Amir Taheri Still Flush with Spring Fever

As I’ve pointed out here many times, the Brotherhood is the most significant Islamic supremacist faction in Egypt (and the broader Middle East), but it is far from the only one. The Brothers also have a richly deserved reputation for treachery and self-dealing of the power-grabbing variety. As a result, they are despised by many Egyptians, including other Islamic supremacists, for reasons having nothing to do with their sharia-centric ideology.

Of more immediate consequence, the Brothers are also out of favor with their erstwhile benefactors, the Saudis. The House of Saud fears a Brotherhood-orchestrated insurrection -- akin to what the Brothers have tried to pull off in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Jordan and other Sunni Muslim countries. Just like the Salafist Nour party they back in Egypt, the Saudis are rabidly pro-sharia. Yet, enthusiastically supported, and almost certainly provided the military’s financial incentive for, the coup against Morsi. It is a major analytical error to confound Egypt’s rejection of the Brotherhood with Egypt’s rejection of Islamic supremacism.

It is an error Amir Taheri consistently makes, as I pointed out when he offered a tortured interpretation of Morsi’s victory in the presidential election as, somehow, a hopeful sign that Egyptians were souring on sharia totalitarianism. It is ironic that Taheri, a proponent of the American policy fantasy that popular elections signal Islamic culture’s transition to real democracy, so often neglects to mention that Morsi and the overwhelmingly Brotherhood/Salafist parliament were freely elected by Egyptians. Morsi and other Islamists did not hide the ball. They openly, unabashedly campaigned on a promise to champion the implementation of sharia -- the Brotherhood’s raison d’etre. Islamic supremacism was not imposed on Egyptians; it was chosen by Egyptians.

Moreover, the sharia constitution that Taheri refers to as the “Morsi constitution” was merely proposed by Morsi -- after being drafted by a committee designed by the elected Islamic-supremacist parliament. It was not the “Morsi constitution”; it was the Egyptian constitution. It became the law of the land only after Egyptians approved it by a two-to-one landslide in a nationwide election.

It is certainly true that real democracy advocates in Egypt do not like the sharia provisions -- like Amir and I, they see these provisions as antithetical to authentic democracy. But we have to face stubborn facts: proponents of Western-style democracy are vastly outnumbered in Egypt. That is why they get trounced in elections. The sharia provisions are in Egypt’s constitution because that is what a lopsided majority of Egyptians wants.

Indeed, it was not Morsi who put sharia in Egypt’s constitution. As I recount in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, the provision that “Islam is the Religion of the State” has been in the constitution since the founding of the modern Egyptian state in the middle of the 20th century. The constitution’s declaration that “the principal source of legislation is Islamic jurisprudence” -- effectively imposing sharia and fiqh, the jurisprudence of sharia -- was added in the seventies. It was a key part of President Anwar Sadat’s program to reintegrate Islamic supremacists, who had been brutally repressed after attempting to kill Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. (Islamic supremacists being Islamic supremacists, they showed their gratitude by eventually murdering Sadat).