The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick joined me this morning to discuss his new book on the Egyptian convulsions of the past decade: Into The Hands of the Soldiers:
HH: Long time listeners know every once in a while, a book comes along, whether it’s Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower or Seth Siegel’s Let There Be Water, Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg, or an author like Joby Warrick or Robert Kaplan, Dexter Filkins, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I just sell hard, because a book does what journalism can’t do on a daily basis, which is give you some context and understanding of what’s going on in a region. Last week, I had David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times on, but I had not yet read Into The Hands Of The Soldiers, his brand new book on freedom and chaos in Egypt and the Middle East, and now I have. And it’s one of those books. Into The Hands Of The Soldiers is a must read. It is riveting, and David is back to join me this segment and next, and then for an extended conversation which we will post at Hughhewitt.com. David, good morning, thanks for coming back.
DK: Well, thank you very much for that, Hugh. That is incredibly gratifying.
HH: Well, what I did not know last week, I want to begin with this, the book is dedicated to Laura Bradford who, “Never signed up for any of this,” and your sons, Thomas and Emmett are in the Afterward. But she is actually quite a thread in the tapestry of this book. What a spine of steel your wife has.
DK: Yeah, she’s a rock. She’s a rock. It’s funny, she’ll complain if I’m a little late for dinner, but when there’s a revolution and she has to flee the country, she’s completely cool as a cucumber.
HH: Well, on behalf of every spouse of soldier, diplomat, intelligence community, journalist, businessperson who has had to put up with chaos, I mean, it was scary. There are some scary scenes in here where her stroller did not protect her, and where the women of Egypt are well-represented Into the Hands of Soldiers. But she does a lot of representing for the spouses out there.
DK: Yeah, yeah. Everybody loves the scene where she’s trying to make her way home after the initial uprising with our little, our one year old in a bugaboo stroller, and the Egyptians lift him up to carry him over the barricades.
HH: Yes, because, but that was before they kind of turned on the Americans. Early on, they were taking care of us. But then there was a period of time where paranoia swept Egypt about outsiders.
DK: Yeah, that’s right. They began to really, and that was no accident. You know, there’s a strong government controlled media machine there that was really fanning the flames of xenophobia and make it quite hostile for foreigners at various times. That really reached a crescendo in 2013.
HH: Well, I wanted to tell people, even though we know how the story turns out, the reason to read this is that even if you think you know something about Egypt, you don’t and now you will. And let’s start with the lesson of President Morsi. If you’re going to lead in a revolutionary moment, you need to act like a revolutionary. I think you communicated, David Kirkpatrick, he was far too timid for the moment he found himself in.
DK: Yeah, and I think not ingenious enough. You know, it was a tough job to be the first freely-elected leader of Egypt, and also to be balancing this very complicated and far-flung Islamist political movement at your back. He certainly wasn’t up to it.
HH: Not only the first freely-elected president of Egypt, but really the first freely-elected major Arab leader. Nasser seized power. Many other people have been inherited monarchs and are very important – MBZ, MBS, many other people. But he gets it, and John Kerry on Page 212, “He’s the dumbest cluck I ever met.” What a devastating comment.
DK: Yeah, Kerry was extremely unimpressed with Morsi. Kerry was really focused on the need, the urgent need for economic reform in Egypt, which was going to be painful to whoever implemented it, because it means raising taxes and cutting subsidies. And Morsi was unwilling to do that, and they really, they really talked past each other.
HH: Now if I, another point I would make for the audience, constitutional systems with deep institutional roots, you can survive a disastrous president or a prime minister, like Clement Atlee after the war in Great Britain. But the roots are 800 years old there. If you’re a new democracy or a new constitutional order and you throw up as your first leader a person which maybe very sincere hopes for the country but deeply limited in his abilities, this was almost fated to collapse, David Kirkpatrick.
