Ever since the turmoil in Egypt began, I’ve been saying that no one knows what will happen there. That is still my position.
But amidst all the speculation, I think we discount the possibility of an Islamist state at our peril—and, to speak bluntly, those who discount it are fools, no matter how learned they may be.
The Muslim Brotherhood—the Islamist fundamentalist group based in Egypt—is such a fine name. Who could be against brotherhood (well, a few feminists; but you know what I mean)? The history of the group is a chilling one, however. And it is no accident that 9/11’s Mohammed Atta and Ayman al Zawahiri were highly educated Egyptians (note that al Zawahiri joined the Brotherhood at the ripe old age of fourteen).
Sayyid Qutb was another Egyptian. He became a leading voice of the “spiritual” wing of the Brotherhood in the 50s and 60s. This was his advice to the Muslim world:
Qutb…taught that Muslims and Muslim rulers who fail to implement God’s laws are takfir [apostate], they live in a state of jahiliyya [ignorance] and must be opposed…This idea has influenced the rise of contemporary takfiri militants who use this doctrine to legitimize the killing of Muslim by Muslim for alleged apostasy. In contrast to Abul Ala Mawdudi [1903-1979], who advocated the establishment of “Allah’s law in Allah’s land” by a gradualist methodology of infiltration into both secular and nominal Muslim lands, Qutb declared direct, immediate action against jahili and takfiri states…and gave such jihadis legitimization for the killing of Muslim by Muslim for alleged apostasy.
The Brotherhood wasn’t all talk and no action. Here’s some of the group’s influence on Egyptian political affairs:
The Society of Muslim Brothers, the oldest and most influential fundamentalist group in Egypt, instigated an uprising against the British, whose lingering occupation of the Suez Canal zone enraged the nationalists. In January, 1952, in response to the British massacre of fifty Egyptian policemen, mobs organized by the Muslim Brothers in Cairo set fire to movie theatres, casinos, department stores, night clubs, and automobile showrooms, which, in their view, represented an Egypt that had tied its future to the West. At least thirty people were killed, seven hundred and fifty buildings were destroyed, and twelve thousand people were made homeless…In July of that year, a military junta, dominated by an Army colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, packed King Farouk onto his yacht and seized control of the government, without firing a shot. According to several fellow-conspirators who later wrote about the event, Nasser secretly promised the Brothers that he would impose Sharia—the rule of Islamic law—on the country…
It quickly became obvious to Nasser that Qutb and his corps of young Islamists had a different agenda for Egyptian society from his, and he shut down [the Brotherhood’s] magazine after only a few issues had been published. But the religious faction was not so easily controlled. The ideological war over Egypt’s future reached a climax on the night of October 26, 1954, when a member of the Brothers attempted to assassinate Nasser as he spoke before an immense crowd in Alexandria. Eight shots missed their mark. Nasser responded by having six conspirators executed immediately and arresting more than a thousand others, including Qutb. He had crushed the Brothers, once and for all, he thought….
I have quoted at length because I would imagine most of us are unfamiliar with the finer points of Egyptian history, and it’s important to get some historical perspective on what’s happening now.
What’s more, these events from the 50s and 60s have had a direct affect on us before, notably in regard to 9/11:
One line of thinking proposes that America’s tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt. Human-rights advocates in Cairo argue that torture created an appetite for revenge, first in Sayyid Qutb and later in his acolytes, including Ayman al-Zawahiri [later to become al Qaeda’s second in command]. The main target of their wrath was the secular Egyptian government, but a powerful current of anger was directed toward the West, which they saw as an enabling force behind the repressive regime. They held the West responsible for corrupting and humiliating Islamic society.
But let’s go back a bit, and see what transpired between Nasser and Qutb:
In 1964, President Abd al-Salaam Arif of Iraq prevailed upon Nasser to grant Qutb parole, but the following year he was arrested again and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government…Qutb received a death sentence. “Thank God,” he said. “I performed jihad for fifteen years until I earned this martyrdom.” Qutb was hanged on August 29, 1966, and the Islamist threat in Egypt seemed to have been extinguished. “The Nasserite regime thought that the Islamic movement received a deadly blow with the execution of Sayyid Qutb and his comrades,” Zawahiri wrote in his memoir. “But the apparent surface calm concealed an immediate interaction with Sayyid Qutb’s ideas and the formation of the nucleus of the modern Islamic jihad movement in Egypt.” The same year Qutb was hanged, Zawahiri helped form an underground militant cell dedicated to replacing the secular Egyptian government with an Islamic one. He was fifteen years old.
