Amid new strains in U.S.-Egypt ties, some in Washington are studying the tensions and results of recent voting for indications that democracy can take hold. Those who say the Muslim Brotherhood is showing new signs of moderation should compare its message to outsiders, in English, with its message to Egyptians and other Arabs, in Arabic.
Take the Brotherhood's official English and Arabic Web sites, IkhwanWeb (http://www.ikhwanweb.com/) and IkhwanOnline (http://www.ikhwanonline.com), from one day this month. In English, the home page featured no fewer than eight articles on the solicitude of the Brotherhood toward Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. The Arabic home page, by contrast, included just two small pieces on this theme. The contrast is sharper on other key issues. On democracy, the English home page one January day featured several articles with headlines such as "Why Islamists Are Better Democrats" and "Democracy: One of the Objectives of Shariah?" There was nothing comparable in Arabic. Instead, Arabic readers saw three pieces against freedom of the press, attacking two top independent Egyptian dailies for printing criticisms of the Brotherhood.
This kind of double talk is part of a pattern. Last February, right after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, the Brotherhood published what it called an English-language version of Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie's message to the Egyptian people, celebrating their revolution. In that version, he supposedly spoke mainly of democracy, tolerance, pluralism and coexistence between Egypt's Muslims and Christians. But the text of his statement, published simultaneously in Arabic, had a totally different tone. In his authentic message, Badie wrote at great length on how Egypt's uprising was a blessing from Allah -- and how much Egyptians needed to stay firm in their Muslim faith to reap its real rewards. The following headlines on the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) led the English site in recent months: "FJP and Christians Stem Sedition," "FJP Denounces Attack on Israeli Embassy" and "FJP Women's Committee Provides Free Medical Services in Sharqiyyah City." But not one of those stories appeared on the Arabic home page. Throughout the past year, women often are referred to by the Brotherhood in English -- but almost never in Arabic. The same is true for the English and Arabic Web sites of the FJP, which now controls Egypt's parliament..I have a relative who happens to be a pathological--and thus a serial--liar, so I've had lots of experience disbelieving fibs presented as the God's honest truth. Even so, every so often I still get taken in; it's exhausting keeping your guard up all the time, and one does so want to believe that this time, the person is telling the truth. If only I could come to accept about this relative what I know about the Muslim Brotherhood: that expecting this most self-serving of rackets to tell the truth is a recipe for heartbreak, disappointment and frustration, the triumph of hope over experience and reality.