For 4 decades America could count on Egypt as a reliable ally in managing Middle East affairs. For 4 decades American military aid guaranteed Egyptian government would stick by its western allies.
Well that chapter in history is over and a new chapter begins. As Islamic movements grab power across the Middle East, the US can no longer count on Egypt as a reliable ally.
When Mubarak`s regime began to sway in the wake of the events in Tunisia a year ago, the US had well-developed relations with the Egyptian military. When Mubarak resisted American suggestions to make concessions, regarding that as foreign interference, US leaders demanded he give up power. Within weeks protesters were back in the streets and this time the revolution became Islamic.
The Islamic parties, the Muslim Brotherhood together with the more radical Salafi Islamic movement, have won more than 60% of the votes in Egypt. They control the Parliament and will create an Islamic government.
The Muslim Brotherhood which for years have been outlawed in Egypt as part of Mubarak’s attempt to stop radical Islam from taking over Egypt, has suddenly become very popular. Diplomats from all over the world are eager to connect with Egypt’s strongest political party. The US has quietly changed its policy about the brotherhood and Washington apparently accepts the Brotherhood’s claim that it wants an Egyptian government that will respect religious freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.
But the US should listen carefully to what the Muslim Brotherhood is telling its own people, those that brought it to power. The deputy chief of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rashad alBayoumi, recently told the AlHayat newspaper of London that the Brotherhood is not required to recognize Israel, which he called an “occupying entity.” He won’t even meet with Israeli representatives.
Islamism did not cause the Arab Spring. The region’s authoritarian governments had simply failed to deliver on their promises after a run of 40 years in power. But rather than bringing secular revolutionaries to power, the Arab Spring is producing flowers of a decidedly Islamist hue.
The rise of Islamic movements in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere threatens US’ short- and long-run goals, generating profound new challenges.
As radical Islam takes root in the Middle East and Africa and the war against terror is shifting grounds, we need to enter this new chapter in history with open eyes. Military aid no longer guarantees cooperation. The US needs to choose its allies based on mutual interests and principles. Those that fight radical Islamic terror in the US, in Europe, in Israel and in Africa, need to do that together. Arab Spring has created a new reality – we need to accept that and move forward to ensure freedom remains intact.