DK: You know, it’s interesting. The leader of the Islamist party in Tunisia flew into Egypt right on the eve of the coup to try to make an emergency intervention. And he tried to talk to Morsi and the people around him. And his message was you know, you’ve got to work out some sort of compromise, because people who have not won elections, who are political minorities or religious minorities, in this kind of a soupy transitional framework with no rules and no institutions to protect them, they’re terrified. You’ve got to bend over backwards to reassure those people. You’ve got to bring them in. And this was, again, this was a fellow Islamist from neighboring Tunisia. The Morsi team was unable to, for various reasons, to take that message on board. But it worked out in Tunisia. You know, the Islamists left power, and they actually have a semblance of democracy now.
HH: Soupy is the best word. I hadn’t thought of that word. I just wrote it down, because it is, you do a very good job of reporting, but also of conveying an atmosphere over a period of time, the stress level for the average Egyptian, I didn’t really quite understand. But my first question, who pays for all the coffee? You’re always having coffee with people. And I just wanted to know, no one seemed to have been working in Egypt for the last five years.
DK: You know, the Egyptians drink kind of hard, a very strong Turkish coffee that you can buy for about twelve cents a cup.
HH: Wow, they drink so much coffee. All right, let’s go back. Would you give the brief history of the last eight years in Egypt so that our audience, who includes Steelers fans, have at least an outline against which we can discuss these events?
DK: So right, the clock starts in the late Mubarak period, which he was a strongman. He’d ruled for 30 years. He was getting old, heading into his 80s. In the latter part of his rule, he had actually loosened things up a little bit, and then tightened them at the last minute, probably because he was trying to hand power to his son. In that context comes the uprising of early 2011. Mubarak is forced from power. Everybody’s caught by surprise in the U.S., the Egyptian military, and around the world. And for a while, the old elites in the military kind of back on their heels. After the election of the first president in Egypt in the next year, in 2012, things begin to turn around again, and that president, Mohamed Morsi, is removed from power in 2013 following a series of popular protests, but also after, you know, fueled in part by his own inept governance, but also those protests were encouraged by various actors within the state, by the police working against him, the intelligence agencies working against him. And ultimately, the military saw their opportunity to move in and remove him and reestablish an actually much harsher authoritarian regime than prevailed under Mubarak for those 30 years.
HH: Then-General Sisi, eventually defense minister and now President Sisi is a major character in Into The Hands of the Soldiers. And for that reason alone, people should study this book to understand who our colleagues are, our allies in the anti-Iranian front there. But let me begin with the big picture. There are 80 million Egyptians. And David Kirkpatrick points out 40% of them live on $2 dollars a day. One out of four is illiterate. One out of ten lack running water. What I walked away from, Into the Hands of the Soldiers, David, is that there’s not one Egypt. There are many, many Egypt’s. And we pay attention to Cairo, Egypt more than anything else, but there are many, many Egypt’s.
DK: Yeah, that’s right, just like there are many America’s. And you would be all wrong if you focused only on Manhattan.
HH: And that is what Cairo is, and it is a remarkable city for which you have obvious affection, even though it is a crazy place, right?
DK: Yeah, absolutely. I love the place.
HH: It’s just, I just can’t even imagine. I have never been to Egypt. The one trip we were supposed to take was scheduled for 2011. And it collapsed. The same thing happened to be in Israel during the first Intifada years before. Has the tourism industry, by the way, come back at all?
DK: It is starting to come back, not to the levels it was in the late Mubarak period, but it’s creeping back, because they more or less have got security in the Nile Valley. You know, you don’t want to go too far out of the Nile Valley, but up and down the Nile where most of the pharaonic ruins are, you’re okay.
HH: All right. Now let me, since you brought up the Nile, the beginning of the book is with Nasser and the construction of the dam and the unintended consequences of big state projects. I thought it was the perfect way to open a book about unintended consequences of everything is with the dam and Nasser. Just expand on that a little bit.
