Friday, April 08, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood has already won

Reports in the Arabic press are quoting Al Hayat as saying that Mahmoud Abbas will meet with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, today in Egypt.

Whether MB wins the next Egyptian elections or not, they have already gained the perception of being the most important political player in Cairo, and that very perception is likely to have long-term consequences.

Fatah is anxious to come to terms with Hamas in a unification deal, because if they remain divided in September then the much-heralded attempt to get the UN to recognize "Palestine" would be much more difficult.

Hamas is in the driver's seat. Not only does Fatah need unification more than Hamas, but Hamas no longer feels as politically isolated as before Egypt's revolution. First of all, political parties across the board in Egypt are publicly declaring their support for Gaza and implicit support of Hamas. More importantly, though, is that the MB and Hamas are cousins if not brothers, and Hamas' stock has risen just by association with the Egyptian Islamists.

Abbas' reported visit with the Brotherhood must be seen in this context. They will now be a major player in Palestinian Arab politics, while they were marginal before.

The Egyptian uprising therefore is causing Fatah to harden its positions with respect to negotiating with Israel and espousing a peaceful solution. Whether it likes it or not, Fatah is more dependent on Islamists than ever before in order to continue on as the supposed leader of Palestinian Arabs.

While there are indications that the MB is politically fractured, all of its factions are uncompromising towards Israel and do not support Camp David, let alone Oslo. Moreover, the gulf between Sunni and Shi'a is not as huge as some believe, and Tehran is salivating at the prospect of more Islamist influence in Egypt - and Hamas may serve as the bridge to help push that along.

The full ramifications of the rise of the MB are hard to predict. Probably they will start to strategize with their offshoots in other Arab countries, using lessons learned in Egypt to maximize the chances of success elsewhere. Jordan and Syria are key countries not only because of their already existing MB branches but also because if they fall, Israel would be surrounded by enemies who are not only politically but also ideologically and religiously opposed to Israel's existence. Fatah doesn't stand a chance of remaining nominally pro-Western, and Iran's influence will explode throughout the region. Conversely, Iran's political isolation will disappear.

Without seeing any organized, viable, liberal alternative to the MB in the Muslim world, things are looking bleak indeed for the West, and very good for Iran.