- Saudi and Israeli needs drive his decisions
One has to appreciate US President Donald Trump’s persistence. Despite the many failures of his Middle East policy, he keeps going down the same path, with the same partners.
Since his first foreign trip landed him in Saudi Arabia and Israel two years ago, he has been on a roll, crushing all over traditional liberal US policies, defying the United Nations, violating international law and heightening tensions in the Middle East– all at the request, or in support, of these special partners. This trend increased over the past few weeks. The White House dominated Congress to continue assisting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and lent its support to the traitor general, Khalifa Hafter, during his attack on the Libyan capital, Tripoli. It also proclaimed the Syrian Golan Heights part of Israel and gave approval to the Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territories.
It increased sanctions on Iran, designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp a “foreign terrorist organization” and deployed carrier strike group battleships to the Gulf.
US officials are preaching peace and security, but in reality, are firing up conflict and violence to the detriment of the Middle East. If they don’t stop and reverse course, the very fires they have blew may eventually burn them too
The result of these policies is that tensions throughout the region are rising, yet the Trump Administration won’t reconsider, let alone reverse any of them. It has only really done that once– when it stepped back from its rapidly-taken position on the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt two years ago. The White House has given the Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi regimes and their allies carte blanche to do as they please domestically and regionally, as long as they purchase US weapons, invest in the US economy and support US initiatives in the Middle East, like the soon-to-be open “deal of the century”.
It has doubled down on its partners despite their grave human rights violations and costly wars and embraced their autocratic vision of associating Islamism with instability, and stability with military authoritarianism.
But the latest move of the Trump administration to essentially declare war on the Muslim Brotherhood may well be the spark that burns the powder barrel that the Middle East has become.
The White House announced it was intending to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization soon after Trump met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi last month and praised him as a “great president” despite his dark human rights record.
Field Marshal el-Sisi had led the coup d’etat against the Muslim Brotherhood the year after their 2012 electoral victory, imprisoned thousands of its members, and banned the organization. Saudi Arabia and the UAE followed suit a few months later. These regimes consider the group a major threat to their rule and an ally of regional opponents like Turkey and Qatar.
Past US administrations have directed away from such designation despite their hatred of the movement, and almost all US academics and analysts, even those critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, agree it is not a terrorist organization. They believe designating it as such is impulsive, shortsighted, and counterproductive.
Even Trump’s former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who in his Senate confirmation speech called the Muslim Brotherhood an agent of “radical Islam” in the same breath as al-Qaeda, stood against the terror designation. He believed the “classification of the Muslim Brotherhood in its entirety as a ‘terror’ group complicates the security and politics of the Middle East”.
This is especially the case, because the Brotherhood is a split, polycentric international movement that does not, in principle, embrace violence to reach its goals. The few offshoots that do employ violence to attain their goals, like Hamas, have already been designated terrorist, rightly or not. But the majority of the groups under the movement’s umbrella have either embraced preaching (dawa) as the way to spread Islam or joined the democratic process whenever possible. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates have been elected to various associations and parliaments in countries like Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait
Some of the USA’s closest allies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Muslim Brotherhood leaders, like the former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Iraqi politician Mohsen Abdul Hamid, who became the head of the Iraqi Governing Council following the 2003 US invasion.
Labelling all of these and millions of members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the world, including many thousands in the USA and Europe, terrorists, and banning them from participating openly in the political process in their respected countries, is terribly wrong and short-sighted. It would disrupt the ongoing critical rethink process within the movement after the costly failures it suffered over the past few years. Some Muslim Brotherhood members are abandoning the group to become independent, others abandoning politics altogether in favor of charity and social work, and still, more are rebranding themselves Muslim Democrats, separating their preaching from politics, along the lines of Christian Democracy in Europe.
Perhaps the most damaging for regional and indeed global security is comparing the Muslim Brotherhood with al-Qaeda and treating them as one, which spells disaster. It would not only push many Brothers underground, but also strengthen violent jihadi groups and justify their claim that the West at large sees all Muslims as terrorists and Islam as a threat.
As the White House is about to sacrifice real stability and democracy at the altar of someone else’s crusade against political Islam, Sudan and Algeria are showing a third way that strays away from the deadly separation between generals and jihadis and between autocrats and Islamists– one that is led by men and women, religious and secular, old and young, all embracing civilian rule, political settlement and economic reform.
Why after decades of pursuing security at the expense of democracy, and stability at the expense of human rights in the Middle East and achieving neither are US leaders repeating the same mistake repeat same thing but demanded different result?
The USA is anything but insane. In fact, it has been overly realistic to the degree of pessimism. But entrusting Israel and Middle East dictators with US foreign policy and security as the safer choice will prove utterly irresponsible.
If US investments in peace and security in the Middle East were listed on the stock market, their stock would have bottomed out long ago. Yet these high-cost low-yield diplomatic and strategic investments continue unabated, running huge shortages to the detriment of the very people they purport to support. Like arsonist firemen, US officials are preaching peace and security, but in reality, are firing up conflict and violence to the detriment of the Middle East. If they don’t stop and reverse course, the very fires they have blew may eventually burn them too.