Since the first days of the revolution in Egypt the American media have been
celebrating “the victory of democracy.”
Commentators and academics alike
explain in well-written articles why we should not fear the processes that are
Terrorism scholar Scott Atran in his New York Times
“Egypt’s bumbling Brotherhood,” mentions that the Muslim Brotherhood counts only
100,000 adherents, and that throughout its 83 years, it has failed to revive
Islamic power in Egypt. Atran predicts that with political freedom, the
movement’s importance will soon disappear.
To this we can add soothing
explanations from the US intelligence establishment’s top brass: The statement
by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who told the Senate that it was difficult to label
the Muslim Brotherhood an extremist organization because, although one can find
extremists among its ranks, it also has lawyers and
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also chose
to emphasize the heterogeneity of the Brotherhood, and pointed out the
generation gaps in the movement, with the younger generation willing to
participate in a secular political system. A few days prior, in his testimony
before Congress, Clapper held the view that the Brotherhood is a largely secular
movement which has eschewed violence (a comment he later retracted).
claims of Atran, Panetta and Clapper are – at the very least –
One can learn much about the level of support the
Brotherhood has from the warm welcome given its chief ideologue – Yusuf
al-Qardawi – who has returned to Egypt after a long exile in Qatar, and who has
already held a mass prayer in Tahrir Square attended by roughly two million
Qardawi, persona non grata in the US since 1999, has incited his
congregation to take part in terrorist attacks against Israelis and American
forces in Iraq, and has even expressed public support for Palestinian suicide
bombers (including women).
He is perceived by many in the West as a
moderate, has expressed support for democracy while at the same time striving to
establish an Islamic caliphate throughout the world. While the electoral
strength of the Brotherhood remains unknown, it can be said with certainty that
its supporters number several million. In the 2005 elections, the Brotherhood
won about 20 percent of the seats in parliament, and one can assume its power
has only grown since then.
IN REFERENCE to the warnings of researchers,
another scholar, Shibli Talhami, concludes that social scientists and analysts
have so far proven unable to predict profound historic changes.
points out that it is still too early to tell where the Egyptian revolution is
headed, but claims one conclusion is evident – this is Osama bin Laden’s
nightmare, since peaceful masses, not the murder of innocents, overthrew the
The loser is therefore al-Qaida, since it has tried to convince
the Muslim masses that the only way to fulfill their ambitions is through
This argument reflects an erroneous understanding of the
essence and goals of al-Qaida. This terrorist organization, like most others, is
not merely a group of bloodthirsty madmen who commit violence for violence’s
sake. Al- Qaida carries out terror attacks to advance its religious-ideological
goal – the foundation of a global Islamic caliphate governed by Shari’a. If the
Egyptian process will eventually lead to an Iran-like state, al-Qaida will have
The assumption that the loser is al- Qaida may lead to
the erroneous conclusion that the winner is the bloc opposing al-Qaida – the
Western nations led by the US. Such a victory may yet prove to be
American media, public opinion and senior government officials
interpret the processes in Egypt with more than a pinch of wishful thinking,
assuming the people have rid themselves of a dictator and are now marching
toward a democratic, liberal and enlightened future. However, if it becomes
apparent this process will lead to the strengthening of Islamist elements, their
political empowerment, the deepening of their involvement in government and even
their takeover through democratic means, as did Hezbollah in Lebanon, the
jubilation will change to deep disappointment.
especially elections, have proven effective tools when wielded by fundamentalist
organizations that aim to take over a government, no less effective than
violence and terrorism, and perhaps even more so. It is high time American
leaders sober up and recognize that when fundamentalists take over through
democratic means, democracy’s days are numbered.
determines that it is impossible to predict where the process in Egypt will
lead. But he points out that it is most likely that Israeli-Egyptian relations
will not be collaborative, as in recent years, and that any new government will
not be as willing to support American moves.
These two predictions alone
are enough to indicate that the process puts the Arab world in a worse spot than
it was several weeks ago.
The Americans will do well to remember that a
less pro-American Egypt will directly endanger the security of the US due to the
important intelligence-gathering and operational role Hosni Mubarak’s country
had in leading the campaign against global jihad. Mubarak did not fall only
because of his corrupt regime, but also because he was perceived as being
Talhami is right. It is not yet possible to know where this
process will lead, but let’s not fool ourselves. Egypt is not an inch nearer to
a liberal democratic government than it was before the riots began. Without
education about and dissemination of democratic values, without liberal reform,
the emancipation of women and the observing of human rights, including religious
rights, the pseudo-democratic processes Egypt is currently experiencing will
ultimately promote the interests of Islamist elements.
occur overnight. Egypt is only at the beginning of a revolutionary process. The
Muslim Brotherhood is stronger and better organized than some commentators and
American decision-makers seem to think, and certainly more so than any other
The common argument among those who wish to calm
us – that the Brotherhood is not a monolith and not all among it support
violence and terrorism – might be true, but there is nothing calming about it.
It’s possible that within the Brotherhood there are groups who disagree on the
preferred means to achieve their goal, but they do not disagree about the goal.
They agree on the ultimate image of the Egyptian revolution – the formation of
an Islamic caliphate ruled by Shari’a.
As Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian
al-Qaida ideologue, put it in his “Message of hope and glad tidings to our
people in Egypt” (February 18): “The democratic state cannot be but secular
[meaning irreligious] because the authority and source in it isn’t Allah only,
but the desire of the majority.”
The elements of global jihad are in no
hurry, and as far as they are concerned the revolution can come to fruition in
either the upcoming elections or in any future round. In any case, Mubarak’s
exit marks the beginning of the Islamic revolution. It is no wonder that the
first to congratulate the revolution were the well-known “democrats” – Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and Ismail Haniyeh in
If we are to believe the ruler of Bahrain, these champions of human
rights do not limit themselves to congratulating, but actively generate
revolution in his and other countries.
If the US and the Western world
continue to delude themselves with the illusion of “instant democracy” and do
not form a clear, courageous, consistent and educated foreign policy that
strengthens pro-American regimes in the Muslim world and helps them implement
real liberal reforms that will lead to a genuine change of values in Muslim
society, the process that began in Egypt will bring about the fall of more
moderate Arab regimes. The Islamist organizations will assimilate into the
state’s political system, gain international legitimacy, harness the state’s
mechanisms to win hearts and minds and eventually take over.
possible that Talhami’s right and social scientists can’t identify changes in
political processes, but once these changes have taken place, we may not simply
ignore historic precedents. Ayatollah Khomeini’s democratic precedent in Iran,
Hezbollah’s democracy in Lebanon and Hamas’s democracy in Gaza leave very little
room for doubt.
History repeats itself.The writer is founding
director of the International Institute for Counterterrorism at the
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and deputy dean of the Lauder School of