Sunday, February 06, 2011

Barry Rubin Interview. Revolution And The Muslim Brotherhood

Stefan Frank

barry rubin interview middle east gloria muslim brotherhood meria egypt hosni mubarakThe Propagandist's Contributing Writer Stefan Frank interviewed Barry Rubin this week in a Q & A about the Egyptian revolution, the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood and implications for democracy and peace in the region. A leading experts on MIddle East politics, Mr. Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. He is also the author of The Muslim Brotherhood: The Organization and Policies of a Global Islamist Movement. Q: You make two very interesting points in your writings. You argue that people are naïve when they think that a democratic Egypt is just around the corner, and that the size of the opposition may be overstated. Let's start with the latter: Could Mubarak's NDP win in free and fair elections?

Rubin: Nobody knows. Now, it's very doubtful. The question is, will some kind of regime party survive and get a significant amount of votes? No one knows the answer. Mubarak has a base of support. The Communist parties in Europe survived even after falling from power. A regime party wouldn't win but might get 20 or 25 percent of the vote and form the main opposition. Or they might get zero. We are not trying to give the answers but identify the questions.

For me, there are two big questions.

Number one: Will there be a party of the regime which will be a significant factor?

Number two: Will there be an Arab-nationalist ticket, an important opposition party that will also compete with ElBaradei, especially because he is so highly dependent on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Q: So Egypt may end up with a government that is formally led by ElBaradei but actually is a puppet government of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Rubin: The word “puppet” may be a little strong. It would be one in which they have great power. If people in Egypt say: “We don't want the Muslim Brotherhood in power, so we need to have an alternative party” - will there be such an alternative? There are two ways this party could be organized. One is through the grass-roots reform movement. But the truth is that these kinds of people have historically not performed well in elections. They are idealistic but not very organized and their message is not necessarily the one people want to receive.

The other basis for a party is a traditional Arab-nationalist one. And while I may have gone too far in identifying Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League and former foreign minister, as leader of such a party, he's a good example of the kind of person with a national reputation who could lead such a party. I don't know what is worse. The irony is that the United States might support the Islamist side against the more secular coalition - although Amr Moussa is also bad news.

Q: How radical is the Muslim Brotherhood? Some people claim it isn't.

Rubin: It's absolute nonsense that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate. It's very simple to explain: The regime suppressed the Brotherhood very seriously. These people were in concentration camps and were tortured under Nasser. They didn't want to go back, so they began to be more cautious. Yet they are still extreme.

All you have to do is to read any speech by a Brotherhood leader or any of their publications. They have an English-language website that is very moderate - for the suckers. Just read the speech that the head of the Muslim Brotherhood gave last October. He declared Jihad against the United States.

The West is too dumb to survive if it buys this ridiculous lie. What we have to do is to look at the evidence. There is an article in MERIA (“Middle East Review of International Affairs) on what the members of the Muslim Brotherhood have done in parliament; there is another one on the Islamization of Egyptian education.

There is nothing moderate about the Muslim Brotherhood. There was a small moderate faction which was basically told to shut up. This is a hoax. It's just like “Hamas is moderate” or “Hezbollah is moderate”. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is as radical as Hamas and Hezbollah. They don't use violence, so people say: “They're moderate”. They don't use violence because if they did in the past, the regime would smash them. That's why, not because they're moderate.

Let me add something else: The Muslim Brotherhood has a strategy. There is the phase of “da'wa”, that is the period of recruitment and building-up, and there is the period of revolution. Up to now, they always stated that they are in the period of da'wa, the period of base-building. The question is: When will they decide that the period of revolution has begun?

None of the stuff is secret. Less than two years ago, they published their party platform. They don't conceal that they aspire an Islamist state. Nobody has quoted it. Compared to this, the understanding of the Nazis in the early 1930s was brilliant. But we can't afford to be stupid. We were told “The Muslim Brotherhood will not abrogate the peace treaty.” And then, all of a sudden, Muslim Brotherhood leaders started talking about abrogating the peace treaty until the deputy leader said: “Yes, we are going to abrogate the peace treaty.” That doesn't mean that they are really going to do it in the end, but there is a chance that Israel could be in a state of war with Egypt. That's serious and could cost the lives of thousands of people.

Q: Are the journalists and politicians completely in the dark?

Rubin: They're in a daydream. Not a single journalist of a major newspaper has interviewed me. With one exception (an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times) I'm aware of not a single journalist who has argued that the Brotherhood is radical. Nobody has cited a single speech or document of the Brotherhood. Why? Because there is a political line that has basically no evidence to support it.

Q: It's blacked out by the media because it's obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rubin: Not exactly. They haven't been so obsessed since the Egyptian upheaval began. In an article I explained it as follows:

A. They want Egypt to become a happy democracy.

B. They assume that this is the only possible outcome.

C. Consequently, they must explain away any possible roadblocks. (The Muslim Brotherhood is not a threat; Egypt has a firm basis for building a successful democracy.)

D. Anyone who points out the problems becomes a villain because by explaining Point C, they undercut Point B, which "means" they are against Point A.

Q: Do you remember the day in October 1981 when Sadat was murdered?

Rubin: Vividly, yes.

Q: Was the situation comparable to today's uncertainty?

Rubin: No, not at all. In fact, it's funny you mention that because I gave briefings at the time and said that the regime is going to remain stable - which was correct.

No, it`s not comparable. Nothing is. This is a regime that existed for sixty years without considerable challenge. This is unprecedented.

Q: Would you agree that Sadat hated Israel as much as Nasser did and that he signed the peace treaty just because he had no other choice after he had kicked the Soviets out?

Rubin: No, definitely not. He rethought the situation; the leadership said: It's in our interest to have peace with Israel. Why should we waste blood and treasure to become the most powerful country in the Middle East and spread revolution? It doesn't get us anything.

That's the lesson that is now being unlearned. Mubarak followed the Sadat approach. But this strategy -- peace with Israel; alliance with the United States -- is now being jettisoned.

Q: The point I was going to make is: Sadat didn't sign the peace treaty with Israel because he suddenly loved it so much.

Rubin: I understand what you say but I don't think it's true. He had done genuine rethinking. And that's by the way the problem with peace. Unless they undergo rethinking, the Palestinians and the Arab states are not going to make peace.

Sadat went through that rethinking, to see Israel as a normal state and neighbor and calculate Egyptian interests without being overcome by hatred. So did King Hussein of Jordan.

Q: And that's the difference to the Muslim Brotherhood?

Rubin: The Muslim Brotherhood still thinks that the destruction of Israel is possible and desirable. That's the difference. It's frustrating to watch people totally ignore evidence.

Recently the “New York Times” recommended five or six books on Egypt, one of them was mine. They described the thesis of the other books, whereas my book was just described with one word, “jaundiced.” They can't even print a few words explaining that I say the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical organization, it's unbelievable. When I say “radical”, I don't say that they overthrow the regime and install an Islamic republic. It will be an Islamic-flavored government. They will work from within the government and push for what they want. As for the people talking about the “Turkish model”, I don't think that this model is good, especially on foreign policy.

Q: But how stable would such a regime be? Egypt's social and economic problems are very deep-rooted and severe. They are not going to go away. Right now, many people may believe that “Islam is the solution”. They would quickly find out that it is not, and that the Muslim Brotherhood has no magic wand. Thus, the unrests would flare-up again, and this time it would be the Jihadists who would face public anger.

Rubin: It's true; they have no way of delivering goods. They have to pay off the army, they have to subsidize goods. They cannot raise Egyptian living-standards, they cannot supply more jobs. And that historically means: They'll go for demagoguery - anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel - and foreign adventures.

Q: What would be the consequence for Israel?

Rubin: They would open the border to Gaza; weapons would pour in, including long-range missiles. Sooner or later, Hamas will attack Israel. If Israel retaliates, Egypt would probably not do anything - but what if it did and sent the Egyptian army to protect Hamas? It's not impossible. And they would abrogate the peace treaty, sending a signal to Israel that it can never make a deal with the Palestinians since they, too, would tear up the agreement some time in the future.

Israel would have to increase its military budget and its forces along the border. It is a disaster for Western interests and regional stability. And people are not only refusing to see this danger, they won't even discuss it or allow the contrary view into most of the media and public debate. This is a tragedy in the making.

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