An old friend who has become, sadly, a near caricature of an Obama hating right-winger sent me an email Tuesday noting that Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president had been invited to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York. He included a link to a Breitbart story which smeared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist and jihadist organization (it is neither), and suggested that this news would produce such a backlash against Clinton, and by extension Obama, that it would “put Romney over the top.”
Of course it will do nothing of the sort, but it does focus more attention on Mohammed Morsi, who is proving rapidly to be one of the more pleasant surprises in world politics. Morsi is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who won Egypt’s presidential election this summer. He has a doctorate in materials science from USC, earned during the 70s, and is able to say “Go Trojans” with the best of them. According to an interview with the New York Times, he dislikes the libertine aspects of American culture, including “naked restaurants” like Hooters–an attitude which may distinguish him from about half the American population.
Dr. Morsi was widely considered a political neophyte at the outset of the election campaign. But since being elected, he has shrewdly maneuvered to put to rest dangers of a military coup (and has disappointed many American neoconservatives) by appointing a new army chief of staff, General Sedki Sobhi, to replace the generals who toadied to Mubarak for a generation. Sobhi is likewise a product of American universities, in this case the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Morsi’s Times interview was impressively fluent. Emphasizing the military’s subordination to the newly elected president, he said, switching to English: “The president of the Arab Republic of Egypt is the commander of the armed forces, full stop.” Nice touch, the full stop.
Both Morsi and his new army chief of staff (the latter, in an essay written seven years ago) stress the issue of Palestine. It is a neoconservative talking point that Arabs either do not have, or should not have, any real emotion about the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians–though of course Americans on the eastern seaboard managed to get worked up over the Alamo well before the age of modern communications.
Their perspective on Israel-Palestine is hardly radical: Morsi regularly mentions that the 1978 Camp David Accords also called for Palestinian autonomy (as well as securing peace between Egypt and Israel)–to which Israel has replied by moving a half million settlers into the West Bank. Egypt’s treaty obligations toward Israel are often taken as the beginning and end point of America’s interest in Egypt, but Israel had West Bank obligations under the treaty too–less clearly spelled out, which it evaded from the very beginning.
Speaking of the Cairo’s crowds, and their anger towards the US, Morsi notes, “Successive American administration essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region”–both through its support of dictatorships and its one-sided backing of Israel. Americans may not want to hear that, but it’s a hard to dispute on a factual basis.
One interesting measure Morsi has taken since assuming office is to initiate diplomatic consultations on the Syrian crisis on a quartet basis with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Since the Mubarak era, Egypt has had no diplomatic relations with Iran. Clearly this middle power Mideast quartet has not succeeded, but it’s mere existence is a reminder that Iran is not as nearly so isolated as the bomb Iran crowd likes to pretend.
Per Breitbart, the American right may imagine that a democratically elected, culturally conservative, Egyptian Ph.D. with a 70 percent approval rating in the Arab world’s most important country is an kooky extremist, and yearn for his replacement by a pliant military dictator or a Mubarak type ready to be bought off with foreign bank accounts. But that reveals their own narrowness.