U.S. Media Mostly Mum on Brotherhood's Improving Egyptian Playing Field; NYT Provides 'Surprised' But Still Naive Coverage

On Monday, an unbylined Associated Press item briefly reported the results on results of Egypt's weekend referendum, and the U.S. reaction:

The United States has welcomed the results of Egypt's weekend referendum after it opened the way for parliamentary and presidential elections within months.


State Department spokesman Mark Toner says the approved term limits for the next Egyptian president, multiple ways for candidates to get on the ballot and judicial supervision of elections are positive trends.


Toner said "Egyptians took an important step toward realizing the aspirations" of the revolution that toppled long-time leader Hosni Mubarak from power.

Whose "aspirations"?

If all you read is AP-generated international news (not impossible, given the wire service's pervasive influence), it's hard to understand how you would know. A search on "Muslim Brotherhood" (not in quotes) at the AP's U.S. home site has no story from Egypt referencing the group on or after the referendum date. (See this comment below for clarification and elaboration.)

There is very little news coverage of how the referendum results appear to favor the Brotherhood, which has been an organized, relatively disciplined group for many years, in contrast to other groups within Egypt which are just now emerging in the wake of Mubarak's resignation. One notable exception is the New York Times. On Thursday (appearing on the front page in Friday's print edition), Reporter Michael Slackman laid out recent developments, which can only be seen as favorable towards long-term representative government in Egypt if one naively believes that the Brotherhood has renounced its long-held repressive Islamist beliefs.

The Times also seems to have deliberately toned watered down its headline. The web browser window title, which I'm guessing probably came first, is: "In Egypt, Muslim Group Takes Lead Role in Post-Mubarak Era." The actual article title in both the online and print editions is: "Islamist Group Is Rising Force in New Egypt."

Slackman's reported content indicates that the window title headline was much more accurate. Here are excerpts from Slackman, some of which might leave readers slack-jawed (bolds are mine):

In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.


It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.


As the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to have an edge in the contest for influence. But what surprises many is its link to a military that vilified it.


“There is evidence the Brotherhood struck some kind of a deal with the military early on,” said Elijah Zarwan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It makes sense if you are the military — you want stability and people off the street. The Brotherhood is one address where you can go to get 100,000 people off the street.”


... The question at the time was whether the Brotherhood would move to take charge with its superior organizational structure. It now appears that it has.


... When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.


But the most obvious and consequential example was the recent referendum on the amendments, in the nation’s first post-Mubarak balloting. The amendments essentially call for speeding up the election process so that parliamentary contests can be held before September, followed soon after by a presidential race. That expedited calendar is seen as giving an advantage to the Brotherhood and to the remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which have established national networks.


... A banner hung by the Muslim Brotherhood in a square in Alexandria instructed voters that it was their “religious duty” to vote “yes” on the amendments.


... This is not to say that the Brotherhood is intent on establishing an Islamic state. From the first days of the protests, Brotherhood leaders proclaimed their dedication to religious tolerance and a democratic and pluralist form of government. They said they would not offer a candidate for president, that they would contest only a bit more than a third of the total seats in Parliament, and that Coptic Christians and women would be welcomed into the political party affiliated with the movement.

Earlier today, Rush Limbaugh commented (link will be available until late afternoon on April 1) on Slackman's expressed "surprise" at how things are turning out, and how people who several weeks ago were warning about exactly what has happened were ridiculed.

I also find Slackman's description of the Brotherhood to be very naive, given the group's history and agenda since its founding:

They believe the Quran and Sunna must be the basis of individual morality, and stress application of the Shari’a in all relevant matters. In social policy they hold the primary role of women should be care of the family. They avoid ideological positions in economic matters, but stress importance of minimizing the differences in wealth between rich and poor. For them, social justice is more important than technological, economic, or administrative issues. In general, these groups believe their society has been corrupted by secular values and only a return to Islamic principles will restore morality, economic health, and political power.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of room for Coptic Christians or other non-Muslims in the above set of beliefs, and there is no really good reason to believe that the Brotherhood has all of a sudden fallen in love with legitimate representative government.

Beyond that, the Associated Press's lack of coverage besides relaying the State Department's naive congratulations will work to ensure that few U.S. news consumers will be told that things in Egypt are ominously heading in a decidedly Islamist direction. (See this comment below for clarification and elaboration.)

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Islam Religion Political Groups Labeling Bias by Omission Media Bias Debate Middle East Foreign Policy New York Times Major Newspapers Associated Press Wire Services/Media Companies