The production of a political platform by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a sign that real developments—some encouraging, some worrying—are occurring in Egyptian politics. While the Muslim Brotherhood is prevented by Egypt’s government from forming a political party—a ban unlikely to be overturned in the near future—the release of a platform signaled what sort of party they would found if allowed to do so, according to a new report from the Carnegie Endowment.
In The Draft Party Platform of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Foray Into Political Integration or Retreat Into Old Positions?, Senior Associates Nathan Brown and Amr Hamzawy analyze the draft platform’s mixed signals—surprising progressive reforms; regressive, controversial stances; and the chances of achieving a consensus on the anticipated final document.
Encouragingly, the platform advances notions of freedom of religion and expression, pluralistic politics, property rights, women’s enfranchisement, and state sovereignty. Yet it also called for the establishment of a council of elected senior religious scholars, effectively placing the government under the scrutiny of an extra-constitutional entity—a regression from more moderate positions upheld by the movement’s leadership in recent years.
• The platform was designed to regain momentum following a marked increase in government restrictions on the Brotherhood after their success in the 2005 parliamentary elections. However, caught between the expectations of loyal activists, who strongly support the implementation of shari’a law, and alienating the more moderate public, disputes among Brotherhood leaders over the platform showed confusion and a lack of consensus over strategy at this critical juncture.
• The platform fails to address how the future political party would relate to the broader social movement. The Brotherhood ignores both the experiences of Islamist parties in Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen, who advocate a functional separation between the party and the movement, and a major constitutional hurdle by failing to address opening membership to all Egyptians.
• Public debate about the platform has focused exclusively on the major contentious issues to the exclusion of detailed economic and social positions. For example, the economic strategy advocates a strong interventionist state, yet the platform also calls for a limited social role for the state, with a larger role for civil society and NGOs.
• While the final platform is expected to exclude women and non-Muslims from holding Egypt’s top office, recent statements by key leaders indicate that the Brotherhood would accept a democratic referendum by the Egyptian people on this matter.
“Brotherhood leaders were aware from the beginning of the limits of what a platform could accomplish. At most it could show Egyptians what a Brotherhood party would look like, but the regime, the law, and now the constitution seem to be far more serious obstacles than public opinion to a Muslim Brotherhood party. The platform shows that the movement is still very much struggling with how to handle the demands of its ambition to be a normal political actor. But no amount of internal debate is likely to reassure a regime that seems unable to accept any serious political actor as a legitimate partner in Egyptian political life,” the authors concluded.
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The Draft Party Platform of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Foray Into
Political Integration or Retreat Into Old Positions? (Carnegie Paper, January 2008)
It is difficult to view the Brotherhood’s draft party platform as anything better than a mixed blessing for the movement’s political integration. The first goal of the leadership in drafting the platform—regaining the initiative—has been partially met, as the Brotherhood’s platform initiative placed it at the center of Egyptian political debates for a period of a few months. But in the process themovement lost control of the terms of that debate and found itself very much on the defensive concerning brief passages in the platform.
The second purpose, reassuring critics, has simply not been met. Indeed,
elements of the draft platform seemed to worry not only the Brotherhood’s
implacable adversaries but also independent intellectuals who look to the movement as a possible counterweight to an autocratic regime. The public debates within the Brotherhood communicated internal disarray rather than democracy. Indications from Brotherhood leaders now are that some—but not all—of the external criticisms will be answered by amendments in the final draft. The third purpose, clarifying the “grey zones” of the Brotherhood’s ideology to its own members and the broader public has been partly met. The platform’s exhaustive details on almost every issue in public life in Egypt today are impressive. But clarification has costs for an opposition movement, and theBrotherhood has paid some of them by exposing divisions among senior leaders and between generations; it has also been caught between the expectations of its members and its broader (but less loyal) sympathizers. And it has reacted to theresulting dilemmas partly by clarifying its positions still further but more deeply by retreating back into some more comfortable grey zones.