DK: So Nasser gets the idea to rally the country around building a huge dam at Aswan, at the, where the Nile enters Egypt, and for electrical power. But it has all kinds of unintended consequences. He has to move a bunch of indigenous people, the dark-skinned Nubian population. And then, because he slows the water, it gives rise to a lot of waterborne diseases like schistosomiasis. So the state health ministry says all right, we’re going to inoculate everybody. But of course, they don’t change the needles. So they end up spreading and really creating a hepatitis epidemic that rages on for decades and becomes just an everyday part of life for most Egyptians, so much so that you know, it can be spread through razor blades at the barber. And Egyptian men become so paranoid that it was customary to bring your own scissors when you went to get a haircut.
HH: Which you did.
DK: Yeah, of course. I still have them.
HH: Now the other thing that’s interesting about this is there’s so many colorful walk on characters, my favorite of whom might be Sultan, Mohammed Sultan, who is an Ohio State graduate, where he built the 1,000 member strong Muslim Students Association. And he managed to rebrand the Islamists into sort of a Woodstock kind of deal. And he just shows up out of nowhere and gets accredited with authority because he takes initiative.
DK: Yeah, that’s right, and he’s a smart guy with a lot of energy. He’s, you know, Mohammed Sultan is, whatever you might say about him, he’s immensely likeable. You know, his family was Brotherhood. His father was Brotherhood. He was kind of a hardliner. Of course, some of his other uncles were in the military. That’s how it is in Egypt. But he was a little bit more liberal himself, and yet he could talk to the Islamists because of his family. So he had a kind of in.
HH: Well, when we come back from break, we’re going to talk a little bit more about that’s how it is in Egypt. What David Kirkpatrick just said, that’s how it is in Egypt, finally comes into focus for someone like me who could not make heads or tails out of what the Obama administration was doing and what was going on in Egypt. And in fact, the Obama administration couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on there, as is detailed throughout Into The Hands Of Soldiers. It is linked over at Hughhewitt.com. When we come back with David Kirkpatrick, we will continue the conversation about that.
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HH: David, because The Looming Tower figures so heavily in my education about the Brotherhood, and I’ve read it four times and I knew about Banna and Qutb, and I know about Zawahiri and the Hamas connection, your book is not sympathetic, but it is more theater in the round for the Muslim Brotherhood and with the Salafists to their right. I wonder if you found that some of my friends, for example, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba is a friend of mine, and we break bread. Do they appreciate your nuance? Or are they upset with it?
DK: Ambassador Otaiba does not have a very high opinion of me. He was a big backer of the military takeover in Egypt. As you know, my coverage was fairly skeptical of that takeover from the beginning. So that’s, that kind of put me on his bad list right from the start. But you know, I feel that my book is entirely compatible with The Looming Tower. You know, the Brotherhood figures into that narrative because of its part on the path of Ayman Zawahiri on his way to al Qaeda. So he left the Brotherhood and heads to al Qaeda, and my story is about what was left, you know, the Brotherhood that didn’t leave with Ayman Zawahiri. So they’re really complementary. They’re not contradictory.
HH: I agree. And it also, though, it explained to me, I don’t know that the Brotherhood will ever be able to persuade what Ben Rhodes dismissively calls the Gulfies. And I found Ben Rhodes’ attitude towards the legitimate governments of the Middle East and their concern with the Brotherhood to be at best puzzling. But I don’t think they’ll ever be able to persuade them because of Hamas. I mean, they just will not, even though Morsi stepped up and stepped into an Israeli-Hamas near war at one point. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to persuade after this episode that the Brotherhood is other than a quasi-Leninist secret society.
DK: Well, the Brotherhood is threatening the established order in two ways. One, Hamas is a spinoff of the Brotherhood. And towards Israel, Hamas is violent. No doubt about it. Two, right now, the Brotherhood in Egypt and in other countries, its spinoffs like elections. And that also is threatening to many of those Gulf rulers who as you know are monarchs. So they don’t, and the idea that somebody comes along and is calling for elections and dressing that call up in the language of Islam, the language that the people of those countries speak natively, is quite troubling to an unelected ruler.
