Fortunately I’ve been in Iraq and London so I haven’t had to suffer as much American media, but this Wall Street Journal article blows my mind. The problem starts with the first line of the article: Saudi Arabia fears "the U.S. is opening the door for Islamist groups to gain influence and destabilize the region"?
Saudi Arabia? The most extreme Islamist state in the world, the sponsor of extreme Islamist movements from Africa to Europe to Asia? The opponent of Arab and Muslim progressive and liberal thought for decades?
Internally, Saudi imposes strict so-called Islamic laws barring women from driving, not allowing movie theatres, different doors to building for men and women and a primitive religious police that enforce arcane laws. Minorities - and even Saudi nationals who don't adhere to their own brand of Islam - have no rights.
Internationally, most of what misinformed American academics and pundits call Islamic extremism was created in Saudi and continues to be funded by it. Let's not forget that Saudi de facto supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and that 15 of the 9/11 terrorists and Bin Laden are Saudis. Saudi being worried about another country becoming Islamic Extremist is like an orange being worried that a tomato isn't red enough (thanks Ahmad).
So the Wall Street Journal's uninformed authors think the Saudis are worried about Islamist groups? No. The Saudis used to import Muslim Brothers from Egypt to teach in Saudi Arabia, and that was only after the Wahabis relaxed a bit and were willing to accept them and their more moderate views.
This isn't about Islamism, it's about regional alliances. Whether it's the Muslim Brothers or the Communist Party or the Green Party of Egypt who takes over after Mubarak, we can be certain that the new regime will be less of a puppet and less part of the American, Saudi and Israeli alliance in the Middle East than was Mubarak. This is what the Saudis fear: that the architecture they have carefully crafted with the Americans is crumbling, with Iraq ruled by the hated Shiites, Fatah in Palestine a joke, Iran ascendant, the Saudi proxies in Lebanon a failure. The Saudis fear any people’s movement, anything revolutionary. And importantly, they also fear Arab nationalism. They had a cold war with Nasr’s Egypt and the Saudis won; Arab nationalism suffered setbacks and was pronounced dead. Thanks to al Jazeera’s coverage of Tunisia we see that Arab nationalism is back with a vengeance.
So the authors have it all wrong. This isn't about Islamism, it's about Saudi and the UAE having Mubarak under their collective thumb vis-a-vis Mubarak's prostration before the United States and Israel.
The Muslim brothers in Egypt (leadership and cadres) are considered to be on the side of Iran, along with Palestine's Muslim Brothers. Unlike the Muslim Brothers of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, who are with the US and Saudi Arabia (there is no conspiracy of a united Muslim Brotherhood). Of course the Saudis would prefer the Muslim Brothers, who have proven to be unconditionally accommodating (to a real revolutionary government), but they prefer al-Baradei to the Brotherhood, Egypt’s torturer in chief Umar Suleiman to Baradei, and Jamal Mubarak to Suleiman. The Muslim Brothers of Egypt only fought one regime, that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, which the Americans and Saudis and Israelis also opposed. Since then they have been quiescent and if anything collaborated with the US, so its silly to fear them.
In Egypt there is no relevant Islamic extremist movement. It would be a stretch to even call the toothless Muslim Brotherhood's party Islamic. It's a collection of opposition voices that united under the organization's banner. If a real pluralistic democracy were to be formed in Egypt it is most likely that their coalition would fall apart and that at least two new parties would emerge from the ashes. One would be extremist but also marginalized. The other would be a harmless Turkish-style Islamic party that could actually be helpful as a pressure valve for the poorer segments of Egypt.
All of this is pointless because at the moment no one in Egypt is even taking the Brotherhood seriously. Al-Baradei is by no means the consensus choice. But he is completely non-ideological and certainly not an Islamist, and is being looked at by the protesters to head a caretaker government. The institutional Wafd party would most likely have a role and they are only slightly less under the boot of American and Israeli interests. All of the other names proposed to head a committee to move forward are equally unmotivated by Islamism.
Most importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood played no real role in the original January 25 protests. They did not sponsor the protests. They just said that their young members could join the initial protests as individuals. They've been more involved since but there is a strong no-faction current running through the whole affair, so anyone estimating what part is Brotherhood is probably an idiot counting beards and short pants, or how many people yell allahu akbar when repelling thug attacks, assuming they are Muslim Brothers and then making an estimate. There is not much of interest that can be written about the Muslim Brotherhood because it never had to compete seriously -- so it doesn't have clear policies. If the Americans, Israelis and Saudis allow a democratic opening, the Brotherhood would split between the conservatives who hold sway in the provinces and in the Brotherhood's high-level leadership, and the relatively progressive activists coming out of the big city universities, professional syndicates, etc.
The beautiful thing about the current protesters is that the people in the streets are Muslim and Christian, secular and religious, young and old, rich and poor - but definitely not "Islamist". These are nuances that you can't expect from so-called Middle East experts, let alone mainstream journalists who don't speak Arabic and who haven't lived in the Arab world.
So, Saudi is not worried about Islamic extremism. It is worried about the same thing that all of the bloviating pundits and rabid Fox news experts are worried about. It's worried that this spells the end of US and Israeli control of Middle East affairs and thus a waning of Saudi power in the region.
This terrible article offers no competing voices. It uncritically accepts the concerns of Saudi and Emirati dictators as legitimate. The mainstream media in the US has also taken it for granted that Islam is bad and that the choice confronting Egypt now (or not even Egypt, but rather Washington) is democracy or Islam. That’s not true. The choice is democracy or dictatorship.
Instead it's being framed from the point of view of Israeli interests, not those of 80 million Egyptians.
Obama is being blamed for abandoning a friend or being lauded for heralding a new era. That seems to be how some are framing the narrative. But all Obama wants is another compliant regime. Now we see the Muslim Brothers jumping to negotiate. They know that they lack real popularity and they’re better off trying to cut a deal with the American-backed candidate than trusting the people, because democracy wont favor the Muslims Brothers either. At time of writing, it seems to me that the protestors on the street are losing, are being outmaneuvered by the Americans (with Israeli pressure), and that unless they take action (and that means violent action), then they will just get a new Mubarak. The underlining injustices will remain and the new Egyptian regime will continue to collaborate with the Israeli occupation. The millions of Egyptians on the streets are demanding the fall of the regime, the system, the nidham, not just Mubarak.
We are brought up on myths in the US that democracy and freedom are the best thing in the world. These lies are useful so we can sing the national anthem and say the pledge of allegiance, but when it comes down to it, we don’t really mean it, sorry, the security of Israel is the only thing that matters.
Egyptians, Tunisians and other Arabs have proved they are more democratic than the west, that they understand the power of collective action. Can you imagine Americans organizing against injustice the way the Egyptians and Tunisians have? Meanwhile, it sounds silly when Americans worry about religious extremists elsewhere, given that the US is the most religious extremist nation in the West; where a majority believe in angels and devils and other silly superstitions about a god creating the earth, and where politicians invoke Jesus and God at every opportunity.