Egypt’s Brotherhood: Hard Line Platform Belies Reformist Veneer

Egypt’s Brotherhood: Hard Line Platform Belies Reformist Veneer

A controversial draft platform from Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood is prompting a rethink amongst advocates of engaging the Islamist movement. Women and non-Muslims would be barred from becoming president and a Majlis Ulama, akin to Iran”s Council of Guardians, would have the final say on legislation, according to the draft. The platform proposes that “every article” of Egypt”s constitution be revised to replace civil law with sharia in “material, spiritual, financial, economic, psychological, and societal matters.”

The statement – a “huge leap backwards” – shocked and undermined advocates for engaging the Brotherhood. Pro-engagement voices based their recommendations on the conviction that the group had over recent years “experienced a remarkable change in its orientation, discourse and strategies“, including acceptance of “the civic nature of authority; citizenship as the basis of equal rights and responsibilities; democratic principles and practices; and transfer of power, pluralism and legal means for bringing about change.”

Hopes that the final program would omit the controversial clauses have foundered, Al-Hayat reported last week. The independent Saudi-owned newspaper cited “knowledgeable sources” revealing that the only anticipated change concerns the council of clerics tasked with reviewing laws” compliance with sharia. But the change appears largely editorial rather than political, with discussion of the council merged with sections addressing the role of religious institutions.

The program explains that because Egypt”s presidency and premiership entail Islamic religious duties, “non-Muslims are excused from holding this mission.” Nor can a woman assume the presidency because the post”s religious and military duties “conflict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles.” The draft cautions against “burdening women with duties against their nature or role in the family”.

The program”s positions principles violate basic principles of universal citizenship and represent a pronounced retreat from the group”s apparent embrace of the civil state. But even Brotherhood reformers are at best ambivalent on the rights of non- Muslims to be elected to high office.

The platform calls for a Council of Islamic Scholars to advise and ultimately veto parliament and the president at least on issues covered by “proven texts” of sharia law. “This undemocratically selected body, not the Supreme Constitutional Court, would have the right to veto legislation passed by the Egyptian parliament and approved by the president that is not compatible with Islamic sharia law,” notes analyst Mohamed Elmenshawy. Brotherhood spokesmen responded defensively to the resulting furor by claiming parliament would remain sovereign and clerics would play a consultative role.

Iran”s Council of Experts has veto power over all laws considered potentially inimical to Islam, notes Iranian expert Abbas Milani. “Initially of uncertain significance, it turned out to be a key factor in the clergy”s control of the county,” he says. During the reformist Khatami presidency (1997-2005), the council rejected more than 200 laws passed by parliament in a two-year term.

The Brotherhood”s deputy leader Muhammad Habib confirmed that there should be “another independent” body of senior clerics consulted on state matters but insisted it “will not overrule parliament, nor will its views be mandatory”. But he was unrepentant on the issue of wilaya (delegation by God), insisting on “a consensus among jurisprudents that neither a non-Muslim nor a woman should rule Muslims.”