The Arab Street Revolt and the Brotherhood: This Time It’s Different
By Steven Simpson
Thursday, February 3, 2011
When Mohamed Bouazzi of Tunisia immolated himself on December 17, 2010, the incident barely was mentioned in most news media. After all, who cared about a troubled and insulted man with economic hardships in the barely known Maghrebi (North African) country of Tunisia? But Bouazzi’s desperate act has set off a chain reaction in the Arab world that will either lead to a domino effect of democracy for the Arab peoples, or an Islamist resurrection that has not been seen in centuries. And now with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, it appears that the Ikhwan al-Muslimun (the Muslim Brotherhood) may soon find itself in power and alter the Arab/Muslim world – as well as the world at large—to the extent that the Iranian revolution of 1979 will seem like an isolated incident.
Unlike the bloody and bloodless Arab military coups of the past, the Tunisian “coup” was carried out by the common street people who had decided that enough was enough when it came to the corruption of Tunisia’s dictator, Zine Abidene ben Ali. When the military announced (unprecedentedly) that it would not fire on the citizens, ben Ali knew that his days, if not hours, were numbered. His quick exit to Saudi Arabia took the Arab world by complete surprise. The Egyptian protests on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, and other cities quickly followed, which has shaken to the very core most, if not all of the Arab dictators from Algeria to Yemen.
While the situation in Tunisia and Egypt is still in a state of flux, it is the departure of Hosni Mubarak after nearly thirty years in power that has caused a political earthquake throughout the region and world. It is Egypt that is at the heart of the Arab world, and with the exception of Jordan, the only Arab country to have made peace with Israel. It might not be an overstatement to say that as Egypt goes, so goes the Arab world. While it is probably too early to prognosticate about Egypt’s future, it appears that at the end of the day, Egypt will either be ruled by the military, or an Islamist government—be it de facto or de jure. At this point, it appears that the Islamists—while not yet at the forefront of this “street revolution”—have the most to benefit. This is bad news for America, the West, and of course, Israel. Indeed, Israel may come out the biggest loser.
The eminent scholar and writer, Dr. Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum has written an interesting column, in which he seems to believe that military regimes with a more benign face will come to rule in Tunisia and Egypt. However, there are other factors that are at play here, and which have not been addressed yet.
To begin with, this is the first time in modern Arab history that common, regular people have forced from power corrupt dictatorial regimes without the army coming to the defense of the regimes. While deaths have occurred, there has been no concerted effort on the part of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemeni militaries to commit mass murder against its own citizens. This certainly came as a shock to the Arab dictators of these countries. Qaddafi of Libya (who by way of chiding the Tunisians for overthrowing ben Ali was in reality sending a signal to Libyans to stay quiet), Assad of Syria, and Abdullah of Saudi Arabia must now be looking over their shoulders, and sleeping with one eye open. If the armies of other Arab countries will also not fire on their fellow citizens, then what fear do the citizens have in overthrowing these corrupt totalitarian regimes that have oppressed their people for decades? This is a new factor that has never been seen in the Arab world. Without army support, the gates of the presidential palaces of the Arab “leaders” will be left open to the people. If and when that happens, the world is first liable to see extreme violence.
When the people are no longer afraid of the army – let alone the regime – why should they be satisfied with a “benign” military dictatorship? Egypt has been living under a military dictatorship since 1952 when the“Free Officers” under Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk. When Nasser unexpectedly died on September 8, 1970, he was quickly replaced by Anwar el-Sadat. When Sadat was shockingly assassinated on October 6, 1981 – by Islamist members of his own military – he was in turn replaced by his vice president, Hosni Mubarak, who has since been in power ruling throughout his reign under a state of emergency. Granted, Mubarak’s Egypt was not the totalitarian Gestapo-like state that Libya, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia are. The same went for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is interesting to note that with the exception of the hereditary Saudi monarchy, the dictators of the above mentioned “republics” were all grooming their sons to succeed them. This begs the question as to why they overthrew the monarchs of these countries in the first place. The Arab “republics” are monarchies in everything but name only. Now with Mubarak’s departure, it no longer seems a fait accompli that this hereditary succession will continue.
Finally, this brings us to the very dedicated, disciplined, and well funded Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. Founded in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, it reached its zenith under the tutelage of Sayyid Qutb. While currently outlawed in Egypt, members of the Brotherhood are able to run as Independents in Egypt’s Parliament. The“Brothers” are currently led by Sa’ad al-Katatni. While there are factions within the Ikhwan, their supreme goal remains the Islamization of Egypt into a country ruled by the Shari’ah. Their motto is enough to make any civilized person shudder:
Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.
The Brotherhood—heavily influenced by Nazi ideology —as well as having excellent relations with Iran has learned from its violent past (including the assassination of al-Banna and the hanging of Qutb) that the key to victory lies through “peaceful” methods. If Egypt continues to spin out of control, Egyptians may very well look to them for guidance and leadership. A recent Pew poll showed that Egyptians want “more Islam” in their lives. This is in stark contrast to political pundits and “experts” who have practically discounted the Brotherhood as obsolete.
Indeed, a “useful idiot” as Mohammed el-Baradei , an anti-American, anti-Israeli apologist for Iran’s nuclear weapons program may be the key to the Ikhwan’s dreams of ruling Egypt. Already, they have endorsed him. Iran’s Khomeini used a similar tactic with his first prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan , a respected liberal academic, and then after consolidating power, pushed him aside. With an Ikhwan controlled government, the peace treaty with Israel will no longer exist, perhaps leading to another all-out Arab-Israeli war with Iran in the forefront. The global implications of this nightmare scenario are only beginning to dawn. To put it mildly, America, Israel, and the West are caught between an Arabic version of Scylla and Charybdis.