Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Ron Kenner
AR Correspondent
Hollywood, Calif.
February 3, 2011

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LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 3, 12:50 p.m. PST -- With some 47 million people living in poverty, 50 million without health insurance, millions jobless and millions more underemployed, President Barak Obama could be less circumspect and more passionate about stimulating our economy. We need urgent measures for these urgent times.

Yet in Egypt, even if the President came a little late to the support of pro-democracy demonstrators, it may make sense to be circumspect. And we might well be a good deal more judicious in how we spend our billions abroad, especially in support of colonists, Cold War tyrants, modern autocrats and dictators who may be future Frankensteins. Osama bin-Laden is hardly the only monster we and our allies have helped create in the Middle East.

A Short History of the Muslim Brotherhood

by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Media Writer

  Despite some excellent essays running in the media opinion pages touching on the history of the Middle East and on Egypt (which is in North Africa, between Libya and Saudi Arabia, above Sudan, south of Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, on the west side of the Red Sea), it's difficult to cover these issues with any of the depth found in "Devil's Game," but I'll try:

The Cold War stretched mainly from 1946 through 1989, a period covered by Dreyfuss in his book, along with additional commentary (before and afterward) relevant to the current Egyptian uprising.

In one sampling, in a chapter called "Islam meets the Cold War," ranging from the early 1940s through the late 1950s, Dreyfuss notes:

The Anglo-American alliances in the Middle East rested on the traditional levers of external influence - military power, economic muscle, and diplomacy. More quietly, though, as the Cold War evolved, an additional factor emerged to bolster the U.S. and U.K. presence, namely the religious and cultural power of political Islam. Especially important in that regard was Saudi Arabia's would-be role as Islam's Vatican. As Saudi Arabia emerged as America's counterweight to Egypt, Nasser, and nationalism, a number of Muslim Brotherhood organizers emerged as emissaries for the Islamic right across the region - none, perhaps, more important than Said Ramadan.

Ramadan, a key Brotherhood ideologue, served as Saudi Arabia's unofficial ambassador of Islamism. As the Muslim Brotherhood struggled to maintain its presence in Egypt, where it was increasingly at odds with the new regime under Nasser, Saudi Arabia not only bankrolled the Brothers but offered its territory as a safe haven. A series of Saudi kings were preoccupied with the threat of communism, and they saw the Muslim Brotherhood and others on the Islamic right as the leading edge of the anti-communist movement. Equally important, perhaps, Saudi Arabia saw Egypt's Nasser as a dire threat, since Nasser - ruling impoverished Egypt - coveted Saudi Arabia's oil. So for reasons of both anti-communism and anti-Arab nationalism, Saudi Arabia encouraged the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and throughout the Middle East."

In the same chapter, writing of President Eisenhower, in the section "Ramadan at the White House," Dreyfuss says:
... [T]he president's visitor that September day was Said Ramadan, a militant official and ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood... . As he stood at the president's side, Ramadan appeared respectable and harmless. Yet the Brotherhood was known throughout the Middle East, since at least the late 1940s, as an organization of fanatics and terrorists ... . And until his death, in Switzerland in 1995, Said Ramadan would be its chief international organizer.

Despite the fact that Ramadan was angry, violence prone, and openly intent on remaking the Middle East according to Islamic fundamentalist specifications, he wasn't regarded as a threat. In fact, based on a secret evaluation by the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Ramadan was viewed as a potential ally. It was the very height of McCarthyism and the Cold War, and the Muslim Brotherhood was bitterly anti-communist."

Ironically, as noted in a thoughtful essay by Scott Atran in today's (Feb. 3) New York Times Op-Ed section, "Egypt's Bumbling Brotherhood" a subhead reads: 'The Islamists [referring to the Brotherhood] that so scare the West have been shut out of the Revolution."

In the article, Scott Atran appears to build a convincing case for his subhead:

But here's the real deal, at least as many Egyptians see it. Ever since its founding in 1928 as a rival to Western-inspired nationalist movements that had failed to free Egypt from foreign powers, the Muslim Brotherhood has tried to revive Islamic power. Yet in 83 years it has botched every opportunity. In Egypt today, the Brotherhood counts perhaps some 100,000 adherents out of a population of over 80 million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on Jan. 25 has made it marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.
I don't recall Dreyfuss mentioning it in his book, but one is reminded from later reporting and insights that a relatively small cadre of Communists scared the U.S. into lending mistaken support to an eventual ally of Adolph Hitler, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

Let's hope that we don't make some of the same mistakes this time as new events take shape in Egypt.

      -- Ron Kenner

In Egypt, as in other key events, we see impressive displays of media courage in harm's way and welcome the massive news coverage provided with remarkable skill, speed, and efficiency under very difficult conditions. It was inspiration to witness the aplomb, leadership and courage of CNN's Anderson Cooper as he strode deliberately through a pack of Mubarak thugs that punched hinm repeatedly in the head as he walked, camera still running.

For ABC producer Brian Hartman, a network photographer and four of his crew, the pro-Mubarak violence against journalists almost cost them their lives on Thursday, Hartman wrote in a news report quoted on Mediaite today:

"They directed our driver to take us down a dark, narrow alleyway. A man sitting next to me with a cigarette dropping ashes on my shoulder….No way, we can't go down this alley, I told our driver, and he turned off the car."

The two vehicles were quickly engulfed by men who poured out of the alley. "It gradually escalated, the tension and anger in their voice…. It was pretty clear we were in a threatening situation. People were making gestures and putting their fingers under my throat" and making a slitting motion, he said.

