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Weimar Republic or 18 Brumaire?

The Muslim Brotherhood does not have the power to rule Egypt as the Nazis did Germany, but what it can do — and appears to be doing — is by failure open the way for an even graver dictatorship

Last August, Wael Abbas, the writer of the well-known blog “Misr Digit@l”, wrote a perceptive article in Al-Badeel newspaper documenting the emergence of armed militias, whether Muslim Brotherhood or Ultras, or thugs or everything in between. He observed that these militias are merely the tip of the iceberg, and what is still submerged indicates a fascist hue that tinges Egyptian state and society.

He predicted that we were veering towards widespread violence, given the deteriorating economic situation, and the paralysis in the political process reaching critical lows, a situation that reminds us of Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, on the eve of the arrival of the Nazis to power.

I found myself thinking about Abbas’s article because he posed in it many important questions and directed us to implicitly draw parallels between the Nazis and Muslim Brotherhood. Before I read the article, I had just finished reading Richard Evans’s brilliant book on the Third Reich. This is in fact one book in three volumes, totaling more than 1,000 pages. In it, Evans, a British professor teaching at Cambridge University, puts the result of more than 30 years of research, teaching and writing on Germany’s modern history in lucid, clear engaging prose that will sure be a modern classic.

Interestingly, I read the three volumes backwards, beginning with the third part titled, The Third Reich in War, before realising that this volume is actually a sequel to two earlier volumes. I then turned to volume two, The Third Reich in Power, and concluded by reading volume one, The Coming of the Third Reich, which deals with the 30-odd years before the Nazis rose to power.

This unusual sequence of reading made me appreciate the book more because I was able to better value the effort made to explain the harbingers of the arrival of Nazis to power after I read about the atrocities they committed which are covered in volumes three and two. This “reverse” reading of Evans’s spectacular trilogy made me even more sensitive to the importance of what Abbas said in his article.

Abbas was not the only one last summer who compared the Muslim Brotherhood to the Nazis; many Western journalists and analysts did so before him. They specifically questioned the Brotherhood’s belief in the democratic process and expressed concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, like the Nazis, are embracing democracy only to reach power. Once in position, the argument went, they will reject democracy and earnestly work to suspend any future elections out of fear of losing after their record in power exposes them and they lose most of their popularity on the street.

I must admit that although I find this comparison between the Muslim Brotherhood and Nazis useful, I do not believe it is accurate. For one thing, when the Nazis came to power, their movement had only existed for 10 years, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood has a long history that goes back more than 80 years. Secondly, the Nazis had a key element of success, which is a charismatic leader who mesmerised and hypnotised millions with his evocative words and flamboyant oration. By contrast, no one in the Muslim Brotherhood leadership has abilities comparable to Hitler’s skill to inspire the mob and move their feelings, positively or negatively.

A third difference is that the Nazis were by far the most radical political faction in Germany, but here, the Muslim Brotherhood were surprised after they reached power that there are those who outbid them on their moral agenda (namely the Salafists), while there are others (namely Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and Al-Jihad) who challenge their right-wing political credentials.

However, the most significant difference is that the Muslim Brotherhood today, unlike the Nazis soon after they came to power, don’t seem to want to suspend any future elections. In fact, it is their liberal opponents who are seeking to postpone elections while they themselves appear committed to holding elections, so much so that their understanding of what democracy means appears restricted to balloting, an understanding that Amr Ezzat ingeniously dubbed “ballotoracy”.

Despite these key differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazis, what both these movements share is their attitude to armed and organised violence. And I think this is the point Abbas wants us to ponder. For the Nazis were aware of the importance of creating their own militias as a tool to terrorise their opponents. They were also aware of the deep resentment that the police, officers and soldiers, had toward the democracy of the Weimar Republic; they therefore sought to win the police over even before they reached power.

Immediately following the 1933 elections, Goering was appointed as Prussia’s minister of interior and succeeded in purging the security sector of Nazi opponents, adapting this formidable apparatus to pounce on their enemies. The same thing happened in the army; the Nazis were able to infiltrate the army and win it over even before reaching power. This is the key difference between the Nazis in 1933 and the Muslim Brotherhood today; the former had already — even before reaching power — taken control of the state’s means of violence, while the Brotherhood’s fundamental dilemma today is their inability to control the police and army.

Along with these two key institutions, if one bears in mind the Muslim Brotherhood’s feeble control over the judiciary and media, then the difference between them and the Nazis in power becomes even more apparent. Regarding the civilian side of the state, it is true that the Nazis were unable to tighten their control on the German state overnight, yet even then the resistance facing the Muslim Brotherhood in this respect is even greater than anything the Nazis were up against, a further key difference in the history of the two movements.

The most prominent difference between the Nazis coming to power in Germany and the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt is the fact that the 1933 victory that brought Hitler to the chancellery was in response to an unprecedented economic relapse, whereas the 2012 elections that brought Morsi to the presidency were the outcome of a popular revolution. Hitler had oratory faculties that enabled him to play on Germany’s critical economic condition to manipulate the lowest common denominator among the German people: racism, a sense of superiority, and determination to take revenge on those “who stabbed us in the back.”

As for Morsi, Khairat Al-Shater and Mohamed Badie, none of them have faculties that could motivate either the lowest or highest common denominator among Egyptians.

Their presence at the pinnacle of political power today is not due to any oratory skills, futuristic vision or developmental projects that they have, but is mainly the result of the political opening affected by the January revolution after long decades of stagnation and oppression. Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood suffered from this more than others through persecution and torture. Yet today, instead of showing gratitude to the revolution and appreciation for its role in propelling them to power, and instead of beginning to implement the most important demand of the revolution — dismantling the torture machine embodied in the Ministry of Interior — we find them courting the military, procrastinating in reforming the interior ministry, and besieging the judiciary and media with their militias.

All this indicates they are catastrophically misreading the political scene; the revolution did not break out to replace the National Democratic Party with the Muslim Brotherhood. The revolution broke out to achieve democracy, not ballotocracy. The revolution broke out to change the rules of the game entirely, not just the players.

I am certain many will frown upon comparing the Muslim Brotherhood to the Nazis, and the Brotherhood’s electronic brigades will surely spring into action to refute and reject this comparison. To them I say that, like Abbas, I sincerely hope I am mistaken. Regardless, my fear of this comparison being accurate is only surpassed by my fear that the relevant comparison might not be the one between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazis in 1933, but one between our situation today and the condition in France on the eve of 18 Brumaire.

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