Nobody should have been surprised when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” on Thursday asserting total political power. This was, after all, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader’s second power grab since he took office in June, complementing his earlier seizure of legislative and constitution-writing authorities by now insulating himself from judicial oversight. Yet Washington was caught entirely off-guard: Morsi’s power play was at odds with the administration’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “democratic party,” and his impressive handling of last week’s Gaza ceasefire created a modicum of trust between him and President Obama. So the State Department released a predictably confused statement, urging “all Egyptians to resolve their differences … peacefully and through democratic dialogue.”
Washington ought to have known by now that “democratic dialogue” is virtually impossible with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now mobilizing throughout Egypt to defend Morsi’s edict. The reason is that it is not a “democratic party” at all. Rather, it is a cultish organization that was never likely to moderate once it had grasped power.
That’s because the very process through which one becomes a Muslim Brother is designed to weed out moderates. It begins when specially designated Brotherhood recruiters, who work at mosques and universities across Egypt, identify pious young men and begin engaging them in social activities to assess their suitability for the organization. The Brotherhood’s ideological brainwashing begins a few months later, as new recruits are incorporated into Brotherhood cells (known as “families”) and introduced to the organization’s curriculum, which emphasizes Qur’anic memorization and the writings of founder Hassan al-Banna, among others. Then, over a five-to-eight-year period, a team of three senior Muslim Brothers monitors each recruit as he advances through five different ranks of Brotherhood membership—muhib, muayyad, muntasib, muntazim, and finally ach amal, or “active brother.”
Throughout this process, rising Muslim Brothers are continually vetted for their embrace of the Brotherhood’s ideology, commitment to its cause, and—most importantly—willingness to follow orders from the Brotherhood’s senior leadership. As a result, Muslim Brothers come to see themselves as foot soldiers in service of the organization’s theocratic credo: “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.” Meanwhile, those dissenting with the organization’s aims or tactics are eliminated at various stages during the five-to-eight-year vetting period.
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