Don't Be Fooled by Egypt Happy Talk

President Mohamed Morsi Could Pose Serious Threat to Israel

getty images

By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The situation in Egypt and throughout the Middle East is confusing, with many different but simultaneous developments from country to country. Each conflict comes along with a set of unknown variables regarding the real strength and aspirations of governments, militaries, institutions, leaders, political parties, political movements, insurgent factions, groups, tribes, etc. And on top of all this uncertainty are the prettifying disinformation campaigns of the various actors, and the wishful thinking on our part in the West. We end up believing that the issues are far simpler than they are, and failing to confront the region’s factual and moral complexities.

Egypt is obviously at a more advanced stage of its “spring” than Syria is, but it is nonetheless shrouded in unknowns. What are the intentions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces? Will the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, be granted any real power? What are his intentions, and more generally, those of his political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, vis-à-vis wresting power from the military? In the struggle for control between these two forces, already under way and likely to intensify, what strategies will each side employ? How far is each willing to go? How adept will each be in the new game of democratic political mobilization, and, if push comes to shove, which side will prevail in an all-out confrontation between a Tahrir Square of impassioned political Islamic activists and army troops of unknown and perhaps wavering ruthlessness and loyalty?

President Mohamed Morsi
getty images
President Mohamed Morsi

These are just some of the imponderables to ponder when it comes to Egypt. Many more things bear consideration, including our own attitudes. Where should our sympathies lie? People reasonably give varying, and, in light of the imponderables, vacillating answers. But the question is certainly worth posing, if only to etch the issues more clearly.

We are all democrats with a commitment, or at least a bias, toward supporting democratic institutions, most of them embodied in elections. But we are also devotees of liberty — without which there is no democracy — including civil and personal freedoms. What happens if democracy brings to power people who are likely to abrogate fundamental liberties, oppress entire classes of people and indeed hollow out or destroy democratic institutions themselves? It can happen. Hitler became chancellor of Germany through democratic elections. I am not saying Morsi is Hitler, but it is worth noting that the Muslim Brotherhood has for decades and to this day preached and taught the tenets of theocratic totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. Is there any doubt that its ideal, and Morsi’s, is a society governed by the foundationally undemocratic and repressive and punitively cruel Sharia in an orthodox form? As recently as May, when speaking candidly not to Western media, but to his own supporters, he proclaimed, “Jihad is our path…. And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration…. The Sharia, then the Sharia, and finally, the Sharia…. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will reflect [the Sharia].” So where should we stand vis-à-vis Morsi and the outcomes of elections, which are only one aspect of democracy, and of freedom more generally?

Fundamentally, the questions of democracy and freedom regard what is good for the Egyptian people, not just a slender or even an un-slender majority, but the basic rights and well-being of millions of potentially threatened people. I speak not here of economic matters, where Egypt is in a deplorable condition and it is impossible — another imponderable — to know which of the contenders for power will do less badly in providing for the material needs of Egyptians. Women, gay men and lesbians, Christians and non-Sharia Muslims all wait in acknowledged or unacknowledged potential peril at the prospect of the rule of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Let’s be clear: No country that oppresses — that’s right, oppresses — women (including by mutilating their genitals), that punishes gay people with death, that treats non-Muslims as legally codified second-class citizens can be called a democracy, no matter that it uses the mechanism of elections to choose its leader and legislature.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.