Events in Egypt are seesawing so quickly it is difficult to assess if the current trajectory points toward gradually escalating violence or a more orderly transition that will end President’s Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Yet here is what is clearly not happening ― an Iranian-style Islamic Revolution.
As anyone watching television can see, the demonstrators filling Tahrir Square are not Islamic radicals calling for the equivalent of Ayatollah Khomeini to replace Mubarak. They are people from all walks of life demanding a more democratic form of government. Many are highly educated, wired to the Internet and obvious admirers of Western institutions. With few exceptions, the banners and slogans of this courageous throng have not focused on religious concerns.
Egypt is not Iran. It has a different culture, a different history and a different language. Yet you wouldn’t know that from the blather spewing forth from Fox News commentators, Rush Limbaugh, some GOP politicians and propagandists in Iran itself.
Limbaugh and Iran’s supreme leader would seem to be strange bedfellows, yet for different reasons, both are trying to spread the idea that Iran’s revolution has inspired the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.
In a speech Friday, the Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said the protests are “echoes of the voice of the Iranian nation.” Clearly Khamenei hopes the protests will elevate Iran’s stature and influence in the region.
Right-wing commentators are playing right into his hands. As part of a relentless campaign to weaken President Barack Obama, Limbaugh and his fellow travelers have been trying to paint the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as the equivalent of Iran’s revolutionaries, and Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter.
Undoubtedly, Mubarak himself is cheering efforts by U.S. pundits to make it seem like Islamist revolutionaries are driving the demonstrations. Limbaugh even went so far as to go on his radio show on Friday and say, “If you are concerned about U.S. national interests, Mubarak seems to be the one to root for.”
Fortunately, not all Republicans are attempting to politicize the Egypt crisis for their own purposes, as has Newt Gingrich. House Speaker John Boehner has praised the Obama administration’s cautious, studious approach in urging Mubarak to hand over power. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “America ought to speak with one voice.”
While there is undoubtedly a risk Egypt could descend into a civil war with uncertain results, that is most likely to happen if Mubarak clings to power and continues to unleash his goon squads against demonstrators.
Moreover, most scholars see little threat of the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power in Egypt and little or no chance of anything resembling a Islamic revolution.
As Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in the New Republic this week: “The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today is significantly different from the Islamist movement driven by Ayatollah Khomeini that ended up grabbing power in Tehran. It has renounced violence in both word and deed for decades and undergone a significant process of moderation.”
There’s lots to worry about as Egypt and the Arab world undergo this historic moment of tumult. Yet fearmongers do U.S. interests no service by embracing ludicrous and malicious analogies.
(The Sacramento Bee, Feb. 6)