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Arab Dreams Deferred: Why Morsi's Foreign Policy Reeks Of The Past

Many across the Arab region believed Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt was the path to a new unity to defy Israel and the U.S. in the region. A different reality is setting in.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Morsi with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

CAIRO -Though the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood and the president who hails from the organization declines among Egyptians, a significant segment of Arabs continue to believe in the movement. Their hope is that by ruling the region’s largest nation, the Brothers finally have the chance to achieve the “Arab dream” of defying “Western-Zionist hegemony” and altering the regional balance of power.

Many of us Egyptians, too, used to bet on the Brothers to achieve the dream of an independent and unified Arab world in which Egypt restored its glory.

But the reality is that they have let us down, and, bitterly but surely, we could let go of our long respect for the largest organized group in our country.

The Brothers themselves have practically proven that the reasons for which we respected them are no longer valid — definitely not at the domestic level, where they haven’t done much to lift the country from the dire situation in which the Hosni Mubarak regime left it. They even added insult to injury by feeding unprecedented division, striking deals with the remnants of the very regime that the revolution was meant to topple.

But also at the regional level, the Brotherhood’s zealous slogans of the past are getting reduced to empty words now that they are in power. Despite a number of gestures that President Mohamed Morsi made in his early weeks in office to symbolize that that he is breaking from his predecessor’s foreign policy course, a few months of his term have shown that there is no tangible change.

After raising expectations through his speeches at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran and the United Nations General Assembly, as well as his intense communication with Hamas early in his presidency, Morsi’s foreign policy came down to business as usual: Egypt still depends on support from the West and the Western-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank for the survival of its economy; it still honors the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, respects Camp David and the Oslo paradigm, and maintains diplomatic ties and security coordination with Israel; and its military, primarily dependent on the US$1.3 million annual aid it receives from the US, is maintaining its close relations with the American military.

Morsi and the Brothers are surrounded by a web of constraints that keeps them from formulating an independent foreign policy.

For example, they are believed to have made concessions to the military, as proven by the Brotherhood-sponsored Constitution, which institutionalizes privileges for the army, which, in turn, is keen on preserving the annual aid it receives from the US by committing to the peace treaty and the classic American-Israeli goal of “regional stability.”

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the US and Israel are now betting on Morsy to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza via the tunnels linking Egyptian Rafah with the strip. Moreover, in the wake of the attack on Egyptian forces in Sinai in August, “Egyptian-Israeli security coordination has reached levels unseen in many years,” as reported by the American website The Daily Beast. In this regard, Israeli newspaper Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el wrote, “If [Morsi] is fighting terrorism in Sinai, he is our brother. Whether or not he turns Egypt into a theocracy ... we no longer care.”

It's the economy, stupid

There are also the economic factors, which are tied to the Brotherhood’s interest in the upcoming parliamentary elections: Morsi is bound to try to appease a constituency angry over a deteriorating economy. He and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party are constantly speaking about aid packages they were promised from here or there, and the Egyptian economy under Morsi is as dependent on the West as it was during Mubarak’s reign.

“Besides,” as argued in a study by the German Institute for International Security Affairs, “functionaries such as Khairat al-Shater and Hassan Malek will be interested not only in the Brotherhood’s long-term electoral prospects, but also their own financial opportunities in cooperation with Western companies.”

Although all of this renders the Brotherhood unable to do good for the Arab world, many Arabs believe their justification: that their current dependent policies are limited to the short term, and they will change gradually, after they establish their power on a more solid ground.

But pro-Brotherhood Arabs need to realize that Egyptians are no longer ready to give a carte blanche to a ruler in the hope that he might prove to be good in the future.

Egyptians could have backed Morsi if he had come clean with them about the challenges hindering the achievement of their dreams, if he had engaged them in their country’s affairs. But instead, he and the Brothers engage in underground dynamics that fly in the face of the democratic principle of transparency, and speak of “foreign conspiracies” that the people are not eligible to know.

Arabs who believe in the Muslim Brotherhood need to understand that there are Egyptians who rather believe in the revolution.

The 2011 wave of Arab revolutions and uprisings has taught us to dismiss the long-respected regional order. Many of us outside Syria used to see Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah as anti-Zionist heroes who dared to defy the Western-directed balance of power. But the Syrian revolution has helped us realize that the people of Syria are the real heroes.

We now know that a ruler whose people are miserable, disillusioned, suppressed and marginalized from the decisions he makes can never be externally victorious. Instead of clinging to the elderly Muslim Brotherhood and their elitist leadership, Arabs need to bet on the Egyptian people, the Egyptian youth of the revolution, the anonymous young men and women who will create a new regional order — and a new world order.

*Sara Khorshid is a columnist and journalist who covers Egypt and the region. She has published articles in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and several other media outlets.

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