Opinion

Op-ed

Muslim Brotherhood Riding the Crest of Arab Spring

Anti-Mubarak protesters chant and wave Egyptian flags in Cairo on Feb. 6.

In my most recent book, "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East," I argued that civil societies in the Greater Middle East and Arab world had reached a critical stage in their repudiation of all authoritarian forms of government: regime, theocracy, military and ultra-nationalist.  

The projections therein were based on a thorough study of antecedent Cedars and Green Revolutions in Lebanon (2005) and Iran (2009), respectively, both with limpid narratives, particularly online, and both auguring a continuation of bottom-up, regime-crumbling uprisings in the region.

Even before the region's revolutionary meltdowns began, our findings were accompanied by a sober warning—a grueling contest would ensue between the dispersed and disorganized proponents of liberal democratic reform and the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, as soon as the uprisings erupted on the streets of Tunis and Cairo, the Islamist political machine went into high gear, with the region's mostly-Sunni Islamist movements gradually rising from the bottom and seizing the initiative.

The first of three tactics the Islamists have pursued in their protest-infiltration strategy was avoidance of any statement or action that might associate the demonstrations with long-term Muslim Brotherhood goals. Members were put on notice—no mention of sharia or the caliphate. 

The second was to focus on the affected regimes, not on the West. U.S., European and even Israeli flag burning was forbidden. The third tactic involved invoking Shabab al Thawra (youth of revolution), a rubric the Islamists used repeatedly to camouflage their predatory intentions with the uprisings' secular, liberal democratic lexical accouterments. While masses, and particularly real revolutionary youth, were exploding against dictators from Egypt to Libya and Yemen to Syria, Islamist networks were systematically climbing the ladder of each national revolt.

Like the anti-tsar Bolsheviks of the October Revolution and the anti-shah Khomeinists of the Iranian Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood is hampered by its own milieu, with citizens knowing them well enough to see through their maneuvers. In the West, on the other hand, the Brotherhood is supported by a vast army of apologist elites who obfuscate their mission by referring to them as "revivalists," a misnomer that has been spoon-fed to the public and policymakers for years. 

As evidence that this propaganda still achieves its intended effect, a high-ranking U.S. official recently referred to the Brotherhood as "a loose network of secular groups." Thus the Brotherhood, far better organized and funded than their authentic counterparts in the region and buttressed by an illusory international reputation, are riding the turbid wave and controlling the dynamics of the so-called Arab Spring created for them by the region's true secular reformers.

While chaos reigns among Muslim Brotherhood-infiltrated pro-democracy forces in Egypt, Brotherhood members in Egypt are preparing for parliamentary and possibly presidential elections. They are launching a political party, a media campaign and preparing for a political offensive that will run in the millions. 

The Muslim Brotherhood has also been coaching Egypt's armed forces on regional diplomacy. This has resulted in the opening of Gaza's gate to Egypt and Hamas being hosted in Cairo. Similarly, in Jordan the Muslim Brotherhood is backing the Islamist Action Front in a move directed against the Jordanian monarchy.

Cousin to Egypt's Brotherhood, the Islamist al Nahda movement in Tunisia is positioning itself for greater influence in that country's leadership. In Libya, the Shabab al Thawra, considered legitimate by many European governments and Qatar, is having a significant impact on the Interim National Council in Benghazi. 

By abstaining from publicly declaring their ideology, the Islamists in Libya have the upper hand, so long as NATO continues to support their efforts with airstrikes on the "apostate" Gadhafi regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood has insinuated itself into Syria's popular uprising against that country's Ba'athist dictator. The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has a score to settle with the Assad dynasty over the massacre of thousands of Brotherhood faithful in the 1980s. Their strategic plan is to ride the Syrian revolt to the very end.

By penetrating tribal boundaries and Yemen's armed forces, Yemeni Salafists have positioned themselves strategically while they launch their own version of Shabab al Thawra. The Yemeni Republic's first and current president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, will fight until his resources are exhausted and his enemies gain the upper hand. Nevertheless, the Islamists in Yemen are readying themselves for the post-Saleh era.

The regional consortium of Brotherhood and their Salafist allies has their eyes on several other countries in the region as well, including Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and eventually parts of Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan. While moving with stealth and efficiency, the Muslim Brotherhood is also pausing to obviate concerns that might arise over possible Western partnerships. 

The U.S. and European decision to designate $40 billion to the Arab Spring will ineluctably profit the Muslim Brotherhood, who President Obama referred to in his speech as those who do not necessarily believe in "our view of representative democracy."

In the meantime, the authentic democratic reformers—the Arab popular majority, young Arab men and women, and ethnic minorities—who have borne on their shoulders the brunt of the non-violent revolts, could still be outmaneuvered and marginalized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Today's Arab "Bolsheviks" could win the day if the West doesn't wake up soon and respond accordingly.

Dr. Walid Phares is the author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East" and an adviser to members of the U.S. Congress and European Parliament.

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