• June 13, 2007
  • 26 minutes read

Muslim Brotherhood And Democracy in Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood And Democracy in Egypt

The Islamic Trend in Egypt, the Arab community, and the Islamic world as a whole is an expanded one that works on large scales; it is now undoubtedly clear that it has a wide base of supporters.

The View of the Islamic Trend on the Future of Democracy in Egypt


The Islamic Trend in Egypt, the Arab community, and the Islamic world as a whole is an expanded one that works on large scales; it is now undoubtedly clear that it has a wide base of supporters. The Islamic Trend includes various attitudes; thus, its political approaches as well as its concepts towards democracy vary to a great deal whether this democracy is a political system, a political culture, or a practical mechanism. There is a large section of religious people who cannot be considered members in the Islamic Trend. That is because while they rarely vote in elections, their votes are distracted in various directions; this simply is how they are related to democracy. As for the organized Islamic movements that are indulged in the political arena, there are three main groups that may be also sub-divided:


Firstly: The Muslim Brotherhood and its ideology


The members of this movement embrace that class of Islamic-oriented democracy (i.e. that of the Islamic reference), and they are involved in the political arena in accordance with the codes of Islam that regulate all matters of life since the movement started in the early thirties of the last century. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood works on developing its stances concerning democracy on all aspects: the political, the cultural, and the practical. In addition, it works on improving its relationship with other political entities. Its detailed point of view on the future of democracy in Egypt shall be dealt with later.


Secondly: The Salafi Movement and the Salafi School


The members of this group are divided into two broad categories: one of them rejects democracy, whereas the other not only accepts it, but also practices its mechanisms such as those in Kuwait. They have their own discretional opinions on the restrictions that shall be considered while practicing democracy. This school does not represent a noticeable attitude in Egypt; some of its members joined the parliamentary elections as individuals in a limited manner.


Thirdly: The Attitude of Violence


This group is completely against democracy, and it condemned the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the legislative elections. Some sects of this group reconsidered some of its thoughts concerning many issues; however, their published papers did not mention any change regarding their ideas about democracy.


It is worth mentioning that the intellectual and jurisprudential background of this group is largely influenced by the Salafi School. We may witness some new opinions in the coming days, especially since some Salafi sects that broke out from the circle of violence tried to establish political parties like Al-Islah and Ash-Shari`ah. Their agenda included admitting the political pluralism and the desire to participate in the parliamentary elections and other mechanisms of the democratic practice.


The upper hand in this group is still for Dr. Ayman Al-Zhawahri who announced his rejection for democracy after the enormous triumph that the Muslim Brotherhood achieved in Egypt. He called for one way to reach the reign: to oust the rulers by force. He further warned against falling into the American democratic trap. Therefore, we are before a sole view on the future of democracy: the view of the Muslim Brotherhood.


The Muslim Brotherhood and Democracy


Hasan Al-Banna set a rule for the Muslim Brotherhood about how to deal with any new idea. He described the Muslim Brotherhood saying, “The most precise word to describe the movement is “Islamic”. This word carries an extensive meaning, aside from that narrow one that is perceived by most people, since we believe that Islam is an integrated meaning that regulates all matters of life and sets an accurate rule for every issue. It is not helpless concerning the problems that face people, and the necessary systems that may lead to reforming them.”[1][1]


He then determines the scale to judge the other ideologies, “We judge the ideologies that prevailed in this age and caused intellectual tribulations according to the scale of our mission. What agrees with it is to be accepted, whereas what does not shall be rejected. We believe that our movement is general and integrated; as it includes all the reforming sides of all ideologies.”[1][2]


By this scale, he criticized the two major ideologies of that era: nationalism and patriotism; he accepted what corresponded with Islam, but rejected what deviated from its rules and principles. He supported that kind of nationalism that creates nostalgia, freedom, dignity, social unity, and social communication. On the other hand, he rejected that kind of feigned nationalism that encourages partiality as it only served the goals of the occupation, which made use of the divergence of the parties of that time allowing their cooperation only to spread mischief, and prohibiting their unity under the flag of serving their country. Ironically, this occupation added even more fuel to the fire between them, and only allowed their unity under its flag.


He concluded his speech about nationalism saying, “Here you can see that we support those who call for nationalism even if they were extremists in the points that serve our country and nation. It is clear that these edicts are nothing but a part of the teachings of our Islam which is the torch that enlightens our mission.”[1][3]


He applied the same criterion on patriotism; as he accepted national glory, but condemned aggression that is similar to the actions of Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic traditions). He illustrated that Islam respects all nations and cultures, especially the Arabs.


The modification he applied on nationalism and patriotism was that he put the whole philosophy in an Islamic frame, depending on the creed rather than geography; this is the idea of humanity, universality and the new globalization. He also illustrated that the ultimate goal of the Islamic nationalism is to guide the people to the illumination of Islam to create a happier world with the intention of seeking Allah”s Pleasure, and not for wealth, authority, or enslaving other nations through imposing custody.