Finally, the Brotherhood’s effort to draw from the experience of its sister
movements in establishing a political party has been stymied—not by anything in the platform’s contents but by a regime that becomes less bashful each month with showing its repressive face toward the Islamist opposition movement. Indeed, Brotherhood leaders were aware from the beginning of the limits of what a platform could accomplish. At most it could show Egyptians what a Brotherhood party would look like, but the regime, the law, and now the constitution seem to be far more serious obstacles than public opinion to a Muslim Brotherhood party. The platform shows that the movement is still very much struggling with how to handle the demands of its ambition to be a normal political actor. But no amount of internal debate is likely to reassure a regime that seems unable to accept any serious political actor as a legitimate partner in Egyptian political life.
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1 During the last week of August 2007, the Muslim Brotherhood circulated a draft of a political party platform among nearly forty intellectuals, analysts, and journalists in and out of Egypt and asked for feedback and comments (or advice as the Muslim Brothers put it). The majority of those who received the draft preferred to write about it in articles published in newspapers or comment on it in public. This reality forced a number of the Brotherhood’s leading figures to comment about the document in a manner that was characterized by contradictions on core issues among their positions.
2 The court’s jurisprudence on article 2 has attracted widespread scholarly attention. One of the authors of this piece, writing with Clark Lombardi of the University of Washington, has contributed to the scholarly writings on the subject with a translation and a general analysis. See Clark Lombardi and Nathan J. Brown, “Do Constitutions Requiring Adherence to Shari‘a Threaten Human Rights? How Egypt’s Constitutional Court Reconciles Islamic Law with the Liberal Rule of Law,” 21 American University International Law Review 379-435 (2006); and Clark Lombardi and Nathan J. Brown, “The Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt on Islamic Law,
Veiling and Civil Rights: An Annotated Translation of Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt Case No. 8 of Judicial Year 17 (May 18, 1996),” 21 American University International Law Review 437 (2006).
3 Worth mentioning here is the dispute between the founder of al-Wasat party Abu al-‘Ila Madi and the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif about the start of the initiative. Whereas Madi emphasizes that he is theone behind the idea, and that it was mainly a maneuver to get out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s cover following some disagreements, ‘Akif suggests that he encouraged Madi to establish the party in the mid-nineties when the members of theBrotherhood’s consultation council were imprisoned. To review the two narratives see:
Abu al-‘Ila Madi, My Story with the Brothers: the Story of al-Wasat (Arabic), available at: www.almesryoon.com, January 4, 2006; and Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif, interview, Akhir Sa‘ah, July 20, 2005.
4 Muhammad Habib, interview, the English portal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, www.ikhwanweb.com, November 11, 2007; Mahmud ‘Izzat, interview, www.ikhwanonline.com, October 23, 2007; Mahmud Ghuzlan, interview, www.ikhwanonline.com, November 1, 2007.
5 ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh, interview, Ahram Weekly, October 25, 2007.
6 Gamal Hishmat, interview, www.islamonline.net, October 6, 2007.
7 ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, interview, al-‘Alam (Iran), November 4, 2007; see also, ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, al-Hayat Daily, October 13, 2007.
8 Sa‘d al-Katatni, interview, www.ikhwanonline.com, November 8, 2007.
9 To review some of the Brotherhood’s deliberations, visit http://ihoudaiby.blogspot.com and http://ana-ikhwan.blogspot.com. For an analysis of the role of bloggers within theBrotherhood, see Marc Lynch, “Young Brothers in Cyberspace,” Middle East Report, Winter 2007, http://merip.org/mer/mer245/lynch.html.
10 ‘Izzat, interview, www.ikhwanonline.com, October 23, 2007; Ghuzlan, interview, www.ikhwanonline.com, November 1, 2007. In addition, rumors circulated that theSupreme Guide suspended al-‘Iryan from any discussions about the party platform following some controversial statements he made regarding the Brotherhood’s future position on the peace agreements with Israel. ‘Isam al-‘Iryan and first deputy Muhammad Habib denied this news in public.
