The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The WINEP crusade to discredit the Egyptian revolution

A few days ago I noted a pretty awful piece by WINEP's Robert Satloff and Eric Trager in WSJ. But there is more:

  • WINEP fellow Eric Trager has had more negative pieces on the Egyptian uprising, focusing on how nasty Islamists are, than anyone. His latest, published on the revolution's anniversary, is titled Happy Birthday To Egypt’s Doomed Revolution. I share Trager's concerns over the Islamist ascendency but the entire premise of many his pieces is wrong: he argues that somehow the West was fooled into thinking this was a liberal secular revolution. It was not, and it was obvious from the start. It was a revolution against a dictator and his autocratic system, but joined by all sorts of people — from undemocratic radical leftists and Islamists to mainstream Islamists, liberals, centrists of all shades. And it's amusing he decries that some activists would not meet with Hillary Clinton. Nothing new here, it has been the case for a long time and a completely understandable decision considering US policies in the region and backing Mubarak (and perhaps SCAF). He also is fighting a home game, the one WINEP cares most about, about US foreign policy and the engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. Why anyone would object with US officials meeting with members of the largest party in Egypt is beyond me, and some sort of policy was necessary to break the ice considering past kowtowing to Mubarak regime restrictions on meeting the Brothers. (Update: The Lounsbury chimes in.)
  • David Pollock, also a WINEP fellow, has a rather trite piece attacking the Muslim Brothers for what they say in English vs. what they in Arabic. He doesn't even provide the best examples, which come from the governorate websites of the Brothers. This kind of argumentation is futile, because the point is no longer what the Brothers say in one language or the other, but what they do. This is precisely why the US is talking to them – to have an impact over what they do. And the real big problem with this piece in meta: its underlying assumption is that the US is "trusting" the MB's "private assurances" and statements. What, in this chaotic situation? No one runs foreign policy like that, as if Obama is saying, but that guy Beltagui of the Brothers assured me this or that. Paul Pillar has more on this piece at National Interest.
  • But the real WINEP Egypt bash-feast took place at one of the organization's "policy forums" which Trager, Egyptian activist Samuel Tadros and old WINEP hand David Schenker. I am quite alarmed by Tadros' phrasing of the Egyptian political scene as what non-Islamists can do in conjunction with the US (of course Tadros was previously a recipient of MEPI funding) – as if the US has historically been a great friend of Egyptian democrats – and I remember his rather nasty attack on Ayman Nour as anti-Semitic (as if anti-Semitism is really Egypt's biggest problem.)

It's not that there aren't real foreign policy conundrums towards Egypt – there are plenty. But WINEP's entire approach, focused mostly on bashing the Obama administration's cautious engagement of Islamists who are sen by most Egyptians (despite the elections' many flaws) as democratically elected and constant return to the question of Israel is neither helpful nor analytically interesting. What it amounts to, in other words, is another Israel lobby initiative to ensure that one of the worst aspect of US foreign policy in the region – seeing everything through an Israeli prism – continues. In Egypt, as I've argued in the past, the best way to calm regional tensions may be precisely to decouple US-Egypt relations from the Camp David framework. It's not the propaganda of an outfit dedicated to furthering Israel's interests in the US that's going to provide much insight into how Egypt can make it through the tremendously difficult road ahead, or credibly give advice  about promoting democracy when it spent so many years defending Mubarak when he backed Israeli interests (such as the blockade of Gaza) and bashing him after 2004 when it became politically fashionable.