The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mendacious Charm Campaign in Washington

Eric Trager at TNR:

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a Muslim Brotherhood delegation in Washington last week to better understand how the Islamist group will govern Egypt. It was a noble attempt at promoting intercultural political dialogue—an engagement for which many in the American policy community, as well as academia, have long advocated. Yet the Brotherhood came to Washington with an agenda of its own: selling itself as a “moderate” organization to a highly skeptical American public. And it did so using one of the oldest sales tricks: It completely misrepresented itself.

In a certain sense, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representatives had no other choice. If they admitted, for example, that they intend to repeal the law that criminalizes sexual harassment—as one of their female parliamentarians declared earlier last week—they would have killed their chances at winning over an American public that embraces gender equality. Similarly, if the Brotherhood’s representatives used their time in Washington to reiterate their leaders’ calls for banning beach tourism, it would have destroyed any hopes of an American taxpayer-aided bailout for the nearly bankrupt Egyptian economy. And if they’d repeated their leaders’ 9/11 conspiracy theories, they would have been on the first plane back to Cairo, rather than invited for meetings at the White House and State Department.

Thus, the Brotherhood presented a version of its politics very different from the one that would be familiar to Egyptians. For instance, when asked about the organization’s plan to sink Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel by putting it to a referendum—which multiple Brotherhood officials have called for quite publicly—Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party MP Abdel Mawgoud al-Dardery simply denied it. “No referendum at all concerning international obligations,” he told Ben Birnbaum of The Washington Times. “All our international agreements are respected by the Freedom and Justice Party, including Camp David.” Sondos Asem, editor of the English-language Brotherhood website Ikhwanweb, was only slightly less misleading. “We’ve reiterated our position towards both the treaty with Israel and all the treaties that have been signed by previous governments,” she said on CNN. “We are not willing to change any of these treaties unless if there is a massive popular will to change that.” Asem’s “unless” qualification seemingly went unnoticed, neatly buried under her pro-peace platitudes.

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Eric Trager is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.