Ab­dul­lah to Obama, watch out for brother Mursi

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Jef­frey Gold­berg

KING Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, a mem­ber of the dwin­dling band of Arab lead­ers who have some­how stayed in power de­spite the rise of what he calls a “Mus­lim Brother­hood cres­cent” across the Mid­dle East, made an acute ob­ser­va­tion to me re­cently about the tac­ti­cal im­ma­tu­rity of the Brother­hood’s lead­er­ship.

We were talk­ing about the rise of po­lit­i­cal Is­lam in the re­gion when the king made an un­flat­ter­ing com­par­i­son be­tween Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, the Is­lamist prime min­is­ter of Turkey, and Mo­hamed Mursi, the Mus­lim Brother who is pres­i­dent of Egypt. The Brother­hood is an in­ter­na­tional move­ment, but it was founded in Egypt, and its leader, the supreme guide, sits there to­day.

Ab­dul­lah made it clear that he doesn’t par­tic­u­larly like ei­ther Er­do­gan or Mursi but that he dis­trusts the Turk more be­cause he is can­nier. Both men seek ab­so­lute power, Ab­dul­lah be­lieves, but Er­do­gan is tak­ing a slower, more de­lib­er­ate ap­proach than Mursi. “In­stead of the Turk­ish model, tak­ing six or seven years — be­ing an Er­do­gan — Mursi wanted to do it overnight,” he said.

The king, among other Arab lead­ers, is wor­ried that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has an overly naive view of the Brother­hood and of other Is­lamist lead­ers. This is one of the main sub­jects he will ad­dress when he has din­ner tonight with U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who is vis­it­ing him in Am­man, the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal. (An­other main is­sue, of course, is the dis­in­te­gra­tion of Syria, to Jor­dan’s north.) The king was care­ful not to crit­i­cize Obama to me, but he did lament that U.S. of­fi­cials dis­count warn­ings about the Brothers as the empty com­plaints of Arab lib­er­als or those vested in the sta­tus quo. Some Western­ers, he said, ar­gue that “the only way you can have democ­racy is through the Mus­lim Brother­hood.”

He made th­ese com­ments to me a cou­ple of months ago. But the truth of his ar­gu­ment about the Brother­hood’s ex­trem­ism — and im­pa­tience — was borne out anew a week ago, when the Mus­lim Brother­hood in Egypt is­sued an ex­tra­or­di­nary, and ex­traor­di­nar­ily dis­turb­ing, re­join­der to the draft of a dec­la­ra­tion call­ing for an end to vi­o­lence against women that was even­tu­ally passed at the an­nual ses­sion of the United Na­tions Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women.

In an of­fi­cial state­ment re­spond­ing to the draft, the Brother­hood ar­gued that, if ap­proved, it would “lead to com­plete dis­in­te­gra­tion of so­ci­ety, and would cer­tainly be the fi­nal step in the in­tel­lec­tual and cul­tural in­va­sion of Mus­lim coun­tries, elim­i­nat­ing the mo­ral speci­ficity that helps pre­serve co­he­sion of Is­lamic so­ci­eties.”

The Brother­hood’s ob­jec­tions to this an­o­dyne doc­u­ment were many. Some of the crit­i­cisms could be un­der­stood within a broader Egyp­tian cul­tural frame­work: The UN doc­u­ment calls for equal­ity in in­her­i­tance laws, and no po­lit­i­cal party in Egypt has ar­gued that daugh­ters should have par­ity of in­her­i­tance with sons.

Other crit­i­cisms seem more ret­ro­grade. Still oth­ers are flat-out bru­tal. The Mus­lim Brothers ob­ject to the idea of “grant­ing girls full sex­ual free­dom” and to rais­ing the le­gal mar­riage age, which in some coun­tries is as low as 15. They be­lieve that pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tives to ado­les­cent girls is dan­ger­ous, and that grant­ing “equal rights to adul­ter­ous wives and il­le­git­i­mate sons re­sult­ing from adul­ter­ous re­la­tion­ships” is rep­re­hen­si­ble.

They be­lieve, of course, that grant­ing “equal rights to ho­mo­sex­u­als” and “pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion and re­spect for pros­ti­tutes” are ter­ri­ble ideas. They are shocked by the ar­gu­ment that wives should have the right to file le­gal com­plaints against hus­bands for rape.J

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