New York Times Cairo bureau chief: Muslim Brotherhood is ‘moderate, regular old political force’

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

The New York Times Cairo bureau chief David K. Kirkpatrick insists that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “moderate, regular old political force,” despite Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi’s recent power grab and the Islamist organization’s radical views.

Kirkpatrick called into Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Wednesday from Egypt as the Brotherhood’s supporters battled opponents who feared a return to dictatorship on the streets of Cairo. When asked by Hewitt whether the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, a former top ideological enforcer in the movement, were consolidating power in Egypt to pursue an undemocratic Islamist agenda, Kirkpatrick said he thought such criticism was “misplaced.”

“The Brotherhood, they’re politicians,” he said.

“They are not violent by nature, and they have over the last couple of decades evolved more and more into a moderate — conservative but religious, but moderate — regular old political force. I find that a lot of the liberal fears of the Brotherhood are somewhat outside. That said, you know, you don’t know what their ultimate vision of what the good life looks like. But in the short term, I think they just want to win elections.”

Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s slogan is the not-so-moderate “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.”

Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Egypt, told The Daily Caller that Kirkpatrick’s assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood as moderate was simply a regurgitation of Muslim Brotherhood propaganda.

“Calling the Muslim Brotherhood moderate is really an ingestion of a Muslim Brotherhood talking point. It’s not analysis,” he said.

Samuel Tadros, a former leader of an Egyptian liberal organization who is currently a research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, echoed Trager.

“First, the Brotherhood is not moderate. It is pragmatic,” he said. “This means that a change in the hearts and minds of the movement has not occurred. They are able to develop innovative answers to assuage fears, but their own ideological commitment has not changed. The base is still fed and reads the same texts it has always read.”

Tadros said that the Muslim Brotherhood is skilled at duping Western reporters.

“Given the level of repression it was under during previous regimes and its need to outreach to other opponents of the regime and, more importantly, the West, it has mastered the art of double talk and perfect answer to well-known questions,” he said. “Its messages to Western reporters are quite different from what its rank and file is fed in Arabic.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed moderation also isn’t immediately evident from its positions on various issues.

Among other things, the Muslim Brotherhood opposes the existence of Israel. Muslim Brotherhood head Mohammed Badie recently said that “the jihad for the recovery of Jerusalem is a duty for all Muslims,” and Morsi was recently caught on tape mouthing “amen” when an imam called for the destruction of the Jews.

Top Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi, have propagated 9/11 trutherism, suggesting the terrorist attacks on America may not have been committed by Islamist terrorists. The Brotherhood supports the institution of Islamic law, known as sharia, in Egypt — and not just rhetorically.

To that end, Morsi is using his recent power grab and its resulting turmoil to rush through a referendum on a new anti-liberal constitution that was put together by a committee of Islamists after liberals and Christians boycotted the drafting process.

And lest it be forgotten, Hamas, the Palestinian terror group whose genocidal charter calls for the destruction of not only Israel but Jews generally, is a direct offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Since its founding, the Brotherhood has generally had an adversarial and sometimes violent relationship with various Egyptian regimes, often leading to the group’s suppression. Nonetheless, after the downfall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, which the Muslim Brotherhood helped bring about, the Brotherhood emerged as far and away the most organized political force in Egypt.

The Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality of seats in the Egyptian parliament, and its presidential candidate, Morsi, won Egypt’s top position.

Since assuming office, Morsi has consolidated his control, decreeing himself what many consider to be dictatorial powers on Nov. 22. The decree has prompted mass protests from Egyptians who oppose a return to dictatorship.

Though Kirkpatrick suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood is an ordinary, nonviolent democratic organization, Trager said the reality is much different.

“What many people miss is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not organized like a democratic party. It is organized like a militia, with ranks and internal promotional procedures and a nationwide chain of command, all intended to ensure that its members are loyal foot soldiers to the organization,” he said.

“And that structure can be used in elections for organization, for setting up voter kiosks, for handing out literature, for distributing food and other goods to buy votes, which frankly the Carter Center even recognized, but that structure can also be used to organize violence. And that is very clearly what’s happening in Egypt right now.”

While Trager said the Muslim Brotherhood is more than willing to use democratic means to take power and may even hold elections again if they believe the elections would turn out in their favor, he was skeptical that they would ever peacefully give up power.

“I think that there is a good chance they would not accept a change in power,” he said.

In fact, Trager said he was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square talking to members of the Muslim Brotherhood over the summer when it was announced that Morsi had been elected the new president of Egypt. He said that one of the brothers told him that he had been instructed by his superiors in the organization to use violence if Morsi lost.

“So the whole idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-violent is false, and obviously they are showing it that they are quite violent and quite organized and quite prepared to use organized violence,” Trager said.

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