ISIS is threatening to kill judges and security personnel in Egypt after a Cairo court sentenced former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi to death while, at the same time, what's left of the Muslim Brotherhood is promising a revolution that “exterminates all the oppressors.”
So much for the Muslim Brotherhood being moderate.
Human beings are naturally compelled to violently resist violent repression regardless of their ideology, but the Brotherhood's ostensible moderation was always limited to its strategy. Its members largely refrained from violence because they believed a peaceful path to their radical Islamist utopia may have been open to them. Now that that's off the table, the mask and the gloves have come off.
And that word, “exterminate.” This is not the language of freedom fighters. Thomas Jefferson and Vaclav Havel never threatened to exterminate anyone. This is the language of ISIS, Al Qaeda and Pol Pot.
Most of the world's Sunni Arab terrorist organizations are spin-offs of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Al Qaeda. ISIS, meanwhile, is a spin-off of Al Qaeda. Hamas in the Gaza Strip isn't even a spin-off. It's the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian branch.
The ideologies of all these groups scarcely differ. They all want a Sunni theocracy, and they're all hostile to secularists, minorities, and the West. The differences lie only in their severity, but the Brothers are looking and sounding less moderate by the day, and there's no reason to be the least bit shocked that ISIS views them as their comrades and is threatening revenge on their behalf.
Egypt's young Muslim Brotherhood leaders exiled themselves to Istanbul to get clear the severe government crackdown which has so far killed more than 2,500 and imprisoned more than 16,000. And from there they mounted an insurgency against the regime and the relatively tepid leadership of their own organization.
As Eric Trager and Marina Shalabi write in Foreign Affairs, they “rebelled against the group’s older leaders, blaming them for 'misanalyzing' the political situation leading up to Morsi’s overthrow and then mismanaging the post-Morsi period. They further rejected their leaders’ calls for a patient, long-term struggle against Egypt’s military-backed government. They advocated instead for revolutionary—and violent—tactics to destabilize the government sooner rather than later.”
A few years ago, after the removal of Hosni Mubarak but before the election of Morsi, Western optimists argued that the Brothers were going to change, that the younger generation was more moderate than the dinosaurs, that it was only a matter of time before their less-conservative views dominated the organization.
It's easy, especially in hindsight, to see the fatal flaw in that analysis. Younger generations in the West are often more liberal than their parents and grandparents, at least in some ways. The majority of Republicans in the United States under the age of 30, for instance, support gay marriage. Almost half of Republicans under the age of 50 support gay marriage. Times here are changing.
But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the Egyptian Republican Party. Nor is General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's military regime the Democratic Party of Egypt. The only thing Egypt has in common with the United States politically is that it's more or less divided into two partisan camps—those who want a religious dictatorship and those who want a military dictatorship.
This is not new. I noticed it the first time I visited Cairo back in 2005. I met a handful of genuine political liberals at the time, but they were all too keenly aware that the percentage of Egyptians who agreed with them was in the high single digits at best.
You can't have democracy without democrats. And when the overwhelming majority want one kind of dictatorship or another, they're guaranteed to get one kind of dictatorship or another.
Historically, Egyptians haven't been prone to civil war the way the Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese are, but if the Muslim Brotherhood takes the next logical step and actually teams up with ISIS, watch out.