Protests against the Muslim Brotherhood continue to rock Egypt without a word being said from the White House. Now, the Brotherhood and allied Islamists are taking a cue from their Shiite counterparts in Tehran and have announced they are setting up a civilian force with the power to arrest those they deem to be criminals.
The Muslim Brotherhood first hinted at setting up a militia on December 16 when Vice Chairman Essam Erian of its Freedom and Justice Party said it needed defenses in the wake of clashes. “They would have defended themselves in front of the presidential palace and killed the other [anti-Brotherhood] protesters,” he said. At around the same time, Jama’a al-Islamiya threatened to set up a pro-Brotherhood militia to “protect private and public property and counter the aggression on innocent citizens.”
The Brotherhood and Jam’a al-Islamiya have announced their intention to set up a joint civilian police force with other Islamists.
The Brotherhood and its supporters point to Salafi groups like Jama’a al-Islamiya as proof that they are comparatively “moderate.” This Islamist relativism is a defining feature of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Yet, here we have the Islamists coming together for their common Sharia cause in recognition that their differences are nothing compared to those they have with the secularists.
Jama’a al-Islamiya says it will soon submit a draft law to Egypt’s Shura Council for approval and that the militia will be unarmed and supervised by the Interior Ministry. Those apprehended are to be transferred to military or official police custody.
The prosecutor-general signaled the Brotherhood-led government’s support of a civilian paramilitary force by bringing attention to a law that permits civilians to arrest those that are vandalizing property, stopping traffic, preventing government officials from working, forcing the closure of government buildings and the vague offense of spreading fear. The Egyptian security apparatus has carried out crackdowns on protests in the past citing these crimes. The prosecutor-general later backtracked.
The Islamists are looking for alternative law enforcement methods now that the police cannot be relied upon to stand by President Morsi. Since December, police officers have refused orders to stamp out protests and have demonstrated themselves. Thousands are now on strike in at least 10 of the country’s 29 provinces, including gatherings in front of the Interior Ministry.
In Alexandria, police stations were closed with signs posted stating, “Police and the people are one hand.” At Port Said, cops cornered their commander in the police station for hours after he ordered them to crush anti-government demonstrations. Police assigned to protect the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo picked up and left and some joined the protesters. A group of them even held a sit-in outside President Morsi’s house.
The Interior Ministry told the police that it’ll purchase 100,000 new 9-mm automatic pistols to address their complaints that they are overpowered by criminal gangs. Unfortunately for the Brotherhood, the bulk of the police’s gripes are over its politicization and this announcement has done nothing to appease them.
Already, some police forces feel inferior to Islamist militiamen. The top police official in Assiut Province says Jam’a al-Islamiya is acting in defiance of the law, but “I don’t know what to do.” A coordinator for a group called the Muslim Rebels Movement says committees have been formed in Assiut and Minya Provinces and “Islamist movements are capable of replacing the police.” The Brotherhood denies accusations it already set up a militia.
The Islamist creation of a civilian paramilitary force follows widespread rumors that Hamas is helping the Brotherhood to do just that. In late January, RadicalIslam.org wrote that Egyptian social media networks were talking about the arrest of armed individuals with Palestinian identification cards. It was also reported that Hamas members and foreign Salafists had been granted citizenship. Some accounts put the number of imported Hamas terrorists at 7,000.
If the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies move forward with its plans for a civilian militia, Hamas should be expected to provide training and expertise. After all, Hamas is the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is even video of Hamas leaders publicly pledging their allegiance to the Brotherhood and, more specifically, its jihad.
The tension is bound to heat up as the question of parliamentary elections is answered. President Morsi originally dated them for April 22 but the Administrative Court cancelled them because he didn’t consult the Prime Minister. The Higher Administrative Court just delayed its hearing on the matter. Since Morsi has declared that his decisions cannot be challenged by the judicial system, he may order them to be held regardless of what the Court rules.
The White House was almost entirely silent in 2009 when millions of Iranians protested the regime. Today, thousands of Egyptians are challenging the Muslim Brotherhood and the similar silence is prompting the opposition to accuse the U.S. of siding with the Islamists.
The secular democratic opponents of Islamist ideologues should never have to doubt that the U.S. is on their side.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.