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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Willful Blindness Author Andrew McCarthy On Egypt

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HH: All eyes remain on Egypt in the aftermath of yesterday’s bloody uprising, shooting and the continued reverberations as Ramadan gets underway tonight across the Muslim world. I’m joined by Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review author of Willful Blindness and of course all around good guy. Andrew, I saw your email to Duane. I’m glad you enjoyed reading Killer Angels this past weekend.

AM: Oh, I sure did, Hugh, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t read it, yet, but what an amazing book.

HH: It’s a great way to spend the 4th of July weekend. In Egypt right now, they need people with the courage of Joshua Chamberlain, and with the wisdom of a bunch of the people in that book. So Andrew McCarthy, what do you think the United States ought to do? I’ve talked to Max Boot this hour, and Pete Wehner, and a bunch of people yesterday. What’s your take on what the United States ought to do?

AM: Well, I think right now, we ought to be supportive of what they’re, what the transitional government is trying to accomplish, which I take to be trying to do right what they didn’t do right the first time around. I think after Mubarak fell, what a lot of us argued was that if you really wanted to try to have a democratic transition in Egypt, which is no sure thing, and would be an uphill battle under any circumstances, what you needed to do was to the extent you were able, try to implant democratic culture and institutions before you got around to the voting process, which ought to be at the end of the transition, not the beginning. And the reason for arguing that, Hugh, was those of us who have watched Egypt for a long time understood that Islamic supremacism is the dominant ideology of probably about two-thirds of Egyptians, certainly something close to that. And we were fearful that if you let the elections get in front of the rest of the transition, it would be taken over by the Islamists. And that, unfortunately, has not only happened, but it dramatically complicates things going forward, because now you have the overlay of a transition government, which as it tries to install progressives, liberals, pro-Western democrats into positions of authority, you have two-thirds of the population looking at this and saying basically, the losers in the democratic process, which they were, which we said again and again elections were the democratic process, the losers are being installed, and the winners are being shunted aside. So I think it just increases their sense of outrage.

HH: Is there enough of a record of the failure of the Brothers in the year that Morsi was in office to have delegitimized them such that it would be safe to allow them to participate in the election cycle again, because we know what they did. They stole the constitutional process, they drove out everyone, they put in an Islamist constitution that now has to be revised and redone.

AM: Yeah, and see, Hugh, I think this is always going to be a problem in this region, and this is why I’m really down on the idea of getting to elections too quickly. The Brotherhood, and a lot of the other Islamist groups in Egypt, are anti-democratic. So if you invite them into the democratic process, their idea in participating in that is to get the reins of power so that they can implement Shariah. And you know, that was precisely what they tried to do in this episode, and it’s interesting to note that they tried to do it notwithstanding that it was greatly against their economic interest. The IMF, I should start this by saying that Egypt is close to economic collapse. What they need is a lot of foreign aid, and to try to get their economic house in order, which is a very, very uphill battle. The IMF and a lot of their other donors did not want them to push forward with this idea of a Shariah constitution. And they did it anyway, because that’s what they’re about. So I think the whole idea of having an anti-democratic group exert that kind of influence over what’s supposed to be a democratic process is a prescription for failure.

HH: I know, but that takes us back to, then how do you move forward? And I talked with Pete Wehner about do you ban the Brotherhood from participating, because that’s exactly what had happened for years as Mubarak had his fake parliament going. But maybe a real parliament with a banned Brotherhood would work. And I want to lay the groundwork for this. You’re the prosecutor of the Blind Sheikh. Anyone who reads The Looming Tower knows the Blind Sheikh came out of the Brotherhood, right?

AM: Right.

HH: And so why is it that many in the West have a trouble with the idea of banning the Brotherhood from politics?

