To be sure, Morsi is not the first Egyptian ruler to trade in bigoted conspiracy theories. Then-President Gamel Abdel Nasser, the leader of secular pan-Arabism, once told a German interviewer that “no person, not even the most simple one, takes seriously the lie of the 6 million Jews that were murdered.” And the state television station of close U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak once aired during Ramadan a 41-part series based on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the infamous conspiracy screed of a Jewish cabal to control the world.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s 9/11 revisionism, however, coincides with the moment that Egypt’s ruling Islamists are going, hat in hand, to world capitals and international financial institutions. Egypt’s nearly bankrupt economy, decrepit institutions and declining domestic security situation have forced its leaders to seek help abroad. Yet the Brotherhood apparently believes that it can win support without adjusting its hateful rhetoric or ideology.
Washington has a broad range of interests in Egypt as it shifts from authoritarian to representative rule, ranging from security cooperation and regional peace to political pluralism and religious tolerance. The United States should be willing to extend economic and military aid to Egypt commensurate with the latter’s needs and its commitment to partner in advance of common objectives. But in working out the details of this new arrangement, our president should not give his personal imprimatur to leaders who espouse repulsive, abhorrent views that undermine a vital U.S. national security interest.
To that end, Obama should explicitly condition any meeting with Morsi on the latter’s clear and public renunciation of 9/11 revisionism. This position would present Morsi with a stark choice: He can either repudiate the hate-filled conspiracies that he has helped to sow and reap the benefits of Obama’s embrace, or he can expose himself as an irresponsible ideologue with whom few members of the international community will want to deal. Failure to lay down a marker with Morsi before he comes to New York means Morsi may never have to make that choice.