Al-Banna”s attitude towards democracy:


The idea of democracy did not dominate over the other ideologies like nationalism and patriotism at that time. However, there were other comprehensive systems such as Nazism, Fascism, and Communism. On the other hand, other democratic regimes were attributed with parliaments and constitutions. Al-Banna had a vision concerning all these regimes; he described the democratic regimes to be merely colonial in his dissertation “The Islamic Perception for our Problems”, which was one of his last writings. In the same dissertation, he linked Communism and Socialism to the democratic regimes, “We also face now Communism and Socialism. The world now considers them but various meanings for democracy; it is a fact that cannot be denied by the democrats themselves.”


He further set all ideologies in one context, “Communism is serious at imposing its thoughts on the individuals; colonial democracy on the other hand tries to resist that trend. Then comes Socialism in the middle between both.”


Al-Banna then states, “We all believe in Islam as a religion and a governing system. We not only consider Egypt a Muslim country, but also the leading figure of all the Muslim countries. Article 149 of our constitution plainly declares that the official religion of the country is Islam, and that the official language is Arabic.”


Concerning the democratic practices, Al-Banna had a vision on the constitutional and the parliamentary affairs, “The Muslim Brotherhood believes that the main source of their edicts is the Qur”an and the Sunnah to which if the Muslims adhere, they shall never go astray. Moreover, most genres of knowledge that are related to Islam carry the seal of the age they were created in, and the people they were made up by. Therefore, the Muslim countries should resort to that kind of pure system. We should also approach Islam in the same manner as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), his companions, and the early Muslims did. We shall not restrict ourselves with any idea that is not set by Allah, for Islam is a religion for all humans.”[1][4]


According to the golden rule that encompasses both originality and modernity, Al-Banna managed to put an end to the debate around one of the thorniest issues of democracy, which is the constitutional and parliamentary ruling regime. He said, “Indeed, brothers, upon perceiving the principles of the constitutional regime, which are based on personal freedom, consulting the people, the responsibility of the ruler before his people, and illustrating the limits of each authority, it becomes crystal clear that all these principles emit from the creed of Islam. That is why the Muslim Brotherhood conceives this ruling system to be the closest to Islam, and they do not see any other system equal to it.”


As for the issue of parties, Al-Banna had a severe viewpoint that was related to the nature of the political parties at that time. The Muslim Brotherhood reconsidered this viewpoint in 1994 in a famous charter that admitted the plurality of parties.


As for the mechanisms of the democratic process, the Muslim Brotherhood was in the lead concerning applying democracy in their internal affairs. This is what their internal regulations and central law asserted. Each section had a general society to elect the chairman and the vice chairman of this section. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood had a constituent assembly or a consultation council that represented all the sections; the decrees issued were based on the majority of votes. This is still the system of the Muslim Brotherhood until today to the extent that Dr. Waheed `Abd Al-Majeed described them to be the most democratic movement all-over the Arab world. In his dissertation “The Islamic Perception for Our Problems”, Hasan Al-Banna dealt with the mechanism of the general elections dividing the ruling system into three main principles:


·         The ruler”s responsibility

·         The unity of the nation

·         Respecting the will of the nation


He said plainly, “The modern constitutional system provided a means for reaching the authority through elections. Islam does not protest against this system as long as it leads to choosing those who are qualified to be in charge, and preventing those who are not from jumping into authority.” He then tackled the defects of the electoral system in Egypt and suggested some necessary reformations such as: the characteristics of the candidates, the programs of the organizations, reforming the parties in Egypt as well as the political organizations, setting limits for the electoral propaganda, correcting the lists of the voters, implementing severe penalties for forging and bribery, and resorting to the system of electing through lists rather than the individual system to avoid the pressure of the voters.




Al-Banna”s view on democracy can be summarized as:

1. He conceives Islam as an integrated system for his movement, and a scale on which he values any idea.

2. The Muslim Brotherhood is only obliged to follow the Qur”an and the Sunnah rather than any other ideology.

3. Accepting the other ideas initially, and analyzing them into their basic aspects.

4. Aspects of any idea have to be valued according to Islam; what corresponds to Islam is to be accepted, and should be given an Islamic conduct, while what does not shall be rejected.

5. Blending originality with modernity, and building the renaissance of the nation on Islamic bases.

6. Al-Banna accepted the written constitution, the parliamentary regime, and its basic rules; however, he had some comments. He also accepted receiving authority from among the people through periodical elections for which he suggested a form.

