Middle East

Obama's Marshall Plan for the Middle East

A veiled woman walks near a television in the West Bank city of Nablus during the May 19 speech by U.S. President Barack Obama.

President Obama's plan to provide U.S. financial aid to emerging democracies in the Middle East, Egypt and Tunisia—and possibly a post-Saleh Yemen and post-Assad Syria—may be commendable, but it could bring catastrophic results. If the billions granted will be used by democratic governments in the region to move their societies away from fundamentalism, radicalism and inequality, toward secular, liberal democracy, then the financial support will be commensurate with American ideals. But if the aid will be used to fund programs instituted by the Islamists and their movements, old and new, then the Obama administration's new Middle East initiative will cause greater injustice for the people of the region, and eventually produce greater conflicts for future American generations.

President Obama's speech and comments by his advisors have attempted to liken the alleged aid package for the countries arising out of the Middle East revolts, to the Marshall Plan, which helped many European countries cope with post-World War II economic stresses. The major difference then and now between Europe and the Middle East is that European societies had already experienced and were returning to democracy after a few years of fascism, and most of the Arab world has no experience with liberal democracy. Those societies that have arisen against authoritarianism are still threatened by jihadi fascism. A "Marshall Plan" for the Arab world should come after the defeat of that region's version of fascism, not before. The aid should reward societies for defeating the Salafist and Khomeinist ideologies, not fund their ascendance.

It was secular youth and minorities in Egypt who triggered the popular uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood, a movement dedicated to a theocratic regime and the elimination of liberal democracy, quickly—and with Washington's stealthy backing—seized the revolution's microphone, positioned itself at the center of the uprising, even though the Muslim Brotherhood did not make up more than 15 percent of the mass of demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Well organized and funded, the Brotherhood will insert themselves into the electoral process as part of the youth majority. The Christian minority is disorganized and politically marginalized. By any analysis, short of massive support for democratic forces in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will acquire significant influence in the next parliamentary election and thus the lion's share of posts in the ensuing cabinet. This would mean that Obama has sent billions in economic aid to a government controlled or significantly influenced by Islamists who have not abandoned, but remain loyal to, jihadi ideology.

Obama's aid will result in empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's government and economy. A Marshall Plan for Egypt prior to the battle for democracy being won by democratic forces is a Marshall Plan that supports the jihadists with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The administration's intellectuals have been arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood are undergoing transformation and becoming reformers. If the Brotherhood were to reform ideologically, those most targeted by their Islamist agenda—secularists, women, liberals, youth and Copts—would be the first to know it. The news coming from those interests in Egypt does not endorse this claim.

The Nahda Movement in Tunisia, which promotes Salafi Islamist ideology, is gearing up to take a large slice of the political establishment pie. In Egypt the Brotherhood have their eyes on many ministry posts that will change hands after this year's legislative elections. In Washington, academics and advisors have convinced the Obama administration that a post-Gaddafi Libya, a post-Saleh Yemen and eventually a post-Assad Syria will make the Islamists the new U.S. partners in the region. Thus, Obama's speech on future U.S. Middle East policy reflects an adaptation to these anticipated changes. The United States will recognize the Islamists and try to ingratiate them with a "Marshal Plan" to solidify their rule even if they only pay lip service to "representative democracy."

The Islamists' voices are not the only ones seeking to be heard in the region. Other voices are speaking out against the alliance between Western democracy and the Islamists. Liberal voices of the Egyptian, Tunisian and Syrian uprisings have been signaling an urgent SOS to the free world over the Arabic airwaves, saying, "Do not abandon us for a pragmatic alliance with the Islamists."

Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East." He teaches global strategies in Washington, D.C., and advises members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament.