Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

 Egypt, Which Way Will it Turn?


 February 2011 

Egypt is the epicenter of the Arab world – not only demographically (one out of every four Arabs lives along the Nile) but also intellectually and politically.  The emergence of liberal democracy in Egypt would send shock waves throughout the Arab world in the same way the fall of the Berlin Wall inspired East Europeans to stand against communist dictatorships. (Khairi Abaza, National Post, February 3, 2011) 

Many are following the news out of Egypt, wondering what is behind the TV pictures of chaotic scenes, with rioting mobs demanding the end of the 30-year regime headed by Hosni Mubarak. 

 The end of the Mubarak regime has arrived, but what are the chances that the unleashed furor of the protesters will be re-directed into something constructive. The crowds  are demanding that Mubarak leave right now. Others call for a time to build an effective coalition in preparation for an election to be held in September. At first the Obama administration demanded an immediate transfer of power, and then backed away from that demand. 

Don’t Worry About the Muslim Brotherhood?

What is looming large over this revolution is the role played by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is well organized and determined to take power. It would stand to gain by rushing ahead now because every other faction, including those who want to build a democracy, is disorganized and unprepared. 

The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that it is fanatically committed to establishing a theocracy, that is, a one-party state ruled by Islamic law (sharia).  The Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928 and serves as  the seedbed of radical Islam all over the world, including the West.  Its motto is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” 

Never mind, say a chorus of mainstream commentators. The Brotherhood, whatever its past, has now sworn off  violence and  supports democracy.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times  spent  a week  reporting from  Tahrir Square in Tehran. He wants to reassure his readers that his interviews with many protesters had confirmed that this uprising will not end as it did in Iran in 1979. 

A university professor told him that  Americans are too obsessed with  the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in elections. She told him that they are not  worried about the Brotherhood: “They might win 25 per cent of the votes, but  if they do not perform then they will not get votes next time.” When he asked someone else whether the Brotherhood might be bad for peace, she said: “Yes, possibly. But, from my point of view, in America the Republican Party is bad for peace as well.” (NYT, Feb.5,  

So there you are, the fear of the Brotherhood is unreasonable. Anyway, you  Americans  have the same kind of problems, so don’t interfere with us, and clean up your own house first. Such interviews must gladden the hearts of self-loathing American reporters. 

The Brookings Institution’s  Shadi Hamid wrote that Westerners should not lose any sleep over the Brotherhood’s  participation in Egypt’s government. He stated:  “A pragmatic organization at its core, the group will avoid  getting tied up in  foreign policy, knowing that this  might cause the international  community  to withdraw support.” Another Brookings senior fellow, Bruce Riedel, is of the opinion that the Brotherhood “renounced violence years ago”  and is now judged by scholars to be “the most reasonable  face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today” and  Americans “should not be afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood.” (Daniel Flynn, “Brookings &the Brotherhood,” FPM, Feb. 9, 2011) 

President Obama has stated that the Egyptian people must decide for themselves what kind of government  they choose. Though he no longer insists that Mubarak must step down immediately, he and his spokespeople have indicated that the  Muslim Brotherhood must be given a voice in the formation of the new government. Some kind of non-interference!  Such an endorsement is a boost for the Muslim Brotherhood, but a setback for the formation of a democratic government. Unfortunately, the lesson of Iran 1979 is forgotten, but we do well to remember that the scholars assured us then that Ayatollah Khomeini would never establish a religious dictatorship. 

Ignorance of History is no Excuse

Former Princeton Professor Richard Falk wrote in glowing terms about the future of Iran  guided by the Ayatollah  Khomeini in the New York Times of  February 16, 1979. Here are a few excerpts  of that article: 

…In recent months, before his  triumphant return  to Tehran , the Ayatollah gave numerous  reassurances  to non-Muslim communities in Iran….Thus the depiction of him as a fanatical reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false. What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed  of moderate progressive individuals. 

