Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Misunderestimating the Muslim Brotherhood: Media Malfeasance at its Most Malignant
Last year, after the outbreak of the "Arab Spring" across North Africa (come to think of it--wouldn't that make it an "African Spring?"), the vast majority of media commentators and "analysts" regaled us with glowing (indeed, fawning) accounts of all those putative Tom Paines and assumed John Adamses tweeting from Tunis, Benghazi and Cairo who would, we were assured, soon usher in the long-expected Arab democracies which had so long stymied by secular dictators.  As for the Arab world's major Islamic political party, the transnational Muslim Brotherhood--well, those dapper chaps in their expensive suits with their advanced degrees were just the Ben Franklins of the ummah, content to stay aloof from elective office, especially in the most-populous Arab country, Egypt, and instead influence events from the sidelines--knowing that they were not really all that popular in the Arab street.

Here are some examples of such Pollyannish, indeed ignorant, thinking--from folks deemed "experts" by the media:

There is an "exaggerated fear that militant Islamists might fill a void left by an ousted President Hosni Mubarak"--Chris Harnisch, "al-Qaeda [sic] expert" and former VP Dick Cheney staffer; "Fears of a Muslim Brotherhood Takeover of Egypt are Overblown," "The Daily Caller," 1/31/2011

"I think it is very unlikely that there would be an Islamist president in Egypt....if you ask the Muslim Brotherhood their goal, they say it is not to establish and Islamic state but rather to function within a democratic system."--Michelle Dunne, Editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, quoted in a Voice of America interview, May 23, 2011

"[T]he argument that a transition to democracy in Egypt will lead to an Islamist takeover doesn't seem to hold much water"--Adam Serwer, "Poll: No Constituency for Muslim Brotherhood Takeover in Egypt," "The Washington Post," Feb. 10, 2011

"The Big Bad [Muslim] Brotherhood isn't much more popular in Egypt than it is on Fox News."--Max Fisher (Associate Editor, International Channel), "Chart of the Day: Muslim Brotherhood Deeply Unpopular in Egypt," July 26, 2011.

Thus endeth my examples--which are like shooting fish in a barrel. The mainly-liberal media overwhemingly relied (and still relies) on their own wishful thinking, and on "experts" sporting politically-correct blinders about Islamic religious and political history, rather than on folks who know what they're talking about--such as, yes, your humble blogger, who told "Studio A" (KFUO AM radio, St. Louis) on Feb. 14, 2011 that "I think if free and fair elections were held [in Egypt]...the Muslim Brotherhood would be the largest party;" that "the Muslim Brotherhood is too smart to say 'we want shari`ah tomorrow" but will, rather, introduce it slowly and incrementally; and that "the protests in Egypt are not so much pro-democracy as anti-'Pharaoh' (MB and Salafist ill--disguised code for any Egyptian secularist dictator, from Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak).  
These selections demonstrate not just sloppy, bordering on malfeasant, journalism and analysis but just how easy it is nowadays for the media to engage in what is rapidly becoming its favorite behavior: anti-anti-Islamism, akin to the old anti-anti-Communism of the Cold War.  Just as anti-Communist conservatives, from Joe McCarthy to Ronald Reagan, were ridiculed even when they were right (as both Tail-Gunner Joe and the Gipper were) for their allegedly Neanderthalish views, so too today those of us who try to point out the problematic doctrines and traditions in the Islamic world are pilloried as "Islamophobes."  A prime example is this derision of Monica Crowley for "Fearmong[ing] That the Muslim Brotherhood Will Take Over Egyptian Government" at a liberal site called (in what is a wonderful example of projection) "Crooks and Liars." 

So contra the puerile prognostications of most American media, the Muslim Brother candidate and USC Trojan (PhD, Engineering, 1982), Muhammad Mursi, is the new President of Egypt.  Perhaps his Freedom and Justic Party, a front organization for the MB modeled directly on the Turkish AK (Adalet va Kalkinma, "Justice and Development") Party, will prove to be, as the latter, an "Islamist-Lite" one. But is that prospect really all that reassuring? 

Unlike many of my conservative colleagues, I do not consider consider the MB a "terrorist" organization.  That allegation is prima facie false.  But that does not make the MB innocuous in Egypt, regionally, or globally, however; planting IEDS or training folks how to hide bombs in their underwear are not the sole (or even major) threats facing us and our allies.  As much as the American Left likes to ignore it, the Brotherhood's stated dedication to the creation of a dawlah islamiyah `alamiyah, "international Islamic state," should give everyone pause--because while this terminology scrupulously (and intentionally) avoids the hot-button term khalifah ("caliphate"), the meaning is nonetheless the same.  A Pan-Islamic state would, by definition, be a RELIGIOUS-based one that enforces shari`ah--rather problematic for Christians (and "heretical" Muslims) under such throw-back Sunni rule and, ominously for the rest of the larger non-Muslim world, by definition dedicated to the advancement of Islam across the globe.  
 Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo 
Of course, as noted in my aformentioned interview quote, the MB is smart enough to continue its slow-motion Islamization of society and not rashly and pre-emptively impose shari`ah on all Egyptians.  But besides possible overtures to Iran, being in political (if not full military) control of the most-populous Arab country (some 80 million) gives the MB enormous prestige and influence--not just with its adjuncts like Hamas, but also I would argue with groups being little examined in current analysis, such as the even-larger (if heretofore apolitical) transnational Tablighi Jama`at and the smaller, but even more vociferiously pro-caliphate, Hizb al-Tahrir (see my previous blog on this site). Ensconced in Cairo, the de facto capital of the Sunni Muslim world, the Muslim Brotherhood now has the cachet and capacity to seriously pursue a policy of promoting, on the one hand, (Sunni) transnational comity (if not yet outright political unity) and, on the other, assisting in the instilling and implementation of more conservative Islamic norms by working with organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Tabligi Jama`at, respectively.  Mursi is not claiming the caliphate--but it's certainly reasonable to see him as the one who is preparing the way for a caliphal claim in our lifetime.  

All these problems could have been avoided if Egyptians had just voted for the Mahdi, instead of Mursi!  But of course, that would have been troubling in other ways....

Update, as of 1730 EST on Tuesday, June 26:  President Mursi just announced this afternoon that he would select, as two of the Vice-Presidents in his MB government, a woman and a Christian (presumably a Copt, since the Coptic Orthodox Church's membership includes at least 15% of Egypt's population).   The first is, frankly, rather unsurprising since the Muslim Brotherhood has had to work with the Sufis (Islamic mystics, and generally, if not always, more moderate and pro-women than the shari`ah-based groups like the Salafists and even the MB) to win the election, since Sufis make up some 20% of Egypt's Muslims.  As for a Coptic VP--well, again, the MB is nothing if not pragmatic and in this initial ensconcement in power could neither afford to alienate such a large contingent of Egyptians, nor to get on the wrong side of the international community (assuming the Obama Administration would even bother to notice if Christians were repressed).  Whether a Copt would ever be allowed to run for the Presidency and, if successful, to actually take office is another question entirely.  I suspect not, knowing the history of dhimmis in Islamic law and rule. As it is, the status of women and Christians in the new Sultanate of Egypt is now akin to that of both groups in the old Ottoman Empire: thrown token bones of authority to chew on (as in Imperial Istanbul with, respectively, the harem and the office of vizier), while the red meat of real power is reserved to the man at the top (President/Sultan).  
The Coat of Arms for al-Sultanah al-Misriyah, "The Egyptian Sultanate"--Mursi's New Symbol?

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