>– Senior Member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Articulates Preference for Ahmadinejad-Style President
– 10,000 Tunisians Welcome Exiled Islamist Leader, Ghannouchi Praises “Blessed Revolution” that Ousted Dictator Ben Ali
Over the weekend, significant political developments took place in Egypt that portend strategic disaster for the USA and an existential crisis for its only reliable Middle East ally, Israel.
First, the leadership of Egypt’s ruling party, the Socialist International-affiliated National Democratic Party (NDP), resigned on Saturday. This purge was no doubt beyond the imagination of most Egyptians just a few short weeks ago, but the resignations are unlikely to mollify an opposition frustrated by President Hosni Mubarak’s determination to serve out his term until September.
The dismantling of the NDP, which descends from Gamal Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union, is one of several crises facing new Vice President Omar Suleiman. Egypt’s opposition parties, which include the banned Muslim Brotherhood, are anxious to emasculate Mubarak’s power and halt the ambitions of his son Gamal, a despised figure who was among those resigning their posts. Incidentally, Suleiman, who was formerly the country’s spy chief, professes to have no intentions of running for the presidency later this year.
The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors the NDP regime over an Islamic fundamentalist takeover since Mubarak has faithfully upheld the Camp David Accords since 1979, in what some Middle East analysts call a “cold peace.”
On the streets of Cairo, the Egyptian army began to reassert control around Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square on Saturday. Hundreds of soldiers moved into streets around the downtown plaza that has been the base camp of the anti-Mubarak protests since February 1. Restoring normal traffic around the square will reinforce the government’s message that Mubarak will remain in the presidency for the next seven months.
Second, Suleiman has promised to restore press freedoms and annul the emergency laws by which Mubarak has ruled Egypt since the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981. The fact that Sadat’s assassins were Islamic fundamentalists is significant today due to the role that the same political-religious group is seeking in a new transitional government.
Third, on Sunday the Egyptian vice president held an unprecedented meeting with the country’s opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood. After the meeting, the Brotherhood, which lost all of its 88 seats in last year’s parliamentary election, remarked that the negotiations with Suleiman were well-intentioned, but not substantial with respect to forming a new government. This was the assessment of Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a senior member of the Brotherhood, when he was interviewed by the Al Arabiya network.
On Monday, the Muslim Brotherhood admitted that it was reconsidering its participation in further talks with Suleiman. “We are going to reconsider, it may take one or two days for us to determine whether to continue or withdraw,” said Essam El-Erian, another senior Brotherhood official. “The regime still resists the popular appeal for the end of the regime.”
As anti-government protesters continue to occupy central Cairo, Egypt’s new cabinet met without its widely hated former interior minister, Habib al-Adly. A group including opposition organizations will study constitutional amendments that will pave the way for political reform.
In spite of his peace overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s ex-spy boss and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a 2006 US diplomatic cable, view the Islamist organization as “dangerous.” Britain’s Guardian newspaper published the text of communications between Suleiman and FBI director Robert Mueller:
Soliman noted that the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] was “neither a religious organization, nor a social organization, nor a political party, but a combination of all three.” The principal danger, in Soliman’s view, was the group’s exploitation of religion to influence and mobilize the public. Soliman asserted that the MB has spawned “11 different Islamist extremist organizations,” most notably the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Gama’a Islamiya (Islamic Group).
Soliman termed the MB’s recent success  in the parliamentary elections as “unfortunate,” adding his view that although the group was technically illegal, existing Egyptian laws were insufficient to keep the MB in check. [FBI] Director Mueller told the Egyptians that the Bureau was keeping an eye on the MB’s fundraising and organizational efforts in the U.S. and would keep Egypt advised of relevant information the FBI developed.
This is not the case with the Obama White House, which quietly backs the admission of the Muslim Brotherhood into a new Egyptian government. In response to Sunday’s meeting, US President Barack Hussein Obama commented: “What we can do is say the time is now for you to start making a change in your country. Mubarak has already decided he’s not going to run again.” Obama played down expectations that Egypt’s best organized opposition group would take a major role in a new government, concluding: “They are only one faction in Egypt.”
Meanwhile, as the Mubarak regime enters its final months, Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and Iran are closing ranks. Last Friday, during prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei pontificated that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are the result of an “Islamic awakening, which followed the great Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation.” The Leader of the Islamic Revolution (pictured above) made reference to Egyptians’ struggle for “dignity and honor” and lamented that Mubarak’s “biggest crime” was transforming Egypt into a pawn of “US imperialism.”
On Sunday, another senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood expressed gratitude to Khamenei for his endorsement of the “Egyptian revolution.” “Many thanks for Imam Khamenei and all who support the revolution in Egypt,” crowed Kamal al-Halbavi. He made the remark in an interview with the state-funded BBC Persian. Halbavi further expressed hope that Egypt would have “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave.” Halbavi added that he wants his country to develop in all fields “like Iran, achieving more technological and scientific advances and becoming a regional power.”
The next day, a second senior cleric in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, urged his comrades in North Africa to pursue Islamic revolution: “Today, we are witnessing that there are developments in Tunisia and Egypt which are spread to other countries as well…Enemies regard Iran as a major factor behind causing the (ongoing) movements. This is the reason that enemies have mounted pressure on our country. Enemies expected that the Islamic Republic would collapse during these years but they reached to an understanding that the Islamic establishment has been stabilized.”
On January 30, 10,000 Tunisians turned out to welcome home an Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile suggests that his party will emerge as a “major force” in Tunisia after its dictator, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted last month. The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by Tunisian Islamists since 1989. Under Ben Ali’s socialist regime, thousands of Islamic radicals were jailed or exiled. “Oh great people who called for this blessed revolution, continue your revolution, preserve it and translate it into democracy, justice and equality,” Ghannouchi addressed the crowd, which chanted “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great).