When historians get around to writing about what is known as the “Arab Spring” it seems likely they’ll ascribe its greatest impact not on Tunisia, where it began, or in Syria, where today it may be suffering its most tragic disruptions, but on the affected nation with the greatest international influence — Egypt.
Americans really need to know more about Egypt and the Egyptians. They need to know that the Muslim Brotherhood, which was elected to power after the recent revolution, is not what so many fear it is, an anti-American political entity that sympathizes with and supports Islamist terrorists.
That’s why this week’s visit to the United States by the newly (and democratically) elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, is so important and so worthy of attention. He’ll tell us some things that may make us uncomfortable, but we’d be wise to give his message the respect it deserves.
In an interview in Sunday’s New York Times — he was in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly — Morsi said Washington needs to “repair relations” with the Arab world and especially to heal its alliance with his own country, the most stable in the region. In an election year, his views are especially important.
If the United States demands that Egypt honor its treaty with Israel (as it did under the ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak), then Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule, Morsi said. Also, he said, the United States should respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that history and culture is at odds with prevailing Western values.
One of the major problems, of course, is that many Americans know (or even care) little or nothing about Arab history and culture and in many cases their attitudes are understandably influenced by the fear and loathing that was inevitably kindled by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
In the Times interview, the new Egyptian leader rejected the White House criticism that he didn’t immediately condemn the protesters who recently climbed over the United States Embassy wall and burned the American flag in their anger over that now-infamous video that made fun of the Prophet Muhammad.
To avoid an explosive backlash, Mosni explained, he took time yet eventually dealt “decisively” with the demonstrators.” He also said he did not condone the violence but cautioned that it had to be dealt with “wisely.”
Then he urged the American people not to judge Egyptians by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture. He makes a valid point. Since no two cultures are identical, who has the right to say one is superior to another?
And he made another valid point: By supporting unpopular dictators successive American administrations “essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region.”
There’s some good news for the United States in the Arab world: Libyans have risen up against the militants deemed responsible for the attack on our embassy that took the lives of four Americans, including the ambassador.
As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote Sunday: “In Libya, the few jihadis who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens were vastly outnumbered by the throngs of Libyan mourners who apologized afterward.” Kristoff said jihadists are hoping to hijack the Arab Spring but that it will be a long time before we’ll know if they’ve succeeded.
In the meantime, Americans would do well to be more analytical and less spontaneously critical of others. There’s too much at stake.MORE IN Letters
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