The most dramatic oppression of the region’s civil societies and the Arab Spring is not by means of weapons, or in the Middle East. It is not led by Gaddafi, Mubarak, Bin Ali, Saleh, or Assad. It is led by the powerful Islamist lobbies in Washington DC. People may find my words curious if not provocative. But my arguments are sharp and well understood by many Arab and middle eastern liberals and freedom fighters. Indeed, we in the region, who are struggling for real democracy, not for the one time election type of democracy have been asking ourselves since January 2011 as the winds of Arab spring started blowing, why isn’t the West in general and the United States Administration in particular clearly and forcefully supporting our civil societies and particularly the secular democrats of the region? Why were the bureaucracies in Washington and in Brussels partnering with Islamists in the region and not with their natural allies the democracy promoting political forces?
Months into the Arab Spring, we realized that the Western powers, and the Obama Administration have put their support behind the new authoritarians, those who are claiming they will be brought to power via the votes of the people. Well, it is not quite so.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Nahda of Tunisia, the Justice Party of Morocco and the Islamist militias in Libya’s Transitional National Council have been systematically supported by Washington at the expense of real liberal and secular forces. We saw day by day how the White House guided carefully the statements and the actions of the US and the State Department followed through to give all the chances to the Islamists and almost no chances to the secular and revolutionary youth. We will come back to detail these diplomatic and financial maneuvers which are giving victory to the fundamentalists while the seculars and progressives are going to be smashed by the forthcoming regimes.
In the US, there are interests that determine foreign policy. And there are lobbies that put pressure to get their objectives met in foreign policy. One of the most powerful lobbies in America under the Obama Administration is the Muslim Brotherhood greater lobby, which has been in action for many years. This lobby has secured many operatives inside the Administration and has been successful in directing US policy towards the Arab world. Among leading advisors sympathetic to the Ikhwan is Daliah Mogahed (Mujahid) and her associate, Georgetown Professor John Esposito. Just as shocking, there is also a pro-Iranian lobby that has been influencing US policy towards Iran and Hezbollah in the region.
One of the most important activities of the Islamist lobby in the US is the waging of political and media wars on the liberal Arabs and Middle Eastern figures and groups in America. This battlefield is among the most important in influencing Washington’s policies in the Arab world. If you strike at the liberal and democratic Middle Eastern groups in Washington who are trying to gain support for civil societies in the region, you actually win a major battle. You will be able to influence the resources of the US Government to support the Islamists in the Middle East and not the weak democrats. This huge war waged by the Islamist lobbies in America started at the end of the Cold war and continued all the way till the Arab spring. The two main forces of this lobby are the Muslim Brotherhood fronts and the Iranian fronts. According to research available in the US, the Ikhwan fronts such as CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), led by Hamas supporter Nihad Awad, as well as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society of North America, and others waged their political war to block the representatives of Arab liberals and Muslim moderates from making their case to the American public. The Iranian lobby, exemplified by the National Iranian American Committee (NIAC), led by Trita Parsi, has been hitting at Iranian exiles.
Since the 1990s CAIR and its allies have attacked Copts, Southern Sudanese, Lebanese, Syrian reformers, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and Muslim dissidents in the United States. The Ikhwan of America demonized any publication, book, article, or interview in the national media or local press raising the issue of secular freedoms in the Middle East. The Islamists wanted to eliminate the liberal cause in the Arab world and replace it with the cause of the Islamists. What is also shocking is that CAIR and its allies stood by the oppressive regimes and visited them, claiming they speak on behalf of the peoples. CAIR and the Brotherhood fronts in America destroyed systematically every project that would have defended the seculars and liberals originating from the Middle East. The notorious and well-funded Islamists of the US allowed no book, documentary, or show on the liberals in Arab civil societies to see the light.
Thanks to this powerful lobbying campaign, the American public was not given a chance to learn about the deep feelings on the youth in the region. Americans were led to believe that all Muslims, all Arabs and all Middle Easterners were a strange species of humans who cannot appreciate freedom. Instead, the American Islamists, helped by apologists on the petrodollars payrolls, convinced the mainstream media that the Arab world has authoritarians and Islamists only.
