Obama thanks Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Turkey’s prime minister for their congratulations

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s aides are showcasing post-election congratulatory messages from the Islamist leaders of Egypt and Turkey, inadvertently highlighting Obama’s increasing reliance on newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

“Since Tuesday evening, President Obama has been receiving messages from his counterparts around the world congratulating him on winning re-election to a second term in office,” said a White House statement released on Thursday.

Among the callers highlighted by the administration were the elected leaders of France, Germany, India, Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom.

But the list also included two Islamist leaders, Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

“This morning the President was able to return some of these messages personally, by phone. In each call, he thanked his counterpart for their friendship and partnership thus far and expressed his desire to continue close cooperation moving ahead,” said the statement.

Obama’s foreign policy has involved cooperating with Islamist leaders in the region, like Morsi and Erdogan. The president’s outreach policy now depends on cooperation from these leaders, who have the power to create or stop TV-ready conflicts in the region — such as demonstrations against embassies, confrontations with Israel’s border forces and colorful protests about Americans’ criticism of Islam.

Obama’s thank-you list also included Saudi Arabia’s king, Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz. The country is considered an ally of the U.S. because of its ability to raise or lower oil prices.

Obama’s policy decision to endorse the rise of Islamist parties has created new risks for his administration. Those risks were highlighted Sept. 11, when Morsi declined to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo from Islamist protestors.

Those protestors scaled the wall, burned the U.S. flag and hosted a jihadi flag in the embassy, marking the first stage of a region-wide set of attacks and demonstrations against American embassies and schools.

Morsi’s delayed response was tied to Egyptian politics. He was a leader of the region’s leading Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood shares some of the same ideological goals as al-Qaida and other jihadi groups, including the creation of an Islamic theocracy run under sharia Islamic law. It is also hostile to Israel and Jews, and also to Christians, including Egypt’s Christian minority.

The Muslim Brotherhood holds roughly half the seats in Egypt’s parliament, but it faces competition from an even more radical Islamist group, dubbed the Salafists.

The Sept. 11 demonstrations at the Cairo embassy were organized by some Salafists who were trying to show Egypt’s voters that they are more anti-American and more pious Muslims than the Muslim Brotherhood’s politicians.

This competition between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies and the more radical Salafists also pressures Morsi and his allies to show increased hostility to Israel.

For example, one of Morsi’s top aides recently emphasized the group’s refusal to ink a peace deal with Israel, or even say the country’s name.

“There is land on Egypt’s eastern border called occupied Arab Palestine,” said Saif Al-Dawla, according to the Sept. 30 issue of Times of Israel. “This will remain its name till the end of time, and this is a national principle as well as a historic truth.”

Morsi’s telegram to Obama suggested some of those differences. It said that Morsi hoped for a “strengthening of the friendship between the two countries to serve their common interests, namely justice, freedom and peace.”

But Islamists’ conception of those terms is very different from Americans’ views. For example, Muslim Brotherhood dogma and members oppose free speech, say that justice requires the enforcement of Koranic rules on behavior and maintain that peace means submission to Islamic theocracy.

Only one-quarter of Egypt’s parliament is held by less religious groups, which include some secular deputies.

Turkey’s prime minister also shares the same goal as the  Muslim Brotherhood, though he wants his Turkish government to be the leader of the regional Islamist movement.

Saudi Arabia is the leader — and primary funder — of the international Islamist movement, but is facing increased competition from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

To boost Islam’s role in Turkey’s government, Erdogan has jailed journalists and generals, and has discarded secular law that curbed Islam’s role in the Turkish civil service, schools and universities.

Erdogan has described Obama as “my dear friend Barack.”

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Neil Munro