By: Benjamin Weingarten
Few Americans would want to live under the rule of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s authoritarian president. But on the other hand, neither would any jihadist.
An Egyptian administrative court recently upheld the nation’s Ministry of Religious Endowment’s decision to shutter 27,000 mosques deemed most supportive of jihadism.
This marks the latest in a series of steps taken by the Sisi regime to cripple terrorists.
Such actions evince an attitude and approach toward countering the threat of Islamic supremacism entirely counter to that espoused by the Obama administration.
Consider four critical areas in which Presidents Sisi and Obama have taken opposing sides:
Defining the Threat
President Sisi has very publicly criticized Islam — linking it to jihadist destruction and backwardness in the Arab world. President Barack Obama has made every effort to de-link Islam from Islamic terror, arguing that Islam itself, not its reformation, is essential to combating jihadism.
During a December 2014 speech at the seat of Sunni Islamic learning, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, President Sisi stated:
It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world. It is inconceivable that this ideology… I am referring not to “religion,” but to “ideology” – the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult.
It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable…You cannot see things clearly when you are locked [in this ideology]. You must emerge from it and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve. Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion.
In a less-noticed interview with Der Spiegel in February of this year, President Sisi stated:
For 1,400 years, the Koran has represented the absolute truth. But interpretations differ. I propose removing wrong and distorted ideas from the religious discourse.
Contrast this with a seminal speech delivered by President Obama at Al-Azhar University in June 2009, in which he stated that “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.”
During the recent Countering Violent Extremism Summit, President Obama said:
Al Qaeda and [Islamic State] do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.
President Obama sees misperception of the Muslim faith in Islamic terror; President Sisi has shown no such illusions.
Moreover, in addition to promoting “jobs for jihadis,” the Obama administration’s agenda for countering jihadism — euphemistically called “violent extremism” — consists largely of a laissez-faire law enforcement and oversight approach to the communities that pose the greatest danger, coupled with millions in funding for likely superficial programs, such as $15 million for the Department of Justice to support “community-led efforts to build resilience and counter violent extremism.”
Acknowledging the Incubator
Among other measures, President Sisi has sought to counter jihadists by attacking them at their source – mosques that espouse Islamic supremacy.
While President Sisi’s Ministry of Religious Endowments has granted 400 preaching permits to Salafist leaders, his move to close down 27,000 mosques — in the world’s most populous Arab country — is as dramatic as it is telling.
Consideration of such a policy would be unthinkable in America, as it would be seen as a violation of religious freedom, even if the facilities in question were to house those espousing anti-social and anti-American acts bordering on treason.
In fact, under President Obama America has taken a diametrically opposed approach: Actively seeking to partner with mosques, and creating significantly tougher standards for surveilling them.
A pillar of the Obama administration’s “countering violent extremism” policy is to engage more closely with Islamic communities and their leaders, i.e. imams.
The administration holds up as one of its outreach models a pilot program in Boston. The group said to be serving as primary liaison with the federal government is the Islamic Society of Boston. Problematic is the fact that the group has been linked to jihadists and jihadist-sympathizers, and was reportedly funded by Saudi and other Gulf sources to the tune of over $8.6 million.
As mentioned in an earlier piece, the Mapping Sharia project indicates that imams in over 80 percent of 100 randomly surveyed American mosques recommend the study of violence-positive texts. Given the large percentage of mosques that fit this profile, it stands to reason that the federal government is likely partnering with some of these very institutions.
Recognizing the Aims of the Muslim Brotherhood
During the Arab Spring, President Obama tacitly supported Hosni Mubarak’s ouster — effectively backing the favored candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood — Mohamed Morsi.
Among General Sisi’s first acts upon deposing Mr. Morsi was to ban the Muslim Brotherhood. When asked whether Islamic State or the Muslim Brotherhood posed a greater threat, Sisi responded:
They both share the same ideology. But the Muslim Brotherhood is the origin of all of it. All these other extremists emanated from them.
Such a statement – or even the sentiment — has never flowed from President Obama’s lips.
President Obama has instead actively embraced members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Obama administration recently invited Muslim Brotherhood-linked leaders to the White House, and the State Department hosted a Muslim Brotherhood delegation, much to the chagrin of the Egyptians.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group, but the White House declined a petition that would have similarly given it such a designation in the United States.
Views of Israel and Iran
Egypt has become a key partner with Israel in fighting jihadists by dint of recognizing a common enemy in the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in Gaza.
Under President Sisi, Egypt reportedly sealed off 95 percent of the Hamas terror tunnels under Egypt’s border with Gaza, and demolished thousands of homes to create a massive buffer zone in the Sinai, to the benefit of both Egypt and Israel.
Furthermore, Egypt believes – as does Israel – that Iran is a true threat to regional stability – especially if Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear weaponry.
Conversely, President Obama has desperately sought to cast Iran – which has been at war with the United States since 1979 — as a worthy ally. Perhaps because of this, the president has worked with abandon to publically denigrate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading up to and following the congressional address in which Netanyahu explained the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. The politicization and histrionics displayed by Democrats regarding Netanyahu’s speech speaks volumes in showing how far U.S.-Israel relations have fallen under the Obama administration.
Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post summarizes the relationships between Egypt, Israel and the United States accordingly:
Israel’s ability to take effective action against Hamas in concert with Egypt is hampered by the Obama administration that is insisting that Israel facilitate the Hamas’s rearmament – a development that threatens Israel and Egypt alike.
And Israel isn’t alone in its plight. Egypt is also being pressured by President Barack Obama and his administration.
In its war against Sunni and Shiite jihadist forces that threaten to destroy Egypt, and among other things, cause mass harm to the global economy by imperiling maritime traffic, Egypt finds itself betrayed by the Obama administration.
…Today Israel’s closest ally is Egypt. Under Obama, the U.S. is a force to be worked around, not worked with.
None of these points are presented in order to romanticize President Sisi’s rule.
He is an authoritarian overseeing a military regime that crushes its opponents as a means of survival.
Further, as Dr. Andrew Bostom has noted, President Sisi’s strident rhetoric on Islam has not matched his past words and deeds. For example, Bostom writes:
While Sisi was “ambiguous”/“apologetic” in his romanticized 2006 view of the (Shariah totalitarian, jihad promoting) Caliphate system as an idealized form of Islamic governance, he was unequivocal in his denunciation of precisely the kind of secular consensus, tolerant form of rule Egypt requires if it is ever going to make its Coptic Christian minority, and truly secular leaning Muslims, equal members of the society. Sisi rejected that pursuit in 2006, and his government’s actions under his aegis—a continuing campaign against freedom of conscience, coupled to ongoing “blasphemy” prosecutions—pace soothing “rhetoric”—indicate he meant what he articulated then.
Certainly, President Sisi’s regime is illiberal, violent and generally antithetical to Western values.
Nevertheless, when it comes to fighting jihadism, President Sisi looks like a paragon of moral clarity compared with the putative leader of the free world, Barack Obama.
There are few sadder commentaries on the current state of American leadership than this.