HH: On Page 122, you write, “I would spend seven years studying debates about the true nature of the Brotherhood. What real agenda was it hiding behind its slogans? I learned that the question was all wrong. There never was a single essential character of the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Brothers themselves never fully agreed with one another about any of these issues. Their ideology was not just ambiguous to the public. It was ambiguous even to them. Vagueness and flux, in fact, were the keys to the endurance of their movement.” That is so perceptive. It is also for someone who’s a student of the Russian revolution exactly what happened when the Bolsheviks took from the Mensheviks and from everyone else power at the critical moment, which brings me back to Morsi. He was not their preferred candidate. Had they had a better candidate, would the transition have worked, in your opinion, David Kirkpatrick?
DK: You know, I don’t know. I can’t predict, because it was a tall order. And there was a lot of forces arrayed against the incoming president in the country and in the, in the fabric of the government. What we can know, as you said, that their favorite candidate, their strongest, most charismatic, shrewdest candidate, the candidate who best understood the dynamics of power and how to use it, was knocked out on a technicality. And I don’t know whether that was deliberate, but it was carried out by a group of judges who were appointed at the election commission and were deeply, deeply hostile to the Brotherhood. So I could see why they were afraid of that candidate who might actually have been able to pull it off. Now who knows? He may have established himself as a new authoritarian. You know, we can’t foreclose that possibility. But it’s worth noting that the candidate who the Brotherhood ended up running was their spare tire, if you will.
HH: Their spare tire. When we come back from break and online, we’re going to talk about the Copts, because it’s very important. We’re going to talk about first lady feminism. We’re going to talk about Naglaa Mahmoud, who’s President Morsi’s wife, and how she has sort of the opposite problem of Melania Trump. She was not glamorous. We’re going to talk about a lot of different things.
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HH: And I just want to highlight a few of the aspects of Egypt you may not know. David, my chiropractor in California, longtime friend, is an Egyptian Copt. His father is a Copt priest, runs one of the larger Southern California Copt churches. And Doc is just wonderful, but he’s kept me up through the years with the worries for his family about the rise of the Islamists. And of course, you detail the massacre here. Give people a little sense of the tenuous nature of the Copts and the balancing act that their pope goes through.
DK: Well, I should say one reason I felt it was worthwhile to take a deep dive into Egypt is it, in many ways, it’s the template for the authoritarian regimes across the region in the last few years. And a lot of the forces around the region collide there, including the ones involving the status of religious minorities like the Copts. It’s kind of the archetype for the region, if you will. 10% of Egyptians are Christians. Almost all of them belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. And they have, to put it simply, they have for decades embraced an alliance with the authoritarian autocrats for protection from the Muslim majority around them, which they feel is, with some evidence, is hostile to them. So it’s, Egypt, even under its nominally secular leaders like Mubarak remains a place which is really quite divided by sectarianism. And yet, the government denies that. Part of the problem is the government will say look, there’s no sectarianism here. We have no sectarian animosity. Meanwhile, the discrimination goes on in law enforcement and the courts. Copts are going to jail for heresy, because they insult Islam. They can’t get legitimate protection from the police. All of that was festering under Mubarak. And the massacre you mentioned happened in late 2011 when a band of lay Copts led by a couple of Coptic priests tried to start agitating on the ground for their rights in the aftermath of the Tahrir Square uprising. They took things, matters into their own hands, and they were eventually mowed down and many of them run over by the tanks of the Egyptian military, about two dozen of them. And then Ben Rhodes tells you we found it hard to blame the military when the Copts would not, because they are in this dysfunctional alliance with dictators. And then by the way, this is not just Egypt. The same thing happens in Syria with Assad. It happened in Iraq with Saddam Hussein. It happens everywhere where a religious minority turns to the strongman to kind of protect them rather than gambling on the emergence of a genuine liberal order that would protect religious liberty.
