President Obama’s grand plan to provide U.S. financial aid to emerging democracies in the Middle East, Egypt and Tunisia now, and possibly later a post-Saleh Yemen and post-Assad Syria, may be commendable but could bring catastrophic results.
If the billions in foreign debt-to-be-forgiven or granted in cash to be invested will be used by democratic governments in the region to move their societies away from fundamentalism, radicalism and inequality toward secular, liberal democracy, then the financial support is commensurate with American ideals, the will of the American people and their elected leaders.
If the aid will be used to fund programs instituted by the Islamists and their movements, old and new, then the Obama administration’s new Middle East initiative will cause greater injustice for the peoples of the region, and eventually produce greater conflicts for future American generations.
President Obama’s speech and comments by his advisers attempted to liken the alleged “historic” aid package for the countries arising out of the Middle East revolts, to the Marshall Plan which helped many European countries cope with post-World War II economic stresses.
The major difference then and now between Europe and the Middle East is that European societies had already experienced and were returning to democracy after a few years of fascism and most of the Arab world has no experience with liberal democracy and those societies that have arisen against authoritarianism are still threatened by jihadi fascism.
A “Marshall Plan” for the Arab world should come after the defeat of that region’s version of fascism, not before. The aid should reward societies for defeating the Salafist and Khomeinist ideologies, not fund their ascendance.
It was secular youth and minorities in Egypt who triggered the popular uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood, a movement dedicated to a theocratic regime and the elimination of liberal democracy, quickly — and with Washington’s stealthy backing — seized the revolution’s microphone, positioned itself at the center of the uprising, and branded itself as the “soul” and “future” of the movement, even though the Muslim Brotherhood did not make up more than 15 percent of the mass of demonstrators in Tahrir Square.
Well organized and funded, the Ikhwan, will insert themselves into the electoral process as part of the youth majority. The Christian minority is disorganized and politically marginalized.
By any analysis, short of massive support for democratic forces in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will acquire significant influence in the next parliamentary election and thus the lion’s share of posts in the ensuing Cabinet. This would mean that Mr. Obama has sent billions in economic aid to a government controlled or significantly influenced by Islamists who have not abandoned, but remain loyal to jihadi ideology.
The administration’s intellectuals have been arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood are undergoing transformation and becoming reformers. If the Ikhwan were to reform ideologically, those most targeted by their Islamist agenda — secularists, women, liberals, youth and Copts — would be the first to know it. The news coming from those interests in Egypt does not endorse this claim.
In Washington, academics and advisers have convinced the Obama administration that a post-Gadhafi Libya, a post-Saleh Yemen, and eventually, a post-Assad Syria will make the Islamists the new U.S. partners in the region. Thus, Mr. Obama’s speech on future U.S. Middle East policy reflects an adaptation to these anticipated changes. The U.S. will recognize the Islamists and try to ingratiate them with a “Marshal Plan” to solidify their rule even if they only pay lip service to “representative democracy.”
The Islamists’ voices are not the only ones seeking to be heard in the region. Other voices are speaking out against the alliance between the greatest democracy in history and the Islamists.
Liberal voices of the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Syrian uprisings have been signaling an urgent SOS to the free world over the Arabic airwaves: “Do not abandon us for a pragmatic alliance with the Islamists.”
An Egyptian youth made a very concerning comment on Al-Hurra television this week, revealing that the Obama administration has cut off all funding in support of liberal and democratic NGOs in the region: “How come the Islamists will be gratified with a huge Marshall Plan while those who want to build a true democratic Middle East are ignored? Is the Obama administration replacing old authoritarians with new ones, and with U.S. taxpayer dollars?”
Dr Walid Phares is the author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.” He teaches Global Strategies in Washington and advises members of Congress and the European parliament.