The newly elected rais (leader in Arabic) of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, inherits a litany of problems. There are millions of Egyptians who are living in cardboard boxes and cemeteries, and all of them are his supporters. He needs aid from the West, but that aid is conditional on him showing more flexibility in his views. Revenues generated from tourism are critical, but Western vacationers tend to stay away from fundamentalist countries. He has an anti-Semitic past, but U.S. support is contingent upon preserving the peace treaty with Israel. Now he needs to form a government, maintain smooth relations with the conservative military, and satisfy riled-up youth. For now, he could continue blaming the old regime for the country’s problems, but how much longer can this nation, which was once considered the leader of the Arab world, continue to sink in the mud without pointing the finger of blame at the newly installed government?
In the year 658, the Muslim general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As completed the conquest of Egypt, wresting control away from the Coptic Christians, who were remnants of the ancient pharaohs. He was known for his exceptional shrewdness and adept negotiating skills, which he used to further the cause of Islam. This was how he managed to conquer the land.
Since then, the Land of the Nile, which since the biblical days of Jacob was used as the region’s supply site of grains and crops, has experienced radical unrest that has had a mostly negative impact on the Egyptian people. The remnants of the pyramids and the sphinxes, reminders of bygone empires, watch in frozen awe as contemporary Egyptians are forced to live in cardboard boxes, trash receptacles, and cemeteries in rundown cities and slums. Poverty has reached epic, unprecedented proportions. It has reached the point where flour, which provides sustenance to 90 million people, is imported from the West.
The recent elections brought Egypt back into the arms of Islam, or, to be more precise, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who are taking it upon themselves to interpret and implement the brand of Islam that was practiced in the days of Muhammad. Many of those who shaped the movement’s worldview were religiously opposed to enforcing limits on the number of births. As such, they helped flood Egypt with millions of new “homeless” Egyptians who are illiterate, unemployed and without hope.
Now, Morsi has reconquered Egypt for the Islamists, armed with the legacy of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. His major challenge will be to save Egypt, while knowing that to do so he will need the help of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological enemy — the West.
Islamic thinkers like Sayyid Qutb, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founding fathers who also happened to spend time in the West during his pursuit of higher education, were shocked to discover how successfully the West developed a flourishing economy, vibrant societies, scientific discoveries, and other outstanding achievements in the arts despite it being “crusader, corrupt, and mistaken in its beliefs.” How could this be, as throughout their entire lives, they learned that only Muslims have the proper belief system that allows them to gain sole control over humanity, and to convert all the others to Islam?
These individuals sank into a deep depression when comparing the vast achievements of the West with those of Islamic countries constantly struggling in the vicious throes of poverty, corruption, and ignorance. Their frustration yielded a school of thought that while rife with contradictions also pointed the finger of blame at colonialism and governmental corruption and mismanagement. At the same time, these thinkers propagated and championed intolerance for other religions, an attitude that they claimed to be one that was commanded by providence. To them, ensuring the worldwide supremacy of Islam was the realization of the divine will.
One should make no mistake. Highly respected sheikhs call on Muslims to utilize the tools and means made available to them by the West to put into motion the process of the West's eventual demise. More so, they see no contradiction in this strategy.
Ruling the world
The Muslim Brotherhood’s hatred for Jews and Zionism is also predicated on a contradiction. The roots of this loathing can be traced back to Islamic commentary and interpretations of Muhammad’s conquest of the Jews in the seventh century. The Muslim Brotherhood also add “fuel” to this fire in the form of the Palestinian question, whose insignificance has never been put into clearer focus than today. While the Muslim Brotherhood openly speaks of its intention to impose Islamic rule on the world, they accuse the Jews, of all people, of having “devious” intentions.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, hatred of Jews is constantly used to explain away the failures of Islam and to rouse the mobs in the street. Indeed, for decades, the movement has disseminated to the public (the portion of which is not illiterate) “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purports to attribute the success of Jews to a secret plot for global domination.
One should assume that Morsi’s organization (the president-elect was also a member of a similarly anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist organization) will use this tried and true formula in the future by blaming Israel and the Jews for possible failures, thereby redirecting public rage and anger of the mob. They will certainly find some excuse when the need arises.
Absurdly enough, the Muslim Brotherhood has over the years perfected a sophisticated form of doublespeak and trickery that allow any amateur Islamist ideologue to deceive the public and avoid having to answer for these contradictions. Ultimately, however, they are required to adhere to the extremist goals and aspirations set out by the movement.
As such, any member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates the West with every fiber of their being while plotting to destroy it and convert its inhabitants to Islam can gain a higher education in the U.S., drive a Western car, receive aid from the West, and at the same time plan to kill the “crusader” Christians by using the tools and means taken from them.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood’s attitudes toward Western-style democratic elections are fundamentally contradictory. The organization’s Islamic ideology champions a religious system of elections whereby a tiny group of people determines who is elected to rule, while the masses are treated like an insignificant herd. This select group is tasked with holding closed consultations in secret while swearing fealty to the chosen ruler. This system of elections has absolutely nothing in common with Western-style democracy.