DK: Yeah, and it’s an agonizing choice. And during that period in Egypt, it really became a divide between the older leadership of the church, the clerical hierarchy, and the young people in the grassroots who wanted to take a chance on democracy, who thought that there was a future for Egypt with equal citizenship for all. The church hierarchy and the pope was always very skeptical of that. And if we could cut ahead for a minute, that’s even more so now under President Sisi. The Pope, I mean, you know, I’m a Christian myself and I was shocked to hear this. He said, and the state media trumpeted him saying it is better to have a state without a church than a church without a state.
HH: Isn’t that amazing? You know what else is amazing is your interpreter, who almost went down with you in a couple of harrowing episodes, has the tattoo of the cross. And he also had the Salafist beard and was believed to be a spy as a result of that. But what communicated that episode to me is the courage of putting that cross tattoo on is significant. It’s also ubiquitous.
HH: Yeah, that’s right. If you are, you know, the Coptic minority in Egypt, I guess you can probably guess this, is quite determined to preserve their faith and preserve their culture. In their mind, they are the original Egyptians. Egypt had Christians before it had Muslims, before the Muslims arrived. And to preserve that culture and preserve that faith, one of the things that they do, especially the men, is they actually tattoo a cross on their wrist, almost all of them, to mark themselves as Christians, so there’s no turning back. There’s no pressure to convert. They’re in. They’re in for life.
HH: They’re in for life. The other thing that’s amazing is the real Egypt. They’re the real Egyptians, you just said. The real Egypt is a phrase that occurs repeatedly in Into the Hands of the Soldiers. And I have trouble articulating what it is, because it includes technocrats, it includes these billionaires. It includes a talk show culture that I had no idea existed. It includes the Salafists. There aren’t any actual secular people. I guess the New York Times banned the term?
DK: Well, we did find in practice that when we write the word secular, you picture an American secular person who doesn’t go to church, who may even had a disdain for religion. And that person is exceedingly rare in Egypt. You know, even the people in Egypt who call themselves secular will go to the mosque on a Friday, or will go to the church. They’re not, they’re just a level of, the secular culture that we know here is just different there. So it’s a misleading term. But you’re right. My own view after spending five or six years there is anybody who starts talking about the real Egypt is trying to mislead you.
HH: Now ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize laureate who has a number of walk-ons in this, and of course was a major figure during the first Arab Spring and during the second revolt, but was always kind of marginal, is his problem simply ego? You know, I’m a Nobel Prize laureate, and people must listen to me, because he seems singularly ineffective in everything he tried to do.
DK: It’s funny. He and Morsi are kind of bookends in a way.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
DK: You know, history threw him up by virtue of his diplomatic accomplishments as the de facto leader of liberalism in Egypt. And he was really not suited for that role. You know, he’s not a politician. He doesn’t understand the dynamics of power. He was constantly thinking about running, and then backing out and boycotting because the election was imperfect. And at the critical moment, he trusted the military. He really argued to me that a military takeover was going to be a restart for democracy, which I knew at the time was hopeless.
HH: Now at the Aspen Security Forum, which I was, and participated, Yousef was there, and so was from the Saudi foundation a very eloquent person. And MBS, MBZ, Arab power, believes in modernization with authoritarianism mixed in, in other words, that we will have a guided progress to modernity that is going to preserve order against the chaos. I think their hand is very much strengthened at the end of Into the Hands of the Soldiers, but I’m not sure that Sisi has the same talent level as MBZ and MBS. What do you think?
DK: Without even getting into talent level, he also doesn’t have the resources. You know, those are countries which have a lot of oil. We’re talking about the UAE and Saudi Arabia. So they’re able to satisfy dissent with payments to their publics, and they have a whole different challenge in terms of trying to get to modernity than Sisi does. Sisi right now is quite dependent on aid from those countries, aid from the IMF. And he’s got a fractious internal population. They don’t have, since his takeover, a militant insurgency festering in the North Sanai. So you know, there are reasons to believe why Egypt may be more than those Gulf countries needs a sort of democratic consensus if it wants to move forward.
