By Jay Holmes
In Cairo on the morning of August 18, the Egyptian military and police evicted protestors from the al Fath Mosque. In the chaos that has overtaken Egypt, this eviction could be dismissed as an insignificant event, but it can also be seen as an important moment in the decision-making of the current military-backed Egyptian government.
Supporters of the recently-ousted Egyptian President Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, called for protests last week. Thousands poured out and set up “occupy style” encampments in Cairo. When the Egyptian military and police broke up the encampments, Muslim Brotherhood supporters packed into the al Fath Mosque, which they had been using as a hospital. On August 18, both the Morsi supporters and the police fired shots. Both claim that the other side fired on them first.
On the face of it, the fact that thousands of Egyptians supported the Muslim Brotherhood was a victory for them, but millions of Egyptians turned out to oppose them. The Muslim Brotherhood’s loud past claims of majority rule are now falling on deaf ears in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians have unequivocally denounced both the Brotherhood and Morsi’s attempt to set up a personal kingdom for himself. Morsi had clearly intended to live well in the dictatorship that he was building, but for the average Egyptian, it was rapidly becoming a case of “let them eat Sharia Law.” The majority of people in Egypt don’t want Sharia Law as a substitute for a functioning government.
Depending on who you ask in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has the support of somewhere between fifteen to twenty percent of Egyptian men. In the confusion of the early post-Mubarak days, they were able to use their well-established organization to win an election with promises of religious freedom, democratic rule, and women’s rights under the label of the “Freedom and Justice Party.” Once in power, Morsi immediately betrayed his campaign promises and began to organize a powerful junta for himself and Muslim Brotherhood leaders under the guise of a Sharia Law theocracy.
On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian military calculated that it had enough popular backing to overthrow Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The successful eviction of the Morsi supporters from the al Fath Mosque indicates that its calculation was correct. In essence, the people of Egypt decided that they were not going to tolerate the political con job that Islamic radicals pulled off, and they did something about it. The Egyptian military realized that Morsi had lost any semblance of majority backing and acted to save Egypt from falling back into the Dark Ages.
Reactions in the West are less clear.
Most of the Western media and many in Western governments have feigned shock at the Egyptian military’s “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup.” Some in the media and government are apparently so clueless or so immersed in irrational dogma that their dismay at the “coup” is genuine.
In the US, the White House and congressmen from both major parties have engaged in poorly-staged hand wringing exercises to show their “deep concern” that the “coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup-and-therefore-can-still-be-funded-by-us” has used violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. The “deep concern” has not been deep enough to stop funding the Egyptian military.
We still want and need Egypt to allow our military aircraft to overfly that country on short notice. We still want to be able to use Egyptian air bases for staging operations in the region. And we still want our Navy to cut to the head of the traffic line at the congested Suez Canal. Obama and other politicians can express all the “deep concern” that they want over events in Egypt, but their words come at a price. Egyptians and others in the region now have their own deep concern that the US and Europe are unwilling to help them overthrow Islamic radicals.
Fortunately Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf States see themselves at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and are enthusiastically financing the Egyptian government. The couple of billion a year that we give to Egypt no longer constitutes economic survival for that country. US money helps, but it doesn’t carry the same leverage that it once did.
Israel realizes that the Egyptian military is capable of keeping to a peace treaty with them, and that the Muslim Brotherhood was maneuvering Egypt toward war with Israel. Israel is hoping for the current Egyptian government to succeed.
Iran and its minions in Hamas are cheering for the Muslim Brotherhood to regain control in Egypt. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has no intention of accepting Iranian theocratic leadership, from the Iranian point of view, an Egypt led by the Muslim Brotherhood can at least be counted on to attack Israel and support the most radical elements amongst the Palestinians.
The normal variety of international adventure-tourist terrorists are doing their best to use Iranian funds and weapons to generate as much violence as possible in Egypt. My guess is that although they will cause misery, they will not be able to reinstall the Muslim Brotherhood or Sharia Law in that country.
What the future government in Egypt will look like is not altogether clear. Fortunately for Egyptians and everyone else in the region, it likely won’t include Sharia Law. They may end up with an “all new, more powerful deep cleaning” Mubarak-style junta, but for the sake of the Egyptian people, I hope that they end up with a government that reduces corruption and improves the rights and the quality of life in Egypt.
Such a very interesting post! Thanks, as always, for laying it out so that those of us NOT “in the know” have a broader perspective.
Hi Jenny. Thanks.
It’s beginning to make sense, but the question is when will order be restored and for how long?