Like Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the Muslim Brotherhood absolutely loathes Western-style democracy, which in their view grants power to “the sinful majority.” This did not prevent Brotherhood officials from using democratic elections in Egypt as a ladder which they successfully used to ascend to power. It is safe to assume that they will mimic what their cousins in Gaza did by ultimately burning the ladder.
Just like Sayyid Qutb, the formulator of the Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine who returned to Egypt frustrated by the Western way of life, Professor Morsi returned from his studies in the U.S. in hopes of “correcting” Egypt. As someone committed to the brotherhood’s guiding principles, Morsi will try to implement the movement’s overall ideology, even if it means making alliances with infidel interests. Conversely, he could easily violate these alliances, as long as the strategy is in line with advancing an Islamist agenda. This doctrine was also enunciated by Qutb in his book, “Signposts on the Road,” which he wrote in 1964.
As president, Morsi and his associates will have to divorce themselves from the oppositionist peanut gallery from whence his movement portrayed itself as a persecuted party while hurling criticism at the ruling regime. He will have to provide answers and solutions to everyday problems affecting Egypt, a country that is amassing a huge arsenal of Western arms but appears unable to create a deterrent capability on its own.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in the Egyptian elections and their willingness to accept the results were “conditional.” As evidenced by the threats made in the town squares, the Muslim Brotherhood was banking solely on the possibility of success, while refusing to take into account the possibility that there were other democratic options.
In the event of failure, millions of rioters were gathered in Tahrir Square waiting for the signal to set fire to all of Egypt. These masses will continue to restlessly hover over the square like the packs of large, violent birds that we saw in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” until power is completely transferred into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. For now, the mob is demanding the head of the defeated candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, accusing him of being responsible for the state’s wasteful spending.
Morsi’s conciliatory speech to the Egyptian nation following his election victory was one that promised a moderate government committed to civic equality and the preservation of all signed international agreements.
Now Morsi is faced with serious questions. The key issue that first needs to be addressed is the specific areas of responsibility and jurisdiction in which the president will be able to exercise power in relation to the army, a rich, vast apparatus that wields unparalleled authority. On the domestic front, Egypt is now preoccupied with forming a permanent government that will replace the transitional one currently headed by Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri; reconstituting the parliament that was recently dissolved; and formulating an agreed upon, balanced constitution that will address the needs of the country’s various groups and constituencies, including the religious, secular, the youth, the army, the internal security services, and the intelligence services.
Another crucial task that awaits Morsi is rehabilitating the economy, attracting foreign investment, luring back tourists, and jump-starting Egyptian gas exports as a means to feed the hungry masses. Morsi needs to also address the status of women and Coptic Christians while tackling the challenges posed by national security and foreign policy considerations.
Egypt’s socio-economic structure is dissimilar to that of Syria, where the Alawite minority rules over a Sunni majority. Most of Egypt’s population is Sunni, while the Coptic Christian minority has been the victim of constant, Islamist-motivated persecution. But the new Muslim Brotherhood-ruled government is vowing to ensure the Christians’ welfare and safety while also looking out for the other half of Egypt’s population which did not vote for it.
How does the brotherhood plan to go about this “in the spirit of Shariah” and the extremist ideology to which the new president has committed to before the masses in the streets? It seems that not even Morsi himself knows the answer to this question, but he is certain of one key fact: the violent birds that are hovering restlessly over Tahrir Square will not hesitate to devour him and his movement if they do not deliver the goods.
Immediately after entering the president’s office earlier this week, Morsi met with General Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who promised him that he and the Supreme Military Council will be faithfully at his side, all in service of the elected leader of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Given the tangled web of secret agreements, interest groups, and political lobbies, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will have to exercise power very carefully.
It is worth remembering that Morsi’s rule is predicated on the support of half the population. The other half represents a modern constituency that is apprehensive over the prospect of veil coverings and religious edicts that will thwart any movement toward progress and innovation. Morsi will have to walk a tightrope, navigating between delusions of Islamic rule over Egypt and the world and Egypt’s current predicament, which will surely require him to make unpleasant compromises.
In light of the new government’s dependency on aid from regional and global elements that are usually loathed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi and his associates will quickly learn that his election win may very well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. The Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to deliver the goods and to set Egypt on a course of normalization and prosperity could adversely impact the movement’s ideology and reputation while sowing a dangerous brand of despair in the hearts of millions of Egyptians who viewed Morsi and his gang as their last hope for change.
