Why the US Should Not Be Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt President Mohammed Morsi
On Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was officially declared Egypt's first democratically elected president. Despite the many worrying road bumps Egypt has witnessed during its transition, his election marks a watershed moment in Egypt's history. Yet Morsi inherits a slew of deeply rooted political, economic and security challenges, and a highly polarized Egyptian society which he must somehow manage to unite in order to effectively meet the high demands and expectations of the Egyptian people.
Topping the list of these demands is expansive job creation and combating the country's pending economic crisis in a way that leads to a tangible improvement in the living conditions of ordinary citizens (a basic goal of the revolution). Ultimately, Morsi cannot effectively deliver to meet the needs of his people and mitigate Egypt's pending economic crisis without U.S. support.
In recent months, Egypt's official unemployment rate rose to 12.5%, but this number gives a somewhat misleading picture as it does not take into consideration widespread underemployment, and it considers self employment (which would include Egypt's many street vendors) as full employment, however insufficient these incomes may be. Egypt's inflation is on the rise while foreign investment continues to fall and its deficit continues to grow.
Egypt is in dire need of economic support on a scale large enough to impact its population of 80 million. The high magnitude of support needed to strengthen Egypt's large economy could come through an International Monetary Fund program, and given its significant influence in the IMF and other multilateral institutions, the U.S. will be a key broker in helping Egypt access this and other forms of vital economic support. Some countries, such as Qatar, have also indicated that their bilateral economic assistance to Egypt will be predicated upon Egypt's successful receipt of an IMF loan. All of this is not to mention the key role the U.S. can play in helping reinvigorate Egypt's tourism sector, which accounts for 11% of the national economy.
In these and other ways, the U.S. is an essential partner to help Egypt become more integrated in the global economy, and this global economic integration is essential to meet Egyptians' demands and to obtain their political support. And just like in any democratic system, Morsi will be required to meet these popular demands, or risk losing his prospects for re-election. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Morsi would do anything to fundamentally endanger this vital relationship, because doing so could very well spell his political demise.
Skeptics may argue that the Brotherhood is fundamentally anti-Western, and that because of this ideology Morsi's presidency could even lead to the severing of U.S.-Egypt relations. Yet the Brotherhood has clearly demonstrated over the last several months (and during the years leading up to the revolution) that it is a politically pragmatic organization by nature. Evidence of this comes from the Brotherhood's decision to support Mohamed ElBaradei as an opposition figure early during the protests in 2011, and even from their decision to renege on a previous promise by ultimately putting forth a presidential candidate. Although this decision undoubtedly cost them many supporters, it is a clear example that they are willing to do whatever seems necessary in order to gain and maintain power. Given this pragmaticst nature, all signs indicate that the Brotherhood iswill be willing to cooperate with the West to the extent that it helps lead to Egypt's economic revival.
At the same time, this does not necessarily mean we should expect to see a complete halt in the use of anti-American, strongly nationalistic rhetoric by Morsi and other political actors. For a number of reasons, anti-Americanism is rife in Egypt today, so it is very likely that politicians will continue to play off of xenophobic sentiments and attempt to stir nationalism in their rhetoric. Egyptians have long perceived their relationship with the U.S. to be a highly uneven one in which they have consistently received the short end of the stick; because of this popular sentiment, Morsi will likely make unprecedentedly direct calls for a U.S.-Egypt relationship that is genuinely based on mutual respect.
Thus, we shouldn't expect this longstanding bilateral relationship to stay the same. Yet a change could be for the better. Now that Egypt has its first democratically elected head of state, the U.S. should capitalize on this golden opportunity to seriously restructure and reorient its increasingly strained relationship with Egypt, a relationship that has long been predicated on a tenuous alliance with the Egyptian military.
Instead, the U.S. should engage in a way that supports and respects the interests of the Egyptian public, indicating to the Egyptian people that America is genuinely interested in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with the people and with their legitimately elected leaders, rather than solely with Egypt's resented military or autocratic elite. Utilizing our global status to help create economic opportunities that will make a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary Egyptians would be a great place to start.