Like Bret Stephens, I’ve been arguing that supporting the Egyptian military’s ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-led elected government is the only sensible American policy. It is the only chance for a different kind of Egypt – one that reins in Islamic supremacism and protects minority rights. But as I argue in a column posted on the homepage this morning, just because it’s the only sensible policy does not mean it has a great chance of success.
Nina Shea and David French have written forceful posts in the last few days about the ongoing siege against Egypt’s Christians. David’s latest yesterday makes the point my column tries to flesh out today. As David puts aptly it, “The Muslim Brotherhood attacks Christian churches not just out of vengeance but also as part of an effort to create a Christian/Muslim conflict that they believe could transform them back into the champion of the masses. In other words, they think the attacks will be popular.” I agree with David that we should use the prospect of losing lavish American military aid to pressure General al-Sissi to stop the anti-Christian pogrom – in fact, as I say in the column, “I would make all American policy in the Middle East contingent on the protection of minorities and the repeal of sharia’s other oppressive provisions — that would be more meaningful democracy promotion than the charade we’ve been pushing for the past decade.”
But we should not be under any illusions about how difficult this will be to pull off. The brute fact is that the problem in Egypt is the culture: The Brotherhood was created from the cauldron of Islamic supremacism, not the other way around – the Brothers are an effect, not a cause.
Consequently, I caution in the column that
[W]e should not idealize what life was like for Christians 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. In fact, as Ray Ibrahim has recounted and I describe in Spring Fever, Egyptian troops participated in the massacre of Christian demonstrators in Maspero in 2011 — many months before Morsi’s mid-2012 election.
I daresay the ongoing attacks against Christians are a lot more popular in Egypt than the armed forces’ removal of Morsi. On Sean Hannity’s radio program yesterday, I appeared with an Egyptian filmmaker named Jehan Harney, who repeated the popular Beltway canard that Morsi’s forcible ouster was not a coup because the armed forces were reacting to “the will of the people.” This is just another iteration of the myth-making I describe in Spring Fever: By the way it covers an event, the Western media makes a decided minority look like a vibrant majority. Egypt is a country of 84 million people in which the groups I’ll oversimplify by collectively calling the “secular opposition” make up less than a quarter of the population. A quarter of 84 million can easily be made to look like a groundswell, especially when many of them live in the crowded cities. But in poll after poll before Mubarak fell, and in the elections held since, the Islamic-supremacist position consistently wins between two-thirds and three-quarters of the popular vote – including only eight months ago, when Egyptians approved Morsi’s sharia constitution by a two-to-one landslide.
Apropos of that, I’ve just summarized the latest news out of Egypt:
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. . . .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.
Protecting Christians is what we want the Egyptian military to do, but is not what they are inclined to do. Some in the armed forces are afraid of being framed as “enemies of Islam,” and others are only to happy to participate in the slaughter.