The civil war will start when people get their strength back. Now it is Ramadan — the time in the Middle East of enormous masses praying, thirsty in the heat, hungry in the shade; then, in people’s homes, after lighting the colored lamps and women serving the best food and drink, rejoicing. In Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army clashed again. Indifferent to the visit of Lady Ashton, a million members of the Muslim Brotherhood, at the request of their leader, poured into the streets tonight.
The leader of the army, General Sisi, ignored the European presence. He seems to feel he has a personal mission: to stop the Brotherhood from regaining power at any cost, including death and destruction. Lady Ashton’s many meetings with the nation’s new representatives, the leaders of the Brotherhood, and even the deposed President Morsi in a secret location reflects the new government’s attempt not so much to find an impossible middle-ground as to define itself as the legitimate power sanctioned by international consent. Many of Morsi’s men, and probably Morsi himself, refused Ashton’s multiple requests that he give up the presidency to let others start talks. To the Brotherhood, it is inconceivable.
The Egyptian army, on the other side, in power since 1952, does not seem interested in giving over part of the country to a well-organized force that, once back, would apparently like to take back the government.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, a political compromise is not the answer — Islam is. Its decades in hiding during a war that cost many lives and injuries, and the subsequent takeover, appear to have convinced its leaders that they are on the right path. The insistence with which they continue protesting in Cairo shows their deep conviction that it is possible to retrieve what was taken from them.
Refusing to compromise during political conflicts seems part of Islamic societies. A look at Syria’s background: whether religious or nationalistic, it absolutely precludes a change of direction. The Brotherhood, moreover, openly hopes to expand its influence. A Pew poll from 2011 — not necessarily accurate in dictatorships, since one never knows who might be watching — tells them that 88% of citizens of Egypt believe that those who convert from Islam should be condemned to death — compared to the 37% average in the rest of Muslim countries — and that 75% want Sharia law, compared to 39% elsewhere.
Being a Muslim Brother is not like being a card-carrying member of a political party. Young boys are recruited at school based on their faith, not politics; it passes from father to son and sheikh to sheikh. Candidates spend one-to-three years passing difficult tests of doctrine, solidarity and sacrifice. When first they pass, they are promoted to muayyad (supporter without the right to vote). After one year, they can become a muntasib, a member, and study Koranic writings. Finally, they become an achmal, a real brother, and can vote for even the most delicate decisions. The Brothers help indoctrinate and monitor each other during elections. This army of pious militants infiltrates societies, runs in elections and it won in Tunisia, dominates in Turkey, holds Gaza, and took over Egypt. The Brotherhood is also strong in Libya and Jordan. It receives billions of dollars from Qatar, and fights in Syria to expel Assad.
The Brotherhood makes its home in 70 countries. It forms alliances to break up ordinary arrangements, like the one attempted by Morsi with Shiite Iran, to help Islam win the world war in which it believes. It is an organization that will never surrender power easily: because it just got hold of it, because it has faith, and because it is aware of its great international strength.
The war between nationalists and Islamists — that goes back-and-forth, knows no truce and comes drenched in blood — is, after all, ancient.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright The Gatestone Institute