It’s not unusual for the United States and a Muslim country to be on the opposite sides of the War on Terror. It is unusual for a Muslim country to take a stand against terrorism while the United States backs the right of a terrorist group to burn churches, torture opposition members and maintain control of a country with its own nuclear program.
But that’s the strange situation in what Egypt’s public prosecutor has declared “the biggest case of conspiracy in the country’s history.”
The media assumes that the charges accusing Muslim Brotherhood leaders of conspiring with Hamas and Hezbollah, passing state secrets to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and plotting to help foreign terrorists kill Egyptian soldiers is a show being put on for Western audiences. They couldn’t be more wrong.
This isn’t about winning international PR points. It’s about destroying the credibility of the Brotherhood in the eyes of Egyptians and burying it along with what’s left of the Arab Spring in the waters of the Nile.
Obama assumed that cuts to military aid would force Egypt to restore the Muslim Brotherhood to power. He was wrong and the latest round of criminal charges show just how wrong he was.
The charges that the Muslim Brotherhood conspired with Hamas and Hezbollah to unleash a wave of terror against Egypt go to the heart of this struggle between the Egyptian nationalism of the military and the Islamic transnationalism of the Muslim Brotherhood. They paint the Muslim Brotherhood as not merely corrupt or abusive, the way that many tyrannies are, but as a foreign subversive element.
These aren’t merely criminal charges. They are accusations of treason.
There are two narratives of the Arab Spring. In one of them, the people rose up against the tyrants. In the other an international conspiracy of Western and Muslim countries collaborated with the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Arab countries.
To destroy the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the state has to do more than accuse Morsi of abuses of power; it has to show that he and his organization were illegitimate because they were Un-Egyptian.
That will prove that the differences between Mubarak and Morsi aren’t incidental. Mubarak may have been thuggish and corrupt, but he was an Egyptian patriot. Morsi will be charged with being an Iranian traitor who conspired to take away the Sinai and turn it over to the terrorist proxies of a Shiite state.
The Egyptian public prosecutor’s charges speak of an Iranian conspiracy dating back to 2005 that saw Muslim Brotherhood members being trained by that country’s Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah. They allege that the Muslim Brotherhood had been preparing to declare its own separatist Emirate in the Sinai if it could not succeed in bringing Morsi to power.
Egypt had already accused Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders of being liberated from prison by terrorist infiltrators. It now accuses him of importing foreign terrorists to attack Egyptian soldiers (which provided him with a pretext for bringing the Egyptian military under control by pushing out Field Marshal Tantawi and putting General Al-Sisi in command of the Egyptian military) and after Sisi’s overthrow of him, to intimidate Egypt into restoring him to power.
It’s all about Iran now. Wildly unpopular for its support of the Syrian government, an Islamic country whose religion the Sunni Muslims of Egypt do not recognize as Islam, it is the perfect target. The Muslim Brotherhood’s collaboration with a Shiite power murdering Sunnis is not just treason; it’s heresy.
But as cleverly convenient as the charges may be, it’s entirely possible that they are also true.
There is little doubt that Morsi conspired with Hamas. There is no reason for him not to have. Hamas is just the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. And it is exactly this sort of transnational arrangement that makes Arab nationalists distrust the Muslim Brotherhood and its international network.
Morsi and Hamas’ actions after the murder of Egyptian soldiers in the summer of last year strongly suggest that there was coordination. Morsi was quick to exploit the attacks for a domestic power grab and a push into the Sinai and the Army of Islam, which was allegedly responsible for attacking Egypt, has worked together with Hamas and looks a lot like a Hamas effort at plausible deniability.
If there were really any doubt that the Egyptian military believed Hamas was responsible all along, not just when it became politically convenient to level those charges against Morsi, the way that it began treating Hamas even before the overthrow of Morsi should put any doubts to rest. Even before Morsi fell, Hamas had begun complaining that Egypt was treating it worse than Israel.
Hamas had every reason to exploit the Anti-Mubarak protests to help set Muslim Brotherhood members free. And once they were in power, it had every reason to intervene to keep them in power. The more the Egyptian military turned on Hamas, the more it was motivated to help Morsi hold on to power and to restore him to power once he had been overthrown.
Did Hamas really believe that it could work with the Brotherhood to carve out an Emirate in the Sinai? There’s no way to know. Hamas’ ambitions may have been no grander than protecting its smuggling network, but it certainly would have profited from a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist kingdom in the Sinai.
Iran is the joker in the deck. Would the Muslim Brotherhood have continued a conspiracy with Iran even after taking power? Ahmadinejad visited Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power and though he met with a mixed reception, the visit had the air of a victory lap. Adding to that impression were the Iranian warships passing through the Suez Canal.
The willingness of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, to draw the bulk of its support from Iran, made it and its allied Muslim Brotherhood franchises vulnerable to charges of Shiite collaboration. Despite Qatar’s infusion of money, Hamas was never able to fully break with Iran even during the Syrian Civil War and before too long came crawling back to Tehran.
And now Hamas’ lust for Iranian money and weapons may end up putting a noose around Morsi’s neck.
The trial of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders is Egypt’s opportunity to frame the events of the last few years on their own terms. Egyptians are struggling to come to terms with what happened and they will be told that a foreign conspiracy bringing together Iran, Qatar and the United States took over their country for a little while before being forced out of office by civilian and military patriots.
And strangely enough, it will almost be the truth.
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