Dr. Essam el-Arian, a prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood
A prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Essam el-Arian, declared that the Brotherhood was ready to separate its Islamic propagation action from its party-type political activity, provided that the political environment in Egypt allowed that. From that point of departure the Brotherhood is considering the creation of a political party of its own, a party that may well be a “conservative” one to promote the spread of values and morality in the Egyptian society.
An expert on Islamic movements described the Brotherhood’s readiness to open that chapter as a “practical step”, but he stressed his conviction that the regime in Egypt didn’t have an open political mind that would allow it to accept such a party as a solution to the crisis of the Brotherhood’s “legality”, since it feared a serious political competition from the Brotherhood.
In a statement to Islamonline, on Monday, 26 December 2005, Dr. el-Arian pointed out that following the Brotherhood’s success in obtaining an unprecedented number of parliamentary seats in the latest legislative elections, “we are considering a number of options so as to separate in a practical way our Islamic promotion action from its political counterpart, particularly through the establishment of a civil political party for the Brotherhood that has an Islamic frame of reference or another party with a moral frame of reference that would bring together conservatives, i.e. people of conservative thought of different tendencies and would call for the spread of values and morality in the Egyptian society.”
El-Arian vehemently denied that the Egyptian constitution banned the establishment of religion-based parties. He said, “This is a lie propagated by some people for intellectual reasons; the fact is that there is no provision in the constitution that prohibits the establishment of religious parties. Whether we adopt either of the two above-mentioned options, our Coptic brothers will have the right to join our party”.
Timing of Separation
The leading Brotherhood figure explained that the Brotherhood is currently studying two models for the separation of Islamic promotion and party-type actions: those of Jordan (the Islamic Action Front) and Yemen (the Reform Movement). Muslim Brothers in those two countries have succeeded in running separately the Islamic promotion activity while strongly practicing the political action.”
He stressed that he “excludes any contradiction between the Islamic propagation action and involvement in politics; should that happen the Brotherhood would place the public interest on top of its own interest because it will naturally choose the line of serving the biggest section of the society.”
As to the expected time of starting that separation process, he emphasized that “once there is a political opening on the part of the governing regime, the Brotherhood will start the practical separation steps.”
He added, “this will depend on lifting the prohibition of founding political parties and the abrogation of the Political Party Act. The ball is now in the court of the governing regime; for our part, we are studying all available alternatives.”
El-Arian had underlined, in an article published on Islamonline-net on 25.12.2005 that the Muslim Brotherhood “is for separating the Islamic propagation action from political action once there is a freedom-imbued climate that would allow it.”
With regard to the motives behind the separation process between the two activities, Dr. el-Arian said, “We want to reassure all parties concerned and let them share the responsibility with us, particularly the people who has been absent from effective political participation.”
He went on to say, “we call on all components of the society, including the intelligentsia and business people at home and abroad to enter into open and continued dialogues about all issues relating to re-charting a better future fro Egypt.” He stressed that “the responsibility of the Brotherhood toward the society has increased following the achievement it has made in the latest legislative elections”, by obtaining 88 seats.
“A Practical Step”
On the other hand, Dr. Amr el-Shobky, an expert on Islamic movements, described the Brotherhood’s intention to establish a political party or at least a conservative party calling for the propagation of values and morality as “a practical step that is essential for the Brotherhood to make”.
In a statement to “Islamonline-net” on Monday, he ssaid, “the current situation of the Brotherhood involves a great deal of contradiction; while it is banned from the legal point of view, its political weight has become pronounced with the 88 parliamentary seats it has won.”
He added, “in my point of view, the Brotherhood didn’t enjoy in the past the political weight it now has. Since it was founded in 1928 and throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Islamic propagation aspect had overweighed its political counterpart. Since the 1980s, however, the political activity of the Brotherhood has been on the rise.”
According to Dr. el-Shobki, the Brotherhood’s intention to set up a “conservative” civil political party, away from its Islamic propagation activity “is also aimed at reassuring Copts”.
He said, “theoretically speaking, it is difficult for Copts to adhere to a political party where Islamic propagation and political activities are interconnected and where religious practice is the most salient criterion for going up the party ladder.”
An Experience that Needs to Mature
At the same time, the expert, Mr. El-Shobki, who works at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, thinks that, in the light of similar experiences in other Muslim countries, the Brotherhood will not be able to separate fully between the Islamic propagation and political aspects of its activity.
He said, “at first, full separation will not be achieved; the party will continue to come under the Brotherhood’s moral and intellectual influence. Over the time, as the experience matures, the Islamic propagation influence on the party will disappear completely and the propagation part will be turned over to a religious association detached from the party.”
He underlined that he “bets on practice within a democratic system through which all parties will learn new values and traditions based on respect for others without an attempt to exclude them.”
Absence of Political Open-Mindedness
Dr. el-Shobki emphasized, however, his conviction that the “Egyptian regime doesn’t have an open political mind that allows it to accept the establishment of such a party as a solution to the Brotherhood’s legality problem.” He added that the “governing regime will not allow the Brotherhood to set up a civil party due to its inability to enter into a serious political competition with an opposition group having the Brotherhood’s weight.”
He went on to say that “a regime that couldn’t tolerate Ayman Nour, the leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) party, who was sentenced to a 5-year prison term in a lawsuit involving the forgery of power-of-attorney documents for the founding of his party, and refuses the attempts to set up al-Wasat and al-Karamah parties, will never allow the Brotherhood to set up a civil political party.”
He concluded by stressing the fact that the legality question imposes a number of duties on both the governing regime and the Brotherhood. “The governing regime is not prepared to fulfill its duties, including the need to renew its thoughts, reform the ruling National Democratic Party, abandon hooliganism and the use of violent repression by security services.”
He believed that “the Brotherhood is now ready to carry out its part of the legality duties, including the adoption of a political language based on respect for citizenship, an effort to set up a civil political party, and respect for the Constitution and laws.”
A Chance for the Brotherhood
In the same context, Islamic writer and thinker Fahmy Howaidy called for a chance to be given to the Muslim Brothehood till they achieve political maturity. At a symposium entitled “the future of change in Egypt”, held at the Heliopolis Club in the Egyptian capital on Sunday, 25.12.2005, he stressed that “the questions to be asked should not to be of the type: what will the 88 Brotherhood parliamentarians do about the aviarian influenza?”
Al-Masri el-Yom newspaper quoted Howaidy as saying, “comparing the Brotherhood experience with that of the Justice and Development party in Turkey needs to take into account the fact that the latter party was set up in 2001 and was the product of a series of democratic practices that started in 1973, moving from the Salama (Safety) party, to the Refah (Welfare) and the Fadhila (Virtue) parties, ending up in the Justice and Development party (JDP). This means that democratic practice helps to bring political thoughts and action to maturity, which is why the JDP has reached the seat of power after 23 years of practice.”