The world is focusing much of its sympathy today on the members of the Muslim Brotherhood that were gunned down in the streets of Cairo by armed police and soldiers seeking to end the Islamist attempt to put Mohamed Morsi back into power. The violence is regrettable and the casualties are widely interpreted as evidence of the brutality of the military regime that toppled Morsi and his Brotherhood regime last month. But the notion that the Brotherhood is the innocent victim of a nasty junta seeking to bring back Mubarak-era authoritarianism is only half right. Though the military government is an unsavory partner for the United States, no one should be under any illusions about the Brotherhood or why the majority of Egyptians (who went to the streets in their millions to support a coup) probably approve of the military’s actions.
Proof of the true nature of the Brotherhood was available for those who read accounts in the last weeks of life at their Cairo encampments that were policed by Islamist thugs with clubs and other weapons. Brotherhood gunmen fought the police in pitched battles. Non-violent civil disobedience isn’t in the Brotherhood playbook. Even more damning was the Brotherhood response elsewhere in Egypt. As the International Business Times reports:
Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have attacked churches in Dilga, Menya and Sohag after government security forces backed by armored cars and bulldozers stormed protest camps outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.
The Churches of Abraham and the Virgin Mary in Menya were burning after Morsi supporters set fire to the outside of the building exteriors and smashed through doors. … Muslim Brotherhood members also threw firebombs at Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city with a large community of Coptic Christians who represents up to 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people, causing it to burn down, the official MENA news agency said. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the Bon Pasteur Catholic Church and Monastery in Suez, setting it ablaze and breaking windows.
Why is the Brotherhood attacking churches as part of its argument with the military government?
The first reason is because the Christian minority, unlike the military, is vulnerable. Throughout the long year when Egypt suffered under Morsi’s Islamist rule, Christians and their churches were increasingly subject to attacks as the Muslim movement sought to make the position of the religious minority untenable. As the Brotherhood seeks to demonstrate that it is still a viable force in the country’s streets even after its Cairo strongholds are uprooted, expect more attacks on Christians to remind Egyptians that the Islamists are still a force to be reckoned with.
Second, the attacks on churches are not just a regrettable sideshow in what may be soon seen as a civil war as the Islamists seek to regain power after losing in the wake of the massive street protests that encouraged the army to launch the coup that ended Morsi’s rule. Rather, such attacks are an inextricable part of their worldview as they seek to transform Egypt in their own Islamist image. In the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, there is no room for Christians or even secular Muslims. That is why so many in Egypt applauded the coup as perhaps the last chance to save the country from permanent Islamist rule.
The church attacks should remind the West that the stakes in the conflict in Egypt are high. If the U.S. seeks to cripple the military, they won’t be helping the cause of democracy. The Brotherhood may have used a seemingly democratic process to take power in 2012, but they would never have peacefully relinquished it or allowed their opponents to stop them from imposing their will on every aspect of Egyptian society. As difficult as it may be for some high-minded Americans to understand, in this case it is the military and not the protesters in Cairo who are seeking to stop tyranny. Though the military is an unattractive ally, anyone seeking to cut off vital U.S. aid to Egypt should remember that the only alternative to it is the party that is currently burning churches.