Despite rosy forecasts of an "Arab Spring," a cold Islamist winter grips the Middle East, as developments in Egypt make clear. What does this mean for the future of this critical region?
Source: Photo illustration by Shaun Venish/iStockphoto
Sweet springtime! The birds are singing, the trees are budding, all is lovely. And so was it imagined to be by many in the West with the uprisings against dictatorial rule in Middle Eastern states that began at the end of 2010. Young visionaries coordinating through Google and Facebook spawned protests calling for reform throughout the region. Soon despotic rulers were ousted. It was hailed as the Arab Spring. No doubt freedom and democracy were on the way.
As the West, including the U.S. government, encouraged the various uprisings and ousters, some concerned voices warned of the revolts empowering Islamist forces. But this was brushed aside as Islamophobic fearmongering. All was sunshine and rainbows.
So after the February 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, it came as a shock to many that when millions jammed into Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the protests had taken place, it was not to hear from the young Google executive Wael Ghonim, whom Western media put forward as the progressive, modernist face of the uprisings. He was not even allowed to take the stage.
Rather, the crowds pressed in to cheer on the top jurist of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, regarded by many as the world's most influential Sunni Muslim cleric. Just two years earlier the renowned disabled scholar had told millions on al-Jazeera TV: "The only thing I hope for is that, as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair. I will shoot Allah's enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom."
But this, Western commentators assured us, was not widespread sentiment. Except that the Muslim Brotherhood was soon elected into power in Egypt with a stated desire to institute full sharia (Islamic law and jurisprudence) and talk of ending the peace treaty with Israel. And Salafis, perceived by many to follow an even more extreme interpretation of Islam, also got a large percentage of the vote. Similar outcomes were seen in other Muslim states where the uprisings had occurred.
Egyptian military leaders attempted to marginalize the country's new Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, but with vast popular and Western support he managed to outmaneuver them, force their resignations and take control of the political process. Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei complained that Morsi "usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."
By the end of 2012 Morsi succeeded in driving through a sharia-based constitution, ultimately by popular referendum. Yet Western talking heads and officials have continued to urge that there's no cause for alarm—maintaining that the elected parties and the majority of the populace in the various nations are really moderates.
Escalating danger as revolutionary fervor spreads
In September 2012, new eruptions of protests and rioting broke out all over the Arab and wider Muslim world—this time against America under the pretense of defending Islam against an obscure, amateurish film portraying Muhammad that was made by an Egyptian living in the United States.
While the movie was certainly used to further inflame passions, it seems that many of the protests had been planned in advance, unrelated to that instigation, to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. And besides mere protests, American embassies were attacked, and the U.S. ambassador to Libya and other officials were murdered by terrorists.
Shockingly, it now appears that America has armed such terrorists in Libya, even al-Qaeda. The initial purpose was to depose Muammar Gaddafi, but the revolutionary fighters have used the weapons—augmented by many more formerly under the control of Gaddafi's forces—to spread armed uprising to other countries. Some weapons have been funneled to nearby Mali and Algeria, supplying the recent terror assaults there, while others have ended up smuggled farther away to Hamas in Gaza and, in large amounts, to Islamist forces in Syria.
Speaking of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has not surrendered to Islamist uprisings, and a civil war has broken out, with more than 60,000 people killed and more than 500,000 refugees having fled to neighboring countries. Syria has become a new rallying spot for Islamist "freedom fighters" from many other nations—including Iraq, where they formerly battled U.S. forces.
While the Assad government represents tyranny, to be sure, an Islamist government would likely be even more totalitarian—controlling the minutiae of personal lives. It would especially be worse for Syrian Christians, as their religious practices were for the most part tolerated and even protected under Assad's government.
