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The Perils of Democracy: The Muslim Brotherhood and 1930's Germany

by Jeff Cox, published
Reichstag in 1926 // Credit: German Federal Archives

Reichstag in 1926 // Credit: German Federal Archives

The Muslim Brotherhood are the bad guys. It’s a story that is now well-known.

In 1932 the people of Germany were starving, gripped by hyperinflation, wracked with mass unemployment, crushed under the Great Depression, and crippled by punitive sanctions for a war that, arguably, they did not start. Their government was hapless and almost completely ineffective at remedying the situation.

But someone had a plan to fix things: Adolf Hitler and his Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – the National Socialist Germans Workers’ Party – better known in a shortened form of the German Nationalsozialist as the Nazis.

The Nazis had been largely troublemakers since their formation in the 1920s. They had even tried to stage a coup that collapsed when the military would not back them up, for which they received absurdly light prison sentences. They had their own army, the Sturmabteilung or SA, who would become infamous as “stormtroopers” or “brown shirts,” in part for their rather impolite habit of beating up opponents of the Nazis. The Nazis were thugs, through and through.

Then again, that was part of the Nazi appeal – they and their stormtroopers promised security in a time where uncertainty ruled and many did not know from where their next meal would come.

So Hitler, evil and insane but an orator of historic talent, campaigned on the basis of the Nazi plan. It wasn’t actually a good plan, mind you, but it was a plan, and in the land of the hopelessly planless, that was all that mattered. Mostly.

The Nazis ran for elected office legitimately (if you leave out the beatings by the SA of their opponents, and to be fair many of the Nazis’ opponents had armies of their own) and in legitimate elections were able to get a plurality in the German parliament, the Reichstag. Hitler was named chancellor in January 1933, but a plurality was not enough to give the Nazis full control of the German government.

Until the night of February 27, 1933. That was the night the Reichstag building was gutted by fire caused by an arsonist. Conventional wisdom has it that the Nazis set the fire in a false flag operation, but the evidence as to who was ultimately responsible for the fire is ambiguous. Nevertheless, using the philosophy of “never let a good crisis go to waste,” Hitler used the fire to get himself awarded emergency powers.

After the next parliamentary election just a week or so later, the Nazis had barely enough power to pass enabling acts that gave Hitler dictatorial powers. No more elections after that. One man. One vote. One time. Hitler showed what he thought of the democracy that got his Nazis elected to power by allowing the Reichstag building to sit as a burned-out wreck until the Reich’s day was done.

There was only one possible domestic obstacle to Hitler – the military, the Reichswehr, soon to become the Wehrmacht. Hitler had never forgotten the military’s role in undermining his earlier coup attempt. He knew even his SA and SS could not stand up to the Wehrmacht.

And the Wehrmacht’s senior leadership didn’t much care for Hitler. But it did nothing about the dangerous Austrian corporal and stayed out of politics like good little militaries are supposed to do. A few manufactured scandals later, Hitler put his own people in charge of the Wehrmacht, and the road to World War II and the Holocaust was open.

But what if the Wehrmacht had done something to stop Hitler? What if they had taken their panzers and marched on Berlin and taken Hitler, the SS, and the Nazis into custody? Or what if the Wehrmacht had marched on Berlin and physically attacked the Reich Chancellery to remove Hitler and the Nazis? What if hundreds, even thousands of Nazis had died in the process?

How would the West have responded? How would we have responded?

Hindsight being 20-20, we like to think we would have congratulated the Wehrmacht, thanked the Wehrmacht, for helping the world to avert a catastrophe on multiple levels, nipping it in the bud before it could grow more dangerous, more malevolent, more murderous.

We like to think that, but hindsight is 20-20. What would we really have done? Would we have congratulated them for removing the legally, legitimately elected leader of Germany, however much force it may have required? Or would we have loudly condemned them because democracy!!! Massacre!!!

We are seeing the probable answer in the response of the US government to the events taking place in Egypt, with the Egyptian military removing the elected Muslim Brotherhood from power. And that answer should shame us.

American Thinker’s Tom Trinko has noticed the same thing:

If Obama had been President in 1933, would he have condemned the German military if they had staged a coup against Adolf Hitler? One would hope not, but given Obama's actions on Egypt it's far from clear… A coup by the military would have prevented both WW II and the Holocaust.

And so has Power Line’s Steven Hayward:

Of course you can only approve of this course with the perfect hindsight of knowing what actually happened after 1933… Without today’s hindsight, a Wilsonian idealist in 1933 might well have condemned the German military, just as today’s State Department can’t speak with a clear voice about how we should think about the problems in Egypt.

