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Springtime for Morsi Review of ‘Arab Fall’ By Eric Trager (Commentary via Mosaic)

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Nov. 18, 2016

by Michael J. Totten, Nov. 16, 2016

When waves of demonstrations swept the Middle East in late 2010, Western observers tripped over each other in their rush to present explanations of what ostensibly was happening, what caused it, and where it was headed. Perhaps nowhere was their optimism crushed more thoroughly than in Egypt. Reviewing Eric Trager’s recent Arab Fall, which sets out to correct the misreading of what happened in that country, Michael Totten writes:

How did so many journalists, diplomats, academics, and analysts get Egypt so wrong? It was partly the result of hope and naiveté. But the Muslim Brotherhood [which triumphed in elections, seized dictatorial powers, and then was overthrown in a military coup], also waged a brilliantly effective campaign of deception at home and abroad, hoping to convince as many people as possible that it was a politically moderate organization with a broad and diverse base of support. It wanted to earn the trust of Egyptians who weren’t yearning for an Islamist theocracy, and it feared a hostile reaction from the West, so it mounted a full-court press in the Egyptian, European, and American media. . . .

Its media-savvy spokesmen touted this line at every opportunity to every journalist and diplomat who would listen, but the Brotherhood’s decades-old motto revealed what they truly believed. “Allah is our objective,” it reads, “the Prophet is our leader, the Quran is our constitution, jihad is our way, and death for the sake of God is our highest aspiration.”

Analysts, then, got the Brotherhood wrong not once, but three times. First, by swallowing the lie that the organization was moderate; second, by assuming it couldn’t possibly win; and third, by thinking it was mainstream and popular after it did win.

Misunderstandings cut both ways. The Brotherhood and the Obama administration each misread the other. . . . Washington gave the Brotherhood one pass after another, and a bewildered President Mohammed Morsi eventually felt that he was free to do and say whatever he wanted without being challenged. The Obama administration, for its part, seemed blissfully unaware that its well-meaning diplomatic outreach looked to Egyptians like an alliance with the Islamists against secularists.

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