by Andrew G. Bostom
Theodore Roosevelt penned these remarkably prescient words in a 1911 letter to his longtime correspondent and friend, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, reflecting upon Roosevelt's post-presidency visit to Cairo, Egypt, the previous year.
The real strength of the Nationalist movement in Egypt ... lay not with these Levantines of the café but with the mass of practically unchanged bigoted Moslems to whom the movement meant driving out the foreigner, plundering and slaying the local Christian, and a return to all the violence and corruption which festered under the old-style Moslem rule, whether Asiatic or African.
Roosevelt's concerns about the recrudescence of "old-style Moslem rule" -- that is, a totalitarian sharia (Islamic law) not reshaped or constrained by Western law, may now be fully realized a century later.
Less than two years after the forced abdication of Egyptian President Mubarak, we appear to be witnessing the ultimate triumph of the electoral ascendancy of vox populi, mainstream Egyptian Islamic parties -- and most prominently, the Muslim Brotherhood. Muhammad Morsi, the Brotherhood's freely elected presidential candidate, has successfully outmaneuvered a minority coalition of secular-leaning Muslims, and Christians, to orchestrate the passage of a more robustly sharia-complaint Egyptian constitution.
Given President Obama's repeated admonitions (as reported here and here) that Mubarak relinquish power, immediately, during early February 2011, this prior Tuesday, May 19, 2009 confidential assessment of Mubarak by then-U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey raises profound questions about U.S. actions which facilitated his removal, and the subsequent triumph of Egypt's sharia supremacists.
Mubarak is a classic Egyptian secularist who hates religious extremism and interference in politics. The Muslim Brothers represent the worst [emphasis added], as they challenge not only Mubarak's power, but his view of Egyptian interests. As with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak's mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole. He has been supportive of improvements in human rights in areas that do not affect public security or stability. Mrs. Mubarak has been given a great deal of room to maneuver to advance women's and children's rights and to confront some traditional practices that have been championed by the Islamists, such as FGM [i.e., female genital mutilation, sanctioned by not merely "Islamists," but the predominant Shafiite school of Islamic law in Egypt, leading to rates of this misogynistc barbarity among Egyptian women of 95%], child labor, and restrictive personal status laws.
The Hard-Won Local Triumph, and Global Aspirations of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan)
February 18, 2011 marked the triumphal return to Cairo of Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) "Spiritual Guide" Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi's own words, accompanied by images and actions during this appearance, reaffirmed his obscurantist, albeit mainstream Islamic Weltanschauung of sharia-based, aggressive jihadism, and its corollary -- virulent Jew- and other infidel-hatred, which should have shattered the delusive view that the turmoil leading to President Mubarak's resignation augured the emergence of a modern, democratic Egyptian society devoted to Western conceptions of individual liberty and equality before the law.
Qaradawi's Tahrir Square appearance foreshadowed events that have transpired, predictably, from the subsequent nearly two years 'til now, punctuated by the open ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology and party affiliates within Egypt and across North Africa and the entire Middle East. Indeed, Qaradawi's February 18, 2011 "khutbah," or sermon, to the adoring Muslim throngs that day reflected the longstanding aspirations of "martyred" Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna and was symbolic of an Islamic revival begun earlier by the so-called "Al-Manar modernists" -- Jamal Al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida -- more than a century before Qaradawi took the stage at Tahrir Square.
Charles Wendell introduced his elegant 1978 translation of five Al-Banna treatises with a particularly astute summary assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood founder's Weltanschauung. Wendell stressed Al-Banna's seamless connection not only to the Al-Manar modernists, but to traditional Islam itself. Moreover, Wendell's concluding observations remain critical to understanding the deep Islamic religious animus towards Israel and the West -- so much in evidence today -- that Al-Banna and his movement both inspired and reflected.
