The most important thing that happened in the world on New Year’s Day may be an event that our media ignored. If you believe that the future of peace and freedom in the world rests heavily on the ability of the Muslim world to reform itself in a way that rejects violent fundamentalism, then the January 1 speech by Egypt’s President al-Sisi is a cause for some celebration, or at least some positive press coverage.
With 88 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world. In the battle between the violent, supremacist view of Islam and a more peaceful moderate view, al-Sisi and current Egyptian leadership have boldly, and fearlessly, taken sides against the Muslim Brotherhood and in favor of moderation.
Al-Sisi’s speech was an impassioned call for a “religious revolution”. He noted that the fundamentalist view of Islam, “is antagonizing the entire world.” Addressing the clerics directly, he asked them to, “step outside of yourselves and be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective… Is it possible that 1.6 billion people should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants… Impossible!”
He boldly added, “You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move.”
This great man deserves all of the support our nation can give him in his quest to reform Islam. But he will get very little support from the current administration. This administration has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in many ways and in many places, including Egypt. This fact is not lost on the Egyptians.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to a business executive from Egypt on a long flight inside China in the fall of 2013. He and his family had been part of the largest political demonstration in the history of the world, just two months earlier in Egypt. An estimated 88 million people took to the streets protesting President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. They wanted a real Arab Spring, not Morsi’s move toward religious oppression.
My Egyptian flight partner said the people in his country were shocked that our President was, “on the side of the terrorists, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.” He said most Egyptians think of Americans as friends, but they were very upset that America was on the wrong side of this issue and popular opinion was definitely turning against us. He thought this mistake would give Russia an opening for greater influence in his country.
It was a disturbing conversation because I shared this man’s goals for greater freedom in his country and it was undeniable that the leader of my country did not. For the Egyptian freedom fighters, just as for the Iranian freedom fighters, America’s beacon of freedom looks dim.