Editor's Note: Ed Husain is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can follow him on twitter @ed_husain.
By Ed Husain, CFR.org
There is much anger among many Egyptian secular liberals about Senator John Kerry’s meeting with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on Saturday. Soon, in Washington, DC, Republican lawmakers will chide Senator Kerry too. I am no friend of the Muslim Brotherhood, but old policies of isolating the Muslim Brotherhood are no longer viable in the new Middle East.
Meeting only with secular Egyptian leaders such as presidential candidates Mohamed ElBaradei or Amr Moussa yields very little political profit for the United States, and results in a net loss of remaining credibility for Egypt’s secularists. By meeting with Islamists, the United States ensures political gains for the short to medium term.
However unpalatable, and whatever the disagreements and complaints, the Muslim Brotherhood has won roughly 40 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections. As such, they are an elected, legitimate political force. Soon, we will hear howls of anger from some in the U.S. Congress, media, and think tank circles about why the Muslim Brotherhood should be shunned. They will argue that the Brotherhood supported the Nazis (so did former Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat, who later made peace with Israel); that it is anti-American (true, but all the more reason to love-bomb them); and that it created Hamas (it did, but it does not control Hamas and closer ties with Egypt’s Brotherhood can result in greater influence over Hamas terrorism).
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a senior U.S. statesman, Senator Kerry’s words and cautions are important. In meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood, he sets a new and brave precedent.
First, the emphasis on Egyptian economic regeneration is of vital importance to ordinary people in Egypt. Senator Kerry struck the right tone in his remarks after the meeting. Democratic transformation goes in tandem with economic advancement in Egypt. Here, the United States can and must help Egypt.
Second, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders renewed their commitment to maintaining Egypt’s international treaties, an indication that they were not in the business of nullifying the Camp David Accords.
Third, this meeting and further collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood demolishes the al-Qaeda narrative and Iranian propaganda that the United States is at war with Islam. When the mothership of all extremist organizations in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood, welcomes U.S. assistance and influence, we should see it as an advance in helping recast the image of the United States in Arab countries.
Fourth, the Muslim Brotherhood is on an intellectual and political journey. Where they lead, others will follow. It is a healthy sign that they and other Islamists are meeting U.S. leaders in public. The content and quality of behind-the-scenes meetings, done properly, will lead to trust and cooperation.
As the United States builds credibility with Islamists, it is important not to forget the West’s ideational allies among secular liberals. Ignoring them in the future risks creating a new, secular anti-Americanism. Going forward, U.S. political and civil leaders should interact with all willing political actors in Egypt.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ed Husain.