In May, Egypt will hold its first presidential election since pro-democracy protesters overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak, and the vote promises to be a wild one. A hardline Islamist, Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, will likely draw strong support if his candidacy survives claims that his mother was an American citizen. The recently announced candidacy of Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's former righthand man, has raised concerns that Mubarak's cronies will try to wrestle back power. But the candidate drawing the most attention is Khairat el-Shater, a top official in the Muslim Brotherhood. A victory for el-Shater would put the Brotherhood in control of the presidency, the parliament, and Egypt's future, but it's not clear how the group — whose commitment to democracy is questionable — would rule. Should the U.S. support the Muslim Brotherhood?
No. The group is vehemently anti-American: Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have called "for jihad against the United States," says Andrew C. McCarthy at The National Review. The group also has ties to the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which is "formally designated a terrorist organization under American law." The White House is trying to convince us that the Muslim Brotherhood is "moderate," but it has "never retreated an inch from its professed mission to establish Islam's global hegemony." El-Shater is the worst of them all.
"Obama funds the Egyptian government"
Yes, because el-Shater's party won't risk losing U.S. aid: "There is no reason to panic over the possibility, if not the probability, that Egypt's next chief of state will be a leader of its Muslim Brotherhood," says Jay Bushinsky at Israel's The Jerusalem Post. The group would not take steps — such as renouncing Egypt's peace treaty with Israel — that will endanger the $1.5 billion in aid it receives from the U.S. every year. The Muslim Brotherhood is "on the verge of winning the political opportunity for which it has been waiting patiently for the past 84 years."
"Muslim Brothers look inward"
The Muslim Brotherhood isn't even the problem: Without a challenger, such as el-Shater, from the Muslim Brotherhood, Abu Ismail and his ultra-conservative Salafist party could very well be swept into power, says The Economist. Ismail has promised to resurrect "the 7th-century ways of the Prophet Mohammed," while vowing to "'liberate' Egypt from subservience to Israel and the West." He is a veritable "pop star" in Egypt, where "his smile and beard, trimmed in a crescent, beam from posters plastered everywhere." That's why Western officials "positively sighed with relief" when el-Shater entered the race.
"Battle of the beards"
No matter what, Egypt has the right to find its own way: "Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist" in the Arab world, says David Rohde at The Atlantic. "Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed," and secular Arab groups "enjoy tepid popular support." The best thing the U.S. can do is "create economic and political incentives that make being part of the international system appealing to Islamists." Islam is not necessarily incompatible with democracy, and the U.S. must allow Islamists a chance to show that "their right to participate in electoral politics should be respected."
"Should the world trust Islamists?"