Western Media and the Middle East / Prof. B.Rubin

A.Media and Middle East: Wow, These People Are Repressive Dictators! Who Knew?
B.Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy: Listen to Those Who Know Best
23 Feb 2011

A.For those of us who have been trying to talk about Middle East dictators for a long time--I wrote my book on the subject, Modern Dictators, more than a quarter-century ago--it is amusing to see how people are lining up to be "horrified" by those evil repressive regimes.

Some of these people have built their whole careers on saying that the only problem in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict, then adding this was Israel's fault. Indeed, many of them extolled these dictators, especially the anti-American ones.

Reminds me also of how Yasir Arafat was regularly whitewashed in the media--with little about his extremism, lies, corruption, and direct involvement in terrorism--until he was dead and thus bashing him had no political implications about the Palestinian movement's nature, behavior, and goals. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein also enjoyed a pretty good press until overthrown by the United States.

If there was time, I could dig up dozens of examples of mass media howlers (send me any you find) but since a friend of mine has done a case study on Libya in this regard, I'll publish it here with some small additions.

The New York Times has an article entitled "Libya’s Butcher" that tells us:

"Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya vowed on Tuesday that he would “fight on to the last drop of my blood” and die a “martyr.” We have no doubt that what he really meant is that he will butcher and martyr his own people in his desperation to hold on to power. He must be condemned and punished by the international community."

"Colonel Qaddafi, who took power in a 1969 coup, has a long, ruthless and erratic history. Among his many crimes: He was responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2003, after years of international sanctions, he announced that he had given up terrorism and his pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

But how has the Times dealt with this horrible monster in the past? Well, Qadhafi was given space for his views.

Or here where Saif Qaddafi, son of the dictator, was allowed to justify the release of a murderer.

Or here with a puff piece celebrating the eco-friendliness of Saif

The Times had no problem promoting this guy in different ways over the years. It's current portrayal of him as a butcher should have been confirmed by its shunning of him in the past.

Or in other words, it is now saying: I'm shocked! Shocked! To see that dictatorship is going on!

But now the Times is busy working to make the next generation of would-be dictators and extremists look good, notably regarding the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its charismatic spiritual guide, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Not one word about the Brotherhood's collaboration with the Nazis, support for terrorism, and hysterical antisemitism has appeared in most of the American mass media.

B.Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy: Listen to Those Who Know Best

The Western media continues to portray the Muslim Brotherhood--without citing any actual evidence and ignoring everything said or written by its leaders in Arabic--as moderate and full of diverse factions.

But what does it mean when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most important Islamist cleric in the world and of the Muslim Brotherhood, says, "The revolution is not over yet." He means that, like the Russian revolution of 1917, Egypt should have a two-stage revolution: first, the overthrow of the dictatorship and the development of democracy; second, the revolution to implant an Islamist state. Between one and two million Egyptians listened to that speech and cheered.

There are three additional points that should be made about this fallacy.

First, why has the Brotherhood been legally banned in Egypt for so many years? The argument used was that no party should be able to "monopolize" religion. In other words, since Islam is such a potent symbol and powerful source of identity no political party should be able to label itself as "Muslim," as if other parties were non- or anti-Muslim.

One might view this as an excuse by the regime but it is still a valid point for the future. Going into an election as the "Muslim" party is a tremendous advantage. The Brotherhood is a disciplined organization with a clear leadership hierarchy. Now that it has real prospects for victory why will people who stuck with it in the hard days of illegality rebel against the leadership?

If anyone in Egypt is going to have quarreling factions it is all the non-Brotherhood forces that have no organization, no discipline, no clear leadership, and no program.

Second, while the Brotherhood is organizing its own party, the first party reportedly registered officially has been the al-Wasat party. This is very significant. Al-Wasat was the party that the relative moderates in the Brotherhood repeatedly tried to organize about a decade ago. The government did not want to register it as legal and the Brotherhood's leadership also opposed it.

What this latest development means is that the real relative moderates in the Brotherhood have despaired that the group will be more moderate and have left it. These are the people who should know best about the Brotherhood's nature. In other words, a moderate Islamic party is going to be organized outside the Brotherhood, not inside of it.

And what is the evaluation of the former leader of the Brotherhood's moderate wing, Abou Elela Mady (not my preferred transliteration)? Here is a quotation from the interview he gave to Reuters:

"The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression."

So in other words the former leading moderate in the Brotherhood is frightened, predicting that the Brotherhood might win a parliamentary election. I don't think they are likely to win but they are going to do very well.

I don't think the Brotherhood is going to take power in the next couple of years and make Egypt an Islamist state. I think that either the Brotherhood will be a very powerful and increasingly strong opposition party or will participate in a government coalition and leverage that into growing power.

Having an anti-Brotherhood president would mitigate their power. But if the first government falters--not being able to deliver better living standards--the Brotherhood will be waiting for its opportunity in several years. The liberal blogger Sandmonkey predicts they may well be ruling Egypt in six years.

Third, Middle East Transparent has been the most important international Internet publication for Arab liberals. Now this publication, in an Arabic-language article, is really worried about events in Egypt, particularly the composition of the constitution-writing committee the military has appointed.

According to the article, Tariq al-Bishri is considered not only to be pro-Muslim Brotherhood but also hostile to Christians by Middle East Transparent. Another member is the openly Muslim Brotherhood Subhi Salih. The author wonders whether this indicates that the army is more Islamist-leaning than we think.

So if the Brotherhood's own moderates believe it is still radical and if Arab liberals believe it is still radical might they know more than the Western media and (allegedly) intelligent intelligence agencies?

By the way, here's a collection of Muslim Brotherhood statements you might find to be useful.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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