Foreign Affairs

Egypt: ‘Lost,’ or Found?

Across the political spectrum, the pundits have been sharing their profound analytical wisdom on the Egyptian protests, and resultant political turmoil.  Two dominant misconceptions have emerged from these analyses: delusive celebratory predictions about the “democratic” uprising in Egypt from both mainstream (i.e., Left) and conservative pundits, or ahistorical drivel already assigning blame to the Obama administration for the “loss” of Egypt.

Amid this cacophony of uninformed nonsense, motivated by the twin perversions of cultural relativism and partisan hackery, I read these sobering observations written by an Egyptian student, Sam Tadros:

The opposition, you wonder?  Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood, we are discussing groups that can each claim less than 5,000 actual members.  With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders, they are entirely irrelevant to the discussion.

The perspicacious Mr. Tadros’ concern raises larger questions—almost entirely ignored—about the Muslim Brotherhood’s unequivocal ideology, and societal goals, but more importantly, why its message resonates with the Egyptian Muslim masses.

The 1928 charter of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) states, “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its Constitution; Jihad is its path, and death for the sake of Allah (i.e., murderous jihad “martyrdom”) is the loftiest of its wishes.”  Hamas, popularly elected by Egypt’s Palestinian Muslim neighbors, is a self-avowed branch of the MB as proclaimed in its charter (Article 2), “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.  The Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times.”  Both the Egyptian MB, and its Hamas affiliate seek, progressively, locally, regionally, and ultimately, global imposition of Islam’s totalitarian religio-political code—the Sharia—through nonviolent and violent jihadism.

Mirroring the attitudes of its Palestinian constituents, elective democracy has already brought Hamas to power.  Are there consistent trends discernible in Egypt?  In a rigorously conducted, face-to-face University of Maryland/WorldPublicOpinion.org interview survey of 1,000 Egyptian Muslims conducted between Dec. 9, 2006, and Feb. 15, 2007, 67% of those interviewed—more than two-thirds, hardly a “fringe minority”—desired this outcome (i.e., “To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate”).  The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a Caliphate is strongly suggested by a concordant result:  Seventy-four per cent of this Muslim sample approved of the following proposition:  “To require a strict application of Sharia law in every Islamic country.” 

Subsequent confirmatory survey data just released in December 2010 by Pew indicates that three-fourths of Egyptians favor these draconian Sharia-based punishments: lethal stoning for adultery, execution for “apostasy” from Islam, and limb amputations for theft.  Moreover, Historian David Littman reported to the UN Human Rights Commission on April 23, 2010, “The FGM (female genital mutilation) figure for Egypt … remains today a deadly 97%.”  This barbaric practice is sanctioned by the Shafiite school of Sunni Islamic Law that predominates in Egypt.  The predictable medical complications of this barbarity—acute (“severe pain, shock, infection, bleeding, acute urinary infection, tetanus, and death”) and chronic (“chronic pain, difficulties with micturition and menstruation, pelvic infection leading to infertility, and prolonged and obstructed labor during childbirth”)—are described in this 1993 British Medical Journal report.  Indeed, it has been the semi-secular, authoritarian military regime of Mubarak that made FGM illegal in a vain attempt to protect Egyptian Muslim women against the obvious wishes of its citizenry.  Finally, reflecting longstanding attitudes of Egypt’s Muslims engendered by the canons of mainstream Islam, the late Sunni Muslim pope, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University from 1996 till his death in March 2010, wrote a 700-page treatise rationalizing traditional Islamic Jew-hatred, past and present.  Tantawi also sanctioned homicide bombings against Israeli noncombatants, and supported “martyrdom” attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq—although under pressure he eventually equivocated on this latter justification,

This is the overall context that explains the MB’s popularity in Egypt.  But as Der Spiegel just reported, the MB is not only popular, it is savvy and fully capable of cultivating a “moderate” image for consumption and witless regurgitation by Western media sycophants.  Noting how the MB’s current rhetoric is being “carefully calibrated to convey normality,” even its emblematic martial—i.e., jihadist—symbols are being concealed during media encounters:

A Koran, two crossed swords and a message:  “Prepare yourselves.”  The crest of the Islamist Egyptian group Muslim Brotherhood is nothing if not martial.  Perhaps even a bit too martial for the international press.  On the first floor of a shabby apartment building on El-Malek El-Saleh street in downtown Cairo, the group—which for years has been Egypt’s largest opposition movement—is receiving a gaggle of scribes from abroad.  And the official symbol is nowhere to be seen.  Even verses from the Koran or photographs of the holy Kaaba in Mecca, of the kind that hang in living rooms across Egypt, are absent.  Instead, visitors are confronted with desks piled high with fliers, packed bookcases, and cabinets full of file folders.  The message is clear:  The Muslim Brotherhood is but a normal political party, right down to the business cards, water fountain, and chalkboard.

At the moment, pro-Mubarak demonstrators have appeared en masse in the Cairo streets, and they are engaged in violent clashes with anti-government protesters.  Perhaps the military regime will prevail in the near term—clearly a preferable outcome.  But if ever the Islamic attitudes and desires of Egypt’s masses are given full “democratic” expression, the ultimate ruling elite is likely to be the MB.  And the MB represents the apotheosis of millennial-old Egyptian Muslim attitudes toward all non-Muslims as recorded in 1836 by Edward W. Lane, the great Arabic lexicographer, who resided among the Egyptians for a decade:

Of the leading features of their character, none is more remarkable than their religious pride.  They regard persons of every other faith as the children of perdition; and such the Muslim is early taught to despise.  It is written in the Kuran (5:51):  “O ye who believe!  Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends.  They are friends one to another.  He among you who taketh them for friends is [one] of them.  Lo!  Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.”

Sign Up