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Muslim Brotherhood Goes Hardline

Political mainstreaming will cause the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to embrace moderation and responsibility, said the same people who predicted the same things about Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet again, something seems to have gone awry:

On the campaign trail for the presidential election, now only nine days away, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a sharp turn rightward…
“We are seeing the dream of the Islamic caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi,” said cleric Safwat Hegazy at a campaign rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president.

According to a Muslim Brotherhood preacher, incidentally, the capital of that revived caliphate will be Jerusalem. For the Brotherhood, in other words, “the dream of the Islamic caliphate” is a foreign policy package.

And now here is State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland last March, downplaying the rise of Islamists in Egypt. Obama had spent months punting on the issue, and the administration found itself needing to get out of grim news cycle after news cycle. The result was a pattern of willful denial, including these unblinking statements about the Egyptian Constitution panel:

“We’re not going to prejudge, obviously, the work of this [Constitutional] panel,” Nuland said… “This panel is from the elected parliament, so having been elected democratically, it’s now their obligation to uphold and defend and protect the democratic rights that brought them to power in the first place.”

Egypt’s presidential candidates, who recently sparred in a televised debate about who will implement sharia more, seem to part ways with Nuland over liberal democratic rights. So do the Egyptian courts. So does the Egyptian public. The question arises – as usual – whether the administration is being unblinkingly dishonest or mindblowingly naive.

Populist Islamism would be less of a problem if there were any Egyptian checks left on religiously-motivated violence. Egypt’s Christians are openly predicting that the status quo – which already involves anti-Christian attacks committed with uttery legal impunity – is going to seem bucolic compared to the post-election environment. And of course, anti-Semitism is so deeply ingrained that political operatives go on TV to accuse journalists of being Jews: “I intend to file charges against you tomorrow and you will have to prove otherwise.” Charming.