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Yet the other possibility of a power wielded by the military is also nondemocratic and not pretty. Egyptians know how fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic and generally corrupt were the Egyptian old guard elites led by the military and its Supreme Council. But they are, at least, not totalitarians, not wanting to make Egypt live socially and culturally in premodern times, and not threatening to suppress every kind of personal freedom by turning politics and governance, law and policy, into a branch of intolerant religious law. So, what are the intentions of each side? And especially, given the imponderables of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom should we, good democrats and devotees of freedom, side? It is not the same as Hitler verses Stalin, but there, too, a choice had to be made that no person of democratic sentiments could have beheld as anything but an abomination.
Beyond the paramount concern of what is good for the Egyptian people, there is also the question of how Egypt will act outside its borders. The Egyptian military and old guard elites are not hostile to the United States and the West. That, we know. The Muslim Brotherhood — owing to America’s democratic liberalism, support for Hosni Mubarak and strong support for Israel — is likely to be much more antagonistic to the United States and the West. But given the immense stakes regarding other arenas of concern, how much should this matter in any decision about whom we, as individuals and a country, support in Egypt?
Similarly for the Middle East as a region, the Egyptian military is a nonthreatening and essentially a nondestabilizing force compared with the potential of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, to create a more political Islamic Middle East, which would further undermine freedoms and potentially contribute substantially to greater regional conflict.
Finally, Israel. The Egyptian military would like to continue with its cold peace, which has been the foundation of whatever stability the region has seen, and of the diminution of threat to Israel’s security and existence. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which gave birth to its genocidalist offshoot, Hamas, are fundamentally anti-Semitic and hostile to Israel’s existence, and could radically upset the geo-strategic and political situation in a manner deeply threatening to Israel. Or will Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood live with the status quo because their domestic agenda and daunting problems prevent them from making any rash moves? The notion that, magically, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will morph into peacemakers, much less genuine democrats, is fantasy.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. All the imponderables aside, we have to stop engaging in wishful thinking. Tahrir Square was never Egypt. The “revolution” was never genuinely liberal and democratic. The Muslim Brotherhood, whether its first candidate, Khairat el-Shater, or its second and now the country’s president, Morsi, has never been moderate or liberal or anything but intolerant, theocratic political Islamists. The gullibility of Western media’s reporting, which has pushed such wishful thinking, has only obscured the imponderables and the difficult and unpleasant real-world options before us, before Israel and the region, and, most of all, before all those Egyptians who are not political Islamists.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is the author of “Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity” (PublicAffairs, 2009), which is the basis of a Public Broadcasting Service documentary of the same name. His work can be read at goldhagen.com.