Dr Shawki Karas, president of the American Coptic Association, told me in the late 1990s how he was harassed by Islamist activists for speaking up against the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in America. He was threatened with losing his job at the college where he taught. Reverend Keith Roderick, who has assembled a coalition of more than 50 group rights from the Muslim world, was severely attacked by the Islamists and was threatened to be removed from his church position. Muslim American leaders who are conservative and secular, such as Dr Zuhdi Jasser, were crucified by CAIR and the Brotherhood for daring to challenge the Party line of the Isl.amists in America and claiming that the Jihadists are the problem in the region. Muslim liberal dissidents such as Somali Ayan Hirsi Ali, Saudi Ali al Yammi, Syrian Farid Ghadri, Iranian Manda Ervin, and many others were trashed by the Islamist lobbies to block them from defending the causes of secular liberty in the US. Egyptian liberals as well as seculars and democracy activists from Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and other countries have been attacked by CAIR and allies. The pro-Iranian lobby targeted most Iranian-American groups and tried to discredit them, particularly with the rise of the Green Revolution in Iran. By smearing the Muslim liberal exiles, the Islamists were trying to destroy their causes in the mother countries. In the 1990s and the years that followed 9/11 the region’s dictators supported the efforts by Islamist lobbies to crush the liberal exiles. The Mubarak, Bashir, Gaddafi, Assad, and Khomeinist regimes fully supported the so-called Islamophobia campaign waged by CAIR and its Iranian counterpart NIAC against dissidents for calling for secular democracy in the region. The dissidents were accused of being pro-Western by both the Islamists and the dictators.
The Islamist lobbies also severely attacked members of the US Congress such as Democrats Tom Lantos, who has since passed away, Eliot Engel, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, and Joe Lieberman as well as Republicans Frank Wolfe, Chris Smith, Trent Franks, John McCain, Rick Santorum, and Sam Brownback for their efforts in passing legislative acts in support for democracy and liberty in the Middle East. CAIR and NIAC heavily savaged President Bush’s speeches on Freedom Forward in the Middle East, deploying all the resources they had to block US support to liberal democrats in the region. Islamist lobbies in Washington are directly responsible for killing any initiative in the US Government to support Darfur, southern Sudan, Lebanon, the Kurds, liberal women in the Muslim world, and true democrats in the Arab world and Muslim Africa.
In the think tank world, CAIR and its allies aggressively attacked scholars who raised the issue of persecution against seculars or minorities in the Arab world and Iran. Among those attacked were Nina Shea and Paul Marshal from the Hudson Institute and the founder of an anti-slavery group, Dr Charles Jacobs, who was exposing the Sudan regime for its atrocities. Last but not least is the Islamists’ relentless campaign to stirke at top scholars who advise Government and appear in the media to push for democratic liberation in the region. The vast and vicious attacks leveled against Professor Walid Phares—initially by CAIR’s Nihad Awad and then widened by pro-Hezbollah and Muslim Brotherhood operatives online—has revealed to Arab and Middle Eastern liberal and seculars how ferocious is the battle for the Middle East in the US. Phares’s books, particularly the latest one, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2010), hit the Islamist agenda hard by predicting the civil society revolts in the Middle East and then predicting how the Islamists would try to control them. Phares was attacked by an army of Jihadist militia online like no author since Samuel Huntington in the 1990s. As a freedom activist from the Middle East, Mustafa Geha, wrote, Phares is a hero to Muslim liberals. Along with dissidents, lawmakers, experts, and human rights activists, Phares is a force driving for a strategic change in US foreign policy towards supporting secular democracies in the region. This explains why the Islamists of America are fighting the battle for the forthcoming regimes with all the means they have.
Dr. Essam Abdallah is an Egyptian liberal intellectual who teaches at Ain Shams University and writes for the leading Arab liberal publication Elaph.