Muslim Brotherhood plays double game in Egyptian poll

Muslim Brotherhood plays double game in Egyptian poll 
Eva Haroun


THE Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt is making a concerted effort to gain a foothold in parliament in Cairo as the country votes in parliamentary elections.

Under domestic and international pressure, President Hosni Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party have relaxed many of the restrictions that have made previous elections in Egypt something of a farce.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood is not recognised as a political party, it remains the dominant opposition force and commands a wide popular following — largely as a result of the range of social services it provides among the poorest sections of society.

In one of the peculiarities of Egyptian politics, the Brotherhood is tolerated and allowed to organise demonstrations but only on foreign policy issues and not internal ones.

That this prohibition is accepted by the majority of the Brotherhood’s leaders has led to acrimony in the fundamentalist ranks and has exacerbated the tensions that exist among its various factions. The more militant, and religiously purist, factions feel political compromises should not be made.

But there seems to be general support within the organisation for the decision to put up candidates for the parliamentary election that began yesterday.

Unlike the elections in 2000, when Brotherhood candidates declared themselves only as independents, the 150 Brotherhood candidates in this election are publicly declaring their affiliation although they are still listed as independents.

The organisation also has a “reserve list” of 170 potential candidates should any or all of the existing list be arrested.

This is no idle concern. At the time of the 2000 elections, more than 5000 members of the Brotherhood, including known candidates, were detained.

As part of its new image — and another source of internal acrimony — the Muslim Brothers announced that it would also be fielding female candidates for the first time at this election.

However, only one of the declared Brotherhood candidates is a woman.

What is causing concern both within the Brotherhood and among more liberal Egyptians is the newly stated aim of the Brotherhood candidates to support “a democratic, institutionalised state built on a true separation of powers”.

This is no different from the broad position adopted by the rest of the opposition in an election in which 5414 candidates are contesting the 444 national assembly seats in 222 constituencies.

But this stand is at complete variance with the Brotherhood’s avowed position of establishing an Islamic state, based on sharia, or Islamic law.

As such, there is considerable distrust about the Brotherhood’s motives, certainly among Egyptian intellectuals and members of other political parties.

Significantly, this change of stance comes at a time when there is growing pressure to scrap the religiously orientated Article 2 of the country’s constitution: “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.”

In a country with a strong Coptic Christian minority, this article has long rankled and liberal Muslims have supported calls for it to be dropped.

The liberal position was summed up two years ago by Nawal Sa’dawi, the Egyptian novelist and feminist: “Religion is a matter between man and God and no one has the right to impose his faith, his God and his rituals on others.”

‖Haroun is an Africa Insight correspondent. The opinions expressed are her own.