Dilemma of US Attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood
-Attitude of decision-making sources
-Views taking part in making decisions
-Contribution of research centers, academics
Defining the US official attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be very difficult due to a number of factors, including the multiple and various parties directly or indirectly involved in making such an attitude.
What makes it more complex is the rashness of some analyses that may give studies issued by think tanks close to the US administration more importance and weight than what they deserve.
However, this seems to as important as another factor in this complicated scene which is simply: the hesitation of all successive US administrations towards formulating a deep and complete attitude towards the phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood, restricting it to issuing only quick evaluations to temporarily fill vacuums on the level of the executive policy.
Attitude of decision-making sources
It is of no surprise that the US officially declared attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood is shrouded in ambiguity. The latest most prominent proof of such ambiguity was illustrated in statements of the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last spring when she took the initiative of ruling out meeting Muslim Brotherhood leaders during her visit to Egypt under the claim that their organization is illegal according to Egyptian law.
In another instance, the US embassy to Cairo organized a meeting last April between U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and a group of members of the Egyptian People”s Assembly topped by the leader of the MB parliamentary bloc, Dr. Mohamed Saad Al Katatni.
In general, this ambiguity in public statements caused a disorder in many analyses to the US attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
for example, some were convinced during the cold war that there was a US coalition with Islamists- including the Muslim Brotherhood- to confront the Soviet influence, something that appeared contradictory to the strong clash between the US administration and the Iranian revolution that quickly managed to form wide coalitions in the region on the level of Islamic powers.
The view attempting to know the US official attitude in the long run is a mainly right view but it needs to be based on more credible sources, like archives.
In a bird”s eye view to the US archive related to various political and intelligence organizations, there emerges a more harmonious impression according to which the US attitude towards Islamic powers- particularly the Muslim Brotherhood- appears unchanged throughout the past half a century: a high level of suspicion that may reach sometimes a degree of enmity.
However, this attitude was always related to quick and short assessments for the Muslim Brotherhood during general conditions. The earliest US documents speaking about the Muslim Brotherhood included a report dated (October, 16th, 1947) issued by the US central intelligence agency (CIA) in which it defined the group as “hostile to any foreign intervention in the Arab world”.
The later archive documents didn”t part ways from this negative evaluation even when the US was in need for seeking allies inside Egypt to confront the rising Nasserist leadership during the 1950s and 1960s.
The Muslim Brotherhood was repetitively described as “regressive” and as it exercises “terrorist acts” (for example in CIA report dated November, 15th, 1955).
The same applied on other Muslim Brotherhood organizations in later phases and in similar situations, including the Muslim Brotherhood Syria which was listed as “a terrorist organization” (CIA report June, 1st, 1981).
However, the US attitude assessed, in addition to the overall political and intellectual state, the increasing weight of the Muslim Brotherhood specially after the 1967 war.
The archive reports since that period till early 1980s point clearly to a US awareness of the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood with a conviction that their attitudes can be changed whenever they take part in the political action.
An old analysis- but it fully reflects current conditions- issued by the US State Department (dated January, 1st, 1969 ) describing the Muslim Brotherhood ” as a rightist model that will one day change its intellectual attitudes towards more liberal trends under political pressures.
Here appear some interpretations of the US American attitude towards Hamas win in the last Palestinian legislative elections. These interpretations are fully in line with this old attitude. This is because it points to the US administration”s reliance on the political practices in the Palestinian Authority to change the attitude of the Palestinian movement that has Muslim Brotherhood commitments.
This dual treatment- of confrontation and attempted taming- is more illustrated in US administration”s treatment with institutions inside the U.S. , institutions which observers think that they have MB affiliations.
While federal authorities insisted on participating in the annual congress of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) although some are campaigning that it is a front of the Muslim Brotherhood and that the latter ones spawned ” many terrorist organizations”, the same federal authorities sued the Holy Land Foundation in the last months under claim of the presence of ” a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to control over America”.
Views taking part in making decisions
There are two models for the US attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood, based on views resulting from government consultations with analysts who aren”t necessarily decision makers.
The first model is reports of the US National Intelligence Council that periodically publishes researches in which it foresees general expectations for the coming fifteen years.
In this model, the administration consults non-governmental international experts-some of them unknown. There are specifically two reports published in the past years in which the role of the Islamic movement in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular is tackled.
A report was issued in December 2004 entitled ” 2020 Project” underlying general findings reached in the report “2015 Project” published in December 2000, speaking about the 2015 expected huge popularity of the political Islam in all its forms, and that political Islam is expected to reach power in case Middle Eastern countries move towards political liberalism.
The National Intelligence Council reviewed these general findings in a workshop about the Arab Region and was distinguished with more detailed discussions and was attended by a bigger number of experts. These findings were published in a report in May 2005 under the title “Map of the Middle East Future”.
