The American Tea Party of Egypt?
A few days ago an extremely well accomplished Egyptian-British TV anchor, who usually covers Egyptian affairs, took part in a TV program that showed pictures of planets in the background.
As I watched the program it struck me that perhaps the anchor might still be covering Egypt when a group of far-right American members of Congress is shown to visit Egypt and are given a roaring welcome; I do wonder if aliens have landed and “set up shop” in Egypt.
Let us be clear about who these members of congress were. They’re all congressional members of a caucus that represents the ‘Tea Party” – a right wing political group that has, umm… Somewhat questionable views when it comes to Muslims and Arabs. (Correct me if I am wrong, but I did think Egypt was full of those kinds of people).
The founder and chairman of the Phoenix chapter of the Tea Party, appears to be quite the expert on Islam and Muslims in particular – he insists that Islam is “more a fascist type of organization,” and that “anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country [of the USA], and that’s a fact.” As representatives of this group in the American congress, these three visitors must be the guys to build bridges with a majority Muslim country in the Arab world. Moreover, it must be wholly understandable why any Egyptians would give them a platform. It just must be.
One of the congressmen, Steve King, was invited to give the opening address at a Tennessee rally for the Tea Party – the same rally where Pamela Geller gave a presentation called the “Threat of Islam.” This is the same Pamela Geller that publicly backs the openly racist “English Defence League” and the same Pamela Geller that took out advertisements in New York to promote the following message:
“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Due to the bigotry of the Tea Party, and the specifically controversial nature of Geller, King was asked to reconsider – he defended his acceptance of the invitation, and gave the opening address. (Memo to Egyptians: in this scenario, the “savage” is not Israel).
King is the same fellow who criticised the American president for mentioning his middle name (Hussein) in a speech in he gave in Cairo (what a thing to do!). Undoubtedly there are many things to criticise Barack Obama for – I presume that Egyptians would agree that his middle name (which many Egyptians have as a first name) is certainly not one of them. Unless, like King, Egyptians think that “familiarity with Muslim culture” is somehow a bad thing?
The delegation also had a “Queen” of the Tea Party, who leads the group’s caucus in Congress. Michele Bachmann took the lead in promoting the notion that there was a “Muslim extremist” aide to an American Secretary of State. The extremist’s aide’s camouflage, it seems, was so complete, that even her marriage to a Jewish American was OK (not quite the typical modus operandi for a “Muslim extremist,” but alright). This congresswoman’s insinuations were regarded as so, umm… Odd, that her own Republican colleague, John McCain (hardly someone who is known to be entirely favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood) saw it necessary to condemn Bachmann’s remarks. It’s somewhat bizarre that while her own party, for these “McCarthy-like” assertions, castigated Bachmann, her claims find an audience in a Muslim majority country. Of course, if Bachmann manages to promote the idea that the U.S. government is complicit in a scheme to bring the U.S. under Shariah law, then perhaps none of her claims should be surprising.
Finally, we have the third member of the delegation: Louie Gohmert. He alerted Americans to a “gaping hole” in American security, leading to “terror babies” – speaking of those Arab visitors and migrants to the United States who then give birth to babies and return to their country of origin to raise them as terrorists. When a journalist asked him for evidence backing up this claim, after having had a former FBI assistant director deny any such scheme, the Tea Terror Baby Partier cited tourism packages that were mainly aimed at Chinese tourists. (Please note, Egyptians travelling to the U.S., he’s talking about you. Just, you know, FYI).
Let’s leave this bigotry/responsible (sic) political discourse by the way side. Instead, let’s talk about what they said in Cairo. I understand that some Egyptians were enthralled by their suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, carried out the attacks of 9/11. It’s understandable – it just happens to be, well, wrong. Al-Qaeda is not the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood are not exactly cuddly teddy bears either. I’ve written quite a number of columns over the past year with Mursi in office castigating them, and going far beyond issues of competency and ineptness – but al-Qaeda just happens to be an entirely different organisation. It’s for that reason, for example, that no American administration (Republican or Democrat) has ever demanded the extradition of any Muslim Brotherhood member in connection with 9/11, and why no Egyptian administration has ever placed any of them on trial for the same. It’s also why no Egyptian politician, military official or security officer has ever claimed (until this summer) that the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for 9/11. But why let facts get in the way? Pesky little things.
But never mind. I suppose it’s entirely understandable that Egyptians would want to hear about their “growing nation” (growing what, exactly, considering that it’s been around for millennia, so it is hardly the new kid on the block) in what sounds very much like, as Jon Stewart put it, an address to kindergarten kids. It’s, I guess, perfectly normal that they might want to be lectured on how to build their country, from a group of the most extreme members of the American congressional right – even though it’s that same fringe in American politics that supported the war in Iraq, and supports the most right-wing factions in the Israeli political elite. I did not think this was quite what was popular within Egypt – maybe I was misinformed.
There is this trend in Egypt for those with justifiable disagreements with the Muslim Brotherhood, to find common cause with those outside of Egypt who share that enmity. They might want to reconsider that sort of alliance – because very often, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. He just happens to hate my enemy more than he hates me – at the moment, anyway. But hey, don’t let facts get in the way. Pesky little things.
Dr H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com.
This article was published by Al Arabiya on September 16, 2013. Read it here.