The American Right’s Holy War in Egypt

by Daniel Luban

For the last few weeks, Lobelog has been noting the continued disagreements among US neoconservatives over how to respond to the military coup in Egypt, with a few prominent neocons such as Robert Kagan denouncing it while many others are supporting it and calling on the Egyptian military to finish off the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). These disagreements are continuing apace; yesterday, the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens offered the latest salvo with a call for the US to “Support Al Sisi“. The column is vintage Stephens: after offering his typical platitudes about the need to throw off comforting pieties and make the best of a set of bad options, he concludes: “Gen. Sisi may not need shiny new F-16s, but riot gear, tear gas, rubber bullets and Taser guns could help, especially to prevent the kind of bloodbaths the world witnessed last week.” Evidently this clear-eyed apostle of Seeing The World As It Is has determined that the Egyptian military has been massacring protesters with live ammo only because it’s been running low on rubber bullets.

But the neocons are only one segment of the US right-wing coalition, and their disagreements may not be symptomatic of what’s happening in the rest of it. Indeed, a wider focus could suggest that US right-wing support for the Egyptian military is even stronger than it might otherwise appear.

One particular aspect of the story that we might miss by focusing only on the neocons is the religious angle. Read National Review, still the flagship of the right and a place where various elements of the coalition mingle, and you will find very little on the killing of MB supporters, the rumored release of former President Hosni Mubarak, or other stories that have dominated mainstream coverage of Egypt. Instead, there’s a whole lot of coverage — and I do mean a whole, whole lot of coverage — of the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. The Copts are facing a “jihad,” a “pogrom,” a “Kristallnacht“; unsurprisingly, the magazine’s editors have urged the US to “back Egypt’s military,” in large part to protect the Copts, whose status is “a good bellwether for whether progress is being made in Egyptian society.”

Meanwhile, other NR commentators are going farther. Witness David French (former head of Evangelicals for Mitt [Romney] and prominent Christian Zionist) demanding that the US leverage its aid to force the Egyptian military to step up its anti-MB campaign in defense of Christianity: “The Muslim Brotherhood is our enemy, the Egyptian Christians are victims of jihad, and the American-supplied Egyptian military can and should exercise decisive force.” While French does not spell out exactly what he means by “decisive force,” in the current political context it can only be taken as a show of support for the military’s indiscriminate massacres of MB supporters.

None of this, of course, is to diminish the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians — those of us living in security elsewhere should not scoff at the justified fear and foreboding that they must feel. It’s merely to say that reports on their predicament, like Andrew Doran’s, which make claims like “bizarrely, Western media have largely portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood [rather than Christians] as the victims of violence” — while making no mention whatsoever of the hundreds of MB supporters who have been killed in recent weeks — give readers a rather skewed perspective on the current situation.

Yet this is a perspective that we discount at our own peril. The foreign policy commentariat may tend to view the situation in Egypt through the lens of realism versus neoconservatism, or democracy promotion versus authoritarianism. But for large segments of the US public, the situation in Egypt is first, foremost and last a struggle between Muslims and Christians, and when viewed through this lens their unstinting support for the coup leaders is all but guaranteed.

Photo Credit: Mohamed Azazy

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. I do have to ask this question again, if Israel wasn’t stirring the pot in the M.E., would we be having this conversation today? Washington from all appearances, is under the thumb of the Israeli/neocon factions. While the U.S. slides into the toilet, the situation[s] in the M.E. are kept on the front burner, not to forget the drain on the treasury. It’s always about giving other peoples money away-the U.S.taxpayer-that these forces dominate. If the world survives the present M.E. debacle, will history point out that if Israel wasn’t created, that the world would have been better off? Another question, was Israel allowed to be created from the ineptness of the British/French co-conspirators, or was it some grand design to foment a continual unrest/state of war tension?

  2. Although I have no love for the neocons, blaming them (or Israel for that matter) for the mess in Egypt is misplaced. If you are looking for an outsider to blame, look across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. They are the ones (along with the UAE) who encouraged the Egyptian military to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and opened their checkbooks to ensure that Egypt would have enough food for its people over the next year. As some of your commentators have pointed out, one reason President Obama has held back from cutting off aid to Egypt’s military is that the Saudi’s have assured the Egyptians they will make up the difference. There have even been rumors that the Russians wouldn’t mind picking up some of the tab. Cutting off aid is probably a one-shot proposition that would put America on the outside with no leverage.

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