Is Egypt the Next Iran?

By Morgan Norval l February 18, 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak               Tahrir Square in Cairo


A wave of chaos is sweeping Arab countries leading many to proclaim it as a wave of democracy that is emerging in its wake. Such euphoria will likely be dashed on the rocks of reality.

The Obama Administration and its media cheerleaders giddily feel that the largest Arab country, Egypt, seems poised to replace an authoritarian pro-American regime with one elected by Egyptians who may, or may not, continue its friendship and support of American interests in the Middle East.

This is strangely familiar to the feckless attitude of the Carter administration as it tossed overboard the pro-American Shah, the authoritarian leader of Iran. We all know how that turned out.

In a democratic society, political wars are fought and won with voting power, nothing else. The democratic process allows any individual to develop a political vision for the future, convey that vision to the people and create a political organization with the aim of participating in an election. With that election the people can either accept this vision or reject it. Islamic fundamentalist organizations, like the Muslim Brotherhood, may profess to support the democratic process in Egypt but in reality they would use it to subvert the regime and replace it with their version of a theocratic dictatorship.

For those who see the demonstrations in Egypt as the start of a democratic revolution in that country which will become a model for the rest of the Arab Middle East, it is wise to consider a salient point regarding revolutions: the people who start them are usually not the ones who finish them. The idealists supporting Kerensky in Russia weren’t the ones who prevailed in the Russian revolution. It was the organized and violent Bolsheviks that did the job. The Bolsheviks had an organized party and were prepared to seize opportunities as they arose. If, for a moment, you consider the demonstrations in Egypt and other Arab states as nascent revolutions struggling to be born, consider that while they are demonstrating they are also trying to organize themselves as revolutionaries, so they can carry out their revolution. This type of on the job training also strongly suggests they would lack the ability to govern were their revolutionary efforts successful. Like the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Russian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today is best positioned to take control because they are organized and have a plan to govern Egypt via Islamic sharia law.

Democracy in Egypt can lead to a similar radical regime as exists in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah. Lurking in the background is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by the Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist school teacher, Hassan al-Banna. The Brotherhood’s motto was, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” During the 1930s and 1940s Banna and the Brotherhood were great admirers of Hitler and the Nazis. In spite of being suppressed in Egypt since the 1952 ouster of the monarchy and subsequent rule by military officers—Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak—whose secret police suppressed the activities of the Brotherhood, it is the most organized of Egypt’s political factions seeking advantage from the chaos.

Organization is the key to revolutionary success and the organizational process can save and assure a revolutionary group’s survival in the face of repeated setbacks. The organizational strength of the Muslim Brotherhood enabled it to survive attacks from Egyptian security forces from Nasser’s regime down to the present day. The Brotherhood has a plan. Its official website says jihad is Islam’s most important tool in a gradual takeover, beginning with the Muslim nations, moving on to restoring the caliphate over three continents for a conquest of the West, with a global Islamic state as the ultimate objective.

Polls in Egypt reveal a schizophrenic attitude toward their political future. On the one hand they want democracy but they also want a fundamentalist Islamic state based on sharia law, Recent polls show that 60 percent of Egyptians favor the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

Democratic elections in the Gaza Strip put Islamic terrorists—Hamas—in office. In 1991 the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front won elections after demonstrations forced out the corrupt authoritarian rule of the National Liberation Front—sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Algerian military, fearing the Front would establish an Iranian-style Islamic state, mounted a coup, nullified the elections and arrested the Front’s leadership. That action launched a bloody internal conflict that wracked Algeria for years.

The West turned a blind eye to widespread intimidation in “democratic” elections in Zimbabwe in 1980 and the Marxist Robert Mugabe has ruled and ruined the country ever since.

President George W. Bush insisted on elections to create a Palestinian democracy and birthed a virulently anti-Semetic terrorist regime in the form of Hamas.

Australia insisted on free elections for East Timor to free the region from Indonesia. They resulted in an orgy of violence and destruction which wrecked the emerging country’s infrastructure.

Recent elections in Iraq have resulted in a government that will become a stalking horse for Iran and its meddling in the region.

Could the same thing happen in a post-Mubarak Egypt? Consider a 2010 statement by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammed Badie: “The history of freedom is not written in ink but in blood.” He also said the Brotherhood’s goals could only be realized “by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.”

It is well to remember Egypt has no oil, little industry and half its population—40 million—live on less than $2 a day in a country that is the world’s largest wheat importer. Foreign imports of food provide half of Egypt’s total food consumption and rising food prices will result in more hungry poor Egyptians. The drought in Russia, Argentina and China and the floods in Australia have caused world grain prices to rise, which adversely affects Egypt’s ability to feed its poor citizens. This gives the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to preach its brand of Islam to a growing hungry audience. Even Muslim Brotherhood jihadis have to eat. The Iranian Islamists who took power in 1979 had oil wells; Egypt will have disgruntled hungry mouths to feed. People want to eat almost every day and the hungry will throw their support to those, like the Brotherhood, who promise to end their suffering.

In ancient times, Egypt was known as the granary of the Roman Empire and its grain exports kept the peace and fed Rome for centuries. Food comprises almost half of Egypt’s consumer price index. Without figuring out how to feed the desperately poor bottom half of Egypt’s population, democracy will not take root. Instead the hungry poor will flock in droves to the promises of a better life under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. When people are hungry and desperate the siren calls of the Brotherhood would be sweet music to their ears.

The United States has serious interests in Egypt that we would be very foolish and irresponsible to ignore. The Egyptian-Israeli peace settlement of 1979 has been a lynch-pin of U.S. efforts to bring peace to the region. A Brotherhood-ruled Egypt poses a strategic threat to these efforts, not to mention a threat to the Suez Canal, a vital oil and sea commerce chokepoint. A takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood would turn America’s ally in the region into a bitter enemy and threaten the existence of Israel.

David P. Goldman recently summed up the Obama administration’s position on Egypt in an article titled “Chinese weather on Tahrir Square,” which appeared on the Asian Times Online website. He wrote: “Egypt’s rulers had a good run as an American client. They have not yet absorbed the enormity of Washington’s abandonment of a reasonably faithful and consistent ally. Accustomed as they are to hypocrisy in all public discussions, the rulers did not quite grasp President Barack Obama’s obsession with the salvation of the world of his father and stepfather, the world his anthropologist mother labored her whole short life to defend against globalization.

“America’s president is really prepared to gamble core American interests on the sketchy proposition that Egypt can turn into a Muslim democracy . . .”

Dark days lie ahead for the U.S. and its vital interests in the Middle East. Fecklessness in our leaders, enthralled by a so-called wave of democracy, will pose new and dangerous security challenges for the United States in the years ahead.

Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.