Egypt—growing danger for non-Muslim minorities
In Egypt, the situation is dangerously deteriorating for Christians. Dozens of them were killed and hundreds injured when soldiers opened fire on thousands during a protest in October 2011. Just prior to the December 2012 referendum on the new constitution, longtime Muslim Brotherhood figure and popular preacher Safwat Hegazy stood before Muslim throngs warning the nation's Coptic Christians:
"A message to the church of Egypt, from an Egyptian Muslim: I tell the church—by Allah, and again, by Allah—if you conspire and unite with the remnants [opposition] to bring Morsi down, that will be another matter . . . We say and I say to the church: yes, you share this country with us; but there are red lines—and our red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Mohamed Morsi. Whoever splashes water on it, we will splash blood on him."
All the while his enthusiastic Muslim audience repeatedly shouted "Allahu Akbar!"— commonly said to mean "Allah is great" but actually meaning "Allah is greater"—that is, greater than all other gods and all forces that would stand against the spread of Islam.
After the new Egyptian constitution was signed into law on Dec. 26, the leader of the nation's Coptic Church stated that "the religious orientation of this constitution prepares the way for an Islamic caliphate"—that is, an empire under Islamic rule bent on world domination.
Other critics of the new constitution noted that it had dropped a ban on slavery— proposed in light of the fact that abduction, enslavement, rape and trafficking of Coptic Christian girls is now at an all-time high, with Islamists allowing such slavery. Salafis involved in drafting the constitution objected to any mention of human trafficking, asserting in spite of the evidence that these problems did not exist in Egypt. In reality, they're the ones most associated with these problems.
As to opposition calls to shelve the new constitution, Muslim Brotherhood Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein said, "Such talk is punishable by law because the Constitution has been approved in a fair process."
Ah, springtime! Can you smell the flowers?
The sad reality, as many analysts have recognized since even the outset, is that there has been no Arab Spring —that what we are instead seeing is an Islamist winter settling over the Middle East. And this development has been abetted by the West. It's important that we understand what's going on in the region—and where it's headed.
The key factor on the ground—Islam
It's clear that the primary beneficiaries of the Arab uprisings are the Islamic supremacists—particularly the Muslim Brotherhood but other groups as well. This is especially true in Egypt, "the mother of the Arab world" and most populous Arab nation, which heavily influences the direction of the rest.
In Egypt's parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood claimed half the vote. Some try to paint this as a slim victory. But the Islamist vote was split with the Salafis, who took another quarter of the vote—meaning that together they received a massive 75 percent. The more recent referendum of December 2012 passed the sharia-based constitution 64 to 36 percent. How could this happen?
Author Andrew McCarthy is a former assistant U.S. attorney who led the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and other terrorists. In his new book Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy he explains:
"To understand the 'Arab Spring,' it is essential first and foremost to grasp that the key fact on the ground in Arab countries—as well as in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other neighboring non-Arab territories—is Islam. It is not poverty, illiteracy, or the lack of modern democratic institutions.
"These features, like anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and an insular propensity to buy into conspiracy theories featuring infidel villains, are . . . consequences of Islam's regional dominance and supremacist ambitions. They do not cause populations to turn to Islam. One does not need to be led to that which pervades one's existence . . . [And] on its native soil, Islam is most emphatically not 'moderate'" (2013, pp. 4-5, emphasis in original).
This is especially so in Egypt, of which Michael Totten wrote in the journal World Affairs: "Almost every woman who goes out in public wears a headscarf. I see more men in just one single day with bruised foreheads—acquired by hitting their heads on the floor during prayer—than I have seen in all other Muslim-majority countries combined in almost a decade.
"The country is, as far as I can tell, the most Islamicized place in the world after Saudi Arabia. It used to be oriented more toward the Mediterranean . . . but that was more than a half century ago" ("Arab Spring or Islamist Winter?" January/February 2012).
Another analyst points out, "Many Egyptians voted as they were told by the leaders of local mosques by selecting pictograms on the ballots (approximately 30 percent of Egyptians are illiterate)" (James Phillips, "The Arab Spring Descends Into Islamist Winter," The Heritage Foundation, Dec. 20, 2012). Of course, even educated people followed the imams.
