First Imam MP Shows Dawning of New Era in Egypt

First Imam MP Shows Dawning of New Era in Egypt

Shabun, with diploma in agriculture, became imam 20 years ago.

Ahmed Shabun thanks God that he has won a seat in Egypt’s parliament where this candidate from the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood is soon to sit as the country’s first imam MP.

“I couldn’t turn down this task, and God helped me,” said Shabun, 46, at his rural constituency in the Giza governorate, 70 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of Cairo.

Shabun, his black beard neatly trimmed, says that the security services barred him from preaching three years ago.
“They said that I hadn’t studied at the Islamic university of Al-Azhar, but it was because I was with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Rather than having a degree in Islamic culture, Shabun has a diploma in agriculture. Before becoming an imam 20 years ago, Shabun laboured the family’s hectare of farmland before going to work in a chemical factory.

“It’s true, I didn’t go through Al-Azhar, but what did imams do before it was founded?,” he asks. The premier seat of learning in Sunni Islam, Cairo’s Al-Azhar was founded in 998 A.D., almost 400 years after the birth of Islam.

Shabun joined the Brotherhood in 1993, although it had been banned for 40 years, and swiftly found himself in prison.

“The regime imprisons us because the name of our brotherhood drives them crazy, but if they listened to what we have to say, they would encourage us,” he says, optimistically.

Several hundred Muslim Brothers were rounded up on Sunday during the second round of voting in Egypt’s month-long elections that was marked by violence, especially in Egypt’s northern port of Alexandria.

Having already won 47 seats, more than tripling its previous tally of 15, the Brotherhood has made an historic showing, although still short of threatening the domination of President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

Brotherhood MPs must however sit in parliament as independents because Egyptian election law bars religious parties.

The Islamist MP-to-be lives in a modest two-storey house with his wife, who is covered head-to-toe in a niqab, and their eight children

“I tried to get her to take it off and to be satisfied with the hijab (headscarf) because it’s not obligatory to hide the face and hands, but she won’t give it up,” he says.

Shabun receives visitors in a ground-floor room. His computer bears stickers of holy sites in Mecca, while Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock is chalked on the wall along with a poster calling for a boycott of all things “Made in USA”.

Until Shabun is sworn in as an MP, his sole source of income is his monthly salary of 1,400 Egyptian pounds, or around 200 euros.

As to who paid for his campaign, Shabun says that “campaign costs were paid by the inhabitants of my village, each one gave 10 percent of their monthly income.” But he won’t say how much that added up to.

Shabun blames the NDP not only for the Brotherhood’s problems, but also those of Egypt and the region. “It’s a party that has done nothing for the country,” he said.

As soon as parliament convenes, due some time before the end of the year, “The Muslim Brotherhood will open a debate on political reform.”

The main objective: ending the state of emergency in place almost constantly since Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated by an Islamist in 1981 as well as changing the political party law to finally legalise the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, Shabun isn’t waiting for his parliamentary immunity to come into effect before climbing the minbar or pulpit of a local mosque to lead Friday prayers.

“We have to thank God in times of victory and defeat,” he tells the faithful.

“We must take the Koran and the sayings of the prophet as a model for our daily lives. If we do that, this country will have a leader like (12th century Arab hero) Salaheddin (Saladin) who will give it back its lost dignity.”

By Karim Fawal – GIZA, Egypt, Middle East Online