Things are looking good for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of all Islamist groups. Despite the organization's hegemonic aspirations—which include "eliminating and destroying the Western civilization … so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions"—the Obama administration recently announced that it "welcomes dialogue" with the Brotherhood; so did the European Union. And under Egypt's military regime, the Islamist organization just "became a legal political party for the first time since President Gamal Abdel Nasser banned it more than half-a-century ago."
Why Nasser banned the Brotherhood -- and tried to decimate it -- is instructive.
Machiavellian from the start, Nasser collaborated closely with the Brotherhood; many Egyptians still insist he was originally a member. Soon after usurping Egypt's leadership via the 1952 Revolution, the alliance soured, culminating with an assassination attempt on Nasser's life by a Brotherhood member.
Nasser's response was swift and decisive: he dissolved the Brotherhood, burned down its headquarters, arrested some 15,000 members, and executed some—most famously Sayyid Qutb, the spiritual father of al-Qaeda—while leaving others to rot in prison. Many of the remaining members, aware that Nasser meant business, fled Egypt.
Why such a dramatic response? Why not simply punish the failed assassin and his accomplices? Nasser, a pious Muslim, was most likely intimately, if not instinctively, aware of what the Brotherhood was—and still -- is: he was aware that it is impossible for Muslim organization's committed to theocratic rule to negotiate or share power, much less be trustworthy allies.
In short, Nasser was aware that, once the opportunity presented itself, the Brotherhood would do everything in its power to take over: unlike secular parties concerned with the temporal, it has a divine mandate -- a totalitarian vision -- to subdue society to Sharia.
Some people even maintain that Nasser himself staged the assassination attempt as a pretext to eliminate the Brotherhood. – an interpretation that only further supports the theory that Nasser knew he had to dismantle the Islamists, and was willing to play dirty to do so.
Nasser's approach, then, is the realpolitik approach of one who knows that you must suppress those who would suppress you—once circumstances permit -- a long-term approach that takes the big picture into account, unlike many Western politicians who are only looking for a quick fix for the duration of their term.
For its part, the Brotherhood learned the virtues of patience and perseverance; to play the game on the enemy's terms—whether by rejecting violence; by going to the kafir [unbeliever] ballot box; by leading us to adopt the "pluralistic" language of the West – a skill Brotherhood affiliates in the West, such as CAIR, have perfected to an art. Recently, a new document on implementing Sharia on the Brotherhood's website argues that "Gradual action does not impose Islam at once, but rather step by step."
Consider, too, how the mere passage of time has empowered the Brotherhood in the Arab and Muslim world. Over the decades, Egyptian society has become more Islamist and more sympathetic to the Brotherhood -- thanks in no small part to the organization's grassroots efforts; Moreover, both in Egypt and abroad, many truly believe that the Muslim Brotherhood organization has reformed, which would be worthy of note if the facts corresponded to such a wish. They don't. Many people also believed that Khomeini would bring democracy to Iran. He didn't. What would be their fall-back position if they are wrong?
The passage of time in the West has also helped the Brotherhood: Western politics have descended into idealism and fantasy—culminating today with Washington reaching out to Islamists. Would they have reached out to the Nazis?
The Muslim Brotherhood is a testimony to the power of time and patience. From being crushed and disbanded half a century ago, the Brotherhood is now legal and poised to take over Egypt.
When all is said and done, the Brotherhood wants the same thing all Islamists, Salafists, and Jihadists want: the enforcement of Allah's draconian anti-infidel laws to govern the earth. They are just smarter—more patient —than their impulsive counterparts in the West.
The lesson of Nasser is that when dealing with an existential, permanent enemy, sometimes the only response is the most decisive, the ugliest—even when your enemy is weak. If he becomes stronger, it is just that much more costly in life and treasure to do anything to counter him. It would have been so much easier to stop Hitler, say, before he crossed the Rhine – but how many voices were there then insisting he was just a tin-pot dictator who would never be a serious threat to anyone? Otherwise, you play the talking game, the waiting game, as the West has done with North Korea and Iran, which grants your adversary precisely what he most needs to be in a position to attack you: Time.
Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published author on Islam, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.