Islamist groups seize the moment
Suppression of dissent under Arab dictatorship has contributed to the problem. While any kind of secular reformers were squashed, as was free thinking in education, dictators still had to pay lip service to Islam and permit its flourishing. And Islamists were heavily involved in the mosques and various charities—giving them an organizational framework from which to operate.
When the uprisings happened, they seized the moment and hit the ground running. Secularists, on the other hand, were not set up to mobilize public opinion into political action and were quickly shunted aside by the better-organized Islamists.
So why should Islamist victory in democratic elections be any surprise? This is not an environment conducive to freedom-oriented self-governance. McCarthy notes: "The modern West obsesses over politics and law. We are mesmerized, in particular, by their procedural aspects: popular elections, constitution-writing, and the like" (p. 3).
Yet, he points out, it was a liberty-oriented culture in early America that gave rise to our limited government—not the other way around. We need to look beyond processes—to consider the type of people they will establish in positions of power.
We should especially consider the primary beneficiary of the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood, which many try to portray as moderate. (For some background, be sure to read "A Closer Look at the Muslim Brotherhood ".)
Not moderate, despite word games
Some try to draw a distinction between the more popular Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis (who won a quarter of the Egyptian election) as a contrast between moderate innovators and strict fundamentalists.
"Hooey," says McCarthy in a National Review article. "The Muslim Brothers are Salafists . . . The Brotherhood rigorously hews to the Salafist ideology of its founder, Hassan al-Banna . . . that seeks to return to the Islam of Mohammed and the first generations of Muslims—the Salafiyyah (a term derived from al-Salaf al-Salih, the Righteous Companions: Mohammed and the first 'rightly guided' caliphs).
"This is the Islam the Brotherhood seeks to impose on the world, through implementation of Islam's legal and political system, sharia. The goal of the Salafists is 'shared' with the Brotherhood precisely because the Brotherhood and the Salafists are one, as their just-announced electoral pact suggests" ("An Ill Season," May 14, 2011).
To a degree, this is part of a strategy of proliferating organizations to camouflage unified intentions. It makes it seem like there are many competing groups to choose from when there really aren't, and creates the impression of support for certain issues across a wide and diverse spectrum. The same kind of proliferation of organizations has long been a leftist globalist strategy—groups of many different names, but all working toward the same ends and often cooperating.
Then again, there may actually be some difference between the Salafists in terms of tactics. The Brotherhood has often been more cautious in its statements and actions than some others—working to thoroughly infiltrate society before too quickly resorting to violence, as that could cause a backlash.
Yet we should not imagine that the Brotherhood has renounced violence. After all, the Palestinian branch of the organization is the terrorist group Hamas, which is behind literally thousands of attacks against Israel.
Nor has the Brotherhood moderated its Islamic supremacist aims in recent years. It still unabashedly proclaims its motto that goes back more than 80 years: "Allah is our goal. The Prophet [Muhammad] is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Death in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!"
Duplicity in renouncing terrorism
But doesn't the Brotherhood decry terrorism? Yes, but usually in criticizing Israel and the West. We need to understand their use of terms.
McCarthy states in Spring Fever: "To an Islamist, 'terrorism' involves the unjustifiable (under sharia) killing of Muslims. Killing non-Muslim enemies is never terrorism, it is 'resistance.' To ingratiate themselves with credulous Western leaders, deceptive Islamists will grudgingly . . . condemn terrorist attacks against civilian targets (e.g., the World Trade Center) in the West. But this is because they rationalize that such indiscriminate violence can and does kill Muslim civilians, too [and it could cause severe setbacks for spreading Islam] . . .
"The Brotherhood has no trouble claiming to be repulsed by 'terrorism.' The problem is that the Brothers don't mean what you think you hear. Again, they don't judge themselves by your standards. They operate in accordance with the Islamic concepts of taqiyya (strategic lying to infidels) and taqiyya 's close derivative, tawriya . . . [or] 'creative lying': a literal truth by which the speaker deceives a listener he knows to be ignorant of basic facts and assumptions" (pp. 57-58, emphasis in original).
