The Middle East is a complicated place. Any academic expert will tell you that the region's violent, historic conflicts don't lend themselves to convenient soundbites.
But that didn't stop Congressman Allen West from trying. This weekend, Mike Huckabee interviewed him on Fox News about the massive protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak. And in a matter of minutes, West swung from defending civil liberties to advocating crackdowns on "radical elements" of Islam.
First, he began by criticizing Mubarak, who has been accused of jailing political opponents and turning a blind eye to police brutality.
"When you have these regimes that are autocratic, theocratic,
dictatorial, and being led by despots, they do tend to repress the
people, as far as their freedoms and liberties. And there does come a
point when the human will wants to have those liberties," West said.
But then he decided Mubarak's repression might not be so bad. When Huckabee prodded him about the threat the Muslim Brotherhood -- a fundamentalist, government opposition group -- has posed to Egyptian leaders in the past, West jumped on the attack wagon to discuss his favorite subject, radical Islam.
"Over there, sometimes it does require a stronger hand to keep those radical elements at bay," he said. "When [former president Anwar] Sadat let up, he was assassinated by the Brotherhood. That's the biggest concern that I have... If you don't keep these radical elements at bay, then all of a sudden they rise up and they take advantage of these turbulent situations."
That's a great soundbite for West's anti-Islam agenda, but the truth is more nuanced. According to the Associated Press, the Muslim Brotherhood is not behind the current protests in Egypt. The people marching in the streets now were galvanized by younger, secular activists who want democracy in their country.
As the protests have grown larger, Brotherhood followers have joined in and clashed with the police, but they are specifically trying not to push their political agenda, for fear of alienating more secular activists.
From the AP: "The Brotherhood have not been out with their own slogans and banners," said Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, who runs the Brotherhood website. "We have all agreed on a populist stance."
So while the specter of a destabilized Egypt raises legitimate concerns that the Brotherhood will gain power, the protests over the past several days can't be dismissed as violent, fundamentalist uprisings that warrant police brutality. And the fight can't be painted simply as pro-Mubarak and pro-Israel versus radical Islam.
Secular Egyptians are protesting a repressive government -- and that's a cause Americans shouldn't be quick to ignore.
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