On the other hand, he condemned the concept of plurality of the parties due to the conflict between the parties at that time, their inability to attain the dreams of the Egyptians such as getting rid of the British occupation because of the personal disputes between the leaders, and their lack of comprehensible agendas. Moreover, he called them all to be united under one flag. In “The Islamic Perception for Our Problems”, he stated – after he had mentioned the opinion of the constitutional scholar Sayyid Sabri that clarified that most of the parties no longer had agendas to be defended by their supporters, the elections would not be based on choosing agendas since they all became alike, and the elections would be based on the individuals not on the parties, “Reformers attempted to create a unity, even if it was only temporary, to face the harsh tribulations the country passes by. They, however, failed and lost hope.

Temporary solutions can no longer be acceptable; there is no way but to dissolve all these parties, and to gather all the powers of our nation in one party to achieve our independence and to set the general reformation rules. Then, circumstances will allow people to take the way of regulation and renaissance in the shade of the unity created by Islam.”


Therefore, it can be concluded that Al-Banna accepted the idea of democracy and its common principle, but rejected that of the plurality of parties and offered key solutions for the general practices.


The Muslim Brotherhood After Al-Banna


The Muslim Brotherhood practiced their activities under what can be described as a liberal regime due to the existence of the occupation, the tyranny of the king, the weakness of the parties, the wide spread of illiteracy, and the interference of the British occupation, the king, and the minority parties to reduce the constitutional competencies.


Some limited mistakes occurred due to the variety of the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood especially when some members of the special wing committed some awful crimes such as the assassination of Judge Al-Khazindar and the Prime Minister An-Nuqrashi Pasha who dissolved the party by a military command and confiscated all its properties.


The biggest mistake was represented in losing hope in reforming the conditions peacefully and constitutionally; thus, they accepted the idea of the Liberal Officers to carry out a coup in order to make a comprehensive reformation, to participate in this process, and to defend it in an integrated manner. The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve a comprehensive reformation, especially in the political field, had not completed; therefore, it published a statement in the newspapers of Aug. 2, 1952, one week after the coup. Its main items were:

1. Demanding to try the previous king and his men for their corruption.

2. Abolishing the martial laws as well as all the oppressing laws that contradict with man”s freedom.

3. Ethical reformation and opposing all means of corruption and random imprisonment.

4. Constitutional reformation through demanding to set up an institution to form a new constitution that expresses the nation”s creed, needs, and hopes, and that represents a fence to protect its interests.

5. Social reformation through providing work opportunities, reviving the social solidarity, determining the relationship between the owner and the lessee, completing the labor laws, and reforming the employing systems.

6. Economic reformation.

7. Military education and training.

8. Caring about the police system that was affected by corruption and putting an end to the political police.


In spite of this clarity, the revolutionists disclaimed the political and constitutional elements, as they disregarded democracy putting it in the last of their six-goal list. They dissolved all the political parties at that time and did not establish an institution to form a new constitution. Then, the moment of confrontation came up in May 4, 1954, as the Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood sent a letter to the Prime Minister, in which he demanded:

1. Restoring the parliamentary life.

2. Abolishing the martial laws.

3. Allowing all kinds of freedom, especially freedom of speech and releasing all the detained and those who were tried before the appellate courts.

Then, came the crucial confrontation – from Oct. 1954 until 1975 -, which was on the side of the revolutionists, during which many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were imprisoned for about twenty years.


In Brief:

The attitude of the Muslim Brotherhood supports democracy since its beginning although the movement completely adopts the Islamic bases, and tries hard to create an Islamic-oriented renaissance. The reason for this is the flexible view of the movement concerning two important issues:

1. The sources of the Islamic Jurisprudence and thought, and putting the Islamic heritage into consideration with an analytical sense.

2. The flexibility while looking into the productions of the human civilization as a whole, as some are to be accepted, while others are not.


The Situation From 1975 to 2005


Allowing a restricted plurality of the parties and depriving the Muslim Brotherhood from its natural right to form a political party in the frame of depriving some powers from this right was the feature of the political life of the second half of the 1970s until the assassination of President Sadat.

The concern of the Muslim Brotherhood during that era was to demand a comprehensive reformation, to defend their reputation against the media that continued to defame the movement for fifteen years, and to reconstruct their organization on the local and international sides.


However, we observe a reservation from the Muslim Brotherhood, as the article of Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali that called for accepting the plurality of the parties was prevented from being published in the late 1970s. Then, it was issued in Al-Da`wah magazine when Al-Ghazali refused to send more articles. This took place after the Muslim Brotherhood”s Chairman”s visit to his house to discuss the matter with him.


Many events took place after releasing the members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were arrested in the famous attack of September. A new phase started and affected the views of the Muslim brotherhood on democracy and its culture, mechanisms and means.

Among the most important experiences that took place in the 1980s were:

1. The active participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections of 1984 and 1987.

2. The alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood with some licensed parties such as Al-Wafd (1984), and Al-`Amal and Al-Ahrar (1987).