It's the same with the naming of the Brotherhood's political parties. In Egypt it's the Freedom and Justice Party, following after the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. While such names play well to Western democracy advocates, they mean something different to Islamists.
To them, "freedom" is found in submission to authoritarian Islam. And "justice" means the whole system of sharia. One of early Brotherhood leader Sayyid Qutb's most successful tracts is Social Justice in Islam. Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood party in Tunisia is named Ennahda or "Renaissance"—referring to society being brought under Islam.
The sentiments of Egypt's new president
Statements and actions by Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, should make it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda has not been watered down. He vowed what Egypt's new constitution would represent under his guidance: "The sharia, then the sharia, and finally, the sharia." And he came through on his promise.
Besides following through on his commitment to pressuring the U.S. to release the Blind Sheikh (Omar Abdel-Rahman, the spiritual leader behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombers) and other terrorists, Morsi freed hundreds of political prisoners in Egypt—including dozens of terrorist leaders.
Then there's the matter of Israel. Before becoming president, in a Sept. 23, 2010, video interview posted at the Brotherhood's Ikhwan Tube, Morsi called Israeli-Palestinian negotiations a waste of time, claiming: "Either [you accept] the Zionists and everything they want, or else it is war. This is what these occupiers of the land of Palestine know—these blood-suckers, who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs . . . We should employ all forms of resistance against them.
"There should be military resistance within the land of Palestine against those criminal Zionists . . . [And] this should be the practice of the Muslims and the Arabs outside Palestine. They should support the resistance fighters and besiege the Zionists wherever they are . . . We must all realize that resistance is the only way to liberate the land of Palestine" (posted at the Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI] website, Jan. 4, 2013).
While he was later running for president, Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders nodded in agreement at a rally as Safwat Hegazy, the same preacher who threatened the Coptic Christians, told thousands: "We can see how the dream of the Islamic caliphate is being realized, [Allah] willing, by Dr. Mohamed Mursi . . . The capital of the caliphate—the capital of the United States of the Arabs—will be Jerusalem, [Allah] willing."
When he came to the stage, Morsi affirmed: "Jerusalem is our goal. We shall pray in Jerusalem, or die as martyrs on its threshold" ("Egypt Islamist Vows Global Caliphate in Jerusalem," The Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2012).
Despite all this, some still maintain that Morsi will govern as a moderate. But why should we expect that? Eric Trager writes in The New Republic: "Morsi's political biography suggests that he is not a compromiser. Prior to [2011's] uprising and his subsequent emergence as Egypt's first civilian president, Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood's chief internal enforcer within the Guidance Office, steering the organization in a more hardline direction ideologically while purging the Brotherhood of individuals who disagreed with his approach" ("Why Won't Morsi Back Down? Read His Resume," Nov. 30, 2012).
As the Bible asks rhetorically in Jeremiah 13:23, can a leopard change his spots? We should not expect people to massively change what they're all about—certainly not without some clear conversion.
Grim forecast for the days to come
So where is the warmth of spring in all this? Yes, many millions in the region are certainly thrilled with what's happened—predominantly those who want to see the world engulfed in Islam and made subservient to sharia. As for those who genuinely advocate for real freedom in the region? Not so much.
Again, as should be abundantly clear, there has been no Arab Spring—only a severe winter that's getting colder. Egypt is a bellwether in the Arab world. And overwhelming evidence shows that its direction is now decidedly Islamist. In fact, it and Muslim states throughout the region seem to be on a relentless march toward reviving the Islamic caliphate.
Of course, there is much more to say about these developments. The road Egypt is following has been trod in other countries as well. What does this indicate about Egypt's near future? Is the caliphate truly on the rise? And what does the Bible say will happen? To continue this examination, be sure to read the companion article "Will the World See a New Caliphate? ".