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Brothers in arms
The Muslim Brotherhood reaches out to rest of the opposition
Thursday, July 5,2007 17:32
by Salah al Tayer

The Muslim Brotherhood reaches out to rest of the opposition
By Cinderella Hassan


Mohammed Habib anounced that the Muslim Brotherhood is prepared to work with Christian groups in opposition to the current regime.


The Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most organized and popular opposition force, called for an alliance with others groups on 30 June for the “peaceful removal” of President Hosni Mubarak. The new alliance, dubbed the “National Alliance for Reform and Change,” brings individuals, movements and parties from across the political spectrum together—although some opposition groups are still reluctant to ally with the banned Islamist organization.

Mohammed Habib, a deputy guide of the Brotherhood, said the alliance aims to mobilize and unite all the political, popular and national forces of the country toward one target: “peaceful and civil change.” He was joined in announcing the formation of the alliance by the prominent Coptic personality Rafiq Habib, who described the Brotherhood as a group “that has historic responsibility” in political life. The event marked the first time the Brotherhood’s senior leadership has been willing to reach beyond its core constituency to allay the fears of many Christians and secularists. Observers joked about the “two Habibs”—habibein in Arabic, which also means “the two lovers.”

The formation of the alliance was the first major political initiative undertaken by the Brotherhood since it joined street protests in late March. Those demonstrations were followed by a massive countrywide crackdown on the organization, in which hundreds of its supporters were arrested. Some prominent members of the Brotherhood, such as Essam Al Erian, are still in custody after their preventive detention was renewed several times. The majority of detainees were released in the past month.

The new attempt to reach out to other opposition forces suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood is changing the nature, approach and magnitude of its activities—and softening some of its more conservative stances. Although some Brotherhood members had partic

ipated in political events organized by movements such as Kifaya, they usually have done so in an individual capacity.

In a later statment, Mohammed Habib made overtures to non-Islamists who might be skeptical about the Brotherhood’s conservative philosophy, claiming that women will have “a role” in the alliance, while on the subject of Christians, he noted Islam’s traditional acceptance of ahl al dhimma, minority religions recognized by Muslim religious authorities, and promised that the group plans to release a statement clarifying its stance towards Copts.

Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, speaking a few days after the conference, said that his organization would have no objection to the creation of a Coptic political party. The Coptic Orthodox Church retorted that it had no interest in politics. Religious parties affiliated with any religious denomination are illegal under the constitution.

At the 30 June conference, several opposition personalities made conciliatory statements toward the Islamist group. On the left, Nasserist Hamad Eddin Sobahi asserted: “The Egyptian streets are in need of a strong organizing force like the one the Muslim Brotherhood possesses. Let us leave our differences behind and avoid the details in which the devil hides.”

Representing liberals, Wael Nawara of Al Ghad said that his party intended to join the alliance “for the sake of Essam Al Erian and thousands of other innocent detainees.” Members of Kifaya and of several “movements for change” also pledged their support.

Nonetheless, many of these groups said they would have to study the Brotherhood’s proposal before joining the alliance formally, and those representatives that attended the conference stressed that they were doing so in an individual capacity. On 3 July, Kifaya published a statement saying it rejected the new alliance, whose aims “do not correspond” with its own. Likewise, other movements have since distanced themselves from the alliance.

“Obviously the Muslim Brotherhood wants to lead the opposition movement in Egypt and this is not acceptable by any means,” Hussein Abdel Razeq, president of the strongly anti-Islamist Nasserist party, told Cairo. “Although they are a force that is hard to ignore, I do not think political parties are willing to accept the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership. In general, we welcome all popular movements like Kifaya and the Muslim Brotherhood, but they cannot be an alternative for political parties.”

 Cairo Magazine


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