The Risk of Washington's New Love Affair With Islamists

By Ed Husain

If the U.S. gets too close to these new Middle Eastern power players, it might alienate nascent liberal movements.

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Mohamed Mursi, head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's new political party, speaks at a rally. Reuters

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists from Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Libya are in Washington, DC, this week. Having advocated for over a year for issues-based engagement with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, I was delighted to host a delegation from their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) for meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and Washington.

It's vitally important for Egyptian and American national interests and for regional security that the democratically elected FJP and the U.S. government continue to communicate with a view to helping create a pluralist and prosperous example of democracy in Egypt. FJP officials have, rightly, met with senior officials inside the Obama administration.

There's glee in Washington that traditional American foes are now friends. I understand and support that sentiment. But it's too early for resting on laurels. Anti-American sentiment remains worryingly high across most of the Middle East--and we remain, as always, hostage to events.

While the U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been busy courting the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's liberals and non-Islamist political forces have looked on bewildered. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, where successive U.S. administrations supported former president Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), it is essential that the Obama administration continues its interaction with the Muslim Brotherhood while also maintaining relations and support for opposition groups and other political players inside Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood cannot become the new NDP.

In Washington's fascination with the exotic Muslim Brotherhood, it risks fueling a new anti-Americanism of the secular and liberal forces of Egypt. The people that mobilized in Tahrir Square in January 2011 can rally again. They were not anti-American in their rhetoric previously, but they can become so in the future. To avoid that possibility, the Obama administration ought to hold public and well-publicized meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo with all democratic participants in Egyptian politics.

The U.S. government is more than capable of engaging with multiple political forces in Egypt.

This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/04/the-risk-of-washingtons-new-love-affair-with-islamists/255491/