HH: Democratic consensus is actually what they need to strive for, but it might not look like our democratic consensus, something I think Secretary Clinton said on this show last year is that we just have to be reconciled to the idea of liberty not looking the same in every country. And when you first got there under Mubarak, liberty was not invisible. I mean, people, this Arab press, I had no idea it was as vibrant. There’s a state run press, but there’s a lot of Egyptian humor, much like there was in the late Soviet Union, mocking everybody.
DK: Yeah. There was, it was opening up in the late Mubarak period. There were rules. You couldn’t criticize the president. You couldn’t criticize the army. But within those boundaries, there was a lot you could say in the late Mubarak period. And one of the funny results was an oddly cynical regime where it was clearly a police state with a heavy hand, and they let people say that. They kind of shrugged it off when the brutality of the police state was written about and talked about in public.
HH: Now let’s also talk at this point about first lady feminism. One of the most interesting aspects of Into the Hands of the Soldiers is that you pay a great attention to women. And in the Arab world, they are often not paid attention to. And whether it is Mrs. Mubarak or whether it is Naglaa Mahmoud, who is President Morsi’s wife, you’re very aware of their role, and it is so complicated. But it left me wondering whether even modernized Islam will ever figure out the balance between feminism and Islam.
DK: Yeah, that’s a question that’s in the news these days because of what’s been happening Saudi Arabia, as you know, where the government of Saudi Arabia has said look, in a gesture towards progress, we’re going to let women drive for the first time. And even as they do that, they’ve gone around and arrested the female activists who were demanding the right to drive for the first time.
DK: And that’s what I’m talking about when I say state feminism, first lady feminism, if you will. What they’re doing there is they’re saying we the state will be the exclusive benefactor of women. We’re going to, we will be the only ones to look out for women’s rights. And any women who speak up, we’re going to lock them up, because we don’t want a grassroots movement of any kind. We’re not about freedom of assembly. And that kind of feminist movement can never really criticize the state. It can never really criticize the conduct of the police. Just this last spring, in May, the wife of a friend of mine, a woman named Amal Fathy, in Egypt, made a blog post, a Facebook post about the sexual harassment that she had experience on a run to the bank. You know, she was groped by her cab driver, the bank guard grabbed his crotch at her. It was a humiliating experience. She wrote about it on Facebook. The next night, the police show up at her apartment and arrest her. And she’s charged with sedition and trying to spread false news.
HH: So this is where I wonder about when the culture can change, because repeatedly throughout Into the Hands of the Soldiers, women are put on at the moment they are vulnerable. As soon as they become vulnerable, thugs appear. It’s as though the culture in the United States, we didn’t, even before Me Too, our culture was one of disdain for, contempt for criminalization of assault. Now, it’s very much out in the open that it’s not just assault, it’s harassment. But that, they’re so far away from that in Egypt. It’s, I really do despair whether it’s a 50 year problem or a 100 year problem.
DK: Yeah. I’ll tell you, the way we handle things in the West is we let people organize and agitate for their own rights. And that’s the way we’ve made what progress we have made, through freedom of assembly and women advocating for women. That’s not the way that Egypt is going. That’s not the way the Gulf countries are going. And I’ll leave it to your listeners to try to decide which they prefer.
HH: Talk to our listeners about Naglaa Mahmoud and her reverse Melania problem, because it’s a strange thing to be a populist and not want your people to be a populist.
DK: Well, you mean the wife of Mohamed Morsi?
DK: Yeah, I single her out, because she became a real figure of disdain for the Westernized elite, because she was wearing, you know, not just a head scarf, but one that draped way down to her shoulders. She didn’t want to be in the news. She preferred the traditional nickname Ahmed’s Mom, which is what a lot of Egyptian women go by. And she represented for the old elite what they consider to be, for the Westernized elite, what they consider to be a kind of backwardness, but what a lot of Egyptians consider to be just life in Egypt. You know, there are a lot of women like that, very traditional stay at home women, religious, you know, wearing a head covering, whose daughters have grown up to be doctors and lawyers now in Egypt. And yet, she was really a lightning rod for a lot of the cultural animosity that people felt towards the Morsi government even before it ever did anything.
