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LA Times: America's 'Islamist Dilemma'

Author: Shadi Hamid, Deputy Director of the Brookings Doha Center and Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
February 2, 2011


In this op-ed, Brookings Institute Fellow Shadi Hamid writes that the fear of Islamists coming to power cannot guide U.S. foreign policy in Egypt.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's promise on Tuesday that he will not stand for reelection in September was too little, too late. The Egyptian regime is fatally wounded, with protesters demanding nothing less than a complete break with the past. Mubarak may not relinquish power tomorrow, but his days are numbered. And the government that replaces him is likely to include the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement as well as one of its most feared.

In the coming days, the prospect of the Brotherhood's rise is likely to be one of the big stories out of Egypt. Alarm about this prospect is already being sounded in the West. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently cautioned, "We also don't want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy but to oppression and the end of the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

More recently, the White House said it was open to a Brotherhood role in a future government, provided the group renounces violence and commits to the democratic process. But these caveats indicate that the U.S. is still nervous — and not very knowledgeable — about the actual nature of the group, which satisfied both of President Obama's conditions decades ago.

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Growing splits between Islamists and secularists in Egypt augur a sustained period of confrontation and unrest, says expert Jon B. Alterman.