The message the White House sent to young Islamists in Egypt this week was clear: What jihadists have been telling you about American hypocrisy for years is true. Democratic norms apply to everyone but you. Participating in elections is pointless. Violence is the route to power. Wherever he is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, Ayman al Zawahiri is likely pleased.
I think he’s right. But I also think the Morsi government’s behavior in office, and the behavior of many Islamists today, backs up what Egyptians who feared Muslim Brotherhood rule had been saying for years. Here’s the latest:
After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war” before a Muslim woman offered them refuge. Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.
In the four days since security forces cleared two sit-in camps by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Islamists have attacked dozens of Coptic churches along with homes and businesses owned by the Christian minority. The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside Cairo to stand down from political activism.
Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Muslim majority Egypt, where they make up 10 percent of the population of 90 million. Attacks increased after the Islamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that droveHosni Mubarak from power, emboldening extremists. But Christians have come further under fire since President Mohammed Morsi was ousted on July 3, sparking a wave of Islamist anger led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Nearly 40 churches have been looted and torched, while 23 others have been attacked and heavily damaged since Wednesday, when chaos erupted after Egypt’s military-backed interim administration moved in to clear two camps packed with protesters calling for Morsi’s reinstatement, killing scores of protesters and sparking deadly clashes nationwide.
Thought experiment: given events of the past three decades in Iran, how much violence do you think the Shah’s repressive government ought to have been willing to inflict on pro-Khomeini Iranians to prevent the Islamic Republic from coming into existence? I’m not asking rhetorically, and I don’t know how I would answer that question. Just throwing it out there. I have no idea what the White House should do right now, because it is not clear to me that there is any possible outcome in Egypt that is less than horrifying. People who are certain that the US should cut off the military government in Cairo, though, should ask themselves what, in retrospect, the Shah’s government should have been prepared to do to prevent the Islamist horror show that has kept Iran bound since 1979. (Or, for that matter, how many Bolsheviks the Tsar’s despotic government should have shot to save Russia from the infinitely worse curse of Soviet communism.)
As with the situation in Syria, there are no good sides, only competing evils. It is easy to sit in safety in the United States and say that the Egyptian generals ought to hang for their mass murder, or that the Egyptian generals are saviors of their country. In either case, we don’t have to live with the consequences.