Egypt’s future remains in flux. On Sunday, Mohammed Morsi of the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement became Egypt’s new president, narrowly defeating the secular Ahmed Shafiq by 52-48 percent. Just two weeks ago, however, Egypt’s military council issued an interim constitution stripping the president of most of his powers. A few days before that, the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Egypt’s parliament, controlled by radical Islamic parties, on a legal technicality.
No one is quite sure what the coming days and weeks will bring. Will Morsi fight to restore his office’s authority? Will Egypt’s secular military elite yield to the Muslim Brotherhood? What about Egypt’s masses? Will they stand by silently? Or will they rise up, mimicking last year’s protests that led to the ouster of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the deaths of 900 Egyptians?
To answer some of these questions, The Jewish Press recently spoke with Tawfik Hamid, a former Egyptian radical who now lives in the United States and devotes his efforts to reforming Islam and educating the West about radical Islamists. He is also the author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam and chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
The Jewish Press: You recently stated that if “the Muslim Brotherhood attains power in Egypt, a war in the Middle East will be inevitable.” Why do you think so?
Hamid: Because the Muslim Brotherhood will work against U.S. interests and the peace treaty with Israel. For example, in one of the latest celebrations for Mohammed Morsi, the main theme was to support Hamas, declare war against Israel, and restore the caliphate with its capital in Jerusalem. On its website, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t even mention the word Israel. They call it “the entity” without even writing “Zionist entity.” They consider the word “Zionist” filthy and don’t want to place dirt on their website.
Just recently, the Muslim Brotherhood invited one of Hamas’s leaders to speak in Al-Azhar Mosque and met with him in the parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood also has relatively good relations with the Iranians, who promised to send millions of tourists to Egypt. Furthermore, it now has full control over the Suez Canal.
Finally, these people are unlikely to cooperate with American and Israeli counterterrorism efforts like Egypt’s former regime did. This, in turn, may lead to more terrorist attacks and an escalation of the already existent frictions between Egypt and Israel.
What would you advise Israel or America to do at this point?
I think it’s better for Israel not to comment on what’s happening because any comment may work against them.
I think the United States can play a role by not placing pressure on the military of Egypt at this stage. I’m not saying the military is perfect or good, but with all its faults and mistakes it is still a relative ally to the U.S. It will try to keep the peace treaty with Israel and protect the Suez Canal and U.S. interests.
How do you think matters will unfold in Egypt?
The Muslim Brotherhood will try to demand that the military allow them to write [an Islamist] constitution. They will also demand that the military give legislative power to Morsi, or at least reinstitute the dissolved parliament.
But the military is also fighting for a piece of the cake. They contributed to the revolution, and it was their intervention, if you think about it, that made Mubarak leave. So they feel they deserve a cut, and if the Muslim Brotherhood demands complete power, that will create a situation of violence.
The best outcome, in my view, is that the military retain legislative power and power over the constitution so that we have a secular constitution that can control Morsi.
In fact, I don’t expect Brotherhood to perform very well economically because their agenda is against tourism which is badly needed to save the economy. I think if they show failure in the next two or three months we might have an anti-Islamist revolution. Failure to deliver economically will be evidence for Egyptians that Islam is not the solution and that Islamists are not really the hope for their future.
You currently maintain liberal, western views, but as a youngster, you flirted with radicalism and almost killed a man. Can you talk a bit about your background?