Written by Andrew C. McCarthy
Phase II of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s declaration of sweeping dictatorial powers was completed on Thursday night. That is when the “constituent assembly” hastily completed a draft constitution that would enshrine sharia principles as fundamental law.
Morsi grabbed the reins with a shrewd caveat: His dictatorship would end once the draft constitution was approved by Egyptians in a national referendum — which is to say, once the dictatorship had served its purpose. Nearly three months ago, in my e-book Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy (which is about to be published in paperback), I explained that Morsi’s agglomeration of power — which was already underway only weeks after his election — was just a placeholder. He is an Islamic-supremacist hardliner whose ultimate goal has always been to impose sharia, the real dictatorship.
Remember the Brotherhood’s notorious motto, which includes the proclamation “the Koran is our law.” It is about to be. In effect, Morsi has used the West’s democracy fetish to put a gun to his population’s head: Either democratically approve anti-democratic sharia or accept the sharia-compliant rule of your democratically elected Islamist despot. Some choice.
Naturally, secularists and religious minorities are grousing. This has the Western media, once again, in full spring-fever flush. For our intelligentsia, the Middle East is a wonderland where Islamists are imagined to be “moderate” (even “largely secular”!) and — to hedge their bets, on the off chance that the Islamists turn out to be, well, Islamists — the population is imagined to be teeming with freedom-loving Jamal al-Madisons who crave American-style civil rights. In reality, supremacist Islam is the predominant ideology of the region. The Muslim Brotherhood is strong because it is the avant-garde of the Islamic masses. Non-Islamist democrats are a decided minority.
Of course, in a place like Egypt, with its population of 80 million people, a decided minority can easily be masqueraded as the majority. The West’s progressive media is good at that — ignoring tea-party throngs while lavishing coverage on five-person Occupy protests as if they were a groundswell. But, you see, the hocus-pocus works here only because we’ve ceded all the leading institutions of opinion to progressives for a half-century. Conditioned to see what they’ve been told to believe, half of our population no longer sees through the smoke and mirrors.
In contrast, the Islamists control and otherwise intimidate Egyptian society’s influential institutions by vigorously enforcing sharia’s repression of discussion and dissent. The public knows the tune is called by the likes of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s powerhouse jurist, not by Wael Ghonim and the young, tech-savvy progressives beloved of the New York Times. In Egypt, the conspiracy theories run against the progressives. The public won’t be snookered into seeing an Islamist uprising as a “democratic” upheaval. They’ll leave that to us.
The Times and the Brotherhood-smitten Obama administration won’t tell you, but Spring Fever will: The constitution was always the prize. That is why the Brothers pursued it with their signature mendacity. The story goes back to the weeks immediately after Mubarak’s fall in early 2011 — back to the most tellingly underreported and willfully misreported event in the “Arab Spring” saga: Egypt’s first-ever free election.
With the trillion-plus dollars U.S. taxpayers have expended to promote “Islamic democracy” and its companion fantasy that elections equal democracy, you’d think you might have heard a bit more about the maiden voyage in Arabia’s most important country. But no, the story barely registered. That is because the Islamists crushed the secular democrats. To grasp what happened on Thursday night, you need to understand why. That first election, zealously contested in sectarian terms, was precisely about Egypt’s future constitution.
Technically, the referendum concerned amendments to the constitution in effect during Mubarak’s reign. Despite the “Arab Spring” paeans you were hearing from Washington, Egyptian democrats knew they were weak. To have any hope of competing with the Brotherhood’s vast, long-established, highly disciplined organization, they would need time. So they argued that before parliamentary and presidential elections could take place, a new constitution should be written. That would take a while and would put voting off into the distant future. The idea was that as long as no one had been elected yet — as long as the Islamists could not claim a popular mandate — the democrats would be in a better position both to influence the content of the constitution and to buy the time necessary to build party organizations that might contest elections effectively.
The Brothers are no fools. They realized that rapidly held elections would favor them, and if they won big, they’d have a hammerlock on the constituent assembly that would write the constitution. They also grasped the disdain in which the West, under progressive regimes, holds military governments. They’d watched how their Islamist ally, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had leveraged American and European pressure to beat down his military — the pro-Western opposition to his anti-Western Islamic supremacism. The Brotherhood knew the U.S. and the EU would be similarly — and self-destructively — supportive of a call for quick elections that would pressure Egypt’s reigning military junta to cede authority to a “democratic” civilian government.
Consequently, the Brothers insisted that parliamentary and presidential elections could proceed promptly if the public just approved a handful of amendments to the current constitution, with a new constitution to be drafted afterwards.
As is its wont, the Brotherhood was deceitful about its intentions. To arm their Western apologists and assuage those Egyptians who might think a new government’s constitution should be in place before the new government is elected, the Brothers swore up and down that they understood constitutions are different from ordinary legislation. To be legitimate, they soothingly agreed, a nation’s fundamental law must reflect a consensus of the whole society — guaranteeing the rights of women and religious minorities. Beyond that, though, the Islamist campaign over the referendum portrayed secular democratic opponents of the amendments as “enemies of Islam” and “enemies of the revolution” who secretly supported the old regime and its Zionist allies.
