Spring Time for Sharia in Araby
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s popular appeal and resultant political ascendancy were evident already at the close of the 1940s. As noted by Richard P. Mitchell, pre-eminent historian of the movement’s late 1920s advent and first quarter century of activities
…by 1948-49, this movement had reached such massive political proportions as to undermine the claim of the rulers to speak for the Egyptian people. The government’s decision to crush the movement in 1949 was presumably taken because of the organization’s potential threat to the existing political order.
Resilient tenacity and broad, ongoing appeal to Egypt’s Muslim masses enabled the Brotherhood to survive subsequent brutal crackdowns under Egyptian autocrats Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Spring Fever chronicles how the Brotherhood’s current savvy, battle-hardened leadership rapidly capitalized on the Arab Spring “democracy” fervor to finally assume governmental power with the imprimatur of parliamentary and then presidential electoral victories.
During a presidential campaign speech broadcast on May 13, 2012, on the Egyptian television station Misr 25, Morsi revealed, unabashedly, his traditionalist Islamic Weltanschauung. Extolling the Sharia supremacist ideology championed by Hasan al-Banna, whom Morsi invoked, he proclaimed,
[in the 1920’s, the Egyptians] said: “The constitution is our Koran.” They wanted to show that the constitution is a great thing. But Imam [Hassan] Al-Banna, Allah’s mercy upon him, said to them: “No, the Koran is our constitution.” The Koran was and will continue to be our constitution. The Koran will continue to be our constitution.
His adoring crowd then segued immediately into a responsive exercise with Morsi, each repeating the individual statements that comprise the Muslim Brotherhood credo:
Crowds: The Koran is our constitution.
Mohamed Morsi: The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
Crowds: The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
Mohamed Morsi: Jihad is our path.
Crowds: Jihad is our path.
Mohamed Morsi: And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
Crowds: And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
Mohamed Morsi: Above all – Allah is our goal.
Morsi concluded this part of his speech by making clear that he would work aggressively to implement the sharia, as president:
The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari’a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…Rejoice and rest assured that this people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic shari’a as a text to be implemented and as a platform. The people will not agree to anything else.
And as Andrew McCarthy concludes, appositely, in his updated Preface to Spring Fever,
Well, that didn’t take very long. On August 12, 2012, six weeks after being elected president of Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi forced the resignations of the generals atop the ruling military junta. Effectively, his election has converted Egypt from a military dictatorship to a sharia dictatorship. As this book argues, that is the end to which “Islamic democracy” leads.
Leftist critiques of Spring Fever will likely invoke its “partisan” failure to describe Republican flirtations with the Ikhwan that began 60 years ago, conveniently ignoring McCarthy’s rebuke, more importantly, of contemporary bipartisan Muslim Brotherhood outreach, and frank accommodation. Regardless, whatever mistakes were committed during our 1950s era engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood (for example, the Eisenhower administration bringing Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Said Ramadan to a 1953 “Colloquium on Islamic Culture”), the whole policy then really does seem to have been premised on the “Islam as a bulwark against Communism” geo-strategy. Indeed this was suggested to the U.S. by Hasan Al-Banna himself during Al-Banna’s fascinating August, 1947 interview in Cairo by a very informed and appropriately skeptical US diplomat, Philip W. Ireland. Moreover, in my forthcoming book, Sharia Versus Freedom, I allude to the views sharply questioning the validity of this approach and highlighting its dangers, as expressed by the British diplomat Sir John Troutbeck and the great Orientalist Gustave von Grunebaum. By comparison, our reckless engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood at present has intensified unacceptably under President Obama, far transcending any misguided, inchoate overtures initiated during the second G.W. Bush administration.
McCarthy argues cogently in Spring Fever that as avatars of “Messianic” totalitarian democracy (in political theorist Jacob Talmon’s parlance), the Obama administration now sees the Brotherhood as not only legitimate rulers of Egypt (i.e., a mere tacit acceptance of sad reality), but as long-term “diplomatic partners” of the US. Just this past May, 2009, the then-ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, acknowledged that subsequently deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak deplored the religious fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and had, along with his wife, supported advances in human rights which did not adversely affect political stability. Scobey, and her appropriate views regarding Mubarak’s regime, obviously stopped holding any sway within the Obama State Department by 2011, when she was replaced by Anne Patterson.
Andrew McCarthy’s pellucid, invaluable primer, in the end, updates the conundrum -- with all its attendant dangers, resulting from current U.S. policies, marinated in denial -- articulated two decades ago (in 1991) by respected anthropologist Ernest Gellner:
I think it is fair to say that no secularization has taken place in the world of Islam: that the hold of Islam over its believers is as strong, and in some ways stronger, now than it was 100 years ago. Somehow or other Islam is secularization-resistant, and the striking thing is that this remains true under a whole range of political regimes. It is true under socially radical regimes which try to fuse Islam with socialist terminology and ideas; it is equally true under traditionalist regimes whose elites belong to the world of Ibn Khaldun and come from a ruling tribal network; and it is true of the regimes in between.