CF: With all my respect to Barry Rubin and others with whom I agree on other issues, I certainly disagree with that analysis.
I believe the question isn’t whether Egypt is heading toward a fundamentalist Islamic state, but if it will continue to be one; I wrote an article for Middle East Quarterly to try to answer this question. Egypt was already a fundamentalist Islamic state with a Sharia-based constitution, hostile to America and Israel to the extent of advocating cannibalizing Jews on state-sponsored media. If this isn’t hostility and fundamentalism, I don’t know what is.
So the only difference is that now people like me who advocate genuine peace are coming into the light and taking an active role in the marketplace of ideas for the first time in 60 years. For a decade now I used to think that there was very few of us; now I know for a fact because I saw it, that we are in the millions. Apart from the Islamists and state security mobs, Tahrir Square was quite civilized; standing there, I actually said to myself that this was an Egyptian Tea Party movement – that’s how remarkable it was. It was beyond my wildest expectations. We are certainly not as organized as the Islamists because we were the ones who were banned and segregated, but we are getting there.
If anti-Semitism and Christianophobia are widespread in Egypt I blame the so-called “moderate” Arab regime that built its stability on xenophobia to create a convenient enemy outside our borders, and systematically persecuted and killed Christians inside our borders.
As for comparing Egypt to Iran, I don’t believe it’s accurate for two reasons. One, we already have a Sunni Iran, and it’s called Saudi Arabia; I don’t see it welcoming competition, although Saudi Arabia is pouring money in Egypt to fund Islamism and the Egyptian army recently welcomed 3000 jihadists back to Egypt to use as leverage against America, Israel, secularists, Christians and reformers in Egypt. But they are extremely unpopular among the Muslim masses who just want to live in peace and go on with their daily lives.
The second reason is that Egypt relies on U.S. and European aid, and I believe the Egyptian regime would be only as radical as the world allows it to be.
MT: You say that the masses don’t want anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. Even if that’s true, the Brotherhood is solidifying power and rewriting the Constitution to exclude Christians and reformers. A Los Angeles Times report claims that secular reformers like your Egyptian Liberal Party “lack experience and grass-roots networks to compete with the Brotherhood.” And President Obama himself seems to be embracing a prominent Brotherhood presence in the government, possibly even in the presidency itself. Once the Brotherhood is entrenched in power, how will the Egyptian people and reformers like you be able to reject their fundamentalism and assert your values?
CF: Secular reformers don’t lack experience. We are certainly less organized as a result of being banned, but we have a lot of experience working under a regime that banned and terrorized us.
As for the constitution, we should consider that the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) appointed members of the Muslim Brotherhood to be in the constitutional referendum committee – assigned by the very institution that always pretended to be against them! The Brotherhood is definitely popular in some areas, but they are not in the committee drafting the constitution because they were elected to do so, but because the SCAF hired them.
The true nature of the close relationship between Egyptian regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood for the past 60 years is what decides the Brotherhood’s position in the government. They both believe in Islamic socialism and the implementation of Sharia Law. They have always been part of the regime and not really the opposition as the regime claimed, and many Egyptians are finally seeing that fact.
President Obama’s position toward the Muslim Brotherhood works against real reformers in Egypt. The Brotherhood are an international criminal enterprise, the mother of groups like al-Gama’at al-Islamiya and al-Qaeda. Underestimating their danger is a fatal mistake.
But I don’t think they will reach the presidency; nor will anyone else for that matter. I believe Egypt is still firmly governed by a military oligarchy and will be for a while. Ironically, if a Muslim Brother is elected as president it would be by a bureaucracy that wants to maintain the status quo, because the Brotherhood is very similar to the regime.
MT: Attacks against the Coptic Christian minority and their churches, including the kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian girls, have intensified since the Egyptian uprising. Many are fleeing Egypt. As a Copt yourself, do you fear not only for your own safety, but for the future of your community and of religious freedom in your country? What can the world do to support the Coptic community?
CF: My work with human rights organizations in Egypt and meeting victims for the past 10 years has proven to me that most of the attacks against Christians have been state-sponsored. Not only that, but state security forces often abducted Christians randomly and kept them as hostages to force the Coptic Church into silence and submission. Mubarak and Sadat before him applied Sharia law and the theological rule that states, “Do not take the blood of a Muslim for the blood of a dhimmi” – which translates to “Do not punish a Muslim for crimes committed against a Christian or a Jew.”
I must say that there are plenty of Muslims including friends of mine who have been harassed and imprisoned for working relentlessly to demand justice for Christians. And I expect that such crimes will continue, as nothing has changed on a governmental level. The regime will still organize attacks against Christians whenever it wants to divert attention from its crimes.
The international community has much more power than it realizes. We can get serious help if the problem is properly diagnosed. Naming the real criminal is the key. The enemy of Christians is not regular Egyptian Muslims; Muslims in my neighborhood have actually protected the church on my street from Mubarak’s mobs! The international community should hold the state fully responsible for these crimes.
I do fear for my safety of course, and the future of religious freedom in Egypt – but from the state, not from regular Egyptian Muslims.
MT: I think it’s fitting to close with a hopeful quote from your Middle East Quarterly article:
Even if the near future belongs to the enemies of freedom, something profound has changed among Egyptians; none of them will be the same again. Freedom may look like a distant dream, but it is still closer than ever imagined prior to 2011.
[Editor’s note: Robert Spencer offers a different perspective at Frontpagemag.com about the “Arab Spring” in post-Mubarak Egypt, arguing that it heralds a resurgent Islamic supremacism rather than a flowering of Western-style pluralism and democracy.]