CPAC 2011: Nobody Expects the Muslim Brotherhood

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Feb. 12 2011 2:12 PM

CPAC 2011: Nobody Expects the Muslim Brotherhood

In my ongoing quest for opinions about Egypt at CPAC, I sat in on a session on the threat of Sharia law, featuring Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former CIA Director James Woolsey. Egypt came up in the form of this question: How great is the risk of a Muslim brotherhood takeover?

"The answer to that question depends on three things," said Hirsi Ali. "One, it depends the Muslim brotherhood's influence within the Egyptian military. A second factor is how gullible the U.S. administration is."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

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That got a worried laugh.

"Take the national intelligence director's remarks yesterday," said Hirsi Ali, "describing them as a secular, eschewing violence, and so on. If that is the policy, that is how the American government perceives the Muslim Brotherhood to be, that's a great asset for the Muslim brotherhood, a third factor is the level of organization or disorganization within the secular forces in Egypt. All three forces, at the moment, seem to be directed toward a Muslim Brotherhood between now and 2-5 years. And the military is the only institution within Egypt that has been preventing such a government, but there are reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has got a great deal of influence within the law, and the mid-ranking officials. And they're going to bide their time and they're very, very clever about it."

Woolsey more or less agreed.

"The key point about Egypt is that there's a long tradition," he said, "unfortunately, of revolutions against autocrats, shortly after they take place and during the time that they're overthrowing the Bastille, say, by moderates and librarians. It happened in the French revolution. It happened in the Russian revolution, with Kerensky. It happened in Iran, with the reformers who took down the Shah. And then the simple phrase is 'the revolution devours its children.' What tends to come around later, after a period of a couple of months or so, is that the hard-liners kill the liberals and take over, and if you're very disciplined and very organized you can pull off what the Bolsheviks pulled off in 1917."

The early, happy headlines might not last.

"Even if things look good here for a few weeks or even a few months, don't take your eyes off the situation, because as Ayaan says, the Muslim Brotherhood will be working very hard to get contral. And you could get the hand of Iran in there. Iran is an equal opportunity terrorism sponsor. They're happy to work with Sunni as well as Shi'ite."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.