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DOROTHY: If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises!
OZ’S VOICE: Do you presume to criticize the….
Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the Wizard at the controls of the throne apparatus
OZ’S VOICE: …Great Oz? You ungrateful creatures!
Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and Scarecrow react as they look at the Wizard
DOROTHY: Who are you?
The Wizard peers out from curtain, then ducks back out of sight and his voice booms out again: 

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Go before I lose my temper! –”The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

By Barry Rubin

It is amazing how mass media coverage of the Middle East switches gears and implicitly admits to having been wrong while continuing with the same themes. Or sometimes, buried deep inside an article, there’s a flash of truth that conflicts with everything else that’s been said, even by the same reporter. But then the light goes out; the stygian dark returns; and it was as if that flash had never taken place.

In working on a new edition of my book, Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics, I have reviewed media coverage from January 2011 to the present. It is virtually impossible to find a single reference–and certainly not directly from a journalist–saying that the Muslim Brotherhood was a radical group.

Instead we were told daily that it was moderate, pragmatic, against violence, not really anti-American, and so on. We were told that it was full of moderates and factions, especially of young people.

Instead, the narrative is being falsely shaped in this way:

  • The Brotherhood is protecting Egypt from the even more radical Salafists so the West should support them.
  • The real battle is between the military and the civilians so the Brotherhood is–or, at least, if it chooses to be–the champion of democracy against the armed forces. Supposedly, then, the liberal Egyptians will be grateful to the Islamist group even as it crushes them.

Now, in a new article, New York Times correspondent Robert Worth tells the story of Mohamed Beltagy, a beloved and heroic (according to Worth) Muslim Brotherhood figure who opposes repression by the military. Worth doesn’t tell us that the Brotherhood supports the repression because it helps it to get rid of moderate–though politically inept–rivals. It is, however, clear that people like Beltagy have no real influence in the Brotherhood. In other words, if there are moderates they are marginal in a party that has almost half the seats in parliament.

But then–suddenly!–there’s this amazing admission stuck way down in the story and not highlighted in any way:

“By July [2011], many of Beltagy’s young and more vocal friends had been ejected from the [Brotherhood] movement. Their sin was the establishment of the Egyptian Current, a youth party that blended young Islamists and a range of leftists. To Brotherhood youth, this was one more sign of the movement’s rigidity and narrowness.“

In other words, most of the real or so-called moderates in the Brotherhood have long since been kicked out. All that talk about young people changing the Brotherhood and splits within the movement amounted to absolutely nothing. And do you remember hearing anything about the Egyptian Current party? Did it win any seats in the election? Of course not. Even the “Facebook kid” party won less than 2 percent, after months of our being told they were going to run the country.

These people weren’t powerful or important they were just guys with whom Western reporters liked to hang out. We were being told nonsense or–when the reporters knew it was nonsense–nothing at all.

Here’s proof in Worth’s conclusion: “The fact remains that only the Islamists have the power to face down Egypt’s military and deliver a more democratic government. And if they fail to do so, they may face a rebellion within their own ranks.”

First, the Brotherhood is now going to be in power. If anything will contain them it won’t be the military–which is quite willing to turn over power to them and just has some narrow, self-interest demands of its own–but the election of Amr Moussa as president.

Second, a “more democratic government” means that the parliamentary majority of Brotherhood people and Salafists, will rule as they please. And what possible reason is there to believe that a tiny number of powerless dissidents, most of whom have been expelled, will launch a rebellion against a group that has just proven itself the most successful organization in the entire Middle East?

If you have any doubt check out this story which shows the Brotherhood blocking a march by moderates demanding the military turn over power faster. Think this one through: the moderates demonstrate demanding that the military turn over power to the Islamists faster but the Brotherhood opposes it since the group doesn’t mind waiting a few more weeks to gain power and also wants to get along with the army.

To Worth, the Brotherhood is led by a group of “anxious old men who are accustomed to autocracy and now find themselves in a frightening new era.” Yes, they are supposedly trembling at taking power when they are actually just being smart and cautious. No doubt Hamas, Hizballah, the Iranian and Syrian regimes, the Islamists in Tunisia and Libya, and the rulers of Turkey are also just plain scared since they allegedly know they have no business being in power? Wrong. They are on a mission from God. And aside from that, they want power, wealth, and the implementation of their radical program to the greatest degree possible.

Treasure the moments when the mass media narrative splits open and shows what lies behind it. They are rare indeed.

Note: Memory Hole in the title is a reference to George Orwell’s 1984 where the truth is destroyed so that the lowly citizens are kept ignorant.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com    

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