While we’re looking at history, let’s not ignore the events surrounding the assassination of Anwar Sadat:
In January 1977, a series of ‘Bread Riots’ protested Sadat’s economic liberalization and specifically a government decree lifting price controls on basic necessities like bread. Dozens of nightclubs on the famous Pyramids Street were sacked by Islamists. Following the riots the government reversed its position and re-established the price controls.
Islamists were enraged by Sadat’s Sinai treaty with Israel, particularly the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad. According to interviews and information gathered by journalist Lawrence Wright, the group was recruiting military officers and accumulating weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch “a complete overthrow of the existing order” in Egypt. Chief strategist of El-Jihad was Aboud el-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose “plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing – he expected – a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.”
In February 1981, Egyptian authorities were alerted to El-Jihad’s plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information. In September, Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Jihad members, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Bishop, and highly ranked clergy members, but also intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes.
The round up missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Anwar Sadat that October.
And now please take a look at the following remarks made yesterday by Fareed Zacharia in an interview with Elliot Spitzer, and then some commentary on them by Andrew McCarthy which occurred on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. First, Zacharia and Spitzer:
FZ: The Brotherhood, even the Muslim Brotherhood, does not have the aspirations of the Iranians to create a kind of Islamic state…
ES: You said the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t have the aspirations to create a theocracy. Do they not have the aspirations? Or do they not have the power to do it at this point?
FZ: For the last thirty years or so, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have moved in the direction of wanting to be a conservative, socially religious organization that wants to institute some greater element of Sharia. Now to understand what that means, a lot of that is social welfare stuff. Some of it is things like the veil. Some of it is court procedures in which unfortunately, women would have fewer voices. But it’s not some kind of totalitarian dictatorship. They seem to have accommodated themselves to the idea of democracy, and they have done so for decades now.
Do you think this is likely, after having read the earlier history right up to the early part of the present century? Or do you think we have a fine old bridge in Brooklyn to sell Mr. Zacharia?
I don’t know whether the Brotherhood will succeed in finally taking over after all these long decades of trying. But those who don’t think they still want desperately to do so, and have instead become social workers, are what might be called useful idiots.
And that’s the best thing we can call them. I’m with Andrew McCarthy on this one:
I just think that is willfully closing your eyes and your ears to what they say and what they write. I mean, look, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, just a few months ago, gave a raging speech calling for jihad. I think Mr. Zacharia is paying attention to what the Brotherhood says to their rapt, English audience, and not a whole lot of attention to what they say, either when they think no one’s listening to them, or in the Arabic press, which tends to be virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli, and does aspire to the creation of a theocracy. What more do you need to know than that their slogan, their motto remains to this day the same. The Koran is our law, jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.
This willful, hopeful closing of the eyes and ears of a large part of the intelligentsia is inexplicable to me, and yet it happens time and again. It happened with Hitler. It happened with Castro. It happened in Iran with Khomeini, whom the left thought it could control and co-opt. It happened with the West and Yassir Arafat, their revolutionary darling turned pussycat. I don’t know how many people agree with Zacharia about the Brotherhood (here’s an influential one), but I fervently hope their numbers are small, and that they do not include our own president and State Department—although I fear they might.
[NOTE: This post is already very long, but I must add a link to Andrew McCarthy’s excellent article covering some of this same territory. I just noticed it, after having written my post; if I’d seen it earlier I might have saved myself the trouble of writing this and just linked to McCarthy!
If you don’t feel like plowing through the McCarthy piece, however, I’ll just quote the end, which bears on the ending of my post as well:
The Obama administration has courted Egyptian Islamists from the start. It invited the Muslim Brotherhood to the president’s 2009 Cairo speech, even though the organization is officially banned in Egypt. It has rolled out the red carpet to the Brotherhood’s Islamist infrastructure in the U.S. — CAIR, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Ground Zero mosque activists — even though many of them have a documented history of Hamas support. To be sure, the current administration has not been singular in this regard. The courting of Ikhwan-allied Islamists has been a bipartisan project since the early 1990s, and elements of the intelligence community and the State Department have long agitated for a license to cultivate the Brotherhood overtly. They think what Anwar Sadat thought: Hey, we can work with these guys.
There is a very good chance we are about to reap what they’ve sown. We ought to be very afraid.]