Out of Thin Air: Robert Spencer’s Loony Rants About the Imminent Take Over of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood

You know that you have been hearing an inordinate amount of news about the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Egyptian uprising that occurred over the last few weeks. FOX News in particular has been bringing in anyone, whether with the requisite credentials to speak on the subject or not, who will share their viewpoints on the Muslim Brotherhood. Our good friend, Robert Spencer, has been receiving quite a bit of air time to opine about the Brotherhood and how they will soon take over Egypt and implement a brutal Islamic state. The only problem with Spencer’s assertion, among others that he has made over the last few weeks in regards to the Egyptian uprising, is that it flies in the face of the facts.

As we have documented at LoonWatch, Spencer does not hold the requisite credentials to speak on the topic of Islamic law and history. Neither does he hold any credentials in the study of the modern Middle East. No, Spencer isn’t qualified to speak on any of those subjects.

Despite these facts Spencer has been ranting and raving nearly every day on his hate site about how the Muslim Brotherhood will take over Egypt. He has repeatedly argued that the Egyptian people, from the very beginnings of the uprising, were Islamic supremacists fed up with a “secular” Mubarak regime and wanted it replaced with an Islamic one. The protestors, he argued, were “pro-Sharia, pro-Brotherhood” and were “fed up with Mubarak’s relatively secular Arab nationalism.” His proof for this? Some of the protestors were chanting “Allahu akbar” when the Egyptian military came in to fortify the area around the protestors.

In fact, as news reports showed, the protests were largely secular in nature with little sign of being led by religion: “Egypt’s ongoing intifada or uprising has been largely leaderless, planned initially by secular online activist groups and quickly gathering a momentum of its own…” And “Islamist slogans were noticeable by their absence.” The New York Times added that “Demonstrators in Egypt have protested against rising prices and stagnant incomes, for greater freedom and against police brutality. But religion, so often a powerful mobilizing force here, has so far played little role.”

Spencer’s first idea was to portray the protests as (Islamically?) extreme in nature. But all evidence on the ground showed that the protests were about the economy, jobs, freedom, dignity and democracy. Islam, shariah? No, much to Spencer’s chagrin. If Spencer were an expert on Egyptian society then he would know the role religion plays there. Instead, he has to make things up out of thin air to keep up the appropriate fear levels so he can cash his Jihad Watch checks. So instead of listening to a loon like Spencer, we would be better served to listen to an actual expert on the Middle East, someone like Haroon Mohgul:

Egypt’s revolution doesn’t have to be Islamic because Islam isn’t at the heart of the problem on the ground. In fact, the non-political Egyptian Islam of the last few decades has succeeded in deeply Islamizing Egyptian culture, making Muslim piety interwoven with the everyday rhythms of Egyptian life… Egypt’s society is a deeply Muslim one, and the very success of this non-political religious project has negated the need for a confrontational Islam. Egyptians know their religious identity is not under threat.

Egyptians are comfortable with their religious identity. The Egyptian people were not protesting because they were “fed up with Mubarak’s relatively secular Arab nationalism.” No, they were protesting because they were fed up with oppression and corruption, a lousy economy that did not provide economic opportunities for the people of Egypt, and the lack of democratic processes. Yet, Spencer continued to moan about how absurd this all was. Spencer was sure that this was an uprising dedicated to creating an Islamic state.

Spencer’s next scare tactic was to relentlessly tell his readers and FOX News that the Muslim Brotherhood was poised to take over Egypt as soon as Mubarak fell from power. “Over the course of Egypt’s revolution, the mainstream media has been intent on downplaying the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says the expert. “Nonetheless, it may be able to steer post-Mubarak events in Egypt its way precisely because it is the foremost exponent of political Islam in Egypt.  A Pew Research Center survey conducted in Egypt in spring 2010 found that no fewer than 85% of Egyptians thought that Islam was a positive influence in politics… But if the Egyptian people are allowed to express their will, almost certainly an Islamic regime will follow…”

A small tangent is warranted here: Even in America, “overwhelmingly, Americans favor more, not less, religion in the country.” But you don’t find frightened “experts” freaking out about how the United States may become a Christian regime. So goes expert analysis on the Middle East, where someone like Robert Spencer – who holds nary a certificate let alone a degree in Middle Eastern studies – can pontificate on cable television about current affairs in Middle Eastern countries… because he has a blog.

This is Spencer’s argument: A majority of Egyptians think Islam is a positive influence in politics. The Brotherhood is the strongest Islamist group in Egypt. Therefore, Egyptians will elect the Brotherhood to create an Islamic state.

Well, unfortunately for Spencer and other wannabe Middle East experts, polling shows that the Brotherhood has little pull amongst many Egyptians. Even while many Egyptians think that Islam is a force for good in politics, it doesn’t mean they want the Brotherhood involved in their government.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy provided the following analysis after it conducted a poll in Cairo and Alexandria during the protests in Egypt:

This is not an Islamic uprisingThe Muslim Brotherhood is approved by just 15 percent of Egyptians — and its leaders get barely 1 percent of the vote in a presidential straw poll. Asked to pick national priorities, only 12 percent of Egyptians choose sharia (Islamic law) over Egypt’s regional leadership, democracy, or economic development. And, when asked to explain the uprising, the issues of economic conditions, corruption, and unemployment (around 30 percent each) far outpace the concern that “the regime is not Islamic enough” (only 7 percent).

So what do we have here? Is the Brotherhood the big, scary boogeyman that Spencer makes them out to be? No. While they certainly have a significant following in Egypt, all indications, both from the Brotherhood and outside the Brotherhood declare they are far from being capable of dominating Egyptian politics.

The other major concern of right-wingers like Spencer is the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel. Professor Juan Cole sums it up:

There is no indication from the opinion polling in Egypt, moreover, that [the Muslim Brotherhood] would be able to dominate parliament even if that were its goal. Some of its leaders have spoken of putting the peace treaty with Israel to a popular referendum. But the still-powerful Egyptian military probably would not allow any such step, and even if it did, the polling suggests that the peace treaty would win.

One issue in respect to this however is that many Egyptians viewed the government of Mubarak as complicit with Israeli oppression of Palestinians especially in regards to the blockade in place at the Rafah crossing. One may expect amendments in that regard and a more vocal opposition to Israeli crimes against Palestinians, similar to Turkey’s outspoken and bold policies toward Israel.

Spencer continues to argue in the face of this evidence that Egypt will become a Brotherhood dominated nation where it will become an extreme Islamic state akin to “Iran”:

…the Brotherhood would win any free election

The Muslim Brotherhood is best situated to take power in Egypt after Mubarak’s fall, and to impose Islamic law.

…the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take power. They are the leading opposition group… This is gonna be another Islamic state like Iran… They are the group that is in the driver’s seat that is going to succeed Mubarak… The Brotherhood will win any election that is free in Egypt and then you’re gonna have an Islamic state there…

With 15% of Egyptians saying they approve of the Brotherhood, it’s baffling how Spencer can even suggest this, it is plain Spencerian fear-mongering meant to convey the idea that some sort of brutal theocracy is certain to take over in Egypt. But arguing from facts has never been Spencer’s methodology. He would much rather just make things up out of thin air and pass along those ideas as expert analysis. Whatever pays the bills, I guess.

 

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