In an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Obama Administration has released scores of internal emails, all heavily redacted, which nevertheless detail a six month White House-led review of prospects of Muslim Brotherhood Islamic rule in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The Obama Administration policy planning review took place between September 2010 and February 2011.
The review process, headed by National Security Council staffers Dennis Ross, Samantha Power, Gayle Smith, Ben Rhodes and Michael McFaul, began with President Obama’s signing of Presidential Study Directive 11 (PSD-11) in August 2010, demanding a government-wide reassessment of the prospects of political reform and the potential role of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the MENA region. All told, dozens of officials from the NSC and the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of Middle East Transitions, Office of Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, the Secretary’s Policy Planning staff, and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor took part in the six month review.
A careful review of 98 emails between White House, National Security Council and State Department officials reveals that the review concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood was a viable movement for the U.S. to support throughout North Africa and the Middle East. As the result, under Presidential direction, American diplomats intensified contacts with top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and gave active support to the organization’s drive for power in key nations like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria, beginning in early 2011 at the outset of the “Arab Spring.”
Talking Points prepared for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a June 30, 2011 visit to Budapest, Hungary headlined “Muslim Brotherhood Q&A,” written by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Press & Public Diplomacy, “welcomed dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood,” particularly in Egypt. The Talking Points emphasized that the U.S. was willing to talk to “all parties committed to nonviolence,” and specifically praised the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for their “inclusion of women.” The prepared answers also noted that U.S. contact with the Muslim Brotherhood “has occurred off and on since the 1980s,” but that these contacts would no longer be restricted to elected parliamentarians only.
A State Department memo from Michael A. Hammer to Jeffrey D. Feltman, Anne W. Patterson, Jacob Walles and Roopa Rangaswamy, also dated June 30, 2011, noted that “S got the question at her presser in Budapest a short while ago,” and her answer closely followed the Talking Points prepared for her. Secretary Clinton told the press conference questioner
“There is no U.S. legal prohibition against dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which long ago renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt and which is not regarded by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization. But other sympathetic groups, such as Hamas, which identifies the Brotherhood as its spiritual guide, have not disavowed violence against the state of Israel.”
The Obama Administration’s support for the Brotherhood only first began to be questioned in November-December 2012, after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ordered a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters outside the presidential residency, who were demanding more inclusive rule and economic progress. At that time, American officials confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood had deployed its own paramilitary squads to kidnap some protesters and hold them in secret locations with no judicial review or court authority. Some of those victims were badly beaten before being eventually released.
Up until now, the Justice Department has invoked secrecy to block the release of PSD-11 and the February 16, 2011 PDD-13 study on the prospects of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and other countries of the region. It is anticipated that this decision by the State Department and the Justice Department will be challenged in Federal court in Washington, D.C. sometime later this year.
The original PSD-11, an 18-page classified paper, demanded a detailed blueprint for how the U.S. could “push for political change” in countries with “autocratic rulers” who are historic allies of the United States.
As part of the study, the Obama National Security Council and key State Department officials reviewed the consequences of the U.S. rejection of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas. The February 16, 2011 secret paper concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of political Islam, combined with its fervent nationalism, could lead to reform and stability.
The study, conducted over the previous six month period by an Interagency Policy Committee chaired by the NSC, drew a sharp contrast between Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite evidence of frequent overlaps of personnel and ideology.
One unnamed administration official who helped draft the Feb. 16, 2011 PPD-13, stated in March 2011, “If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change. We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear.”