Red Lines

CAIRO/BERLIN | | aegypten

CAIRO/BERLIN (Own report) - Berlin's government advisors are debating measures for weakening Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. The Peace and Justice Party, considered the political party of the Brotherhood, won a clear victory in the first round of parliamentary elections. Islamist parties could hope to win a two-thirds majority. Experts expect this could lead to a less western-oriented Egyptian foreign policy. "The rise of the Brotherhood means that the next Egyptian government will show less inclination toward being cooperative with Europe." The EU must "insure that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood remains merely a temporary phenomenon and that (...) damage to European interests not be tolerated," demands one expert in the journal "Internationale Politik," the most significant media organ of Berlin's foreign policy establishment. The current tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the West obscure the fact that both sides had cooperated - during the cold war against the socialist countries.

Winner of the Elections

Berlin is reacting with great anxiety to the clear victory of Islamist parties in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections. When all votes were counted in about one-third of the Egyptian provinces, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), a party with close affiliations to the Muslim Brotherhood, was leading with about 37 percent of the votes. The radical Islamic Nur Party was second, with 24.5 percent, while the liberal Egyptian Alliance (Egyptian Bloc) reached only third-place with 13 percent. The second and third rounds of the elections will be held December 14 and January 3. The Muslim Brotherhood's victory had been expected for some time. It is "a consolidated political movement" that "is in an exceptional position to mobilize its sympathizers," according to a recent article in "Internationale Politik." In reference to the western-favored liberal protest movement around the Tahrir Square, the author writes that "the politically active remain a surprisingly small group, politically aware internet users, whose proportion within the Egyptian population is very limited."[1]

Less Cooperative

The West is mainly worried that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the strongest political force in Cairo, could force a reorientation of foreign policy. "The rise of the Brotherhood means that the new Egyptian government will be less cooperative with Europe," speculates 'Internationale Politik.' Egypt, under Islamist influence, according to the article, could possibly seek to draw closer to those countries - for example Iran - wanting to thwart the West." It will also be less cooperative with Israel, while cooperation with Hamas will increase. To already prevent the looming loss of influence, the EU must "unambiguously make it clear, which behavior is acceptable and which is not."[2] The German Foreign Minister therefore recently declared that in Berlin's view, there are "red lines" that Cairo must explicitly respect: "rejection of violence, acknowledgement of democracy, rule of law, pluralism, as well as domestic and international peace." Since some time, the German government has been holding talks at the "working level" with activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, "of whom we believe that they respect these red lines."[3]

Liberalism as a Weapon

At the same time, possibilities for strategically weakening the Muslim Brotherhood as well as to reinforce the influence of liberal pro-western forces are being explored in Berlin. The PR-effective appearances of German political VIP's at Tahrir Square and in the "Tahrir Lounge," opened as a meeting point for liberal circles in the subsidiary of Cairo's Goethe Institute, are serving this objective. Some find it more important to cut the ground out from under the Islamists' feet outside of the urban areas. "The Brotherhood has a quasi monopoly of power in many rural regions," according to Internationale Politik. "Europe and the Egyptian progressive groups can only combat this influence, if they propagate libertarian ideas and teach the people how to politically organize themselves." This should be accomplished with the help of "NGOs." Because the Muslim Brotherhood primarily consolidates its influence through charity, the needs of the rural population must be cared for. European "economic aid" to Egypt could serve this purpose. The EU must "insure that the government uses at least part of this aid to develop services in those regions where the educational, social and medical installations serve those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood." In reference to western concern for the rural population, it is explicitly stated, "the [Muslim Brotherhood] organization's 'parallel state' must be dismantled, to reduce support for the Brotherhood."[4]

The Military - a Power Factor

In its attempts to isolate the Islamist forces, the West is definitely banking on the generals. According to a US analysis, "of the three Egyptian power factors - the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats - the latter prove to be the weakest". On the other hand, the military remains "unified and powerful." It is "clear that the party favored by western governments and media" - the liberals - "will either accept the Islamic agenda, support the military or must fade into irrelevance."[5] Also in the German press, commentators consider that the military can be counted upon to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood. They write, for example, "the realists among the Muslim Brothers know that the military is still a decisive power factor in Egypt," it is "very unlikely that the generals, who have close ties to the West, particularly to the USA, will consent to a quasi-theocratic orientation of Egyptian policy."[6]

Holy War

Current tensions between the West and the Muslim Brotherhood obscure the fact that both sides had, in the past, been closely cooperating. This was the case in the 1950s, when a propaganda specialist of the administration of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that an alliance be established with pious Muslims in the global struggle of the systems - particularly with those tendencies that included the Muslim Brotherhood, which was growing stronger at the time and was reliably anti-communist. During his second term of office, Eisenhower was even in favor of "stressing (...) everything, that provides the aspect of a 'holy war'" against the socialist forces in those countries characterized as Islamic, where Washington stood in rivalry with Moscow.[7] He praised Saudi King Ibn Saud, who, following a visit to the USA, "called on all Arabs to oppose communism." A government task force in Washington concluded in 1957 that, for cooperation against socialism, in case of doubt, Islamists should be chosen over moderate Islamic forces. The West's cooperation with Islamists lost its utility, only there, where socialist or Moscow-oriented forces became insignificant, which by 1990 was the case nearly everywhere. And yet this shows that the western animosity toward the Muslim Brotherhood is not based on principle but is rather dependent on the given situation and under the right conditions could even again lead to cooperation.[8]

[1], [2] Eric Trager: Unverwüstliche Muslimbruderschaft. Düstere Aussichten für ein freies Ägypten und einen friedlichen Nahen Osten, Internationale Politik November/Dezember 2011
[3] Deutschland hält Kontakte zur Muslimbruderschaft; 24.11.2011
[4] Eric Trager: Unverwüstliche Muslimbruderschaft. Düstere Aussichten für ein freies Ägypten und einen friedlichen Nahen Osten, Internationale Politik November/Dezember 2011
[5] Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy; 06.12.2011
[6] Ägyptischer Herbst; 04.12.2011
[7] Ian Johnson: A Mosque in Munich. Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, Boston/New York 2010. See also Der religiöse Faktor and Doppelrezension: Der politische Islam im Westen
[8] An example can be found in the collaboration of the West with islamist militias against Muammar al Gaddafi. See also More Important than Human Rights