Following another night of violence in Cairo during which 72 people were killed, The New York Times accused the military led government of Abdul Fattah al Sisi of “radicalizing” the Muslim Brotherhood. “For all its stated commitment to democracy and nonviolence, the Brotherhood’s only reliable partners now are other Islamist groups whose members may be more willing to use violent or radical tactics — partners that would tar the Brotherhood’s identity as a more pragmatic movement with a broader base.”
The poor Brotherhood. It seems, according to The Times, that people it cannot control are pushing it into violence it does not want. Pardon, but how do you “radicalize” an organization the credo of which is, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations”? The Brotherhood was born in violence and knows the value not only of violence, but also of martyrdom. Since its ouster, its leaders have been threatening and inciting violence, hoping to provoke the secular government into killing.
The organization works much the same way Hamas — the Brotherhood’s Palestinian franchise — does. Hamas implants its military capabilities, storehouses and launch sites in civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. From behind the captive civilians, it fires rockets and missiles at Israeli towns, putting on high alert a million people on who will have exactly 15 seconds to find shelter when the alarm goes off. When the situation becomes intolerable, Israel responds and Hamas wins: if the Israelis are cautious, and there are no civilian casualties, Hamas has terrorized Israel with no consequence. If there are civilian casualties, Hamas wins again, bewailing Israeli brutality in front of Western media.
The wailing and moaning of Cairenes over the Brotherhood dead is similarly suspect. The temporary, albeit decades-long non-violence of the Egyptian Brotherhood was the product of decades of imprisonment and persecution at the hands of secular Egyptian governments, and the knowledge that it would not come to power in Egypt by the sword. But what The Times calls the Brotherhood’s “stated commitment to democracy and nonviolence,” was belied by its violent and non-democratic year in power, and by its behavior since its ouster.
Coptic Christians have born the brunt of the Brotherhood’s disregard for minorities in general and Christians in particular. The Morsi government denied culpability in an attack on April 4, in which four men were killed and homes, a nursery and a church were burned. But video from an April 7 attack on St. Mark’s Church , in which two Copts were killed and 84 wounded, show Egyptian security forces ignoring the perpetrators. When it was over, the only people arrested were four Copts. Coptic Christians have been fleeing the country to wherever they can find asylum.
So it may have been out of an interest in self-preservation that the Coptic community supported the ouster of Morsi, and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II agreed to sit on the Interim Council. The Brotherhood, however, has been looking for scapegoats, and at least nine Copts have been killed as the Brotherhood has denounced Christian support for the al Sisi government.
Far from showing itself to be inclusive, the Muslim Brotherhood has denounced the Copts, the liberals and even the Salafists who were part of the anti-Morsi coalition of 2011-12. “These people dare to mock our religion!” shouted Safwat Hegazy, a Brotherhood leader, as reported in the New York Times. “God will punish them.”
Far from being “democratic,” the Brotherhood simply found the ballot box a convenient mechanism for lifting the better-organized parties to victory in what was more a referendum than an election of competing ideas and competing parties. One young man told reporters, “No more ballot boxes. We used to believe in the caliphate. The international community said we should go with ballot boxes, so we followed that path. But… if ballot boxes don’t bring righteousness, we will all go back to demanding a caliphate.”
And here, in a single sentence, is the problem not only of Egypt, but of the American desire to implant “democracy” in hostile territory, as if elections were the same thing as democracy instead of just one small part of many institutions, including free speech, equal justice under law, freedom from religion, property rights, and other systems that need to be implanted before elections, not after. For many people in the Arab world, though, “democracy” is good and people should vote only because voting can bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in a way the international community finds acceptable. But if voting does not bring the desired outcome — a Muslim Brotherhood state wedded to Sharia law — then back to revolution and the caliphate, “democracy” and the Western world be damned. The Muslim Brotherhood was born radical, and its relative “moderation” was at best a temporary expedient.
This leaves the Obama Administration in a difficult position. Violence by the interim government makes it harder to move Egypt toward the economic and political changes required to keep the country afloat, despite the cash infusions by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But having lost power and with nothing more to lose, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is provoking the government. The United States, in this event, should make it clear we will stand by the interim government. The descent of Egypt into violent chaos has to be as unacceptable to Washington as it is to Cairo.