Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (STONEGATE INSTITUTE) by Aidan Clay 03/13/12)
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The Muslim Brotherhood´s official slogan has long been, "Islam is the
Solution." We shall soon see whether the rule of Mubarak will be
replaced by the tyranny of Sharia law.
The Muslim Brotherhood further solidified its power last week by
securing the position of speaker in Egypt´s upper house of
parliament. The appointment consolidates the Brotherhood´s control
over the country´s legislature leading up to presidential elections
in May. Already the dominant player in Egypt´s political landscape,
the Brotherhood, liberals fear, may now be emboldened to field a
contender for the presidency despite its previous assurances not even
to back a candidate.
Until now, the Brotherhood has carefully campaigned as a pragmatic
political party by concentrating on economic and political reform,
and by vowing to protect the freedoms of all Egyptians, including
minorities. Amr Darrag, the head of the Brotherhood´s Freedom and
Justice Party (FJP) in Giza, told The Media Line, "Christians were
part of the revolution and they deserve equal status under the law
and the future Egyptian democratic process… We do not differentiate
between Christians and Muslims, we are all Egyptians." By directing
public attention to issues such as land ownership reform and free
elections, the Brotherhood has striven to portray itself as an entity
with primarily political, rather than theocratic, goals.
During the chamber´s inaugural session on February 28, Ahmed Fahmy,
of the FJP, was elected speaker by members of the Shura Council. The
appointment followed the selection of FJP Secretary General Mohamed
Saad al-Katatni as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the
People´s Assembly, on January 23, thereby securing the Brotherhood´s
control over both houses of the legislature. The Brotherhood holds
47% of the 508-seat People´s Assembly and 59% of the Shura Council´s
180 elected seats. An additional 90 lawmakers are expected to be
appointed to the Shura Council by either the ruling generals or the
The Brotherhood again announced that it would not contend in the next
round of elections on May 23 -- this time for the presidency. "The
Muslim Brotherhood will not support Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh or any
candidate," said Muhammed al-Badi, the leader of the Brotherhood, in
reference to former Brotherhood member Abul Fotouh who is now running
as an independent. However, Badi was clear that the Brotherhood wants
a president with an "Islamic background."
Although the Brotherhood is not officially backing Abul Fotouh, Barry
Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center, believes that the candidate will have the
Brotherhood´s support nonetheless: "This is misdirection. The
Brotherhood´s influential spiritual advisor Yusuf al-Qaradawi is
supporting Abul-Fotouh. And guess what? The Brotherhood is going to
support Abul-Fotouh ´unofficially.´ How? Simple: through
the ´independent´ Justice and Development Party supporting
an ´independent´ presidential candidate."
"It´s clear now the Brotherhood are willing to throw their weight
into the ring… to support someone who is in line with Islamic values
and is sympathetic to Islamic law," Shadi Hamid, a research director
at the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters. "That will have major
implications for the race."
Widespread support for the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections
indicates that voters will also likely support the campaign of a
former member of the Brotherhood, whether or not he has the
Brotherhood´s official endorsement.
"[Abul Fotouh] is one of the great people that the Brotherhood youth
look up to and consider as a role model," Mohammed Qassas, a
Brotherhood youth leader, told The Wall Street Journal. "He´s a
distinguished person, he represents moderate Islamism and he´s got a
good chance to compete."
Meanwhile, Salafis – who follow the strict Saudi Wahhabi doctrine of
Islam – will probably have their own candidate, raising the
probability that Egypt will elect an Islamist president.
In parliamentary elections, the Salafist al-Nour Party gained
widespread support, winning 23 percent of the seats in the People´s
Assembly and 25% of the elected seats in the Shura Council, making it
the second largest party in the legislature. Between the Salafis, the
Brotherhood, and other Islamist parties, Islamists hold more than 70%
of the seats in the People´s Assembly and 80% of the seats in the
The Salafis´ success was the election´s greatest surprise and raises
concerns among secularists that the group´s radical interpretation of
Islam will be imposed over the whole of Egyptian society. Following
Egypt´s uprising in January 2011, Salafis called the appointment of a
Christian governor in Upper Egypt "anti-Islamic;" successfully had
him removed from the post; protested the killing of Osama bin Laden,
and attacked liquor stores, churches, Sufi shrines and mosques, and
other institutions or businesses they deemed contrary to Wahhabi
On March 3, the two houses of parliament began preparations for a 100-
member panel to draft a new constitution. The constitution, which
will be put to a referendum before the presidential election, could
drastically alter Egypt´s government and determine the role of Islam
in policymaking. The constitutional assembly will be selected by
parliament on March 24.
Many secularists and Christians fear that an Islamist majority
parliament will use its power to base the constitution on Islamic
Sharia law. While liberals prefer a panel of outside experts and
activists to draft the constitution, the Islamist-controlled
parliament wants a dominant voice in the process.
