You have to hand it to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. They know how to
play power politics. They know how to acquire power. And they know how to use
Last Friday, the day before voters by most accounts elected the
Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsy to serve as Egypt’s next president, The
Wall Street Journal published a riveting account by Charles Levinson and Matt
Bradley of how the Brotherhood outmaneuvered the secular revolutionaries to take
control of the country’s political space.
The Brotherhood kept a very low
profile in the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square in January and February 2011
that led to the overthrow of then-president Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood’s
absence from Tahrir Square at that time is what enabled Westerners to fall in
love with the Egyptian revolution.
Those demonstrations led to the
impression, widespread in the US, that Mubarak’s successors would be secular
Facebook democrats. The role that Google’s young Egyptian executive Wael Gonim
played in organizing the demonstrations was reported expansively.
participation in the anti-regime protests – as well as his brief incarceration –
was seen as proof that the next Egyptian regime would be indistinguishable from
Generation X and Y Americans and Europeans.
In their report, Levinson and
Bradley showed how the Brotherhood used the secularists to overthrow the regime,
and to provide them with a fig leaf of moderation through March 2011, when the
public voted on the sequencing of Egypt’s post-Mubarak transformation from a
military dictatorship into a populist regime. The overwhelming majority of the
public voted to first hold parliamentary elections and to empower the newly
elected parliament to select members of the constitutional assembly that would
write Egypt’s new constitution.
As Egypt’s largest social force, the
Brotherhood knew it would win the majority of the seats in the new parliament.
The March 2011 vote ensured its control over writing the new Egyptian
In July 2011, the Brotherhood decided to celebrate its
domination of the new Egypt with a mass rally at Tahrir Square. Levinson and
Bradley explained how in the lead-up to that event Egypt’s secular
revolutionaries were completely outmaneuvered.
According to their
account, the Brotherhood decided to call the demonstration “Shari’a Friday.”
Failing to understand that the game was over, the secularists tried to regain
what they thought was the unity of the anti-regime ranks from earlier in the
“Islamists and revolutionary leaders spent three days negotiating
principles they could all support at the coming Friday demonstration in Cairo’s
Tahrir Square. They reached an agreement and the revolution seemed back on
One secularist leader, Rabab el-Mahdi, referred to the agreement
as “The perfect moment. A huge achievement.” But then came the double
“Hours before the demonstration, hard-line Salafi Islamists began
adorning the square with black-andwhite flags of jihad and banners calling for
the implementation of Islamic law. Ms. Mahdi made frantic calls to Brotherhood
leaders, who told her there was little they could do.” Checkmate.
DIFFERENCE between the Brotherhood and the secularists is a fundamental one. The
Brotherhood has always had a vision of the Egypt it wants to create. It has
always used all the tools at its disposal to advance the goal of creating an
Islamic state in Egypt.
For their part, the secularists have no
ideological unity and so share no common vision of a future Egypt. They just
oppose the repression of the military.
Opposing repression is not a
political program. It is a political act. It can destroy. It cannot
So when the question arose of how to transform the protests that
caused the US to abandon Mubarak and sealed the fate of his regime into a new
regime, the secularists had no answer. All they could do was keep protesting
The Brotherhood has been the most popular force in
Egypt for decades. Its leaders recognized that to take over the country, all
they needed was the power to participate in the elections and the authority to
ensure that the election results mattered – that is, control over writing the
constitution. And so, once the secularists fomented Mubarak’s overthrow, their
goal was to ensure their ability to participate in the elections and to ensure
that the parliament would control the constitution-writing process.
achieve these goals, they were equally willing to collaborate with the
secularists against the military and with the military against the secularists.
To achieve their goals they were willing – as they did before Shari’a Friday
last July – to negotiate in bad faith.
While instructive, the Journal’s
article fell short because the reporters failed to recognize that the
Brotherhood outmaneuvered the military junta in the same way that it
outmaneuvered the secularists. The article starts with the premise that the
military’s decision to stage an effective coup d’etat last week spelled an end
to the Egyptian revolution and the country’s reversion to the military
dictatorship that has ruled the state since the 1950s.
Bradley claim, “Following the rulings by the high court this week [which
canceled the results of the parliamentary elections and ensured continued
military control over the country regardless of the results of the presidential
elections], the Brotherhood’s strategy of cooperation with the military seems
But actually, that is not the case. By permitting the
Brotherhood to participate in the elections for parliament and the presidency,
the military signed the death warrant of its regime. The Brotherhood will rule
Egypt. The only thing left to be determined is whether its takeover will happen
quickly or slowly.
