Odd bedfellows (Egypt and USA)

The United States and the Muslim Brotherhood are not as far apart as they can sometimes seem, writes Bassem Hassan AL AHRAM WEEKLY

The Egyptian presidential race kept many people on their toes in anticipation of the changes it would bring, among others things to Egyptian-American relations. But two months after President Mohamed Mursi was sworn in, it is more or less business as usual. American officials are still welcome in Cairo, where they exchange compliments with their Egyptian counterparts and now also with the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders. For his part, Mursi is packing for his first trip to Washington. Both anxieties about, and hopes for, a major change in Egyptian-American relations have been misplaced, based on the rhetoric of the Brotherhood and of American officials.

Less attention has been paid to the long history of cooperation between the United States and Sunni Muslim conservative regimes and groups. Statements meant for the appeasement of domestic constituencies aside, the American-Sunni conservative alliance has been one of the most enduring features of politics in the Arab and Muslim worlds. In fact, America’s entry to the Arab world in 1945 was through Saudi Arabia, the chief patron of Sunni-conservatism in the Arab world. In the post-World War II world, both America and Sunni conservatives found common enemies in nationalist leaders such as former presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser in Egypt and Sukarno in Indonesia.

Then came the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The United States, the Saudis, the Pakistanis and Sunni Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, generously chipped in to this inter-faith project against the infidel communists that had taken over Afghanistan. Many believed that the events of 9/11 were some type of closure to this not-so-secret love affair. However, they were wrong, as America quickly re-established it: as US journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in The New Yorker magazine a few years ago, the two reunited to confront the Syria-Hizbullah-Iran alliance, and after Israel’s failure to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon, Washington decided to put its money on Sunni-conservatism instead.

The cooperation between America and its allies in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and various jihadist groups to topple the Syrian regime, now denoted as Alawi rather than pan-Arab or socialist as part of the manufacturing of a new terminology that fits the current confrontation better, is just the latest manifestation of this renewed partnership. Even Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has felt it was time to reconnect with his roots and to abandon his previous partnership plans with Syria and Iran.

The writer is a political analyst.

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