We don’t hear much anymore the breathless celebrations of Egyptian democracy that followed our abandonment of the creepy but reliable Hosni Mubarak. The “Facebook kids” who enchanted our media with their tech-savvy cool have been forgotten. It’s hard to find anymore the optimism of Senator Joseph Lieberman, who in Foreign Affairs called the Arab Spring a struggle for “democracy, dignity, economic opportunity, and involvement in the modern world.” Events in Egypt every day reveal that shortsighted enthusiasm to be singularly lacking in prudence, and almost delusional in its naïve understanding of genuine democracy. But our government continues to pretend that the Muslim Brothers running the show are democrats whose interests can align with ours.
As each day passes, the Muslim Brothers are consolidating their power and shaping a government that looks less and less like a liberal democracy. President Mohammed Morsi has removed a major check on his power, Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. He was the leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which had been running Egypt since Mubarak was ousted last February, and which countered the influence of the Islamists. Also sacked were his fellow council members, the acting chiefs of Egypt’s military branches. Morsi then annulled SCAF’s constitutional declarations that had kept Morsi from exercising legislative power. As The Christian Science Monitor reported, the Muslim Brothers’ Morsi “now theoretically holds all the formal political power in the Arab world’s largest country. He can legislate, nominate members of the constitutional drafting committee, set foreign policy, and apparently shuffle the senior ranks of the military at will.”
Around the same time, Morsi went after newspapers that weren’t following the Muslim Brothers’ line. Editions of Al-Dustour, one of the few newspapers not run by the government, were removed from newsstands for “fueling sedition” and “harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law,” according to Egypt’s official news agency. This follows the shutting down of a television network, el-Faraeen, and the Muslim Brothers-dominated parliament’s move to replace the editors of the state-run newspapers.
Finally, just a few days ago Morsi targeted the Egyptian judiciary, seeking to limit the courts’ power and remove anti-Islamist judges. The president of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, Sameh Ashour, pointed out the obvious intent behind Morsi’s actions: “These are monopolistic plans. The Brotherhood wants to control all aspects of the state.” The next step will be the drafting of a new constitution that will further emasculate the Supreme Constitutional Court, which has been an obstacle to the Muslim Brothers since Mubarak’s fall.
Of course, no one familiar with the Muslim Brothers’ aim to institute shari’a law in Egypt and, in the words of Muslim Brothers founder Hassan al Banna, to see “the Islamic banner . . . wave supreme over the human race,” will be surprised. Yet for the Obama administration, the mechanics of democratic elections trump the noxious ideology manipulating the machinery. Hence Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message to Morsi is that the United States is eager to “support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt.” Clinton shows no awareness that the “results” the Muslim Brothers and their millions of supporters want to deliver are unlikely to be those compatible with liberal democracy and human rights. Similarly myopic is the invitation to the White House issued to a member of Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a notorious Egyptian terrorist outfit. State Department flack Victoria Nuland explained the visit by saying, “We have an interest in engaging a broad cross-section of Egyptians who are seeking to peacefully shape Egypt’s future.” Like her boss, Nuland seems oblivious to the sort of “future” the Muslim Brothers and other jihadists have in mind. She too should listen to al Banna, who wrote, “It is the nature of Islam to dominate not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations, and extend its power to the entire planet.”