Egypt’s dictator deserves to be overthrown even more than Tunisia’s did. At least Ben Ali’s government didn’t ram the country into the ground as Egypt’s Free Officers regime has, beginning with Gamal Abdel Nasser and continuing with the improved but still ghastly Hosni Mubarak.
If he’s forced out–though I wouldn’t underestimate his ability to survive just yet–a different man will likely replace him at the top with most of the government remaining intact. The armed forces, which are strongly anti-Islamist, don’t appear to be going anywhere, but unless the army maintains a level of oppression consistent with what Egypt has experienced for the last several decades, the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood will almost certainly find itself in a position of power, though it will most likely be shared and not absolute.
Most experts and even casual observers seem to know it, too, and there’s a lot of naïve talk in the air right now about how the West shouldn’t worry because the Muslim Brothers are “moderate” Islamists who have renounced violence. This is nonsense. There is nothing remotely moderate about Islamism. We’re not talking here about a movement of mainstream religious-right folks like Europe’s Christian Democrats or the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party. Moderate or otherwise, Islamists are theocrats by definition. Few in the West who are busy whitewashing the Muslim Brotherhood would dare describe a Christian equivalent as moderate, and only a slightly larger number would stop short of calling it fascist.
Some Islamists are non-violent, and all are moderate compared with the psychopaths of Al Qaeda, but every Sunni Islamist terrorist group in the Middle East splintered off from the Muslim Brothers. Hamas describes itself as the Palestinian branch of the brotherhood, and the leaders in Egypt haven’t exactly denounced their Palestinian comrades.
Of course the Egyptian branch has renounced violence in Egypt. Mubarak’s police state has repressed the organization effectively enough that it hardly had any choice. It has not, however, renounced violence in any serious way that ought to make anyone in the West feet at ease.
“From my point of view,” says Muslim Brotherhood member Rajab Hilal Hamida, who is also a tolerated member of Egypt’s parliament, “bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists.”
The brothers have repeatedly asked Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a bigoted lunatic who supports suicide-bombing, to be their chairman, but he declined, preferring instead to be a sort of spiritual leader.
For years Mubarak has used the specter of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover to deflect criticism of his authoritarian ways from Western governments. It has worked, too, for the most part. No one in the West wants to see Egypt go the way of Iran in 1979, so we’ve put up with him. At the same time, though, he has put army boots on the necks of every prominent democrat in the country, which has only boosted the relative strength of the Muslim Brotherhood.
His authoritarian regime is routinely described as an American ally, but it’s a dubious ally at best. Egypt’s frigid peace treaty with Israel is even shakier. “For Israel,” Omri Ceren wrote last week in Commentary, “the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization. Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!”
The contest between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hosni Mubarak’s secular dictatorship reminds me a bit of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. As Henry Kissinger put it at the time, referring to Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini slugging it out, “it’s too bad they can’t both lose.”
JOHN adds: Michael Ramirez graphically illustrates the feckless view of the Brotherhood that seems to predominate in the media; click to enlarge:
For observations on the Obama administration’s incoherent policy toward the Brotherhood, see my post immediately below.
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