Addendum to my previous post, Richard Engel really is the only reporter on any American news station, network or cable, to have any understanding of what happens in the Middle East and, importantly right now, Egypt.
He lived in Cairo, speaks four Arabic dialects, as well as Italian and Spanish, and has extensive reporting experience covering the Middle East, because that’s how he broke into the journalism field. He moved to Cairo in 1996, not knowing Arabic and without a plan, to learn the language, know the people and report on a region that few cared to learn more about other than oil and war.
Slate has a piece, complete with video, on how Engel has established himself as the preeminent Middle East reporter.
If you want to know more about Iraq, the US’ role there and the Middle East in general, read his book War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq.
My favorite part of the revolution in Egypt is watching American pundits that have no idea what they’re talking about.
Seriously. Get people from Brookings, Carnegie, CSIS, Aspen, dammit even AEI or Cato before you get your idiotic paid commentators to talk about Egypt.
This isn’t something you can play around with and expect to be taken seriously. Americans deserve to know what is going on and what might happen from the people that know the region and country best.
Don’t Fear the Brotherhood: Running away from the Islamic party is exactly what the entrenched Egyptian ruling class wants America to do.
Egypt’s rulers have long understood that they can’t persuade the West that secular reformers pose a danger to Egypt or the world. The Islamists, however, are another story. And while the secularists have been a minor nuisance to the regime (at least until just now), the Brotherhood — well-organized, disciplined, and widely admired — really did constitute a political threat. So the regime and its defenders harp relentlessly on the Brotherhood’s “real” intentions. When I was in Cairo in early 2007, Hossam Badrawi, the man who was just named Secretary-General of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), told me that allowing the Brotherhood to freely run for office would be like legalizing the Nazi party in Germany. Another cautioned that, while the Brothers were not “necessarily” terrorists, they certainly hoped to impose Saudi-style sharia on Egypt.
And it worked. After making a rousing 2005 speech at the American University in Cairo calling on President Hosni Mubarak to open up the political process, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answered a question by saying, “We have not engaged the Muslim Brotherhood, and…we won’t.” Mubarak’s security forces subsequently beat and killed Brotherhood supporters in parliamentary elections, and the White House issued only the mildest protest. George W. Bush’s administration maintained a conspicuous silence as the regime carried out mass arrests of the opposition group’s leaders in 2007.
It’s not only the regime’s apologists who profess to fear the Muslim Brotherhood; I had no trouble finding secular Cairenes who took an equally dim view. The group’s slogan is, after all, “Islam is the solution,” and the appeal its political leaders make to the rank and file is long on religious orthodoxy. Still, I spent two weeks talking to members of the Brotherhood — something the secular critics rarely do — and though I did feel they were putting their best foot forward for a Western journalist, I was struck by their reluctance to impose their views on others and their commitment to democratic process. They had been drawn to the Brotherhood not only by piety but also by the group’s reputation for social service and personal probity.
Many of these men were lawyers, doctors, or engineers. But I also spent several evenings with an electrician named Magdy Ashour, who had been elected to parliament from a dismal slum at the furthest edge of Cairo (he’s now an independent, after being ousted from the Brotherhood in December). He was at pains to counter what he assumed were my preconceptions. “When people hear the name Muslim Brotherhood, they think of terrorism and suicide bombings,” Ashour conceded. “We want to establish the perception of an Islamic group cooperating with other groups, concerned about human rights. We do not want to establish a country like Iran, which thinks that it is ruling with a divine mandate. We want a government based on civil law, with an Islamic source of lawmaking.”
And just what is an “Islamic source of lawmaking?” Muhammad Habib, then the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide — its second-ranking official— explained to me that, under such a system, parliament would seek the advice of religious scholars on issues touching upon religion, though such views could never be binding. A democratically elected parliament, he asserted, would still have the “absolute right” to pass a law the Brotherhood deemed “un-Islamic.” And the proper redress for religious objections would be a formal appeal process in the constitutional court.
Maybe they were lying. But I didn’t think so. More to the point, the Muslim Brotherhood’s then 88-member caucus in the legislature studiously avoided religious issues and worked with secular opposition members on issues of democracy and human rights. They all lived together in a hotel, showed up for work every day, and invited outside experts for policy briefings. It was widely agreed that the Brothers took parliament far more seriously than members of the ruling party ever had.