When the votes were counted, it was a rout. The Brotherhood’s amendments were adopted by a margin of 78 to 22 percent. With the handwriting on the wall that the referendum would blow the cheery “Arab Spring” narrative to smithereens, the Western media ignored it. Once the numbers were in, they dismissed it. The historic vote, we were told, was just a hyper-technical matter to determine when elections would be scheduled — move along, nothing else to see here. But in fact, the amendments referendum foreshadowed today’s Islamist Winter. It exactly tracked the nearly four-to-one margin by which the Brotherhood and its Salafist allies would swamp the secular democrats in the parliamentary elections that followed.
The Brothers being the Brothers, they lied at each stage of the game. In the amendments referendum, they lied about their commitment to societal “consensus”; upon winning, they elbowed the democrats aside and infused the draft constitution with sharia principles. When they got their quick elections, they lied about how many seats they would seek in parliament, again to assuage those worried about Islamist control of the government. In going back on that commitment, they promised that they would not field a candidate for president. But once overwhelming control of parliament was secured, they reneged on that promise, too — announcing the candidacy of their charismatic leader, Khairat al-Shater.
Mind you, all of that happened before you ever heard of Mohamed Morsi. He is an afterthought: the Plan B the Brothers came up with when Shater — Morsi’s mentor and patron — was elbowed out of the race in the panicked military junta’s last gasp. While Morsi basks in the spotlight, you should know that Shater is the power behind the throne because he is the avatar of sharia. He is the author of the Brotherhood’s announced “Islamic Renaissance” plan, which the Western media continue to ignore. As Spring Fever recounts, however, here is how Shater proclaimed the Brotherhood’s objective in April 2011, right after the Islamist victory in the amendments referendum:
You all know that our main and overall mission as Muslim Brothers is to empower God’s religion on earth, to organize our life and the lives of the people on the basis of Islam, to establish the Nahda [i.e., the Renaissance] of the ummah [i.e., the notional global Muslim nation] and its civilization on the basis of Islam, and to subjugate people to God on earth.
Morsi accidentally happened into notoriety because he is a true believer and a faithful Shater servant. In fact, before Shater was excluded from presidential contention, Morsi was a constant presence at his side, introduced at rallies as an “architect” of Shater’s “Renaissance” plan. His principal task as president has been to get a new sharia constitution across the finish line.
That is why he claimed dictatorial powers last week: not to aggrandize himself further but to shield the constituent assembly from being de-commissioned by judges. Unlike Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for a decade, Morsi has not yet been in power long enough to change the complexion of Egypt’s judiciary. It is still filled with Mubarak-era appointees and, to the extent the minority secular democrats have any toehold in Egypt, it is in the courts. So Morsi issued his “sovereign” decree, denying the judiciary any power to invalidate the draft constitution, as the non-Islamists have petitioned it to do. That means the draft constitution will be submitted to the public for an up-or-down vote.
Consistent with the Arab Spring fable to which they continue clinging, Western commentators are enthralled by the new round of Tahrir Square protests against Morsi’s power grab. But they are a pale imitation of the anti-Mubarak uprising, because the Islamists now side with the dictator. They are the zealots who gave the original Tahrir protests their fearsome edge. Morsi is not backing down, because he is doing what he was put there to do and he has little to fear. He has already faced down the remnants of Mubarak’s armed forces and replaced them with Brotherhood loyalists — a ragtag collection of Facebook malcontents does not faze him. He also knows the national referendum on the new constitution will go the same way as the original referendum on constitutional amendments: Sharia will win going away.
Deep down, the Western media know it too. Desperate to preserve its narrative about moderate, modernizing Islamists, Reuters was quick to suggest that the Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly had not really Islamized the new constitution. Sure, it provides that “principles of sharia” are the main source of legislation, but that, the report crowed, is the same thing the Mubarak-era constitution said — the Islamists did not alter it. You are supposed to conclude from this that “principles of sharia” are not as repressive as plain old “sharia” (the formulation preferred by Salafists) would have been.
Yet, the new constitution actually goes much farther. Not only does it add provisions that make clear “principles of sharia” means “sharia”; it also installs the scholars of al-Azhar University as official expert consultants on all sharia-related matters — a longtime Morsi goal. Egypt thus becomes the Sunni version of Iran’s totalitarian regime, in which Shiite mullahs exercise ultimate authority.
And how exactly is sharia interpreted by the scholars of al-Azhar, whose alumni include such jihadist eminences as Sheikh Qaradawi and the Blind Sheikh? Not to wear you out with Spring Fever, but as it outlines (with citations to the Azhar-approved, Brotherhood-certified sharia manual, Reliance of the Traveller), they interpret it to call for: death to apostates from Islam; “charitable” contributions to those fighting jihad (expressly defined as “war against non-Muslims”); discrimination against women; discrimination against non-Muslims; death to homosexuals; death to those who spy against Muslims; death by stoning for adulterers; and so on.
It is going to be a long, cold spring.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which was published by Encounter Books.