Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood

Hany Ghoraba
Tuesday 19 Oct 2021

A new book details how the Obama administration secretly supported the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings, writes Hany Ghoraba

While it is becoming a known political fact that the former US Obama administration facilitated the meteoric rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, few books have linked it to Brotherhood leaders in the United States and abroad in the terrorist group’s ambitions to rule the Middle East. 

However, a recent book The Arab Spring Ruse: How the Muslim Brotherhood Duped Washington in Libya and Syria by US political writer and counter-terrorism expert John Rossomando, does just that. Rossomando has written for over a decade for a myriad of US political and counter-terrorism media outlets and newspapers. 

In his book, which was published in October, Rossomando uncovers a number of links between the Obama administration and the Brotherhood. Despite the book’s small size, it is heavily researched and documented with online links or citations for every incident covered in its pages. It may entice readers to read more on the subjects discussed, given the details it has exposed. 

“Few had realised how dramatically the Obama administration had altered official US government policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood until the moment US-backed Muslim Brotherhood parties made grabs for power in Egypt, Libya and Syria,” Rossomando writes. His book details the Obama administration’s changes in detail, showing how it levelled the field for the terrorist group while assisting it in grabbing power in Egypt, Libya and Syria. 

While the book focuses mainly on the cases of Libya and Syria as two countries that are still suffering from the onslaught of over a decade of civil war, it also gives clues on how the Obama administration favoured the Brotherhood in countries such as Egypt after the beginning of the Arab Spring. 

Rossomando elaborates on how far the Obama administration strayed from the path of previous US foreign policy, leaving one that had been consistent for many years. Previous Democratic and Republican administrations never publicly engaged or dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates. According to the author, both parties’ presidents recognised that the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliated groups or front organisations were dangerous and linked to terrorist groups. The Obama administration’s decision to ignore its predecessors’ policies towards the Brotherhood marked a significant turn of events. 

“The decision to engage the Muslim Brotherhood marked a historic change in American foreign policy, created a new paradigm in the Middle East, and set into motion a series of events that had catastrophic results: the Muslim Brotherhood’s resurgence, the overthrow of at least two
governments, Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s transformation into the ISIS [the Islamic State group] caliphate, failed governments in Syria and Iraq, millions of refugees and displaced individuals, and the resulting destabilising migration flows,” Rossomando writes.

According to his book, former US president Barack Obama went as far as to issue a secret directive called Directive 13 (PPD-13). This then shaped US foreign policy related to economic and political reform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The Obama administration believed it was necessary to separate the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. Empowering the Muslim Brotherhood would, according to Obama, weaken Al-Qaeda in a decision that can be considered as one of the severest cases of political naiveté in modern times.

The core fault of the Obama administration was its adoption of a false rhetoric, presented for years by Islamist activists and later liberal Western politicians and pundits, that there is a distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. But the truth remains that the Brotherhood must be judged on its criminal and terrorist record, starting from the 1940s in Egypt and then moving to other countries. 

The group’s founder, Hassan Al-Banna, and its main ideologue, Sayed Qutb, remain the main references for Islamist or Jihadist group across the planet. Hence, attempting to separate them off from the groups they give rise to is nothing less than farcical. 

Yet, Obama, according to Rossomando, instructed US diplomats to expand their contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and to coordinate with it in its quest to seek power in Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Brotherhood activists controlled the narrative on events in Syria and Libya for the Obama administration and even the US media. Eventually, that controlled to directing the policies of the administration towards assisting the ascension of the Brotherhood to positions of power.  

Furthermore, the book discusses the growing influence of Brotherhood-affiliated groups in the US, such as the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Centre in Falls Church in Virginia. This was instrumental in bringing the US into the Libyan conflict, according to the author. It has been linked to some of the most notorious Islamist leaders, such as Anwar Al-Awlaki, the Al-Qaeda leader who was killed by a US drone-strike in Yemen in 2011.

The book sheds light on the complicated yet close relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. Supporters of liberal factions opposed to the Islamists in Libya and Syria report they were ostracised by the Obama administration from any decision-making in these two countries. 

“The Arab Spring began with rhetoric about freedom and democracy, but we now know it was an Islamist Spring that brought only death, suffering and oppression. Who knows what might have been had Barack Obama stood against the Brotherhood and its supporters,” concludes Rossomando in his excellent book, which uncovers what US mainstream political pundits have attempted to hide for over a decade. 

He uncovers what dozens of other books on the Arab Spring have failed even to scratch the surface about. It is rare for a book of this length to contain as much detail about a decade-long struggle in the Middle East fuelled by a US administration. The book is an indictment of an era when a US administration led by Obama placed all its weight behind pushing an Islamist agenda in the Middle East and tossing all US security concerns and diplomatic traditions out of the window. 

Alas, the whitewashing of the Obama administration’s misdeeds in the Middle East is still ongoing, even though some may describe that administration as literally “getting away with murder.” The destruction of the Syrian and Libyan states and the ongoing war on terrorism in the region resulting from Obama’s policies have been mostly overlooked in US coverage of the Arab Spring. 

But now along comes a book that has done much to uncover what the US liberal media has attempted to bury for a decade.

* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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