Obviously, I am not the first to compare the Muslim Brotherhood to the Nazis and I strongly doubt I will be the last. But the comparison bears repeating, at least until the US foreign policy establishment finally gets it. And the Kool-Aid here seems to come from a deep bucket, as not just Barack Obama has imbibed it, but John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who – and they really should know better – called for a cutoff of US aid to Egypt after the military government’s offensive against the Brotherhood.

The Obama administration, for reasons known only to the Obama administration, has also called on the Egyptian army to free the now-imprisoned Morsi, presumably to be released from jail on his own incompetence.

A trifle harsh, comparing the Muslim Brotherhood to the Nazis? Not really. The comparisons are pretty obvious.

Like Weimar Germany, post-Mubarak Egypt was politically, economically, and socially chaotic (still is). Like the Nazis, the Muslim Brotherhood had previously tried to topple the government, in their case by the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. Like the Nazis, the Brotherhood won a legitimate election fair and square. And like the Nazis, the Brotherhood got its government awarded dictatorial powers. Miss that part, did you? That’s OK, so did our government. Ralph Peters:

With its blundering, fickle, late-in-the-day support for whoever appeared to be gaining the upper hand, the Obama administration has managed the remarkable feat of alienating every faction in Egypt… Only after attempts to persuade an unrepentant Morsi to compromise failed, did the military move against the regime. The people cheered. Yet our breathtakingly inept ambassador backed the Morsi regime right to the end. That isn’t diplomacy. It’s idiocy.

All true, but it should be noted that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government were not just “democratically elected.” As I’ve explained ad infinitum and as Andy McCarthy so eloquently explained in his piece “Elections are not democracy,” they were, in fact, democratically elected. People actually voted for them. Now, I would tend to think that people who would actually vote for the Muslim Brotherhood might not deserve the right to vote, particularly when afterwards they are surprised that the Muslim Brotherhood acts like the Muslim Brotherhood. McCarthy puts it more simply:

[…]  Morsi “tried to claim near-absolute powers by decree” in order to get the sharia constitution implemented. If you buy the notion that free elections always herald real democracy, you would have applauded Morsi… If you accept the Arab Spring fantasy that a liberty culture is bred by free elections, then Morsi was using his power to protect Egyptian democracy.

But to the credit of the people of Egypt, and unlike the people of Nazi Germany, they realized their mistake fairly quickly and moved to end it. The US foreign policy establishment, not so much. As Barry Rubin points out, “the Egyptian army did a great service not just to Egypt’s people but also to the U.S. government, because it saved its strategic balance in the Middle East.”

The scary thing is Morsi might have gotten away with his bid for tyranny if he had had a Reichstag fire, after which he could have declared an emergency like the Nazis did. But the Muslim Brotherhood, in its arrogance, probably did not think it needed such a measure. In any case, a Reichstag fire is not as easy as it sounds. According to the book Tyranny for Dummies, the recipe for a Reichstag fire consists of:


One (1) Reichstag; and

One (1) mentally disturbed Dutch communist pyromaniac on whom to blame said fire (optional).

The book says if you don’t have a Reichstag, you can try anything you have in the house – say, a train engine in Mukden, an apartment building in Moscow, the USS Maine. But nothing works as well as a Reichstag. The problem is that Reichstags are relatively rare. The Germans have one, having just finished rebuilding theirs from the last Reichstag fire, but I doubt they’re inclined to rent it out for another fire, though considering the financial problems of the Euro zone, they may have to consider it.

I can’t really think of any other Reichstags at the moment, but I’m open to correction on that. You could build your own Reichstag, I suppose, but the neighbors might look at you kinda funny, and zoning inspectors might take some issue with it. In Morsi’s case, the Reichstag’s baroque-as-done-by-the-creature-from-Alien architecture might clash with the predominantly Arab architecture of Cairo. And then it might arouse suspicion that you’re be building a Reichstag for the sole purpose of burning it down so you can declare an emergency and get dictatorial powers. Such a cynical view of the world, I have to admit, but then why else would you build a Reichstag in Cairo?

But the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing if not cynical, and anything but a friend to democracy, liberty, pluralism or tolerance. Egypt analyst Eric Trager:

The Muslim Brotherhood is certainly not democratic. Its view of Egyptian politics in one in which it should control everything. For example, while it is willing to pursue power through elections, once it comes to office its goal is to establish and Islamic state in which it and its institutions control the Egyptian bureaucracy and institute its version of Islam while sidelining and oppressing all opponents… When the Brotherhood first emerged as the leading organization after the 2011 uprising, a lot of observers thought it would become more moderate when forced to actually govern, but what those analysts overlooked that is that the Brotherhood prevents moderates from becoming members and prevents members from becoming moderates.

