Jonathan Tobin contends that Islamists burning Egyptian Christian churches is not a bug, but a feature of their totalitarian worldview:
In the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, there is no room for Christians or even secular Muslims. That is why so many in Egypt applauded the coup as perhaps the last chance to save the country from permanent Islamist rule.
The church attacks should remind the West that the stakes in the conflict in Egypt are high. If the U.S. seeks to cripple the military, they won’t be helping the cause of democracy. The Brotherhood may have used a seemingly democratic process to take power in 2012, but they would never have peacefully relinquished it or allowed their opponents to stop them from imposing their will on every aspect of Egyptian society. As difficult as it may be for some high-minded Americans to understand, in this case it is the military and not the protesters in Cairo who are seeking to stop tyranny. Though the military is an unattractive ally, anyone seeking to cut off vital U.S. aid to Egypt should remember that the only alternative to it is the party that is currently burning churches.
There is no justification for burning churches. It was possible for Islamists to have resisted the military government and to have protested this week’s massacre without burning Christian holy places. That they have done so tells us all we need to know about what Muslim Brotherhood rule would mean for the Christians of Egypt (and, most likely, Egyptian secularists, and liberal Muslims).
One of the churches burned in the last 24 hours was built in the fourth century, and survived 13 centuries of Islam. But it didn’t survive the Muslim Brotherhood.
UPDATE: Issandr el Amrani contends that the Egyptian military is goading Islamists into violence (e.g., church burning) as a way to justify its power grab, and that the Islamists are falling for it:
Their thinking is cynical in the extreme, not unlike Bashar al-Assad’s push towards militarizing the political conflict he faced in 2011. They are willing to live with the violence, impact on the economy, and other downsides if it strengthens their own power and legitimacy. An Islamist camp that, as elements of it are apparently beginning to, sets fire to churches and attacks police stations is one that becomes much easier to demonize domestically and internationally. But it is also much more unpredictable than Egypt’s homegrown violent Islamist movements were in the 1980s and 1990s, because there is a context of a globalized jihadi movement that barely existed then, and because the region as a whole is turmoil and Egypt’s borders are not nearly as well controlled as they were then (and today’s Libya is a far less reliable neighbor than even the erratic Colonel Qadhafi was then.)
In their strategy against the July 3 coup, the Brothers and their allies have relied on an implicit threat of violence or social breakdown (and the riling of their camp through sectarian discourse pitting the coup as a war on Islam, conveniently absolving themselves for their responsibility for a disastrous year) , combined with the notion of democratic legitimacy, i.e. that they were after all elected and that, even if popular, it was still a coup. On the latter argument, they may have gained some ground over time both at home and abroad. But on the former, they got things very, very wrong: their opponents will welcome their camp’s rhetorical and actual violence, and use it to whitewash their own.
UPDATE.2: Just to be clear, I think the US should stay out of this, because there is nothing we can do one way or the other. This situation is like Syria’s, in my view: the authoritarians in power are appalling, and the alternative is just as bad and probably worse. The Christians — who are my people — are suffering unjustly, and will suffer unjustly no matter who runs the country. I grieve for them and pray for them and hope to discover some way to provide them with relief as Egypt convulses.