One of the more deceptive commentaries out there regarding the Muslim Brotherhood as it faces the Egyptian army’s crackdown is that the Brotherhood protestors are analogous to the Chinese dissidents and freedom seekers who, in 1989, faced down the Chinese Army in Tiananmen Square. It is a theme too good for the media to pass up. Here, for example, is the Guardian and here is the New York Daily News.
No doubt, the Egyptian military has been heavy-handed and has mishandled the media. And the Brotherhood, in contrast, has been media savvy from the very beginning. Just remember all the Brotherhood spokesmen and Brotherhood sympathizers who falsely spoke of the group’s evolution, moderation, and tolerance. The Brotherhood knows how to use the rhetoric of democracy and liberalism for entirely opposite purposes.
The Tiananmen-to-Tahrir analogy is especially noxious because it slanders the Chinese dissidents who peacefully challenged the Chinese dictatorship’s iron grip.
- The Tiananmen protestors were non-violent; what we have in Egypt is a two-sided fight that has resulted in dozens of police deaths.
- The Tiananmen protestors were fighting for democracy; the Brotherhood used their year in power to eviscerate pluralism, which is why so many Egyptians rose up against them.
- The Tiananmen protestors embraced ideological diversity; the Brotherhood seeks ideological conformity.
- I don’t remember ever seeing the Tiananmen protestors take their ire out on China’s religious minorities.
That Egypt has turned violent is unfortunate, but it is not the first time: Egypt faced insurgency during the late 1980s and early 1990s. That the Islamists are weaker does not make them right. Nor does it make them democratic. When faced with a stark choice, it is essential to determine which side best protects American national interests and which can best return Egypt to the path of democracy, with all the checks and balances which are inherent in the system. In both cases, the Egyptian army seems the better bet, and the pressure the international community should bring to bear is to encourage a firm timeline to new elections under a new, more pluralistic constitution. What the Western media and Congress should not do is whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood’s brutality, even as it condemns the Egyptian security forces. And if the goal is democracy, it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nor should it embrace facile but false analogies.