A pogrom against Christians — torching Churches and killing believers — is perfectly consistent with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic supremacist ideology. But there are many despicable things, consistent with that ideology, that are not on display at the moment. By contrast, the Brothers and their sympathizers are very consciously and very publicly besieging Christians due to a key tactical calculation: In Egypt, framing a dispute as “Islam v. the Enemies of Islam” works.
The pogrom tells us more about Egypt than it does about the Brotherhood. It is convenient to make the Brothers into the all-purpose villain here, and to comfort ourselves in the notion that if they could be defeated our problems would be solved. But doing so misses the main point: the Muslim Brotherhood is a product of Egypt’s Islamic supremacist culture, not the other way around. The Brothers are an effect, not a cause.
Have you seen the other news coming out of Egypt the last few days? For all the blather about how the armed forces were responding to “the will of the people” in ousting Morsi, polling now shows that only 26 percent of Egyptians support the military coup, with a whopping 63 percent against it. This reaffirms what I contend in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy — Egypt is a substantially Islamic supremacist country, a fact the mainstream media is obscuring by myopically focusing on the quarter of the population that is not. (As Egypt has a population of 84 million, and its decidedly minority secular elements tend to live in the cities, it is an easy thing for the media to make about 20 million people look like a groundswell.) Remember, this is the same Egypt that only eight months ago approved a sharia constitution by a two-to-one landslide. The spread in the polling that shows deep opposition to Morsi’s removal mirrors what we’ve seen in the several elections since Hosni Mubarak’s toppling in early 2011: The Islamic supremacist position is favored, usually by somewhere between a two-to-one and a four-to-one margin.
Meanwhile, even the “Tamarod movement” — the campaign that the media laughably portrays as the emerging secular, progressive Egyptian majority — wants to cancel the peace treaty with Israel. And the Egyptian press reports (e.g., here) that the new Egyptian constitution being drafted by the transitional government installed by the armed forces will maintain the former constitution’s Article 2, which establishes Islam as the state religion and enshrines sharia as “the main source of legislation.” Any attempt to repeal or alter those provisions in favor of commitments to equality and the protection of minority rights would result in exactly the murderous rioting and attacks on Christians that we are seeing now.
The problem with Egypt is not the Brotherhood, it is the culture. Secular democrats are a distinct minority and there is no prospect that that will change any time soon. As I argued in a National Review column today, it is a mistake for us to idealize what life for Christians was like in Egypt before the Muslim Brotherhood came to power:
Mubarak was, on balance, an American ally, but he made his own accommodations with Islamic supremacists — abiding their prominence in academe, their promotion of anti-Semitism in the media, and their more than occasional harassment of the Copts. The stubborn fact is that attacks on Egypt’s Christians long predate the Brotherhood’s now-aborted rise to political power.
It is worth reprising Spring Fever’s description of what was going on in Egypt in the weeks after Mubarak’s fall but long before Morsi’s mid-2012 election:
With Mubarak out of the way and control of the revolution up for grabs, the Western media began assuring increasingly alarmed readers and viewers that there was little chance Egypt would go the way of Iran because the uprising lacked a Khomeini-like charismatic cleric to seize the moment. But then the Brotherhood began shunting aside non-Islamist opposition leaders, including Google executive Wael Ghonim, whom Western media had posited as emblematic of the uprising’s modernist, progressive character. After all, well over a million Muslims were not jamming the square to hear a good corporate citizen of the Left; they were there to hear Sheikh Qaradawi, sharia personified.
Just a week after Mubarak’s expulsion, on Juma — i.e., Friday, the Islamic Sabbath, when the uprising tended to heat up as Muslims poured out of their mosques with the voices of fiery imams still ringing in their ears — Sheikh Qaradawi was cheered like a rock star in Tahrir Square. Tellingly, security for his appearance in the former backyard of his archenemy, Mubarak, was provided by the Egyptian military … even as the Brothers were preventing non-Islamist speakers from taking the podium. The Brothers and the generals, it seemed, could reach accommodations. In his sermon, Qaradawi celebrated the revolution as Allah’s victory and heralded it as a divine omen for “our brothers in Palestine” — meaning Hamas. Just as Allah had provided “victory in Egypt,” so too would there soon be a “conquest of the al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem.
Soon, murderous attacks against Coptic Christians intensified. On New Year’s ever, a church in Alexandria was bombed, killing 23. In March, angry mobs attacked a Cairo church. In April, rioters in Qena demanded the ouster of the regime-appointed governor because he is a Christian and thus, under sharia, unfit to govern in a Muslim land. In May, screaming, “With our blood and soul, we will defend you, Islam!” jihadists stormed the Virgin Mary Church in northwest Cairo, torched it, burned to the ground the nearby homes of two Copt families, attacked a residential complex, killed a dozen people, and wounded over 200 more. In October, thousands of Muslims attacked and destroyed the St. George Coptic church in Edfu. The pastor had been insufficiently attentive to their complaints that the renovation of the house of worship, carried out only after government approval, left it with a “cross [that] irritates Muslims and their children.” And then there was that dome that made it look like, well, a church.
Flabbergasted that the world seemed indifferent to their plight, thousands of Copts went to Maspero, a Cairo media center, to draw attention. The demonstration turned into a shocking massacre when some soldiers opened fire on the protesters and others rammed cars into them. Dozens of Christians were killed and 300 wounded — though the media focused on the three soldiers who lost their lives in the melee started by the military. Video circulated of a soldier boasting that he had shot a Christian in the chest, after which the crowd around him shouted, “Allahu Akbar!”
We can only hope that enough international pressure can be brought to bear that the Egyptian armed forces will be moved to stop the ongoing brutalization of Christians. We can only hope that the military takeover will eventually lead to a more inclusive Egyptian society that turns away from sharia repression and toward the protection of the fundamental rights of minorities and women. But we should not kid ourselves: Egypt is a long, long way from there. The Brotherhood is savaging Christians because, in Egypt, it is a very effective strategy to portray oneself as the defender of Islam fighting “enemies of Islam.”
To understand what is happening in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, you would do far better to read Ray Ibrahim’s Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians than to catch the Western media’s spring fever.