Egypt, Russia try to control radical Islam

Militants are constant threats in many nations

By Dale R. Herspring

It is interesting that all states have decided to oppose radical Islam and have taken similar actions to control it. Almost all governments around the world feel threatened by it. Despite their many differences this is true both of Russia and — believe or not — Egypt.

The problem governments face is that these radicals want to introduce Sharia law and Islamize all segments of society, as happened in Iran. Having a rational discussion and compromising is not a realistic possibility. When one side believes it possess the absolute truth, as Islamic fundamentalists do, there is no room for compromise or accommodating other views of religion or politics. 

What do I find similar in the Russian and Egyptian responses to radical Islam? Moscow is seized by fear that radical Islam as it exists in parts of the Middle East may become a threat. This fear is not recognized by most in the West, who do not understand the Kremlin’s careful approach to dealing with its Muslim population population (about 20 percent, according to my Russian friends).  It is often not the case that policies advocated by Moscow are motivated by support of radical Islam.  It is more a case of Moscow’s attempting to maintain control in heavily Islamic areas. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not pro-Islam; rather he is a political pragmatist who is trying to balance interests in a multi-ethnic polity.

Turning to Egypt, the country is in turmoil. The military ruling the country has carried out a purge of the country’s clergy. The Ministry of Endowments has disqualified thousands of preachers, imams who were known to support a more Islamist political order and who opposed the military’s seizure of power in July. The government has mandated that all preachers be government-certified graduates of Cairo’s al-Ashar University — the world’s prominent institution of moderate Sunni learning. 

In Russia, concern about Islam can be observed by focusing on how to deal with Muslims in the military. Many of them lack the education and training that average Russian soldiers possess. Yet, the country’s demographic crisis means that putting Muslims in uniform is necessary.  Like many West European countries, Moscow has endured a breakdown in the birth rate.  There are signs it might improve, but it remains a serious problem. One must utilize Islamic soldiers and figure out how to deal with them, whether one likes it or not!

One approach the Russians have introduced is Islamic chaplains.  This had been discussed for years because Muslims make up 10 percent of the Army. The new Russia claims to respect the religions that were part of its history.  For example, Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths have representatives in the military to deal with the religious needs of their of adherents. In an article in the journal Military Thought, a number of Russian officers dealt with the issue of chaplains. They adopted a course similar to that of the Egyptian military.  The decision: only Sunnis will be Muslim chaplains, and the military must screen applicants carefully. 

This brings me back to the idea the sparked this article.  The Obama administration decided to slap more sanctions on the Egyptian military because of violence in the streets. Details are murky, but what is clear is that the two came to loggerheads, and the inevitable happened. The military staged a coup and soon controlled the vast majority of the country.

The coup that occurred in Egypt upset liberals in Washington. As a result, they pushed President Obama to stand up for democracy in Egypt. Obama obliged by cutting off a number of weapons systems the United States was supplying the Egyptian Army.  That generated more bitterness from the most pro-American segment of the country. This policy appeals to Obama’s left-wing base, and I realize that Republicans have done the same things when it suited their political interests.

The critical question is not whether a predominately non-Christian country is acting in accord with our American values.  More importantly, it is in the interest of the United States? There are times when the two are not the same and the United States is forced to deal with the reality at hand.

I believe Russia and Egypt are acting in our interests in trying to control one of most destructive forces in the world today; radical Islam.

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