Jonah Goldberg
What do you call a leader of a theocratic and cultish movement with a deep and clear disdain for democracy who suddenly assumes dictatorial powers?

A "moderate," of course.

Ever since the Muslim Brotherhood broke its promise to stay out of Egypt's presidential election in the aftermath of the revolution, many Western observers have been in denial about what has been going on. In less than half a year, Mohamed Morsi has deftly built the foundation for despotism.

Much as the Nazis brilliantly cast themselves as reformers sweeping away the corruption of the Weimar Republic, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been using the effort to clean up the detritus of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship as an excuse to consolidate power.

In August, when Islamists attacked Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai (in an apparent effort to force Egypt into a confrontation with Israel), Morsi used the incident as an excuse to replace Mohamed Hussein Tantawi -- a Mubarak-era holdover who headed the military and guarded its independence -- with officers more pliable to the Brotherhood.

"Are we looking at a president determined to dismantle the machine of tyranny," Alaa Al Aswany, a popular novelist and democratic activist, asked at the time, "or one who is retooling the machine of tyranny to serve his interests?" That question quickly became, at best, rhetorical.

Morsi proceeded to purge scores of newspaper editors and publishers, declare himself in charge of the drafting of the new constitution and all but wore a sandwich board with the words "I'm becoming a dictator!" on it.

As if to hammer it home, last week Morsi announced that his rule was immune to judicial oversight of any kind. He used the failure of the courts to adequately punish Mubarak-era holdovers as an excuse. It was just that -- an excuse, not an explanation.

Morsi softened his language Monday, but aides insisted his edict stood. And the Brotherhood's position remains clear. "If democracy means that people decide who leads them, then (we) accept it; if it means that people can change the laws of Allah and follow what they wish to follow, then it is not acceptable," the Brotherhood explained on its website in 2005.

Before Morsi was announced the winner of June's election, the Brotherhood massed in Tahrir Square to make its expectations clear. As one Brotherhood member explained to Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "We win or we die." Not a particularly democratic motto.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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