Muslim American U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison has hailed the protests that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and are now radiating out to a whole list of countries. Ellison praises President Obama for his handling of the crisis in Egypt, and says the United States must continue to be on the right side of history.
Congressman Keith Ellison says the Egyptian protesters have delivered a stunning and stiff rebuke to al-Qaida and religious extremism. He said al-Qaida leaders have long made false claims that America is at war with Islam, and that violence is the way to attain political goals.
"They also say that the only way to achieve change is through violence and terrorism and murder," said Ellison. "Well the people in Tahrir Square showed that if you stick, and you stay, and you stand up for what you believe in, that you will be successful and you don’t have to harm anybody to do it."
Ellison said the Egyptian protesters refused to be provoked into responding to violence from pro-government thugs, although some were beaten, jailed and even killed. The Democratic lawmaker from Minnesota said the credit for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation belongs to the people of Egypt. But he says he is also proud of President Barack Obama for laying out universal principles in his Cairo speech two years ago.
"But I am proud of a few things, one is that President Obama, a couple of years before this revolution made comments in Cairo which were nothing short of prescient" said Ellison. "[He was] talking about people’s desire to have a voice in their own governance, freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry, freedom of faith."
Some Republican lawmakers, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have accused the Obama administration of having a rollercoaster policy on Egypt.
"First it was negotiate with the opposition, then it was orderly transition," said Ros-Lehtinen.
Ellison said the president was right to be cautious in the beginning and was phenomenal in making clear where Washington stood in the end.
Ellison also said concerns expressed by some Republican lawmakers about the prospect of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood group playing too big of a role in the transition are “overblown.”
‘My view is that the Muslim brotherhood is a part of the fabric of Egyptian society," he said. "Democracy means that we don’t get to decide who runs that country, the people of that country decide that. The Muslim brotherhood, by the way, has never polled at more than 22 percent. The population is really not calling for more religion, they are calling for bread, peace, freedom and dignity.
Ellison said as protests for democracy spread to Iran and to a number of Arab-speaking countries, the United States should take note of which countries allow for peaceful freedom of expression.
"And I hope the United States gets on the right side of history," said Ellison. "I believe we should reorder our priorities in the Middle East, and things like human rights and development and diplomacy ought to be our primary tools, and things like guns, bombs and warfare ought to be used as a last resort.”
At a news conference Tuesday, President Obama drew a contrast between the protests in Egypt and the protests in Iran, which have been violently put down by the government. The president said the United States is sending a strong message to its allies in the region that they should look to Egypt’s example and not Iran’s.