…Despite the turbulence, many non-religious Iranians  talk of this period as ‘Islam’s finest hour.’ Having created  a new model of popular revolution , for the most part, on non-violent  tactics,  Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed  model of  humane governance  for a third-world country. If this is true, then indeed  the exotic  Ayatollah may yet convince  the world that ’politics is the opiate of the people.’  

Professor Falk did not bother to do his homework, as many of his current  fellow academics now fail to do. Apparently, they never heard about the notion of taqiyya in Islamic teachings, which permits, even demands,   Muslim believers to lie to non-Muslims.  What is even worse, they refuse to take the trouble to find out what Islamic fanatics actually teach the faithful. This is what Khomeini said 17 years before Falk’s article in the NYTimes, something he never recanted: 

Those who study jihad will understand  why Islam  wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future  will be marked for everlasting  salvation. For they shall live  under Allah’s law (Sharia)…. Islam says: ‘Kill [the non-Muslims],  put them  to the sword and  scatter their armies.’ Islam says: ‘Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be obedient  except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can  be opened only for holy warriors (jihadists)!’ 

So, what is the likelihood that this revolution  in Egypt will turn out well, that is, avoiding  the  dictatorship of the theocrats, and instead  growing into a country where free institutions can thrive within a democratic political framework. The latter is a tall order and will not be accomplished  in eight months or even in eight years. Being an outsider,  it is hard to know what are the hidden resources for freedom and civility within the Egyptian people. That’s why we need to listen to those who speak from their own experience. 

Nonie Darwish, who was born  in Egypt and lived there for thirty years gives  us her view of the current challenges facing  Egypt: 

The Egyptian people have finally awakened  to the reality of  decades of oppression , dictatorship, backwardness  and extreme poverty. For now they are united in viewing  Hosni Mubarak  as the one obstacle to their freedom and democracy – but will they finally take responsibility for the true reason behind the long line of tyrannical Egyptian  regimes?  Will they examine their own failures and contributions to their problems?  Or will they continue to blame America for supporting their dictator? Will they reject victimhood status  and stop finger-pointing? Will they finally join the rest of the world in a new era of friendship based on mutual respect and not based on tribalism  and the “us against the West” mentality? 

….They must  critically  examine the real causes that have  turned a great ancient civilization into such a mess….The West  needs to tell the truth resolutely:  the Muslim world needs enormous reforms at all levels, politically, socially, legally, and religiously…. If  the Muslim world  is to have any peace, democracy, and stability, it must reject archaic and  oppressive  Sharia law which perpetuates jihad  and obligates Muslim heads of state  to engage  in permanent war with non-Muslim countries…. Egyptians and Muslims in general must realize that to have democracy,  they must have secular rule, separation of  mosque and state, fair education, peace with Israel and an end to hate and demagoguery. 

 There are numerous instructions in the Koran and the Hadith to hate,  subjugate and kill Jews.  Hamas, Hezbollah , Fatah,  the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda,  and their numerous offspring. have stipulated this in their  founding documents.    Some spokesmen of the Muslim Brotherhood have warned  that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will be canceled when  they  become the dominant force in Egypt. 

Iran’s president Ahmadinejad  has brazenly stated that they aim to destroy Israel. That Iran  can make such  a threat  and remain a member of the U.N. must be a  source of  painful incredulity for all  Israelis. In the last few days two documents have been published that deserve our full attention because they deal with Israel’s existential threat to their very existence. 

A Lament

 Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post  published an article “Celebrate  Arab Democracy? In which  she writes a moving  lament about the plight of the Jews who have again and again been subjected to brutal treatment. She gives an overview of the flight of Jews from Arab countries in the last one hundred years. 

In 1956, the Jewish community in Tunisia numbered 100,000 members. With the rise Arab nationalism most Jews were forced to leave so that today there are between 1500 to 3000 Jews left in Tunisia. This is now the   largest Jewish community in the Arab world. 

