Egypt's Counterterrorism War Undermined by US Insistence on Muslim Brotherhood

On a recent trip to Egypt with a delegation of national security experts and journalists we had the opportunity to meet with senior-level Egyptian security officials, as well as several members of the country’s various religious and civil society movements. The message being disseminated in the Western press about Egypt is contrary to the reality on the ground.

A recent Los Angeles Times article repeats the accusation that Egypt’s response to terrorism is in fact the reason Egypt is in such trouble. This narrative has become entrenched in some circles of the US foreign policy establishment. To quote directly from the article, “…some U.S. officials warn that the Egyptian actions may alienate civilians and spur anti-American sentiment.”

The inference is that the al-Qaeda-affiliated political movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), ousted from government, continues to be the most important “civilian” political entity in the Arab world’s most populous nation and that the MB is a legitimate political actor. This is despite the Brotherhood being removed as a result of what may have been the largest popular democratic revolt in history, with tens of millions of anti-Brotherhood protesters flooding the streets in the summer of 2013 in rejection of the Brotherhood’s theocratic regime.

Having spent an extensive amount of time in Egypt since the removal of President Morsi last June, I can say with confidence that “anti-American sentiment” is currently at a dangerously high level, but not for the reasons many in the press cite.  The animosity stems from America’s policies of not backing the Egyptian people and their war on terrorism.

On our recent trip, members of Egypt’s civil society, that very backbone which any future democratic polity must be built on, asked us why Washington is supporting terrorism and not supporting the Egyptian people and military in their fight against terrorism. Many everyday Egyptians simply don’t understand why the U.S. cannot perceive the political reality on the ground. Egyptians are facing a counterinsurgency war in their very backyard – on Friday, an Egyptian soldier was killed by a suicide bomber in the Sinai and a policeman was killed and four more wounded by an explosion in Cairo.

In the same Los Angeles Times article, an unnamed U.S. counter-terrorism official was quoted as saying, “We fear that the Egyptian government's heavy-handed tactics may be fueling recruitment for ABM [Ansar Bayt al Maqdis] or other extremist groups in the region.” Would it have been better for the Egyptian people to have allowed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to stay in power and embrace the fact that they were turning Egypt into a terrorist state? One of President Morsi’s first official acts was to release the brother of Ayman Al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, from prison and put him in charge of relations with the Sinai, the very area where foreign fighters have been waging a war against the people of Egypt. This same individual was later responsible for organizing the violent protest at the American Embassy in Cairo on September 11, 2012.

There is a clear campaign in the Western media and in many Western think-tanks and policy organizations to turn the Egyptian military into the enemy and the terrorist organization of the Muslim Brotherhood into the innocent, democracy-loving victims. This narrative is deceitful and needs to be countered. The Egyptian military is America’s ally and has been since 1973, and the Muslim Brotherhood is America’s enemy. The Egyptian military is fighting against terrorism; America fights against terrorism. America and Egypt are fighting the same enemy with the same ideology that killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, thousands of Americans in Iraq, and is still killing our troops in Afghanistan today.

An institutional double-standard is evident when comparing Ukraine and Egypt. Both nations faced popular political change that aligned with the U.S.’s national interest against common foes. Congress rallied to the side of the Western-leaning Ukrainian government but continues to balk at supporting Egypt. Why?

Mohammed Morsi and his allies were turning Egypt into a failed, terrorist state. This included turning the Sinai into a safe haven for HAMAS and other militants, or as we were told in Cairo, turning the Sinai into an “Islamist Ivy League.” Morsi gave Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a red carpet welcome in Cairo and went out of his way to engage with Iran in diplomatic relations for the first time since 1979. Morsi granted himself far-reaching powers, issuing constitutional amendments that he had no authority to assume, placing himself above any judicial oversight. Then he released hundreds of HAMAS prisoners and other terrorists, to include Zawahiri's brother. 

Now, after the ouster demanded by the Egyptian people, Morsi is being prosecuted for the deaths of protesters outside of Ittihadiya palace in December 2012, where at least ten people died in clashes, as well as his escape from Wadi el-Natroun prison and his clandestine relationship while in power with HAMAS, Hezbollah, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

What sense does it make to not support Egypt – and therefore push them towards Russia and risk losing our strongest ally in the Arab world and assist Russia in gaining a new strategic ally?

A message that was repeated quite often to us was that the United States’ policies (or absence thereof) are creating anarchy and instability in the region. To quote our hosts, Libya and Syria are turning into a new Afghanistan. "You left Libyans, you washed your hands of Libya,” they say. And we have.

There are reports of training camps in Libya run by the "Free Egyptian Army" seeking to wage war against the Egyptian security forces. The Egyptian military may have no other choice but to use military force in Libya to control their borders and protect their country. President Obama’s war in Libya has created an Al Qaeda safe haven which will have dire consequences for the region and also the United States. 

The United States can no longer turn a blind eye to the chaos and anarchy in Libya. Militants are killing Libyan security forces and civilians every day in Libya, and instead of the Obama Administration taking any action to clean up the mess they created, they have instead embraced the Muslim Brotherhood, the terrorists, in Libya."

Morsi worked to change the identity of Egypt into an intolerant, theocratic state, not unlike Iran. The Egyptian people knew that in order to save their country, they had to do something and could not wait three more years for elections that had already been dominated by a political movement with no respect for democracy. With no impeachment mechanism in the Brotherhood-written constitution, they had no way to politically remove Morsi. So they started a petition calling for early elections. The petition received 22 million signatures, whereas Morsi was only elected by 13.2 million people. Following the petition, Egyptians held the biggest political protest in history on June 30th, when 33 million people went to the streets calling for early elections. Egyptians risked their lives to go out in the street to save the future of their country, much as Ukrainians are now doing in Eastern Ukraine. In Egypt the military intervened against a theocratic dictator and in favor of Egyptians who put Egypt first.

The United States has been consistently pressuring Egypt to be “all inclusive" with members of the Brotherhood. Why should any nation strive to be inclusive of a movement that believes in destroying all opposition and diversity? The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology is treasonous to any country where it exists. The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope”.

We need to take them at their own word, as delivered by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohammad Badi:

Arab and Muslim regimes betray their people unless they confront not only Israel but also the US. Waging jihad against both is mandatory for all Muslims. Otherwise, “They are disregarding Allah’s commandment to wage jihad…”

All Muslims are required by their religion to fight as their highest priority, since “the improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice, and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The only solution for the Muslim Brotherhood is a complete dismantling of the organization. Period. Instead America has adopted a policy of apology and appeasement, placating the terrorists, seeing them as the victims. This is all based on the altogether false narrative that the Brotherhood is a democratic and peaceful organization.

America has been on a trajectory of alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies while at the same time weakening our military. This is a very dangerous path, and our lack of attention to the reality in the Middle East is not going to serve us well in the future.

Tera Dahl is Executive Director of the Council on Global Security.


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