Hasan al-Banna's fundamental conviction that Islam does not accept, or even tolerate, a separation of "church" and state, or of either from society, is as thoroughly Islamic as it can be. Any attempt to translate his movement into terms reducible to social, political, or religious factors exclusively simply misses the boat. The "totality" created by the Prophet Muhammad in the Medinese state, the first Islamic state, was Hasan's unwavering ideal, and the ideal of all Muslim thinkers before him, including the idle dreamers in the mosque. His ideology then, before it was Egyptian or Arab or whatever, was Islamic to the core. Since it embraced all aspects of human life and thought, it was at least as much religious as anything else. [Emphasis added.] Practically all of his arguments are shored up by frequent quotations from the Qur'an and the Traditions, quite in the style of his medieval forbears. If one considers the public to whom his writings were addressed, it becomes instantly apparent that such arguments must still be the most compelling for the vast bulk of the Muslim populations of today. The nagging feeling that Islam must, and very quickly at that, catch up with the West, had even by his time filtered down from above to the masses after having been the watchword of the modernizing intellectual for almost a century. There was also the notion that all these Western sciences and techniques were originally adopted from Islamic culture, and were therefore merely "coming home" -- a piece of self-conscious back-patting that was already a cliché of most Muslim political writing[.] ... To this [Islamic] revivalist mentality, nothing could be more hateful than further diminution of the lands traditionally dominated by Islam. I believe that much of the fury and unconcealed hatred of the Zionist state which is expressed by the majority of Arabs will become more comprehensible in light of what the Islamic domain as a concept really means to the Muslims, seen through the lens of Hasan's exposition[.] ... [T]he Muslim Brotherhood ... had, on the basis of indisputable historical facts and clear religious traditions, a ready-made program for a world crusade that required only actors and a leader. Islam had from the beginning been a proselytizing faith. The error of the Islamic peoples, as Al-Afghani had pointed out forty years before, had been to cease their inexorable forward march, to abnegate their God-ordained destiny[.]
Nadav Safran's 1961 study of modern Egyptian political evolution through 1952 confirmed that already by the late 1930s, Egypt's inchoate experimentation with a Western cultural orientation and constitutional polity had failed miserably, and the authentic Islamic ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood's al-Banna were prevailing. He provided this summary of the predominant attitudes by then, which:
... reawakened hostility against Britain for violating Egypt's national rights, and deep resentment for its support of the foundation of Israel. ... The Muslim orientation had become predominant, and the opposition to the Western culture on the ideological level had become nearly total, even though in practice imitation of the surface aspects of that culture remained[.]
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's popular appeal and resultant political ascendancy were clearly evident 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.
Olivier Carré's 1983 analysis of the profound regional impact of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s described what he termed, aptly, "a striking phenomenon," which pervaded Egypt, and the Arab Muslim Near East:
[W]hen one discusses Islam, as one often does in terms of a social and political ideal, whether out of religious conviction or because it is in the news, a common language, a sort of conceptual koine [a lingua franca, or widely used language] is found in all Eastern Arab countries -- in Muslim schoolbooks, in the speech or behavior of people, whether friends or casual acquaintances, or in press reports on various current events. This common language is derived, ultimately, from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood of the Nasserist period and also from what I shall call the "new Muslim Brothers" of the 1970s and 1980s
Carré concluded with this foreboding observation, borne out dramatically, at present, by the unfolding events of the so-called Arab Spring, most notably in Egypt:
[W]e shall eventually come to speak of a Saudi-inspired and directed neo-Ottomanist utopia, socially based on the middle classes of the Arab East, which is not particularly "new" except by virtue of an acculturation drive. Its militant basis will be Islamic politico-religious groupings of which the new Muslim Brothers is the most significant group.
Resilient tenacity and wide, ongoing appeal to Egypt's Muslim masses enabled the Brotherhood to survive brutal crackdowns under Egyptian autocrats Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Spring Fever, Andrew McCarthy's invaluable recent primer, 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.
Morsi's (and Egyptian Muslims') Caliphate Dreams?
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 Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hasan al-Banna, whom Morsi invoked, he proclaimed,
[In the 1920s, 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.
Accordingly, what are the salient features of the sharia, and how broadly do these doctrines appeal to Egypt's Muslim masses -- not just that cheering mid-May 2012 audience of Morsi supporters -- as demonstrated by recent polling data?