While some participants distrusted the Islamic powers” commitment to the democratic circulation pf rule in case they assume office, some others cited the Muslim Brotherhood”s program announced in 2004 and on the increasing coordination between the group and other democratic powers like Kifaya Movement as evidences that there is ” commitment to the path of democracy”, according to them.
The second model of views that take part in creating the official attitude includes for example the reports offered in 2006 by the Congressional Research Service, specially those about in Egypt.
An important part of them was written by Jeremie Sharp, a researcher in Middle East affairs and is close to democratic Congressmen.
In a report about in Egypt published in July 2006, most analysts saw that “The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt “s most capable group to recruit an effective and popular opposition, despite the ambiguity around the range of support and the difference about whether it is to the West”s interest to push it towards more participation in the political life.
Another report was issued before this, in June 2006, by the same source and was edited by Jeremie Sharp under the title ” US policy for democratization in the Middle East (The Islamic dilemma).
It is clear here that the overall analyses is tending to being cautious of the substitute that the Muslim Brotherhood may present in Egypt out of the fear of the foreign policy in general and in their relation with the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular.
To prove this fear, Sharp quoted and cited selected video footages translated into English by The Israeli-funded Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), showing –according to the author anti-Semitic statements issued by Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Contribution of research centers, academics
Around these official and semi official rings, there are research and academic views that have varying effects in forming the US attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
The attitudes of the Think Tanks towards the Muslim Brotherhood can”t be listed- as usual- as a republican and a democratic, because it is actually more complicated.
For example, there are republican leaning think tanks which are close to the current administration but they are currently fully different in their evaluation to the phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the one hand, there is a movement of neoconservatives who-unlike other neoconservatives- put all Islamic movements specially the Muslim Brotherhood in the same basket with Al-Qaeda and other organizations that exercise violence. This trend is represented in particular by Daniel Pipes and the centers in which he is active, specially the Middle East Forum which he is running.
Pipes refuses strongly to classify the political Islam into moderates and extremists. He sees all Islamists as extremists, whereas the “moderate” is only the “non- Islamic Muslim”.
Pipes regularly campaigns along with others like Steven Emerson against the Muslim Brotherhood and the institutions affiliated to it specially those inside the United States , including for example the last campaign against the Holy Land Foundations.
On the other hand, there rising voices inside Republican think tanks calling for including the Muslim Brotherhood in political life. For example, researchers from the Nixon Center for National Security Studies like Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke – despite stating interest-driven difference in a number of levels- defended in an article in March/April 2007 periodical of Foreign Affairs the issue that there may be a possible cooperation between the US administration and the Muslim Brotherhood in specific files like confronting Al-Qaeda, boosting democracy, and resisting the expanding Iranian influence”.
It is clear that the difference between these views lies specifically in evaluating priorities in the relation of Israel position in the US strategy. The latter view doesn”t see as a crucial issue the disagreement between the US administration and the Muslim Brotherhood over how the Arab-Israeli conflict can be settled and it doesn”t consequently see it as a an obstacle in the coordination in other files.
In the same situation, there are similar attitudes defending holding a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood from other research centers close to the democrats, including the Saban Center for Middle East Policy affiliated to Brookings Institute, but it stresses that there must be a joint settlement in the relation with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Apart from think tanks, there are other academics who are more freed of the fetters of political commitments and the findings related to the executive policy in the file of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There emerged some specialists who are distinguished by deep studies that move beyond the political appearance attempting to understand the popularity and spread of the Muslim Brotherhood with regard to social and cultural factors.
That applies for example to researches of both the Canadian Janine Clark and the US Jillian Schwedler universities that have recently drew the attention with their field studies about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, using explanatory approaches of two main researchers in the topic who were confined to analyzing Muslim Brotherhood texts, like John Esposito.
The above mentioned data prove that there is still a US official attitude of not trusting any possible cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood, given the difference between targeted projects of every party.
However, decision makers increasingly fall under the influence of conflicting situations that may contribute to making it distrust the current method of excluding or ignoring the other, specially as the US futurist indications prove that the peaceful political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, are the only key party that can secure serious settlements in the region.
Also, time isn”t to the benefit of the retreating US influence which will continue retreating during the next decades according to expectations of the National Intelligence council (see conclusions of 2015 project and 2020 Project). This will actually make academic research views, which are unaffected by the priority of Israeli interests in the region and which are giving due care to a more deep analysis to the phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood, have an increasing effect on decision makers.
On the other hand, the current debate in the Muslim Brotherhood leadership over defining their strategic project including the nature of the relation with Israel- this was illustrated in the past weeks when they were announcing their view towards rule- confirms the US expectations around the effect of the political practices on views of the Muslim Brotherhood.