The Brotherhood has clearly learned well the lesson of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It does not need to outright seize power. In fact, Hezbollah did itself a great deal of good by setting itself up as the real power behind a moderate leader. Only when Hezbollah was strong enough to take control did it bring down the moderate government it had been a part of. Egypt faces a similar threat. Today, the Brotherhood might preach moderation, and speak to domestic issues such as jobs, less corruption and economic growth. Only when they have gathered enough supporters will they cast aside their moderate pretensions and work to impose an Islamic state.
At this point, there is probably little that can be done to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from becoming a powerful force inside Egypt, perhaps the force. Even the Obama administration has signaled that it is prepared to accept a Muslim Brotherhood presence inside a future Egyptian government, as long as it rejects violence and supports democracy. How absurd. Once in power it will be easy for the Brotherhood to play the political game and avoid directly calling for violence while still using its position to destabilize American interests in the Middle East. It can non-violently and democratically end cooperation with Israel, begin to impose elements of shariah law on the Egyptian population and relax the restrictions that have kept Islamism out of power in Egypt for so long. The Brotherhood can easily complicate Israel’s security situation by simply turning a blind eye as weapons and supplies flow freely to their Hamas allies in Gaza.
If there is any hope at all for the West in the new Egyptian reality, it may be that the military and security services, armed and trained by the West and believed to be anti-Islamist, will still be a major force in Egyptian politics, and might serve to somewhat check the Islamist’s power in any new Egyptian government. While that might be the best that can be hoped for, it is hardly good news — it is essentially Pakistan all over again, where a pro-American military struggles to keep surging Islamist forces from taking over the country, fueling a vicious cycle of terrorism and political corruption.
One Pakistan was bad enough. Another, in the most significant Arab country and directly next door to Israel, will be a disaster for the West. It will turn Israel’s most reliable local partner into a security risk, at best, it will leave Washington without a key Muslim ally in the struggle to contain Iran, and it could easily lead to more and more revolutions across the Middle East until the entire region, never particularly stable to begin with, descends into near anarchy to the benefit only of Islamic extremists.
There are already signs that Yemen and Jordan might be next, and Morocco and Syria are also at risk. Even Saudi Arabia is far from secure. If revolution sweeps the Middle East, America will see its influence there essentially vanish, and Iran will exploit that chaos to further enhance its own power. Israel will find itself even more besieged than ever. Weak governments from northern Africa to the Persian Gulf will be ripe for infiltration by radical elements eager to seize any opportunity to impose their own version of Islam on the world. It is impossible to predict what will be the end result of this scenario, but nearly as hard to imagine how it will not be a catastrophic reality for the West and Israel.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on . Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.
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