Figures are an effective political tool which the layman finds hard to challenge. Take, for example, the formal results of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak general election at the end of 2011 and January 2012 in which the Muslim Brotherhood captured almost half of the lower house of parliament’s 498 seats. It was therefore ruled a Muslim Brotherhood victory by the shapers of US Middle East policy.
However, deeper analysis of the figures by US analysts produces the opposite conclusion: The Brotherhood did not win a majority of the Egyptian electorate and its popularity with the average Egyptian cannot be taken for granted because out of more than 50 million eligible Egyptian voters, no more than 11 percent opted for Brotherhood candidates. A higher turnout would have turned the result on its head.
This explains the Brotherhood's strenuous objections to dissolving the lower house as ordered by the Supreme Constitution Court and the Supreme Military Council and calling a new election.
Brotherhood strategists fear a new election, say American analysts, because they cannot hope to repeat their success in the first. Next time round, voters opposed to Islamist rule won’t make the same mistake of staying away from the poll; they will make every vote they can muster count against the Brotherhood and have a good chance of shrinking its majority to a level below the 25 percent netted by the radical Islamist Salafites.
This fear is not shared by Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s winning candidate for president, who was elected in a separate ballot.
Morsi feels is way toward an independent position
He is seen to be feeling his way gingerly toward an independent position without putting too many Brotherhood leaders’ backs up, too soon. He therefore called the dissolved parliament into brief session Sunday, July 8 in defiance of the SCAF and the court, but it was only a gesture.
“You have to understand,” said a senior Washington source familiar with the ins and outs for the administration’s Egyptian policy, “that on the face of it (to the Egyptian street), Morsi must go through the motions of toeing the Muslim Brotherhood’s line and deferring to his old masters. But his language and actions tell a different story. They show him to be feeling his way towards an independent position.”
The Obama administration is therefore handling President Morsi with kid gloves, backing him discreetly while quietly patching up his differences with the generals so that they can together muster enough strength to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tuesday, July 10, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Egypt’s Islamist president and its military chiefs to settle their differences for the good of the Egyptian people: “We strongly urge dialogue and a concerted effort on the part of all to try to deal with the problems that are understandable but have to be resolved in order to avoid the kind of difficulties that could derail the transition that is going on,” Clinton said.
US puts peace with Israel on back burner
To avoid rocking the boat, US Undersecretary of State William Burns refrained from raising the fate of the Egyptian-Israel peace pact when he met with President Morsi in Cairo on July 8. And when he faced the press after that meeting, Burns vehemently denied any reference to that issue in Obama’s letter to the new president.
For now, the administration is tip-toeing around President Morsi and holding back on thorny issues, however important, for the sake of stabilizing his position – a guideline Clinton will follow in her talks in Cairo Saturday, July 14, after her trip to Israel and after Washington’s careful tactic reaped its first dividend.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Cairo sources reveal that Morsi has given in to the military council’s demand to respect the constitutional court ruling and order a new general election – a slap in the face for the Brotherhood kept quiet for now.
He made this decision Wednesday, July 11, before setting out on his first foreign trips as president of Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
He felt safe in flouting the Muslim Brotherhood on this question: After all, his election victory as president is safely in the bag even if the Brotherhood is defeated in a fresh parliamentary vote.
And that was not all: He went on to challenge his movement in two public statements before leaving Cairo: In one, he lavishly praised Saudi relations with Egypt and, in particular, King Abdullah and the heads of the royal family. In the second, he pledged his government would never interfere in the internal affairs of Gulf nations, but also promised that his government would deem the security of the Gulf emirates a red line for Egypt, i.e., a guarantee of support against any threat from Iran.
Two more slaps in the face for the Brotherhood
Morsi’s words were extraordinary in view of the extremely unhappy relations prevailing between the Saudi royal family and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. He was clearly after urgently needed financial aid from Riyadh and the oil states and understood that their generosity would only be forthcoming if his requests came from the Egyptian president and not a Brotherhood functionary.
His vow to stay out of the internal affairs of other countries in the region flatly contradicted the Brotherhood’s ideological mission which is to disseminate its dogma and influence as widely as possible.
The president had clearly not sought the approval of his Brotherhood colleagues and was carving out a course of his own. If he expected immediate results In Jeddah, he was mistaken, our sources report. The king was cagey about advancing financial aid, explaining he must first be satisfied with the new president’s policies.
US policy-makers will have to wait and see whether the Egyptian president can get away with striking out on his own and sustain this position against massive Muslim Brotherhood pressure.
The Brothers will certainly try and isolate him as they did another ex-Brotherhood figure, the more charismatic and intellectual Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the movement for being “too liberal” and tripped up when he tried to run for the presidency.
Morsi’s surrender to superior Brotherhood power would force the Obama administration into some weighty policy revamping for the Middle East’s most populous Arab nation.