AM: Well, I think because we have this notion which has been, I think, fortified by a lot of Supreme Court precedence going back to the 1960s that even holding ideas supportive of the idea of violent overthrow of a government is something that’s acceptable as long as you don’t act on it. So we’re very leery of this idea that you can ban organizations from politics. In fact, I remember having an argument in my office when we were talking about charging al Qaeda in the wake of the 1998 embassy bombings, sort of an academic discussion about whether being a member of al Qaeda, just that by itself would be a crime under American law. And we had a pretty robust debate about whether it was or it wasn’t. And I think you know, that all goes to this idea that we have really resisted any notion of criminalizing or even ostracizing organizations just on the basis of their political agenda.

HH: You know where that breaks down, is I often ask people do you understand that Germany prohibits the Nazis from running? And they say of course, they prohibit the Nazis. It’s illegal to be a Nazi in Germany, and they get that. Is the proposal or the position of the Muslim Brotherhood vis-à-vis Egyptian society similar to what a modern fascist party’s position would be in Germany?

AM: Yeah, I think it absolutely is, and you know, look. Egypt does not have our 1st Amendment tradition, so it would be at least theoretically easier to ban an ideological organization in a place like Egypt than it would be here. The problem is that you have this whole legacy of Mubarak to deal with, number one, and number two, you know, we’re dealing with the practical problem that two-thirds of the country, even if they dislike the Brotherhood for a variety of reasons, two-thirds of the country is on the same page ideologically with the Brotherhood and the even more zealous, what are called the Salafist groups.

HH: I’ll be right back. Andy, stick around one more segment.

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HH: We’ve got about two and a half minutes left, Andrew McCarthy. What does the President need to be out there doing right now to do whatever we can to help Egypt stay out of the grips of an Islamist radical regime?

AM: I think what we really need to get right this time, Hugh, is they need to be able to elongate this constitutional process this time so that they first have a period of time where they can instill the ideas that are going to inform the constitution. In particular, the rights of minorities and not only religious liberty, but equal protection under the law, and then make sure that that is enshrined into the constitution. And I don’t have any illusions about Egypt. There’s no way that you’re going to be able to write a constitution in Egypt without at least making a bow to Shariah. That’s just the political reality there. But it can’t be that civil rights are just, you know, sort of bunting that you put around what really is a Shariah constitution. It has to be a situation where you are enshrining and trying to inculcate this idea that minorities have rights, too, and that everybody’s equal under the law, and that anybody who wants to then participate in the electoral process, which again, I think should be at the end, has to accept those premises. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t be allowed to participate not because they’re the Muslim Brotherhood, but because they’re not signing onto the fundamental assumptions of the democratic system.

HH: Interesting. And as to military aid, what do you think?

AM: I think that we have to continue to give military aid. I was one who was skeptical of it while the Brotherhood was in, and I think I’ve been proven wrong. All the people who said that we needed to continue to cultivate the Egyptian military, I think, have been proven right by what’s happened in the last week. But I think it would send a terrible signal to authentic democrats in Egypt if we now took the position after supporting the Brotherhood regime with billions of dollars that we’re going to pull the plug on it now that the Brotherhood’s out. All that will do is underscore the criticism of us over there that we’re in the Brotherhood’s pocket, which I think we need to do everything we can to reverse.

HH: And that criticism is widespread, is it not?

AM: It sure it, and for good reason.

HH: And for good reason. Andrew McCarthy of National Review, thank you, Andrew, continue to read all of Andrew’s analysis of Egypt and the other key issues of the day at The Corner, and at other articles posted at National Review. Again, if you want to read, and you don’t have a chance to listen to them all, Max Boot, Pete Wehner and Andrew McCarthy, my conversations with them will be posted, as were posted yesterday’s conversations with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, and many other experts in this. This is an important moment in American history. It’s of course a crucial turning point in Egyptian history. And you’ve got to be able to send people to the right place for them to think clearly about what is happening. We can’t cut off military aid to Egypt, just cannot be done. All of those arguments are available at

End of interview.


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