It seemed like only a few days ago that Egypt’s humble peasant masses set hearts ablaze worldwide with their spirited defense of universal rights and basic human dignity. The planet rejoiced as it witnessed a spontaneous outburst of democratic principles in action. The future looked so bright, the Sphinx was gonna have to wear shades. Aided and abetted by youth movements utilizing Facebook and Twitter, Cairo’s Tahrir Square exploded jubilantly like one big techno-savvy Apple Store after-hours party. These hip, young, educated, passionate, well-proportioned youthful sophisticates were a fun-loving flash mob sucking in their first minty lungfuls of free air as sparkling multicolored confetti words such as DEMOCRACY and UPRISING and REVOLUTION and HUMAN RIGHTS swirled around their heads like they’d suddenly found themselves in a massive live musical version of WikiLeaks put on by the cast of Glee.
This was about anti-colonialism and self-determination and peace and rights and rainbows and people power and, if the desert climate will permit, possibly even some urban home gardening. The people spoke. This is what they wanted. The people have spoken and they may speak again, unless they don’t feel like speaking, at which point it’s their right not to speak.
What were the people speaking about, anyway?
Oh, right—the lizard-faced Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. The US had been propping up everything but his jowls for the past three decades. The people don’t like him. He had to go.
OK, then, what are the people going to do once he’s gone?
Well, the people hadn’t really given it much thought. But Mubarak had to go. Let’s take care of that first.
Historically when a regime falls, the most well-organized opposition group fills the power vacuum, and the unanimous opinion is that Egypt’s only well-organized opposition group for the past several decades has been the ominously theocratic-sounding Muslim Brotherhood. Whether above ground or underground, the Brotherhood has existed in Egyptian politics since 1928. They are said to be the ideological tree trunk from which all other extremist Islamist groups such as Hamas and al-Qaeda have branched outward. Egyptian nationalist hero Gamal Abdel Nasser blamed them for a failed attempt on his life in 1954, and an offshoot Brotherhood group was blamed for Anwar Sadat’s full-color televised assassination in 1981. When Mubarak assumed power, he reportedly subjected the Brotherhood to unrelentingly skull-cracking persecution and imprisonment for three straight decades. He repeatedly warned Western powers that the Brotherhood would assume power if he were ever deposed. Despite being officially banned, Brotherhood candidates ran as independents in 2005 under the slogan “Islam is the Solution” and won a fifth of the seats in Egypt’s parliament. When their seat count dwindled to zero in 2010’s elections, they blamed it on rigging by Mubarak’s bully boys.
In spite of all that, progressive voices came out in chorus last week downplaying the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood would have any significant role in Egypt’s new regime. I’ve never seen so much downplaying in my life. There was scoffing and eye-rolling and finger-wagging and tut-tutting and talk of Republican “delusions” and baseless fear-mongering. The Brotherhood was depicted as wacky, ineffectual, bumbling, antiquated, and irrelevant to this hep new techno-revolution. They couldn’t even, you know, ride a camel straight if they wanted to. Dude, like, we were basking in MTV DayGlo visions of freedom and democracy, so why are you conspiracy-theorist right-wingers all harshing our mellow with your fears, insecurities, inadequacies, and paranoias?
After a day or two, as the Brotherhood increasingly enmeshed itself in the street protests and it became clear they weren’t going away any time soon, there was a rush to make them appear as palatable and inoffensive as the human imagination would allow. They represent only a tiny minority of Egyptian citizens, so tuck your fears back into your pants, you Islamophobes. And besides, they officially renounced violence years ago. They renounced, denounced, rejected, forswore, disavowed, and rejected violence long before most of you were wearing disposable diapers. They have evolved to the point where they are now entirely peaceful and moderate—conservative and middle-class, even—so don’t go getting a bug up your ass about them. They only want democracy for all Egyptians. We know this because they told us so.
Still, their crossed-sword logo doesn’t exactly scream “peaceful.” And their motto—“Allah is our objective; the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations”—doesn’t quite epitomize the words “moderate” or “nonviolent.” As recently as 2008, Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akef spoke of raising a new generation of Islamic warriors “who love to die as much as others love to live.”
Islam’s progressive defenders in the West don’t like Nazis, which is why they’ve played down the fact that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood colluded with Hitler during the 1930s and WWII, eagerly distributing Arabic translations of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion among the post-Ottoman public.
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