"A man in police uniform came up to me and said, 'So help me God…. I am going to cut off your head,'" Hartman recalled. One man was yelling, "Cut their necks now, cut their necks now," and another pointed an imaginary machine gun at Hartman and made shooting noises.

And today, Washington Post Bureau Chief Leila Fadel and Post photographer Linda Davidson were held for six hours by the regime, which has both apologized and recanted the apology, speaking as it does from a bifurcated tongue. But not least among those conditions, and making the Cairo coverage more difficult, is a shrinking American media, with fewer foreign bureaus, experienced correspondents, and investigative reporters.

FoxNews had correspondent Greg Palkot and a photographer in Tahrir Square; both got severly beaten and hospitalized, but were released today. The BBC crew there was trobbed of all its equipment. A Reuters crew was also attacked, and two reporters for the New York Times and CBS News bureau chief Lara Jogan were arrested.

Al-Jazeera said three of its reporters had been arrested and a fourth was missing, and later, itds offioces were wrecked and its equipment stolen. Two Japanese freelancers were attacked and robbed, the Kyodo News Service said, and a Greek reporter, Petros Papaconstantinou, for Kathimerini was stabbed "lightly" in the leg and robbed of his equipment, and two reporters for the Toronto Globe were also arrested.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted sharply to these events in a statement this afternoon. "... [F]reedom of the press... [is one of the] pillars of an open and inclusive society," she said. "The government of Egypt must ensure the ability of journalists" to tell the world what the country is experiencing.

Yet the rush to print at a dramatic moment often blocks out the past. To the media's credit, a lot of the current reporting makes it painfully clear that millions in Egypt are currently rising up against a despot we have supported with at least #1.3 billion a year in military aid. Today, it's hard to ignore the massive protests. Yet President Hosni Mubarak has been a despot for some 30 years, and the full history of his rule remains largely ignored in the mainstream media.

Knowledgeable, thoughtful, highly credible books on the Middle East and Egypt - writing that provides revealing insight into a potential major turning point in history - rarely comes along, and when it does, gets little attention.

Even so, a broad, insightful picture of Egypt in a sharper Mideast historical context - with both literal and figurative smoking guns lying all over the place - is readily available for the asking.

One stunning book that relates the current moment in Egypt to relevant Middle East history is Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, by Robert Dreyfuss (Metropolitan Books, Oct. 2005). He is a talented author and journalist who has written extensively on the Middle East and the War on Terror for the Nation, Mother Jones and The American Prospect.

Devil's Game was described by a critic at Salon as "The most clear and engaging history of the deadly, historic partnership between Western powers and political Islam." Unlike some, Dreyfuss doesn't lay off Israel as a culprit in the twisted history of Egypt and the Levantine.

A reviewer on Amazon noted that "Dreyfuss reports that Israeli intelligence - particularly the Mossad - not only endorsed but participated in the creation and development of Hamas as an organization that could be used to defeat the PLO."

That astonishing factoid is expanded upon in the book: "In the early 1980s," Dreyfuss writes, "Israel supported the Islamists on several fronts. It was, of course, supporting the Gaza and West Bank Islamists that, in 1987, would found Hamas ... They were trying to defeat Arab nationalism with Muslim zealots."

Who could have imagined that historic twist of fate?

The influential publishing magazine Booklist says "Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultraorthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden."

It is a remarkable book that provides a good sense of that fuller story now unfolding in the Middle East, but few Americans have read it yet.

As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said in 2005,"Robert Dreyfuss has taken us - all of us - behind the trauma of 9/11 and shown that George Bush's failure to understand the dynamics of Islamic fundamentalism is nothing new. Our presidents have been missing the point for decades and, by doing so, have become the best allies of our worst nightmare."

Hersh, endorsing the book in the middle of the last Bush Administration, wrote, "I would have entitled this brilliant book Dumb and Dumber."

In Tuesday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd in her column 'Bye Bye, Mubarak,' noted that "President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

"But the way he went about it was naive and wrong," Dowd says.

And no doubt it was naive and wrong of President George Bush to invade the wrong country (Iraq) with apparently fraudulent justifications.

But politics, and American politics in particular, is rich in irony, Dowd notes, "… [N]ot the least of which is the American president who inspired such hope in the Middle East with his Cairo speech calling around this week to leaders in the region to stanch the uncontrolled surge of democracy in the Arab world.

"Egyptians rose up at the greatest irony of all: Cleopatra's Egypt was modern in ancient times and Mubarak's was ancient in modern times. The cradle of civilization yearned for some civilization."

For some of us, anyway, there doesn't seem to be too much hope for the current Tea Party-run GOP leadership, which is beginning to make President Bush look moderate. President Obama does seem to know better than Mr. Bush or the GOP, but at a time of great urgency, he's been "playing it cool," and despite urging Mubarak to step down, his promptings have come late.

Egypt may yet provide great opportunity for President Obama, as 9/11 did for Mr. Bush and the military-industrial complex. Yet it remains to be seen whether an American president will in the end support more Frankensteins, as depicted in Devil's Game. From Osama bin Laden to Cold War relics like the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak, today's dictators and religious fanatics are the monstrous legacy we and our allies have created.

President Obama's legacy is still being shaped. And for all the calamitous potential of the current moment in Egypt, I hope this will be a special time, one when - more carefully than President Bush in his nation-building - we may err on the right side of history.

Ron Kenner retired from the Los Angeles Times Metro staff. He is also a book editor at his RKedit, and has edited many award-winning books.

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