Derived from Islam's most important canonical texts -- the Koran and hadith (the canonical collections of the Muslim prophet Muhammad's deeds and pronouncements) -- and their interpretation and codification by Islam's greatest classical legists, sharia, Islamic law, is not merely holistic, in the general sense of all-encompassing, but totalitarian, regulating everything from the ritual aspects of religion to personal hygiene to the governance of a Muslim minority community or an Islamic state, bloc of states, or global Islamic order. Clearly, this latter political aspect is the most troubling, being an ancient antecedent of more familiar modern totalitarian systems. Specifically, sharia's liberty-crushing and dehumanizing political aspects feature open-ended jihadism to subjugate the world to a totalitarian Islamic order; rejection of bedrock Western liberties -- including freedom of conscience and speech -- enforced by imprisonment, beating, or death; discriminatory relegation of non-Muslims to outcast, vulnerable pariahs and of even Muslim women to subservient chattel; and barbaric punishments which violate human dignity, such as amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and lashing for alcohol consumption.
But is this ancient, brutally oppressive totalitarian system still popular amongst Egyptian Muslims? In a word, yes. Polling data were released April 24, 2007 from a rigorously conducted face-to-face University of Maryland/WorldPublicOpinion.org interview survey of Muslims conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of the 1,000 Egyptians surveyed desired this outcome: "To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate." (Emphasis added.) The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a caliphate was strongly suggested by a concordant result: 74% of Egyptian Muslims approved the proposition "To require a strict [emphasis added] application of Sharia law in every Islamic country." Moreover, defined by Muhammad either in the Koran or in the hadith, the sharia mandates draconian "hadd" punishments for certain offenses, including (lethal) stoning for adultery; death for apostasy; death for highway robbery, when accompanied by murder of the robbery victim; for simple highway robbery, the loss of hands and feet; for simple theft, cutting off of the right hand; for "fornication," a hundred lashes; for drinking wine, eighty lashes. Polling data reported in December 2010 by Pew revealed that 77% of Egyptian Muslims supported mutilating punishments for theft, 82% endorsed stoning for adultery, and 84% favored the death penalty for so-called "apostasy" -- i.e., forsaking Islam for another religion, or becoming an atheist or agnostic.
This is the overall popular sharia-affirming context in which to view Morsi decreeing himself sweeping executive powers, within 24 hours of U.S. and worldwide praise for his role in brokering a ceasefire between Hamas's jihadist Gaza regime and Israel. As Morsi aide Pakinam al-Sharqawi, alluding to the starting date of the 2011 uprising against former Egyptian President Mubarak, opined on Al Jazeera:
He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution. It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution[.]
Effectively neutralizing a judicial system which had become a dogged opponent, Morsi's decree barred the courts from challenging his decisions. Morsi now not only holds executive power; he also assumed de facto legislative authority after a prior court ruling issued just before he took office on June 30, 2012 dissolved the popularly elected and powerful lower house of parliament, which was spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood. Having seized two branches of power, Morsi deftly eliminated many prerogatives of the third, the judiciary.
Placing himself beyond oversight, simultaneously, Morsi secured the traditionalist, sharia-supporting assembly body drafting Egypt's new constitution from judicial challenges calling for its dissolution. Dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other traditionalist Muslim members, this assembly has striven to produce a sharia-based draft constitution, which, understandably, "opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking." During the past week, in protest of what they claimed was the hijacking of the process by Morsi's sharia supremacist allies, Christian and secular-leaning members withdrew from the assembly.
Now, the traditionalist Muslim, sharia-advocating assembly, which had been working until recently with a minority of secularists and Christians for months, has just raced to pass the draft Constitution during a nonstop marathon session during which it approved 234 articles.
Comparing the suspended 1971 Constitution with the current draft charter, several features, consistent the more pronounced influence of sharia, are immediately apparent:
- Egypt is now identified "as part of the Arabic and Islamic nations (Umma)"
- Article 2 from 1971 remains intact, stating, "Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Sharia are the main source of legislation." However, the complementary Article 219 adds the specific statement, "The principles of Sharia include general evidence and foundations, rules and jurisprudence as well as sources accepted by doctrines of Sunni Islam and the majority of Muslim scholars." Moreover, whereas no mention of al-Azhar University or its Muslim legists was included in the 1971 constitution, the current draft states plainly, "Al-Azhar is an independent and a comprehensive entity. It takes the task of preaching Islam in Egypt and in the whole world. Scholars of al-Azhar should be consulted in all matters related to Sharia."