11 Gamal Hishmat, interview, www.islamonline.com, October 6, 2007.
12 Muhammad Mursi, statements, www.ikhwanonline.com, November 25, 2007.
13 ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh, interview, www.ikhwanweb.com, October 29, 2007.
14 Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif, al-Hayat Daily, October 18, 2007; also ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, al-Misri al-Yawm, November 14, 2007.
15 The consultation and reform political party initiatives were welcomed by theBrotherhood’s leadership at the time. This was different from two subsequent initiatives. The first of these—al-Amal party initiative in 1995—was an individual effort. The second—al-Wasat party initiative in 1996—was associated with the emergence of internal divisions that were unprecedented in the movement throughout the previous three decades.
16 On the experience of earlier generations of Islamist activists in student and professional association elections, see Carrie Wickham, Mobilizing Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).
17 Nathan J. Brown, Michele Dunne, and Amr Hamzawy, Egypt’s Constitutional Amendments, Web Commentary (Washington DC, Carnegie Endowment, March 23, 2007).
18 An interview with Mahmud ‘Izzat, the General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nafizat Misr: www.egyptwindow.net, November 6, 2007.
19 In December 2006 some Muslim Brotherhood students protested in al-Azhar University against what they considered a manipulation of the student council election results and the penalties that some of their colleagues received from the University’s administration. However, the students wore black masks and created a scene that reminded people of the military parades of Hizbollah and Hamas. These demonstrations
were covered extensively by government-backed newspapers and other independent publications around the country. The Egyptian security services used this event as a pretext to accuse the Brotherhood of maintaining a paramilitary wing within the organization. A large number of al-Azhar students were arrested (they were released in thefollowing months), and one of the leaders arrested at the time was Khayrat al-Shatir, the second deputy to the movement’s Supreme Guide. All were tried in military courts.
20 President Husni Mubarak, interview, al-Usbu‘, January 11, 2007.
21 In an interview with al-‘Arabi newspaper on November 30, 2006, ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh—member of the Brotherhood’s consultative council—stated in response to a question about the prospects of dissolving the movement if it received an official license to establish a political party: “There are two opinions in the Brotherhood: the first sees that the movement should completely transform and become a political party, and the second suggests a separation between the social organizational work of the Brotherhood and the political work by registering the movement as a social association and simultaneously establishing a political party.”
In contrast, in an interview with al-Karamah newspaper on January 17, Muhammad Habib—the first deputy of the Supreme Guide—emphasized that “a significant number of the elites accused us that we did not wish to establish a political party, and that we want to remain an illegal organization. We want to send this message: we are ready to establish a political party.” In response to a question about whether the party would
replace the movement, he stated: “this issue is still being deliberated, but surely theparty will not be an alternative to the movement.” ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, who is in charge of the political portfolio and one of the most recognized
public relations figures in the movement, articulated a reconciliatory position by suggesting that “the Brotherhood is in favor of separating political and social activism if an environment that is conducive to liberty and that would allow such separation materializes.” See ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, www.almesryoon.com and www.islamonline.net, December 25, 2005.
22 The authors of this paper, along with our Carnegie Endowment colleague, Marina Ottaway, have written of these ambiguities earlier. In this sense, we acknowledge having been among those pressing the Brotherhood to clarify its positions. See Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina S. Ottaway, “Islamist Movements and thePolitical Process: Exploring the Grey Zones,” Carnegie Paper no. 67 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, March 2006); and Amr Hamzawy, Marina S. Ottaway,
and Nathan J. Brown, “What Islamists Need to Be Clear About: The Case of theBrotherhood,” Policy Outlook no. 35 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, February 2007). The second paper was specifically written as part of a dialogue with Muslim Brotherhood leaders as they prepared to launch the platform drafting effort.
