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December 3, 2012

The brotherhood delusion

The great 19th-century satirist Ambrose Bierce defined a revolution as "an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment." He would understand events in Egypt very well.

In the signature revolution of the Arab Spring, the country turned its back on a secular dictatorship only to fall into the arms of what looks like a budding Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. Meet the new pharaoh, same as the old pharaoh. Except Egypt's old form of misgovernment may soon look progressive by comparison.

Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi's decree neutering the judiciary is the latest act in his steady consolidation of power. While he assiduously builds a dictatorship, the Obama administration just as assiduously tells itself bedtime stories. It's a perfect division of labor - he goes about his empire-building with a cleareyed realism; we consider it through a gauzy lens of delusion.

Since the end of Hosni Mubarak, the air has been thick with descriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi as moderates. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the Muslim Brotherhood "largely secular." If he had been speaking of the Church of England, he might have had a point.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood's credo is: "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way." Morsi summarized his program during the campaign as "the sharia, then the sharia, and finally the sharia." (Unlike President Barack Obama, at least he had an agenda.)

After Mubarak's fall, we fooled ourselves about the level of support for the Brotherhood. We fooled ourselves about the Brotherhood abiding by its promise not to run for the presidency. We fooled ourselves about what a Morsi victory would mean for democracy. Why stop fooling ourselves now?

Morsi staged his latest power grab on Thanksgiving Day in the immediate aftermath of working with Obama to get a cease-fire in hostilities between Hamas (a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot) and Israel. A New York Times piece reported that in his talks with Morsi, "Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection." How sweet.

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