"We should not come under pressure and waste the right of the
majority by falling in the trap of giving the minority the right to
write the constitution," warned Salafist al-Nour party
representative, Mustafa Khalifa, who advocates that Islamist
parliamentarians should have the greatest voice in writing the
Salafis have further stated that Islam should be the sole source of
legislation and that Christians and women should not be allowed to
run for president. Other recent indicators, including charges filed
against minorities and secularists for "defaming Islam", have
evidenced this commitment of the Salafis.
On January 9, Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the
Free Egyptians political party, was charged with "blasphemy and
insulting Islam" when he reposted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse
and a veiled Minnie Mouse on Twitter. Among the group of Islamist
lawyers who filed the lawsuit against Sawiris was Mamdouh Ismail, a
former member of Islamic Jihad who has been known to represent
accused terrorists and was himself arrested for complicity with al-
Qaeda in 2007.
The Brotherhood quickly backed Ismail´s lawsuit while Salafis led a
nationwide campaign to boycott products and services offered by
Sawiris´ companies. Many secularists believed Islamists rallied the
nationwide outcry to discredit Sawiris and his secular Free Egyptians
Although an Egyptian court dismissed on March 3 the second of two
cases filed against Sawiris, other cases remain pending; these
include charges filed in early February against Adel Imam, Egypt´s
leading comic actor. Imam appealed a sentence by an Egyptian court of
three months in jail for "defaming Islam" for a role he played in a
2007 film. The cases represent only a few of many charges that were
filed by Islamist lawyers in recent months to punish individuals for
offending Islam and demonstrate that Islamists are using newly gained
political powers to stifle freedom of expression.
"In both cases, [Sawiris and Imam] didn´t do anything against ´Islam´
but merely made fun of Islamists," commented Barry Rubin. "The
battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their
interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable
version. Westerners don´t understand that when that happens anything
more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and
punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the
country´s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no
right to free assembly or of the press."
The blasphemy trials and other acts of discrimination against
minorities have led secularists and Coptic Christians to denounce the
Brotherhood´s success in the parliamentary elections which, many
claim, did not adequately represent the voice of the Egyptian people.
In the latest significant gathering of protestors in Cairo´s Tahrir
Square in early February, to mark the one year anniversary of
President Hosni Mubarak´s ouster from power, demonstrators condemned
both the military´s rule and the Brotherhood´s significant political
"Protestors were shouting, ´No military council and no Brotherhood.
This is our revolution, the youth´s revolution,´" Coptic activist
Wagih Yacoub told International Christian Concern. "The Brotherhood
is more concerned with their movement than the benefit of the
"I dream that one day all the Egyptian people will demonstrate
against the Brotherhood," said activist Mary Ibrahim Daniel, whose
brother Mina Daniel was killed during protests on October 9. "I was
surprised to see so many people, including Muslims, protesting
against them outside the House of Parliament… The Brotherhood is
hijacking the ideals and motives behind the revolution."
It is unlikely, however, that secular activists can muster enough
strength to gain widespread support when two-thirds of Egyptian
Muslims voted for Islamist parties in parliamentary elections.
Whether liberals like it or not, the leading candidates for the
presidency are Islamists. Moreover, to run for president requires the
endorsement of 30 parliamentarians. Only four parties have that many –
the Brotherhood, the Salafis, the Wafd, and the liberal Egyptian
Bloc (Free Egyptians Party). Undoubtedly, there will be few, if any,
changes in the slate of presidential candidates before the
registration to run for president begins on March 10.
The question now is: Behind which candidate, if any, will the
Brotherhood will put its weight? The Brotherhood could "unofficially"
endorse Abul Fotouh or choose to back another frontrunner without a
party, such as the nationalist Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister
and head of the Arab League. It appears that the Brotherhood´s
support will dictate the election´s outcome.
The Brotherhood´s consolidation of power over Egypt´s two houses of
parliament and its potential influence in the presidential elections
has become a frightening reality for the country´s liberals and
minorities. While the Brotherhood shares many of the Salafis´
fundamental beliefs, it does not wish to alarm moderates or Western
allies and so has directed its public activities toward economic and
political reform. Yet, many Egyptians worried about personal freedoms
remain unconvinced. The Muslim Brotherhood´s official slogan has long
been "Islam is the Solution" and few liberals are persuaded that the
group´s sudden rise to political stardom will alter its fundamental
"There are genuine fears because the heads of the Brotherhood now and
the Salafis who got into parliament, none of them - neither their
organizations nor their ideas - reflect that they are people who live
in this day and age and understand how a nation can progress," Gamal
al-Banna, the more moderate brother of the Brotherhood´s founder
Hassan al-Banna, told Reuters.
"Any nation founded on religion must fail… [Egypt´s revolution] was a
popular uprising that succeeded in destroying a system, but not in
building a new one," al-Banna concluded. We shall soon see whether
the rule of Mubarak will be replaced by the tyranny of Sharia law.
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