Power Line is desperately trying to call attention to the Brotherhood. Scott Johnson says, “I find it absolutely bizarre how little attention is paid to the fundamental nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not a legitimate political party. Its objects are not consistent with democracy or democratic goals.” His co-blogger Hayward is more grim and to the point, calling the Muslim Brotherhood, “a fascist political faction with murderous intent. Full stop.”

OK, maybe a little more than that. The Muslim Brotherhood’s motto is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” By “dying in the way of Allah” they don’t mean like St. Peter or St. Lawrence. They mean like Muhammad Atta. They are a bunch of bad guys. Really bad guys.

In the Muslim Brotherhood’s own words:

"... [T]he Islamic Ummah ... can regain its power, be liberated and assume its rightful position which was intended by Allah, as the most exalted nation among men, as the teachers of humanity... [Jihad] is followed by the power of arms and weapons... This is the role of Jihad… Jihad is a religious public duty... incumbent upon the Islamic nation. Jihad is a personal duty to fend off the infidels' attack on the nation..."

(So, if you are attacked by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in a car, tell your attackers they are violating the will of Allah by attacking from a motor vehicle. According to the Muslim Brotherhood they can only attack on foot or on horseback. Come to think of it, that means Muhammad Atta’s attack violated the will of Allah, but, well, like most Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rules only apply to the little people.)

Hold on, there’s more:

“It is in the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” —Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna The Brotherhood wants America to fall. It tells followers to be “patient” because America “is heading towards its demise.” The U.S. is an infidel that “does not champion moral and human values and cannot lead humanity.” —Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammed Badi, Sept. 2010 The Brotherhood claims western democracy is “corrupt,” “unrealistic.” and “false.” —Former Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammed Mahdi Akef

Taken together, the Muslim Brotherhood is Nazi-esque. Khmer Rouge-esque.

Though they are not the Nazis in one important respect; they do not have their own brownshirts. Remember, they believe “Jihad is a religious public duty... incumbent upon the Islamic nation. Jihad is a personal duty to fend off the infidels' attack on the nation...” Because they are their own brownshirts. Minus the actual brown shirts, but with all the violence and intimidation, be it rape gangs in Tahrir Square in Cairo or burning Coptic churches in Alexandria.

In excoriating Secretary of State John Kerry’s execrable response to the government’s crackdown on the Brotherhood, Peters goes into Morsi and friends’ brownshirt tactics:

In full outrage mode, America’s most famous windsurfer castigated the Egyptian authorities, insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood had a right to “peaceful protests.” Apparently, “peaceful” means armed with Kalashnikovs, killing policemen, kidnapping and torturing opponents, turning mosques into prisons, attacking Christians and burning Coptic churches.

The Brotherhood protesters rejected all offers of compromise and all demands to disperse. The interim government’s response was heavy-handed, but the Muslim Brothers chose violent resistance — using women and children as shields (a tactic typical of Islamist terrorists).

Do we really need to have sympathy for the devil?

No, we do not.

Despite their coming to their senses, the fact that the Egyptians voted for them in the first place does not bode well for the immediate future of democracy and representative government in Egypt, but only the immediate future. Because lost in all the hubbub over the army removal of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government has been the fact that millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand removal of an Islamist government. This is a first in an Arab country, a major first that makes Egypt right now the most important front in a war against Islamism that will likely take generations.

That Obama, Kerry, McCain, Graham, and Company have botched the diplomacy of it so badly that the Egyptian people now blame us for the Muslim Brotherhood is only of limited importance. If we dial down our unrealistic expectations of democracy tomorrow at the latest, the future for Egypt, at least from the standpoint of a Western-style government with rule of law and protection of human rights, may be a hopeful one. Not tomorrow, not without difficulties, but perhaps the Egyptian people have taken a big step forward down that road.

Walter Russell Mead discusses how “democracy now” mentality in the US foreign policy establishment cripples the US in these cases when patience is required:

As a nation, we believe that democracy is both morally better and more practical than other forms of government, and that a regulated market economy offers the only long term path to national prosperity. As democracy and capitalism spread their wonder-working wings across the world, peace will descend on suffering humanity and history as we’ve known it will be at an end… This has certainly been true in Egypt, where a pluralistic, liberal society looks pretty effectively out of reach. Egypt’s liberals are too weak and too disconnected from the main currents of their society to govern, and neither the Islamists nor the army is particularly interested in building a liberal society.

McCarthy echoes his sentiments:

The power of freedom is transcendent. But real freedom cannot be rushed. Democratic culture has to take root, which is a long-term project in an anti-democratic society... We… a truly democratic Middle East. But let’s not kid ourselves — it is going to take a very long time to get there.

Yes, it will. And more than a little patience and willingness to recognize evil forces fighting against that democratic future such as the Muslim Brotherhood.


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