DK: And to be honest, in his one year in power, he really didn’t do that much.
HH: I got the sense that the elites wanted a first lady about whom they could be certain on the international stage, of a certain level of conduct that would underscore their belief in their centrality to the history of civilization.
DK: You mean Egypt’s centrality or the centrality of elites?
HH: Yeah, Egypt’s centrality.
DK: Yeah, but both, I think. You know, anybody who’s lived in the post-colonial world, and it didn’t really include me before 2010, but anybody who’s lived in a post-colonial world will know about the phenomenon of elites who identify more with the former colonial power than they do with their own people. And that’s certainly the case in Egypt. If you are a Western correspondent in Egypt, you have again and again the experience of some English speaking sophisticated, you know, well off Egyptian person pulling you aside and saying look, you and I, we understand. These other people, they’re hopeless.
DK: You know, they’ve got real problems.
HH: I want to finish up, and people will have to read the book, because there’s too much nuance here. Back to the presidential election of June 16th and 17th. Free and fair – Morsi won 52%. The runner up was 48%. The Americans were completely surprised. Ambassador Patterson was wrong, the Obama’s National Security Council was wrong. In fact, the Americans were wrong about Egypt every day of every month of every year during this period. Why do we not have any Egypt experts?
DK: Well, you may be overstating it there a little bit. There were a lot of mistakes, but it was a hard problem to solve. You know, the, Michael Morell, the former acting head of the CIA, has said previous to 2011, we were really depending on the authoritarian rulers of all these countries to tell us what was going on in those countries. So when the revolution came around, the State Department and the U.S. intelligence agencies were almost at a standing start trying to understand what was happening inside the Brotherhood, and what was happening inside the population.
HH: And that brings, Morell, by the way, is a friend of the show, and I have enormous respect for him and his book, the Great War Of Our Time. At the heart of Into The Hands Of The Soldiers, is the Salafist threat. And I might not be pronouncing it the correct way, but outside of the Brotherhood, there is a hard core. You talk about they go full medieval, right?
HH: They want to go back to the 7th Century. And they are what percentage of the Islamists?
DK: Yeah, we don’t know, really. It’s hard to know. But when there were elections, they got about a quarter of the vote. And you know, how much of those people were just protesting or found the Brotherhood snobby, I don’t know. The Salafists turned out to be very skilled populists, if you will. But their message was also rally starkly conservative. So for sure, it’s a very conservative culture. But it’s worth, yeah, and it’s worth knowing that that element is there.
HH: So where, David Kirkpatrick, to wrap up, where do you think Sisi goes, because right now, we’re facing a Turkish situation. I noted online that there are so many weird parallels like Sam LaHood and Pastor Brunson, weird little episodes that capture our entire American policy. But Egypt at least is back in the entente of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the Gulf Emirates and Kuwait and Iraq to a certain extent opposing the Iranian Shiia insurgency which now looks to have Russia and Syria and maybe even Turkey on its side. Where is this region going? And are you going back to it?
DK: I’d like to be going back to it. I continue to report on the region. You know, the entente that you describe, which now includes Israel, was in many ways born around 2013 and the takeover in Egypt when Israel really teamed up with many of the Arab powers in their opposition to political Islam in Egypt and around the region. I’m not going to make any forecasts, but you know, I don’t, I think if you speak candidly to many of those other rulers in the region, they consider Sisi sort of what they’re stuck with. You know, they can’t let him go, but he’s, he’s no Nasser. He’s not bending history.
HH: Well, he doesn’t have the charisma, although he’s been to the National Defense University, and you give him his due. He is a dutiful son. He worked very hard. He played a very good long game during this transition, right? He was skillful in emerging at the top of the pile in the end. But can Egypt actually be governed? I guess that’s the question in the end.
DK: Yeah, that is the question. And we’ll have to see.
HH: Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East, David D. Kirkpatrick, thanks for the extra time. Congratulations on a great book. I look forward to talking to you again soon.
DK: Thank you very much.
End of interview.