Egypt’s coup by the military was not greeted with protests. The coup offered a respite from the intense violence between rival Islamist political parties and their street gangs. Bread also became a manageable cost for Egyptians, as well, with the help of Saudi money. The junta did not waste time dealing with rivals, sentencing to death hundreds. Food flowed and the American media got bored. Now, Egypt is sentencing former President Morsi to death along with followers, and the American media is giving Morsi and company the full opportunity to generate global sympathy. Even if Morsi and his cronies are executed, the effect of their power and source of legitimacy has changed al-Sisi’s junta’s administration, compared to Muabarak’s administration.
After the coup to oust Mubarak, the Islamists swept to power and the world saw the normal Islamist game. Strict laws went into effect, prosecutions of blasphemers and infidels rose, and the protection that Coptic Christians formerly enjoyed under Mubarak ended. Like in Iraq and Libya, a secular dictator, who granted protections and freedoms that ran counter to Islamist or Sharia ideas, was deposed. Christians in Iraq have been pushed out to near extinction. The USG system should have anticipated another such change similar to what has happened from Iran in 1979 to today.
The USG cannot claim ignorance with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood as opposed to the “whocoodanode” dance from guilt like in Iraq. The USG has fostered a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood dating back to the 1950s. This was a bit of a Cold War CIA play whereby the US would make contact with any counter-regime group in a country as possible co-opted opposition to use against the Soviet-friendly dictators. Egypt had Nasser, and a counterweight was the Muslim Brotherhood. The USG somehow did not notice the firey Reformation-style purity of its leader, Sayyid Qutb. Qutb would be the force behind the Brotherhood and an inspiration for al-Qaeda. Qutb was a man who watched American adults slow dance to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and thought it was degenerate filth. To quote Qutb, the church goers,
“danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire.”
Qutb also thought every American woman was attempting to seduce him. In his own mind, he was pure and resisted their slutty advances. This was the mind of the leader of the group America kept tight with for decades.
The US imported these men, and they returned to Egypt as scholars and opinion-shapers. Islam itself was reawakened in the face of Western decadence, as well as the massive influx of wealth from oil exporters. This is best seen in the changes in women’s dress witnessed through university student body pictures and in opinion polls asking Muslims Sharia-focused questions. This is now forcing al-Sisi to be cognizant–maybe not of the left or right of the Overton window, but of the Muhammad Window.
The junta rules Egypt, but blasphemy prosecutions are still higher than under Mubarak and little changed from under the Morsi administration. Christians in Egypt are also feeling the stress of a bureaucracy refusing to help them rebuild from the sectarian violence of the last few years. The Coptics, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, face the logistical trouble of retaining and strengthening their beleagured community without the rallying points of worship and with the fear that denunciations could send them to jail.
The Christians will pine for the days of Mubarak, but no one else will. This is a good warning to the few folks in America who hope for a military coup. National change is not a simple change of the administrators. Who molds minds and who molds the culture?
Americans may just get generals waving rainbow flags. The Egyptian junta that al-Sisi leads is made up of men born after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim radicalization. The political-religious revolution in Iran is a blueprint for others to try, but was thirty-five years ago. A generation of middle-aged administrators have grown up absorbing that message and political possibility. Former President Morsi and his followers might be executed. Even if they are not, the window in Egypt has shifted enough for their ideas to be co-opted by the military men from which they formerly overthrew for power. The Muslim Brotherhood may not hold the levers of explicit power, but if the men in control already think like they do, then they have won.