna stated that “Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries, nor does it acknowledge racial and blood differences, as they view all Muslims as one Umma. The Muslim Brethren consider this unity as holy and believe in this union, striving for the joint action of all Muslims and the strengthening of the brotherhood of Islam, declaring that every inch of land inhabited by Muslims is their fatherland …”
As of today, the Brotherhood is a trans-national movement and the largest political opposition organization in the majority of Arab nations. The Brotherhood is financed by contributions from its members who are required to allocate a portion of their income to the movement. Some of these contributions are from members who live in oil-rich countries. Its coffers are deep. Forgetting about Israel for the moment and even about the United States, why is the Muslim Brotherhood so dangerous?
If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, there is the risk that Jordan, the Gulf States, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia will fall. Just as Iran serves as a base for Shiite Islamic terrorism, Egypt could serve as a base for Sunni Islamic terrorism. Iran presently is the patron of the terrorist Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and Egypt could be the patron for Hamas terrorist forces in Gaza. While Mubarak blocked access to forces attempting to provide weapons to Hamas from the Sinai, one might imagine that the Sinai would become a superhighway through which Hamas could get some of the most sophisticated terrorist military equipment. Historically, there has been antipathy between Sunni and Shiite nations, as seen during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The hatred that Sunni and Shiite Muslim fundamentalists feel towards Israel, however, has resulted in recent collaboration between the terrorist Shiite state of Iran and the terrorist Sunni forces of Hamas. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, one could envisage a peaceful collaboration between Shiite and Sunni. After all, both want to destroy Israel and expel the Jews from the Middle East. How to prove these nightmare scenarios?
There have been several on the ground realities that are still in place throughout the Arab world. Though the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is deplorable, Israel is wrongly blamed as the sole reason the Palestinian people have suffered. When was the last time that Palestinians in Gaza were allowed to turn left instead of right to seek day labor in Egypt and not just through the Eres crossing into Israel? Who remembers when Palestinians could walk across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan to work? Who remembers that Palestinians were expelled from lower Jordan in September1970 by the head of the Hashemite Kingdom, a term that has been immortalized in the terror group, Black September? How many know that Jordan was the home to millions of Palestinians and even today, the majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian? Who realizes that the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan is a kingdom constructed and concocted by the British? And, as for the rights of Jews throughout the Arab world, it is almost as deplorable as the absence of rights for Palestinians. How many Arab countries afford Jews the same human rights as Muslims? How many extremist Muslim organizations have attacked Israeli, American, and European citizens, as well as their installations throughout the world?
The most glaring reality check, however, is one that unites Israelis and Palestinians. While it is a fact that the world uses euphemisms to describe their anti-Semitic feelings, claiming they are “anti-Zionist,” the world, most pointedly the Arab world, has expelled and mistreated the Palestinians by using them as an example of the inhumanity of the Israeli occupation, including leaving them to languish in abysmal conditions in refugee camps. And that condition began when the Jordanians occupied the West Bank before 1967. The pros and cons of this uprising in Egypt are as contradictory as the most prescient issue in the Middle East—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is inevitably at the root of all conflict in that part of the world. And, that’s why whenever there is tension, it invariably involves Israel and the United States.
When it comes to the Middle East, nothing is black or white. The tragedy is that though there are those who are intuitive enough to strive for gray, the color that dominates is the color red for bloodshed.