 The Jews in Iraq  numbered 150,000 until the founding of  the state of Israel. By 1951 they were reduced to only 7000. All their property was stolen, including their wedding rings. In 2003  when Sadam Hussein was toppled, there were a mere 32 elderly and impoverished  Jews left. Jewish tombs  and cemeteries have been   targets for anti- Semitic attacks all over the Arab world.

 Glick predicts that the Muslim Brotherhood will be the dominant power in Egypt. But even  if  there would be a democratic regime in place, it would not make any difference to the Jews. She writes that Arab societies are   fractured along socioeconomic, tribal, religious, political, ethnic and other lines, while the glue that holds them together is their hatred of Jews. 

 Glick cites a 2009  Pew  opinion survey  of Arab attitudes towards Jews  to underscore her point. She concludes  that she would welcome the advent  of a tolerant  society in Egypt, but that such tolerance  will end when  it concerns Jews  She concludes with this sobering line: “And so whether they [Arab regimes] are democrats or autocrats, we fully expect they will continue  to hate us.” 

I can only hope and pray that this  Jewish author is wrong  But we need to  remember that she represents a people that has been subjected to the  most unspeakable crimes for a very long time. 

An Urgent Appeal

On February 7, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin  Netanyahu addressed  a conference of the  European Friends of Israel.  He began by referring to the ancient beginnings of the Jewish nation  recorded in the Bible. He emphasized that the Jews have a millennia  connection to the land where they now live. But that is now being contested by  those who deny and distort ancient as well as modern history. 

The Prime Minister  also reminded his audience that Israel and Europe have a common ancestry as well as shared  interests and values.  He referred to the statement of  Herzl  the “prophet” who  foresaw the  rebirth of the Jewish state. Herzl was very much aware of the bond that exists between Israel and Europe .When he was asked how long a not yet --existing Jewish state might survive, he answered, “the Jewish state would survive as long as Western civilization would survive.” 

The Prime Minister told his audience that in a discussion with the president of China he had said that the Jewish Diaspora  is the reason that there are now  only  13 million Jews in the world. They had no homeland but were scattered and subjected to genocide. Now they have their own homeland again, which provides a whole new opportunity for a peaceful and free existence. But that is now again threatened   in a part of the world where they are the only democracy  surrounded by  neighbours  who want to destroy them. 

The biggest threat now lies in the possibility of a nuclear war, especially in view of Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear bomb. The Prime Minister  summed up: 

Here’s what  Iran is doing today. It’s in Afghanistan; it’s in Iraq; it’s in the Yemen; it’s pretty much taken over Lebanon; it’s taken over Gaza; it’s in the Horn of Africa; it’s even sending its tentacles to the Western Hemisphere, penetrating Latin America.  This is what Iran is doing today without  nuclear weapons. Imagine what they will do tomorrow with nuclear weapons.  Iran already has missiles that reach well beyond Israel. They’re not developing these long-- range missiles for us; they can reach us. They’re developing it for you , to reach you…. 

I believe that  the greatest threat facing the world is the possibility that a militant Islamic  regime will  meet up with  nuclear weapons,  or that nuclear weapons will meet up with a militant Islamic regime. The first is called Iran, the second is called Pakistan, 

The good news is that nothing in inevitable.  We have the power to protect our common  civilization, to roll back the forces of radicalism and to advance  a secure peace . One of the keys to defeating this fanaticism is to be able to distinguish  friends from enemies. In this battle between the  21st century  and the 9th century, between freedom and  despotism , between  progress and  primitivism , Europe and  Israel  stand  squarely on the same side.                                                       


 Readers may  disagree with the way the problems and possible responses are formulated by the Prime Minister and Caroline Glick. I quote extensively from these two Jewish  authors because they are  burdened with one of the gravest dangers any nation can face, especially since the wounds of the Holocaust are still open and can never be erased from the memory of the Jewish people. I think it is time well spent to listen to the sobering message of a people faced with  dangers and choices that are beyond our imagination.

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