This essay addresses the resurgence of unrest in Tahrir Square that toppled Mohamed Morsi and gave Egypt the Sisi military putsch.
EGYPT NOW—AUGUST 2013
A recent Op-Ed piece on Egypt in the New York Times begins: “How do you reconcile with people who are prepared to kill you, and how do you stop them from killing again?” Reading this, I had to ask myself which side this writer is supporting. This kind of murkiness is inherent in the Egyptian calamity, and most traditional labels we might apply to it, democracy, autocracy, military coup, etc., produce only falsification.
The American press has been mostly promulgating the military coup vs democracy meme, with Obama denouncing the generals and calling for a swift return to democracy, but you cannot return to something which never existed. Americans are fond of confusing democracy with elections and so cannot detect the falsification. If the Muslim Brotherhood was elected, then the Muslim Brotherhood constitutes the legitimate government. No?
The crux of the matter is the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Let us be under no illusions as to who these people are. Their goal is to implement a regime in which a woman accused of adultery gets stoned to death, the fear and loathing of female sexuality being the basis of their fascistic agenda. A regime like that has been their goal ever since their founders sat out World War II in Berlin as the guests of Adolf Hitler.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, democracy is a tactic, not a goal. If they can get into a position to implement their agenda through elections, well, so much the better. If appearing as moderates on some Islamist continuum gives them a temporary advantage, they’ll do that too. On the whole, they prefer opportunism to violence, even though they have used violence and assassination more often, but their agenda remains sacrosanct and inviolate. Mohammed Morsi tested the bounds of democratic opportunism and overstepped those bounds by behaving like a North Carolina Republican.
Another peculiarity of the American sensibility is the fetishization of non-violence, seeing the perpetrators of violence as necessarily evil and the victims of violence as automatically pure and innocent. But violence, by itself, does not delegitimize any agenda nor ennoble its victims. Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent past and fascist proclivities, to see them now as practitioners of Gandhian non-cooperation, as some commentators have claimed, is absurd. If the goal of the military is to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood, then that is a worthwhile goal, worthy of American support. If violence is inevitable, then preemptive violence is, perhaps, a doubtful way to achieve that goal, even though the vast majority of Egyptians seem to support it. It is better to respond to inevitable violence than to start it. Some of the Brotherhood’s softer support could have been weaned away, but never at the expense of implementing some portion of their hateful agenda as a sop. That would be right opportunism and is never an effective tactic.
The Egyptian military has its own questionable agenda having to do with establishing itself as an élite. It has used the public revulsion against the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-democratic behavior for its own purposes, which has led to its questionable use of preemptive violence. But that revulsion is real and could be used as leverage to move the military powers-that-be, if our diplomacy is smart.
But the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood could be included within a democratic polity, as many self-proclaimed pundits have demanded, is an illusion, a chimera, and not one iota of diplomatic effort should be wasted in that direction. Democracy is a three-legged stool, and credible elections is only one of those legs. The other two are an independent judiciary and a vibrant and active civil society. Predictably, Mohammed Morsi moved against both those concepts, attempting to weaken the judiciary and set himself above judicial review and arresting foreign members of resident NGOs whose mission, perhaps a quixotic one, was to jump start civil society in a country where no such thing exists.
No Islamist group can countenance an independent judiciary or a civil society, which is exactly why American policy should be dedicated to establishing those things in the Muslim countries of the Middle East and moving the Egyptian military in that direction. No Islamist group can tolerate a movement towards the education and rights of women, which is why those ideas should also be an integral part of a Middle East policy that genuinely promotes democracy instead of narrow interests. Instead of using the genuine public revulsion against the Muslim Brotherhood as a leverage point, we are calling for reconciliation and quick new elections, which will accomplish nothing except gratifying American sensibilities.