February 23, 2015
Egypt is the largest Arab country and, both politically and culturally, the most important. While the Arab Spring may have begun in Tunisia, the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after nearly 30 years in power, sent shockwaves across the region. In 2012, Egypt held its first real democratic election which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi won with 51% of the vote. Alas, Morsi seemed to embrace the idea of one-man, one-vote, one-time. He quickly cast aside any pretense of commitment to democracy and began to impose a political and social agenda upon Egypt which most Egyptians found anathema. Egyptians rose up by the millions to protest Morsi. A year after Morsi’s term began, the Egyptian military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power and launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Egyptian military called new elections, Sisi—running as a civilian—won an overwhelming victory.
American policy has been conflicted, however, about the new Egypt. Distaste lingers in the White House and State Department about the nature of Morsi’s ouster, Egypt’s subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, press freedoms and human rights. As US-Egyptian ties strain to the breaking point, Sisi has begun looking elsewhere for partners. The choices of the next US administration, therefore, will determine the future of bilateral ties with Cairo and, because of Egypt’s role among Arab states, the broader Arab world. Answers to the following five questions will give clarity to where candidates stand and how the US-Egyptian relationship might play out for decades to come.
1. Do you consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group?
Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is dedicated to the promotion of an Islamic order and the eradication, by violence if necessary, of any Western and secular influences. In 1946, US intelligence concluded that the Brotherhood could pose the next “threat to world security.” In the 1940s and 50s, the Brotherhood unleashed a reign of terror that claimed the lives of Egyptian Prime Ministers Ahmed Maher and Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha, among other lesser officials. In his 1964 manifesto Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (“Milestones”), Brotherhood theoretician Sayyid Qutb argued that acolytes could return Egypt and the larger Muslim world to Quranic purity through violent jihad. Current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was perhaps Qutb’s most famous student. As recently as a decade ago, the Muslim Brotherhood promulgated the slogan: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have declared the Brotherhood to be a terrorist group, but President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both embraced and sought to legitimize the group as a political partner and legitimate player in Egyptian politics. Are they correct to do so? What evidence is there that the Muslim Brotherhood has altered its violent ideology? Or should US policy be to roll back the Muslim Brotherhood wherever they may emerge?
Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: Egypt edition