Egypt, which is known as “the mother of all Arabs,” lies in the heart of the Middle East. Unfortunately for Cairo, it does not operate in a vacuum. It is the epicenter of the Sunni Muslim world, and its religious, political, and military centrality gives this country added clout in determining the course of this region.
Morsi’s regime has already received initial well wishes from Washington, which once backed its previous client, Hosni Mubarak, and is still banking on the considerable influence wielded in the country by the Egyptian military. Morsi’s first speech indicates that, at least for the time being, the Americans placed their money on the right horse. Yet who knows what will happen? History teaches us that with friends like these, there is always cause for concern over bitter surprises.
Despite Morsi’s public statements, we shouldn’t be surprised by the Muslim Brotherhood, who use the Treaty of Hudaybiyya as a historical example where agreements with “infidels” can be violated.
The problems ailing the region once again highlight how the Palestinian issue is not even a pimple on the wounded body of the Middle East. This chaos makes it more difficult for Morsi to concentrate on solving his domestic problems. The recent visit to Israel by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports Iran and who is trying to harm American interests in the region while trying to hold onto the remnants of Russian influence in Syria, did not help in changing the atmosphere.
The petroleum-exporting Sunni Arab states of the Gulf are within range of the Iranian threat. They are a logistical center vital for strengthening the lagging Egyptian economy, yet at the same time they are a part of the U.S. strategic alignment in the region. These countries are “quivering with fear” as they watch Iran move forward in the nuclear realm. This will compel Morsi and his people to put aside old rivalries and feuds and line up alongside what first seems like an inter-religious clash against the rising Shiite power of Iran.
In addition to Morsi’s troubles at home, he will have to deal with the dangerous acts of sabotage that are proliferating in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which have been uncovered in Cairo 16th District. Despite the deceptive Iranian pronouncements welcoming Morsi’s victory, authorities in recent years have uncovered a series of Shiite-Iranian acts of terrorism in which Hezbollah operatives were also implicated. A Sunni Egypt led by the Muslim Brotherhood cannot tolerate hostile Iranian manipulations, just as it is inconceivable for Egypt to enter into any sort of formal or informal alliance with Iran.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Gaza-based cousins in Hamas are also stirring the hornet's nest and adding their contribution to the Egyptian morass. Mahmoud al-Zahar and his cohorts are euphoric over the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt. They are assailing Israel in speeches and activating terrorists in Gaza and Sinai against the Jewish state, hoping to drag Egypt into a war for “Israel’s liquidation in order to liberate Palestine and Al-Aqsa mosque.”
This is how Hamas is trying to impose on Morsi a provocative Palestinian-Islamist agenda. As such, it poses a challenge to Egyptian efforts to unite its divided populace in hopes of solving its domestic problems while also endangering Western support for steps to rehabilitate the economy, an asset that is contingent on Egypt’s adherence to the peace treaty with Israel. The timing of Hamas’ recent provocation undermines Morsi’s pledge that the new Egyptian leadership “will strive for peace and respect all diplomatic agreements.”
Since Egypt is in dire need of gas revenue, tourism, foreign investments, and Western support, particularly from the U.S., it seems that Hamas operatives are in for a rude awakening, at least in the short term. Indeed, Egypt will be forced to purge all of the Sinai Peninsula of terrorist gangs that have taken shelter there in the service of foreign interests and governments. Hamas will have to come to grips with the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, of all organizations, will be the one to rein in its activities, at least for the foreseeable future. Wild behavior could end up tying Hamas’ hands in deference to Egyptian interests.
The latest developments in Egypt raise a number of questions. Can a leopard change its spots? Will the exigencies and the unpleasant circumstances force a radical Islamic group like the Muslim Brotherhood to eschew key elements of its platform? How will the Muslim Brotherhood deal with the fact that preserving peace with Israel is tantamount to de facto recognition by an ideologically Islamist organization of the Zionist entity, an unprecedented move? To what extent will the U.S. and the West try to use their influence as leverage to extract an even more conciliatory stance by the brotherhood toward Israel?
Most of these questions cannot be answered at the moment, for only time will tell. If Islamic tradition is an indicator, then one should not expect a dramatic change in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology. Its Islamist doctrine gives it wiggle room to adopt a relatively pragmatic policy particularly as it relates to ties with “infidels” until it reaches a point where it has amassed sufficient power. When this occurs, agreements are violated by Muslims unilaterally and the enemy is supposed to be defeated in a surprise attack. In short, everything is permissible as long as success is attained, including making a pact with the devil. When they are sufficiently strong, all bets are off.
If the Americans have grabbed the Islamist bull by the horns, then Barack Obama’s support for Islamist democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood will prove to be an unprecedented political and strategic success. But if they lose, as is their wont, and the new rulers betray them just as the rulers did in Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, “we’re screwed.” The ailments plaguing the Middle East are crying out for a cure. Now everyone casts their gaze toward Morsi, waiting to see what he does.