Sunday, August 19, 2012

Egypt’s Military and the Arab Spring

Andrew McCarthy
Things are bad, and they are going to get worse.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. He is a Muslim Brotherhood adherent who rose to the rank of general in Egypt’s military — the armed forces he has just been tapped to command by Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood eminence who was elected president of Egypt a few weeks back. My column was prompted by the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Sissi’s appointment, which strained to put a positive spin on an unfolding catastrophe.

The Journal has been all in on the “Arab Spring” fairy tale from the get-go, joining the bipartisan Beltway chorus in presenting the rise of Islamist totalitarianism as a spontaneous eruption of freedom fervor. Even so, it was jarring to find the paper burying General Sissi’s Brotherhood sympathies at the bottom of a lengthy profile. The thud came only after paragraph upon sunny paragraph of the conceit that Sissi’s decades of exposure to American military counterparts and his high standing in the eyes of Obama-administration officials boded well for future American-Egyptian relations and Israeli security.

The mainstream media, it seems, have their template: We’ve spent 30 years and about $45 billion cultivating the Egyptian military, so rest assured it is not going to stand by and let Egypt fall under the yoke of Islamist rule. Pretty soon, though, they’ll have to fire up Story Line B: Islamist rule is actually quite moderate and perfectly compatible with democracy . . .  On Friday, the New York Times reported on yet another key Islamist military appointment in the Brotherhood’s new Egypt: General Sedky Sobhi, who was just named army chief of staff.

Sobhi, it turns out, is the author of an academic paper that sharply rebukes American foreign policy as both insufficiently deferential to sharia (Islamic law) and too one-sided in favor of Israel. He’s on record calling for “the permanent withdrawal of United States military forces from the Middle East and the Gulf.”

Feel better now?

To its credit, the Times does not repeat the Journal’s sleight of hand. Rather than being obscured, General Sobhi’s sympathies are, for the most part, put up front. We quickly learn that he has forcefully argued against our military presence in the region, claiming that the U.S. has itself to blame for being (as the Times phrases it) “mir[ed] . . . in an unwinnable global war with Islamist militants.”

Still, while one can guess why the general feels this way, the Times is elliptical about his Islamist convictions and rationalizations until we come to the end of the story. Only then do we hear of Sobhi’s complaint about (as the Times puts it) U.S. “hostility toward the role of Islamic law” (if only!) and his objection to the American characterization of al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants as “irrational terrorist organizations” (Sobhi’s words).

Sobhi was no doubt correct about the latter charge, though not for the reason he offers. The general posited the vapid (albeit commonly voiced) Islamist talking point that America created global terrorism by adopting policies that inevitably resulted in “popular grievances,” which al-Qaeda and other militants “tapped into.”

Obviously, there has to be a reason U.S. national-security policies gave rise to “popular grievances” in the Muslim Middle East — that’s the elephant in the parlor that no one cares to notice. The pursuit of American interests and promotion of American principles are unpopular because they collide with classical sharia doctrine. Yes, as the general says, the jihadists are rational actors, not wanton killers — they are acting on the commands of a coherent doctrine. But that doctrine is also ardently anti-Western. Any policy we would adopt to further our ends is bound to be unpopular in an environment where the presence of a Western army is deemed to trigger a duty to expel that army by violent jihad. Any policy we would adopt to shore up Israel’s security is bound to be unpopular in an environment where the Jewish state’s destruction is unapologetically proclaimed to be an Islamic duty.

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