As pro-Mubarak forces continue to clash with democratic protesters in the streets of Cairo and the situation in Egypt remains volatile and uncertain, NBC's David Gregory confidently declared that the Muslim Brotherhood has no interest in turning Egypt into an Islamist state.
On the February 4 edition of MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," the moderator of "Meet the Press" blithely dismissed concerns that the Brotherhood might exploit the power vacuum created by outgoing President Hosni Mubarak to codify Islamic law in Egypt.
"It was pointed out by one of the experts on the panel that [the Muslim Brotherhood] will also be aware of their position internationally," announced Gregory, referring to a recent panel he moderated at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. "They don't want to overstep that. They don't want to turn it into an Islamist state. They have matured politically in that sense and are rather sophisticated."
Later in the segment, Gregory reiterated the hasty claim that the Brotherhood pose no threat to the prospects of a secular, democratic Egypt: "They are unlikely, the military is, to allow Egypt to become an Islamist state, some kind of theocracy. So this is not Iran in that sense."
Gregory's characterization grossly underestimated the degree to which experts disagree about the role the Brotherhood would play in a post-Mubarak Egypt. Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, an Egypt expert at Emory University, wrote in Foreign Affairs yesterday:
It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization – not only individual members – will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation's toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West.
Wickham, a Middle East scholar, acknowledged that the future of Egypt remains unclear, but Gregory, a journalist who specializes in U.S. domestic politics, was convinced that Egypt will not become a theocracy because the Brotherhood is simply too "sophisticated" to let that happen.
In fact, on CNN yesterday a spokesman for the Brotherhood repeatedly refused to commit to upholding the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.
Gregory may have made up his mind, but the experts contend it is premature to conclude that the Brotherhood, an extremist group whose "original mission was to Islamize society through promotion of Islamic law," would not attempt to gradually transform Egypt into a theocracy resembling Iran if it were to control the levers of power.
For a full account of how the mainstream media has downplayed the radical elements of the Brotherhood, watch NewsBusters publisher Brent Bozell's analysis with Sean Hannity last night on "Media Mash."
A transcript of the relevant portions of the program can be found below:
Andrea Mitchell Reports
February 4, 2011
1:32 p.m. EST
ANDREA MITCHELL: What is your take away on what would happen if Mubarak were finally to agree to step down? Who would fill the vacuum?
DAVID GREGORY, host of Meet the Press: Well, that's a huge question. What the administration seems to be working toward, and what experts think is possible, is some kind of transition period, some kind of coalition government. You talk about the Muslim Brotherhood. They would play a role. It was pointed out by one of the experts on the panel that they will also be aware of their position internationally. They don't want to overstep that. They don't want to turn it into an Islamist state. They have matured politically in that sense and are rather sophisticated. The question of Mohammed El Baradei, whether he's someone who's actually a legitimate opposition force remains to be seen. What role will the military play in some kind of coalition government or a transitional phase. That's also very important.
And I think that Martin just made, in terms of the shock waves from Cairo. Remember, one of the reasons why Egypt got so big was because of the outcome in Tunisia. The leader of the country actually left and all of a sudden protesters think "wow, maybe we could pull that off here." And I think that's what everyone's waiting for is to see what the outcome is like.
MITCHELL: And you spoke of the role of the military and it is widely believed that if he has to be pushed, rather than nudged, it will be the military that goes to him. This is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last night.
MITCHELL: So Mike Mullen is making the point that is the line of the communication, the most fruitful line of communication. We know that Joe Biden talked to Soliman, the vice president, but it's the military to military communication that perhaps is framing not only the American response but what happens there.
GREGORY: It's been everything, right? In terms of their position to not fire on protesters is a way to put pressure on Mubarak to go. They will have some role in the future. They are unlikely, the military is, to allow Egypt to become an Islamist state, some kind of theocracy. So this is not Iran in that sense. And it's a very important institution.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.