Have you heard the one about the Muslim Brotherhood being just like European Christian Democratic parties? Well, in any case, we all had by now many many opportunities to read or hear how moderate the Brotherhood really truly is.
A few hardy souls remain unconvinced, though. Commenting on news reports that Egypt’s Islamists are doing extremely well in the country’s elections, Michael Totten emphasized that it is ridiculous to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate.” Totten argued that they are instead “authoritarian theocrats” and pointed out: “If a Christian counterpart existed in the United States, they’d be called fascists.”
Obviously, you can’t get more politically incorrect than this: in polite circles, it is strictly verboten to even think of anything to do with Islam or Muslims as fascist. Critics of the term “Islamofascism” claim it is just “an empty propaganda term” used by proponents of the “war on terror.”
But Totten cannot be easily dismissed as a “propagandist.” He has established a solid reputation as a knowledgeable and insightful Middle East commentator and his just published article on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood at The American Interest provides an excellent example of his thoroughly researched work.
There is little doubt that the very same people (and media outlets!) who would object loudest to describing the Muslim Brotherhood as fascist would prove Totten right by eagerly adopting this description for any “Christian Brotherhood” in the West. As Walter Russell Mead once put it so wonderfully:
For decades now, shocked lefty journalists have gingerly ventured into the dark American interior, emerging with terrifying tales of “Christianist” plots to hijack American democracy and install theocratic rule. There’s an endless appetite for these stories on the secular left, and the fact that none of these Christianists dictatorships ever appear doesn’t seem to diminish the credulity with which each new “revelation” is greeted by the easily spooked.
On the other hand, it turns out that – after all the endless enthusiasm about the “Arab Spring” – serious Middle East experts knew all along what to expect.
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, explained in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:
“I don’t think liberals have a natural constituency in Egypt. ‘Liberalism’ has a negative connotation here. I’m not even sure what liberalism means in an Egyptian context – try even asking liberals and they’ll have trouble answering,” he said. “All ‘liberal’ means in Egypt is someone who’s not an Islamist. That might get you 10% – people who are afraid of the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] – but that’s not a positive, affirmative message that will win a lot of votes.”
Hamid said liberals need to learn to speak the language of the religion if they hope to cut into the Brotherhood’s support base: “All the polling that’s ever been done in Egypt suggests Egyptians are very religiously conservative, and they want Islam to play a larger role in public life. I don’t know how one gets around that.”
So maybe Egypt’s marginalized liberals will eventually become just like European Christian Democratic parties?
For the time being, however, it seems that Egyptian liberals are engaging in some wishful thinking by trying to convince themselves that it’s not yet time to panic. But as Issandr El Amrani acknowledges in his post at The Arabist:
“That the Muslim Brothers would perform well was expected […] They may very well pass the 50% mark, having decided to contest a lot more seats than initially expected. […] The success of the Salafists is more of a surprise, and must reflect their grassroots presence in Egyptian society. But it is deeply worrisome, because the Salafists have made clear in their statements that they are an illiberal party with extreme views on many topics […] they should have never been legalized, on the same grounds that far-right parties are often forbidden in European countries.”
But since Egypt isn’t Europe, I guess the politically correct translation would transform the Salafists into hard-line moderates.