- Article 44 -- consistent with sharia blasphemy law -- warns: "Insulting prophets and messengers is forbidden."
The constitution was praised by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who noted that it contained "principles and values needed by Egyptians." Qaradawi added, "Even if it contains shortcomings, they could be addressed later" -- perhaps alluding to his avowed stratagem of applying the more draconian aspects of sharia, such as hadd punishments, gradually, during a "transitional" accommodation period.
By Saturday evening (12/1/12), President Morsi made a public appearance hailing the Constitution and urging Egyptians to vote to approve the charter in a national referendum to be held December 15, 2012. Morsi even vowed to resign if voters reject the Constitution in the proposed referendum, according to a report in Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Morsi's open advance of a sharia supremacist agenda is clearly an affront to Egypt's chronically beleaguered, indigenous, pre-Islamic Coptic Christian minority. However, Morsi's successful actions seem far less confused and hypocritical than those of his so-called "liberal" Muslim opponents.
On September 23, 2012, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president issued presidential order No. 1/2012, appointing 3,649 judges to Emergency State Security Courts (ESSC). The ESSC, which operated during Egypt's 31-year state of emergency under the previous Hosni Mubarak regime, and during the military transition to Morsi's June 2012 election to power, have notoriously violated basic due process guarantees. Wednesday (11/28/12), consistent with both that three-decades-long ignoble history and Islam's ongoing, millennial, sharia-based rejection of freedom of speech, an Egyptian state security court issued a verdict which sentenced eight persons to the death penalty -- seven expatriate Coptic Egyptians and American pastor Terry Jones -- for "blaspheming" Islam. Egyptian Judge Saif al Nasr Soliman stated:
The accused persons were convicted of insulting the Islamic religion through participating in producing and offering a movie that insults Islam and its prophet.
Their alleged specific "crime" was involvement in the production of the amateurish film, The Innocence of Muslims," which, despite its crude cinematography, accurately depicts some of the less than salutary behaviors of Islam's prophet, Muhammad, as described in the sacralized Muslim biographical sources.
Morsi, on September 13, 2012, proclaimed:
The Islamic sanctities and prophet Mohamed is a red line for all Muslims...We do not accept and we consider an enemy anyone who assaults our prophet through words or deeds. I represent all the Egyptian people, I deprecate and I stand against whoever tries to abuse or exercise abuse of any kind against our prophet or any of the Islamic holy sites.
Curiously, none of Egypt's high-profile "liberal Muslims," be they jurists or recent presidential candidates such as Amr Moussa (former head of the Arab League) and Muhammad El-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning ex-director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have publicly condemned this heinous, albeit sharia-compliant judicial verdict.
Charles Watson (1873-1948) was born in Cairo of missionary parents, and he became one of the founders and presidents (from 1922 to 1945) of the American University at Cairo. Watson's devoted educational contributions to Egyptian society were acknowledged by an appreciative Egyptian government. Notwithstanding his empathy for the Egyptian people, Watson recorded these frank, timeless observations in 1937, borne of his study of Islam and validating life experience in Egypt (emphasis added):
In the case of the Mohammedan world, religion has seemingly affected every detail of life with its prescriptions and requirements. ... [N]o other religion, as it conquered new territory, has so completely and quickly wiped out even the culture of the conquered people and imposed upon their total life new ways and customs, often a new language, as has the Mohammedan religion. ... Islam can truly be described as totalitarian. By a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it is able to maintain its hold upon the life of the Moslem peoples.
Seventy-five years later, devoid of Watson's profound experience-based understanding, egregiously warped American policymakers and diplomats in the Obama administration, and President Obama himself, have recklessly helped empower the most dangerous avatars of totalitarian Islam, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Andrew G. Bostom
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.