23 ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, interview, al-Sa‘ah (Egypt), October 28, 2007; see also Mahmud ‘Izzat, Secretary General of the Brotherhood, interview, Nafizat Misr: www.egyptwindow.net, November 6, 2007.
24 ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh, interview, al-Sahwah, December 1, 2006.
25 ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, Moroccan Elections – Events, Implications, and Options (in Arabic), available on the Arabic portal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s website: www.ikhwanonline.com, October 30, 2007. Worth mentioning also is that the positive reading of the Muslim Brotherhood of the political experiences of Islamist groups outside Egypt is also matched by a careful examination common within the ranks of the movement. This careful reading sees in the official political participation of these groups in other Arab countries a forfeit of some fundamental values and principles.
For more on this, see Muhammad Mursi, The Muslim Brotherhood and Contemporary Islamist Parties (in Arabic), www.egyptwindow.net, August 6, 2007.
26 Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif, interview, al-Misri al-Yawm, November 24, 2007.
27 Muhammad Habib, interview, English portal of the Brotherhood’s website: www. ikhwanweb.com, November 11, 2007; Mahmud ‘Izzat, interview, Nafizat Misr: www.egyptwindow.net, November 6, 2007; ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh, www.islamonline.net, November 7, 2007.
28 Mahmud ‘Izzat, interview, Nafizat Dimyat: www.domiatwindow.com, November 2007 (No specified date).
29 Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akif, interview, al-Misri al-Yawm, November 24, 2007.
30 Muhammad Habib, al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 8, 2007.
31 Muhammad Habib, www.islamonline.net, November 7, 2007.
32 Mahmud ‘Izzat, interview, Nafizat Dimyat: www.domiatwindow.net, November 2007.
33 Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh, www.islamonline.net, November 7, 2007; ‘Isam al-‘Iryan, interview, www.islamonline.net, October 27, 2007.
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The Draft Party Platform of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Foray Into Political Integration or Retreat Into Old Positions? (N. J. Brown, A. amzawy)
Incumbent Regimes and the “King’s Dilemma” in the Arab World: Promise and Threat of Managed Reform (M. Ottaway and M. Dunne) Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540: A Division of Labor Strategy
(M. Heupel) Demilitarizing Algeria (H. Roberts) Fighting on Two Fronts: Secular Parties in the Arab World (M. Ottaway and A. Hamzawy)
Sufism in Central Asia: A Force for Moderation or a Cause of Politicization? (M. B. Olcott) China’s Economic Prospects 2006–2020 (J. He, S. Li, and S. Polaski) A Face of Islam: Muhammad-Sodiq Muhammad-Yusuf (M. B. Olcott)
Requiem for Palestinian Reform: Clear Lessons from a Troubled Record (N. J. Brown) Evaluating Political Reform in Yemen (S. Phillips) Pushing toward Party Politics? Kuwait’s Islamic Constitutional Movement (N. J. Brown)
Protecting Intellectual Property Rights in Chinese Courts: An Analysis of Recent Patent Judgments (M. Y. Gechlik) Roots of Radical Islam in Central Asia (M. B. Olcott)
Illusive Reform: Jordan’s Stubborn Stability (J. Choucair) Islamist Movements in the Arab World and the 2006 Lebanon War (A. Hamzawy and D. Bishara) Jordan and Its Islamic Movement: The Limits of Inclusion? (N.J. Brown) Intellectual Property Rights as a Key Obstacle to Russia’s WTO Accession (S. Katz and M. Ocheltree) Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations in the Post-9/11 Era (F. Grare) Morocco: From Top-Down Reform to Democratic Transition? (M. Ottaway and M. Riley) Islam, Militarism, and the 2007–2008 Elections in Pakistan (F. Grare) Reform in Syria: Steering between the Chinese Model and Regime Change (E. Lust-Okar) The Saudi Labyrinth: Evaluating the Current Political Opening (A. Hamzawy)
This commentary is reprinted with permission from the Arab Reform Bulletin. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace."