President Obama backs the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He backed it, for example, when the military tried to stand up against Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood man who heads the Egyptian government, and when he made Morsi look like the hero of Hamas’ recent mini-victory over Israel.
But in backing Morsi, Obama can claim that he is simply recognizing the reality that Morsi is the elected leader of Egypt. It’s a weak argument because, elected or not, Morsi is an anti-western, anti-Israeli Islamist whose intentions are malicious. We don’t have to back our enemies just because they win elections. Heck, Obama sees no need to back our friends on this basis. Just ask Benjamin Netanyahu.
In any event, we now learn (from Jonathan Spyer, via Barry Rubin) that Obama has decided to back the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Here, we aren’t talking about backing an elected government; rather, the issue is which rebel group to support.
As Spyer shows, Obama’s “intention is to align with and strengthen Muslim Brotherhood-associated elements, while painting Salafi forces as the sole real Islamist danger.” Meanwhile, “secular forces are ignored or brushed aside.”
Spyer ponts to the new military council that Obama is backing:
The founder of the Free Syrian Army, the secular former Syrian Air Force Colonel Riad Asaad, is notably absent. General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the first of his rank to defect to the rebels, is also not there. Sheikh is known for his fierce opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect so far, was similarly absent.
A Reuters report on the new joint military council calculated that the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies account for about two thirds of the 263 men who met in Antaliya and formed the new body. Salafi commanders are also there.
The new council is headed by Brigadier Selim Idriss, who is described as a non-ideological military man. But his deputies, Abdel-basset Tawil of Idleb and Abdel-qader Saleh of Aleppo governate are associated with the Salafi trend.
The same picture emerges from an anlysis of the new civilian leadership body – the Syrian National Coalition:
The leader of this coalition is Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib, former Imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Khatib is closely associated with the Damascus Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The leader of the new coalition has a long history of antisemitic, anti-western and anti-Shia remarks (he praised Saddam Hussein, for example, for ‘terrifying the Jews’ and wrote an article asking if Facebook was an ‘American-Israeli intelligence website.’) He is also an admirer of the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Within the body headed by Khatib, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian National Council controls around 27 of the 65 seats on the executive body of the new coalition. There are also Islamists and fellow travelers among the non-SNC delegates. The Brotherhood are by far the best organized single body within the coalition. One secular delegate at the first full meeting of the coalition accused the MB of “pushing more of its hawks into the coalition, although it already has half of the seats.”
In sum, the Obama administration is now backing a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated coalition as the preferred replacement for the Assad regime.
The excuse will be that the alternative is the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra organization. But Spyer insists that “the difference between [al-Nusra] and the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups is one of degree, not of kind.” The “home grown, Muslim Brotherhood elements that the US is backing are no less anti-western and no less anti-Jewish,” he adds. Nor is it clear that the U.S. had no other alternatives.
In this regard, we should keep in mind that the Syrian incarnation of the Muslim Brotherhood is even more militant than its counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, according to Glenn Robinson, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School writing in the December issue of Current History. In this sense, Obama’s play in Syria amounts to more than a doubling down on the Brotherhood.
The bottom line, says Barry Rubin, is that if the Obama-backed group is Syria’s new government, then Syria now has an Islamist regime. And that, it now seems clear, is fine with Obama.