The Middle East scholar John Esposito was interviewed by al-Ahram Weekly last week. When questioned about President Obama’s likely response to unrest during the forthcoming Egyptian Presidential Elections, Esposito had this to say:
“It will be a test for US-Egyptian relations.”
Would Obama openly criticise Egypt if people are arrested during the elections, state orchestrated violence and vote rigging?
“I certainly expect it.”
On President Hosni Mubarak as a force of stability:
“I would distinguish between Egypt and any specific government. I don’t think that specific governments, such as Egypt and Tunisia, while they’re important, should not be held accountable.”
Esposito takes issue with how previous administrations, from Bill Clinton to George Bush, “always had a gap between their democratic rhetoric” and what happened on the ground. “When a crisis happened they went silent or issued a soft statement.”
On the oft-debated topic of Gamal Mubarak, the president’s younger son, taking over the presidency from his father, Esposito says:
“We say there is movement towards democratisation when in fact what we have is the use of democratic language for states that continue to have control, if not more control, and a new form of succession. Instead of coups you pass it on to the son. You have the Syrian example and then you have rumours with regard to Egypt and Libya and a lot of people wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.
“People think it a strong likelihood, it doesn’t mean it’s accepted, but that there could be a strong likelihood the son will succeed the father because they don’t see any other strong individual.” The view in Washington — “not the US administration” — is that there “aren’t many alternatives”. One alternative, he says, is instability that allows the Muslim Brotherhood power. “They say that Gamal is more educated, more modern, more forward looking.”
And on Washington’s view of the Muslim Brotherhood:
There are plenty of analysts in government, says Esposito, who believe in having free and fair elections and of distinguishing between the Muslim Brotherhood and groups like Hizbullah and Hamas. “But there is a strong sector in domestic politics that constantly warns the Muslim Brotherhood are wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Brotherhood is seen, in some ways, as doubly dangerous, because it’s not above board about what its real intentions are.”