Now that Egyptians have overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government of former president Mohammed Morsi, how have scholars of the Middle East responded? With encomia, nostalgia, and conspiracy theories. (Click here for a full collection of quotes.)
Instead of acknowledging the ineptitude and dictatorial behavior that led to the Muslim Brotherhood's ouster, some alluded to shadowy conspiracies involving the U.S. This despite the Obama administration's open support for the Brotherhood and its push for MB participation in a new democratic political process, much to the consternation of the Egyptian street, not to mention many Americans.
Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University and grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, claimed that "the decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsi had been made well before June 30." The Egyptian people, he alleged, "have been unwitting participants in a media-military operation of the highest order," and, he concluded ominously, "The silence of Western governments tells us all we need to know."
Similarly, Amer Araim of Diablo Valley College claimed that, "The Egyptian military authorities . . . could not have staged the coup without a nod from Washington," while Abdullah Al-Arian of Wayne State University, the son of former professor and North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Sami Al-Arian, maintained that, "The U.S. likely gave some kind of endorsement, or at least did not object to removing the democratically elected president."
Taking it a step further, As'ad AbuKhalil, a political scientist at California State University, Stanislaus, posted the following at his "Angry Arab" blog: "[I]nteresting that while Obama was in deep trouble over the NSA spy scandal suddenly a revolution in Egypt bursts out . . . wiping out or at least putting lower on the front page news about the NSA spy scandal."
Hatem Bazian, who lectures in Near Eastern studies and directs the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley, tweeted, "The ME, it's [sic] oil, and wealth are far too valuable to be left to the Egyptians on the street to determine are the words said behind doors."
Other scholars, reiterating their long-standing affection for so-called "moderate Islamist" parties across the region, from the MB in Egypt to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey and Ennahda in Tunisa, continued to hold out hope for Islamist rule.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, who teaches Islamic law and chairs the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, lamented that, "What has been dealt a deathblow after the Egyptian coup is moderate Islamism." The Muslim Brotherhood, he claimed, "believed in the political process and tried to practice it. . . . They believed that democracy and Islamism are reconcilable."
Exhibiting a similarly wistful tone, Abdullah Al-Arian, who wrote his dissertation on the MB at Georgetown University, imagined the Islamist party's disappointment at not losing power via an election: "One of the many tragedies of these latest events is that we have lost . . . the opportunity to witness the Muslim Brotherhood humbled through its preferred method of political contestation."
Comparing the MB to Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda, Noah Feldman of Harvard Law preposterously and incoherently opined:
Both parties believe in combining Islamic values with democratic practice. Both accept a political role for women and equal citizenship for non-Muslims, even if in practice they are both socially conservative and seek the gradual, voluntary Islamization of society.
Meanwhile, Michigan's Juan Cole, having previously downplayed the MB's extremism, pointed to Turkey's ruling Islamist party as a role model for the Brotherhood (this despite the recent massive protests in Turkey and the AKP's heavy handed response):
[I]t depends on whether the Muslim Brotherhood is wise and mature enough to roll with this punch and to reform itself . . . If they take this course, they have a chance of emulating Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and one day coming back to power.
Whether invoking conspiracy theories or advocating "moderate Islamism" as a solution to the region's ills, these scholars do little to instill confidence in America's Middle East studies establishment. Time and time again the field is proven wrong, making it an unreliable guide for students, government, business, the media, and the wider public. When next the "experts" purport to explain events in the Middle East, be afraid, be very afraid.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.