To understand why this is the case, it is important to
notice what happened in Turkey. When the Islamist AKP party won the 2002
elections, the Turkish military was constitutionally authorized to control the
country. As the guardians of Turkey’s secular state, Turkey’s military was
constitutionally empowered to overthrow democratically elected
Ten years later, Turkey is a populist, authoritarian,
Islamic state. Half the general officer corps is in prison, held without charge
or on trumped up charges. Turkey’s judiciary and civil service are controlled by
Islamists. The AKP is filling the military’s officer corps with its
When you know what you want, you use all the tools at your
disposal to achieve your goals. When you don’t know what you want, no matter
what tools you hold, you will fail to achieve your goals.
military today is far weaker than the Turkish military was in 2002. And it has
already been outmaneuvered by the Brotherhood. The only way for it to secure its
hold on power is through brute force. And the generals have already shown they
are unwilling to use sufficient force to repress the Brotherhood.
regime’s decision to outlaw the parliament and decree the military above the
president was not a show of strength. It was a panicked act of desperation by a
regime that knows its days are numbered.
So was its decision to delay
announcing the winner of the presidential elections.
When Morsy declared
victory in the presidential elections on Sunday, he did so surrounded by members
of the just-dissolved parliament. His act was a warning to the military. The
Brotherhood will not allow the ruling to stand.
It is possible the
Brotherhood will stand down in this confrontation with the military over the
parliamentary election. But the military will emerge vastly weakened. And when
the next round of confrontation inevitably arrives, the military will have even
less clout. And so on and so forth.
THE INEVITABILITY of the Islamic
takeover of Egypt means that the peace between Israel and Egypt is meaningless.
Confrontation is coming. The only questions that remain are how long it will
take and what form it will come in. If it happens slowly, it will be
characterized by a gradual escalation of cross-border attacks from Sinai by
Hamas and other jihadist groups. Hamas’s sudden eagerness to take responsibility
for the mortar attacks against southern Israel as well as Monday morning’s
murderous cross-border attack are signs of things to come.
Brotherhood ascending to power, the security cooperation Israel has received
from the Egyptian security forces in Sinai is over. And the regime won’t suffice
with doing nothing to stop terror. It will encourage it. Just as the Egyptian
military sponsored and organized the fedayeen raids from Gaza in the 1950s, so
today the regime will sponsor and eventually organize irregular attacks from
Sinai and Gaza.
In the rapid-path-to-confrontation scenario, the Egyptian
military itself will participate in attacks against Israel. Egyptian troops may
take potshots at Israelis from across the border. They may remilitarize Sinai.
They may escalate attacks against the US-commanded MFO forces in Sinai that are
supposed to keep the peace with the goal of convincing them to
Whether the confrontation happens tomorrow or in a year or two,
the question of whether the military remains the titular ruler of Egypt or not
is irrelevant to Israel.
In their attempt to maintain their power and
privilege, the first bargaining chip the generals will sacrifice is their
support for the peace with Israel. With the US siding with the Brotherhood
against the military, maintaining the peace treaty has ceased to be important
for the generals.
This dismal situation requires Israel’s leaders to take
several steps immediately. First, our leaders must abandon their diplomatic
language regarding Egypt. No point is served by not acknowledging that the
southern front – dormant since 1981 – has reawakened and that Israel’s peace
with Egypt is now meaningless.
Recall that it was under Mubarak’s
leadership that the Egyptian media reported that the Mossad was deploying sharks
as secret agents and ordering them to attack tourists along Egypt’s seacoast in
an effort to destroy Egypt’s tourism industry.
Since Israel doesn’t need
to actually do or say anything to cause the Egyptians to attack, we might as
well be honest in our own discussion of the situation.
At a minimum,
frank talk will ensure that the steps we take on the ground to meet the
challenge of Egypt will be based on reality and not on an attempt to ignore
Straight talk is also important in the international arena. For
the past 30 years, in the interest of protecting the peace treaty, Israel never
defended itself against Egypt’s diplomatic assaults on its very right to exist.
Now it can and must fight back with full force.
At a minimum, this will
enable Israel to wage a coherent diplomatic defense of whatever military action
it will eventually need to take to defend itself against Egyptian
As to that aggression, we don’t have any good options on the
ground. We cannot operate openly in Sinai. If we retaliate against missile
attacks with air strikes, the Brotherhood-led Egyptian government will use our
defensive action to justify war. So we need to massively expand our ability to
Aside from that, we must equip and train our military
to win a war against the US-trained and-armed Egyptian military.
the Egyptian election results pan out, the die has been cast. We must prepare
for what is coming.