Despite this publication’s design being primarily devoted to domestic issues occurring within U.S. borders, it is occasionally incumbent upon us to broaden our perspective to consider emerging circumstances in other nations which may not yet bear directly upon American wellbeing, but which could portend great consequences for the future of American foreign policy and international relations. Such is the case with the now explosive conflict between the people of Egypt and the government under long-reigning autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Though the current situation is being thoroughly covered by international news outlets, what is being insufficiently considered (as it so often tends to be) is the history of the region and, most notably, that of the Muslim Brotherhood– an organization whose name has emerged numerous times as a major vocal supporter of the largely youth-driven revolt. A consideration of this group’s past, it’s policies, and its personnel invokes a historical parallel which should induce in Americans a healthy dose of concern.
In 1979, a time of peace, economic stability, modernization, and cultural progress, the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was suddenly and decidedly toppled by a force which it had once thought too insignificant to ever pose more than a symbolic opposition to the long-standing monarchical system of Iran. The uprising, populated largely by the young and idealistic student class, had planted its intellectual roots in the teachings of the anti-Western Islamic Revival and resented the cultural influence which their leader’s dealings with the West had enacted upon their way of life. Twelve months after the first of the movement’s demonstrations, the Shah and Empress were chartering a plane to flee Iran once and forever.
Needless to say, the history of Iranian relations with the West since the rise of Islamic totalitarianism¹ in the form of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, has been one of endless conflict. Nearly every terrorist sect to have emerged from the Middle East and to have perpetrated unspeakable violence against American soldiers and civilians for 31 years has been directly traceable to the Iranian regime, including but not limited to the 1979 hostage crisis, the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the 1983 two-car bombing of French and American military barracks in Beirut– an attack which shares the dubious distinctions of being both the single highest-casualty incident for the U.S. Marine Corps since Iwo Jima and, by one account, the single most powerful manmade non-nuclear explosion to have ever occurred on the planet. The list goes on.
Forward, into the present, we stand witness to the rise of a new conflict– one in which young Muslims, carefully watched by an organization which has, for ninety years, stood as a national symbol for the traditional practice of Islam and vehement anti-Western nationalism, are driven by harsh political and economic conditions to rebel against a long-standing autocratic regime with notable Western ties. The parallels are glaring and ominous. True though it is that the conflict has thus far proudly crossed religious boundaries and retained a secular quality, the past vulnerability of such overthrows to be subsumed in the greater fundamentalist tones of the region, coupled with the presumable desire of Islamists to portray Mubarak as a necessary symptom of westernized political systems, makes the Brotherhood’s intentions a necessary consideration in any comprehensive US policy toward Egypt going forward. Though the Muslim Brotherhood, which in 2005 came to control 20% of the national legislature, has thus far posited itself as merely a supportive, but secondary factor in the popular uprising, its history of violent advocacy of Shari’ah law in Egypt and sponsorship of terrorist activities abroad speaks volumes about what it stands to gain from the crisis, as well as the lengths to which it will go to perpetuate the bloodshed. The fact that Muslim Brotherhood officials have not been leading the riots from the front lines in the streets of Cairo is insignificant. They are merely pursuing the same low-risk means by which totalitarian organizations have seized power in numerous Muslim nations in recent years: introduce the young and furious student class to violent idealism, give them a sense of purpose toward which to direct their anger, allow it to foment, and sit back as they challenge the established order; if they succeed, they will credit you– if they fail, you remain free to deny involvement.
To what greater end is this organization pursuing this conflict? For a sense of its guiding sentiments, look no further than Brotherhood founder Sayyid Qutb’s declaration that,
“The establishment of Allah’s kingdom on earth, the elimination of
the reign of man, the wresting of sovereignty from its usurpers and
it’s restoration to Allah, and the abolition of human laws and the
implementation of divine law cannot be only achieved through
sermons and preaching.”
Instead, he argues, if the faithful are to achieve paradise, they must do so through jihad. Whether such thinking is to be the future of Egypt is a possibility with which Americans must contend should the Brotherhood, in the aftermath of the current period of unrest, come to command the sort of influence which it has known before in Egypt. To say that Egypt is vulnerable to becoming another Iran would be to ignore the central role which Iran plays in the minds of Islamic totalitarians. However, to suggest that she could become a dangerous Islamic regime which could pose an ever more formidable security threat to the West in the future is, by the hour, becoming a possibility with which US strategists must contend.
The one safeguard which Egypt may retain is the celebrated return of Mohamed El-Baradei, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former Director General of the IAEA. El-Baradei’s arrival has led many to anticipate his rise to succeed Hosni Mubarak, serving at least as a transition leader. If so, El-Baradei appears to be the sort of candidate who could bring stability and attract enough popular support to dispel the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempted power grabs. The Brotherhood has consistently remained silent on the issue of a non-Brotherhood candidate being elected, likely for fear of alienating themselves from the legions of El-Baradei supporters. Should Mubarak’s return to power be prohibited, it would be an interesting, rather telling spectacle to observe how the Brotherhood, long infamous and once banned for their violent tactics, would respond should the locus of power shift to an ordered symbol of peace and stability such as El-Baradei.
This writing is not intended to side with or against the popular uprising in Egypt as opposed to the Mubarak government. Too often in revolts such as this, by the story’s end, neither side is truly in the right (see: Robespierre vs. French monarchists, Bolsheviks vs. Russian tsarists, Nazis vs. Weimar Republicans, Islamic Revolutionaries vs. Iranian monarchy) and power transitions from an old bastion of arbitrary statist controls to another. Nonetheless, it is a conflict which, in light of the endurance and spread of jihadist organizations through the last decade of American military actions in the region, we as the West must closely observe. One thing is certain: whether under Mubarak or El-Baradei, the Muslim Brotherhood will undoubtedly use the conflict to seek further controls and stretch the limits of its power. Whether or not they succeed will be decided by the extent to which Egyptians have been lured by theocratic and statist ideals versus the extent to which they recognize the requirements of their own freedom and prosperity. In Egypt, only time will tell.
¹For the recognition and identification of this ethos, Islamic totalitarianism–as opposed to “terrorism”– as the root of the chaos and conflict in the Middle East, as well as for having immeasurably informed and enlightened this author’s understanding of said problems, I owe a great debt of gratitude to Elan Journo and his book (along with Dr. Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein), Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism. I recommend it to any and all who are interested in these problems and their proper remedy.