3. The limited participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliament from 1984 to 1987, and its very active participation from 1987 to 1990.

4. The participation of the Muslim Brotherhood with some other parties in protesting against the ruling system since 1985 until 1997.

5. The extensive activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the important syndicates through administrating them, and its appreciation for the significance of participation without struggling with others, in spite of the weak performance at that time.

6. Exerting all possible efforts to establish a political party, and preparing more than one agenda for the parties.

7. Undergoing the severe restrictions imposed by the government upon its press, and preventing it from getting a license to establish a newspaper or a magazine after the death of the license bearer Salih `Ashmawi.

The accumulation of such experiences through two decades resulted in the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood reconsidered some of its basic principles related to democracy, and clarified its views concerning other issues.


The Muslim Brotherhood issued an important paper in April, 1994 about two important issues:

Firstly: The stance on the mutual consultation and political plurality in the Muslim society.

Secondly: The Muslim woman in the Muslim society.


Among the most important elements declared by the Muslim Brotherhood in this paper was admitting and emphasizing what was declared by the movement in its early stages such as:

-The comprehensive approval of the constitutional and parliamentary regime.

-Emphasizing the fact that the nation is the source of all powers.

-Stressing the importance of the impartial elections, as a peaceful means to rotate power.


The Muslim Brotherhood also proclaimed its respect for the plurality of parties in the political field in the frame of the constitution and law, which determines the essential fundamentals of the community. The movement asserted the importance of limiting the presidential terms of office to two terms under the monitoring of the state”s constitutional authorities.


It stressed the importance of the independence of the judicial authority. It also illustrated that only the independent, inviolable judicial authorities are to settle the disputes of the parties without any interference from the executive authority concerning establishing, monitoring, banning or even restricting the parties.


The complete equality between men and women in the political and civil freedoms with no violation to the Islamic Shari`ah. Women have the full right to receive an education, to work, to occupy public positions, to vote, and to be candidates in the parliamentary elections and all other constitutional institutions.


The Muslim Brotherhood also clarified its attitude towards the coexistence with the Christians. This attitude further developed to plainly declare that the relationship between the residents of the same country is based on the concept of citizenship regardless of their religion, races, or ideology. This citizenship means complete equality in both rights and responsibilities before the law of the land with no violation to the rights of the minorities concerning their personal affairs.


Afterwards, the Muslim Brotherhood passed by five hard years, during which twenty thousand members were imprisoned, 125 leaders were tried before martial courts, and three of them faced martyrdom: one under torture, and two due to the bad health conditions in the jail.


Afterwards, coordination among the political powers was brought to a standstill after a clear declaration of all parties in 1997 in a famous document about a detailed course for constitutional and political reformation. This took place after the failure to declare a national charter in 1995 due to the imprisonment of countless members of the Muslim Brotherhood, mutual doubts amongst the parties, and the fact that the ruling party managed to ally with several parties against the movement.


After the parliamentary elections of 2000, the Muslim Brotherhood came back to the political arena when seventeen members won seats in the parliament. In addition, in the elections of the lawyers” syndicate in 2001, the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority of votes.

After the death of Chairman Muhammad Ma”moun Al-Hudaibi, Mr. Muhammad Mahdi `Akef took over the responsibilities of the Chairmanship.


In an international press conference in the Egyptian Press Union ” syndicate, the Chairman proposed an initiative for reformation in March 3, 2004. Among the most important bases set by the Chairman were:

Firstly: The Muslim Brotherhood is against all forms of foreign interference and domination.

Secondly: The comprehensive reformation is an Islamic and national goal. The nation itself is responsible for adopting the initiative to make the reformation that aim at achieving free and good life, comprehensive renaissance, freedom, equality and consultation.

Thirdly: The starting point should be the political reformation that serves all the aspects of life that suffers from a quick deterioration in Egypt and the Islamic and Arab world.

Fourthly: Carrying out this reformation cannot be entitled to one authority or government; this is a responsibility that all members of society shall carry. The general, national reconciliation that leads to the cooperation of all parties and authorities is an obligation to firmly face all the schemes that aim at violating the area, and to solve our internal problems.


Now, the Muslim Brotherhood sees that there are many actions that should be taken to reinforce democracy:

1. Abolishing the emergency law immediately, and releasing all the political prisoners.

2. Allowing all practices of freedoms, especially the freedom of speech and the freedom of forming parties.

3. Impartial elections that do not suffer from the governmental interference.

4. Giving the upper hand to the independent judicial authorities, and passing a law that asserts their independence.

5. Reconsidering the constitution to cure its defects in an immediate manner, and ratifying a new constitution after the political reformation.

Allah is the aim of our intention, and He guides to the right path




[1][1] The Message of Our Mission.

[1][2] The Message of Our Mission.

[1][3] The Message of Our Mission.

[4]The dissertation of the Fifth Conference.