Hi Tomwisk. The Muslim brotherhood has had over eight decades to organize. They have survived crackdowns against them before and they are very good at compartmentalizing their member groups to resist infiltration by the Egyptian police. They have lost many of their less radical members. They are no longer close to having anything near a majority and likely never will again in Egypt because they can not easily play the “moderate card” again. Nonetheless they will use their experience and organization to continue to cause as much mayhem as they can in Egypt for as long as they can. In Egypt time is not on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and each day that the Egyptian interim government has to build a functioning government reduces any potential popularity for the Brotherhood. Al Qaeda, other transient Islamic terror gangs and Iran’s Hezbolalala gangsters are engaged in intense efforts to take over Syria and crush any moderates in Lebanon. While this prevents them from completely concentrating on causing misery in Egypt there are still foreign infiltrators trying to stir up chaos there.
How soon order is restored in Egypt depends on several factors. Continuing aid from the Gulf States would help Egypt start to rebuild their economy. How well the Egyptian military and its selected politicians can govern would (in conjunction with an improved economy) decrease disaffection and chaos in Egypt. As the domestic picture improves in Egypt the military and police will be able to better identify and capture foreign combatants in Egypt.
My wild guess is that if we in the West stay out of the way of the Egyptian military within another month The Muslim Brotherhood will have had it’s power so reduced that they will no longer be able to order their members to conduct massive riots. Given that the Muslim Brotherhoods leadership is now turning over quickly due to arrests it is difficult to predict if they will pursue a long term campaign of terror or will return to its earlier strategy of building membership through social work programs while waiting for the next opportunity to stage a takeover. The membership is currently divided on what strategy to pursue.
Thank you. One point though, true believers are most likely to be infiltrated because of blindness to a cause. That’s how U.S. gov’t works domestically.
I echo Jenny. I find myself shying away from “the news” because all of the violence and darkness gets to be too much (which is probably seriously hypocritical coming from a horror-dark fantasy writer…but I’m an optimistic horror-dark fantasy writer 😀 ). However, I always appreciate your pieces, Jay, because they enlighten me, make me think but don’t scream violence and blood the way “the news.” Plus, they inspire me not only to be more aware of modern events but also history.
Hi Sonia. Thanks for the compliment.
Hi, Holmes, thanks for this analysis. do you have any knowledge of splits, if any, within the MB itself? Ifs there a faction which could be wedged or ‘carved off’ from the more militant leadership, and encouraged to compete democratically in an election. If the MB got 35 percent of the vote in the last elections, I’m guessing that having that whole 35 per cent outside the process will make it very difficult for a new election to proceed. Any thoughts?
Hi Richard. I have no clear view of how alignments are changing in the MB right now. I think a new election can proceed reasonably well as long as the Egyptian military can reign in rioting and vote rigging.
Good info, Holmes. It’s difficult to believe that any of the groups in the middle east are going to dissolve in any short time, but as you say, public support for the MB does seem to have waned (or maybe they just did a good job of making everyone believe they had it in the first place). It’s got to be tough in Egypt at the moment. I just hope they’re able to get themselves to somewhere better in the long run.
Hi Nigel. Unlike in Afghanistan or Detroit the majority of Egyptians are literate. In my view, there is hope for democracy in Egypt. I think that the majority of Egyptians deserve a better government than what they have had for the last few decades. What matters more is that most of the Egyptian people have come to believe that they deserve a better government.
You remind me of Mark Steyn.
Not many people are clear headed on this. It’s mostly about the least bad option.
Thank you Disciple.
What a mess. We need that air space and the Suez is critical at times. We need to stay out of the way. Can only hope the museums are guarded and not being quietly raided.
Thanks a gain for a solid analysis
Hi Philosopher. I’m gad you liked the article.
As always, thanks for the clear and insightful post.
Are there any useful activities that the US could undertake to support the Egyptian people that are aligned with our own interests? (That’s the only kind I’m interested in…)
Are there any exceptionally stupid things we could do, but should avoid at all costs?
Hi Dave. I think that we have been foolish by trying to promote the rights of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. There is no such thing as becoming “friends” with the Muslim Brotherhood, and in the bargain, we have annoyed the majority of Egyptians.
Now that we have made the mistakes that we have in Egypt, the best thing to do would be to quietly reassure their interim government that we hope that they succeed and stop trying to tell them how to handle their rioters and terrorists.
Can you imagine what would happen if rioters in DC started firing shots at the White House? I doubt that the President and Congress would be criticizing the police for causing bloodshed. We and the UK should stop suggesting to Egypt’s government that they tolerate what our own governments would never tolerate.
The UK just detained the boyfriend of a journalist that was critical of the NSA and GCHQ for domestic spying and questioned him as a terrorist suspect for nine hours, and yet many UK politicians want the Egyptian government to tolerate arson and gunfire from rioters.
Good points. The police in Denver won’t even tolerate a butter knife being waved in their general direction from 20 feet away. The displays of “outrage” and “concern” by our politicians are acts of hypocrisy, packaged for consumption by the media and their voter base. If truly threatened, they will clamp down hard and fast – instead of the slow strangulation at work today.