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Egypt, the Election, and Sectarian Analysis

Uncovered, presumably Coptic women stand in line to vote
Uncovered, presumably Coptic women stand in line to vote

From my latest article at Egypt Source, exploring the controversial presidential election turnout:

One day before the beginning of presidential elections, the Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion (ECMSPO) published the results of a counterintuitive poll. Based on personal interviews with 10,524 citizens throughout Egypt’s governorates, they predicted a turnout of only 10 percent.

More shocking, and controversial, was their estimate that 48 percent of presumed winner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s votes would come from Christians.

On the first day of voting the webpage of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, seized on this survey. Publishing pictures of old men, smiling ladies, and assortments of priests and nuns, they featured the sectarian-laden headline: “Elderly, Women, Christians … the Trinity of Election Theater Today.”

But as reports streamed in of otherwise empty polling stations, this headline gained credibility. As the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) decided to make the second day a public holiday, and then extend voting to a third, it cemented the impression even more.

The article takes a closer look at the polling organization, which doesn’t seem quite right. But the official totals of 47 percent turnout don’t quite seem right either. A closer look is given to the size of the Coptic electorate, but also, like Saturday’s post on Pope Tawadros, wonders about their behavior too. From the conclusion:

But cynical also is Muslim Brotherhood use of this demographic reality. To call the elderly, women, and Christians part of a ‘Trinity’ is to use theological language instinctively repulsive to Muslim sensibilities. That they call elections a ‘theater’ is reasonable given their organizational viewpoint; that they play games with religious minorities, gender, and age – as if these did not have the rights of citizenship to choose freely – is not.

Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only group making sectarian usage of the Copts. Lamis al-Hadidi, a pro-government media personality on the private CBC channel, urged them to vote reminding of their sixty churches burnt by terrorists. She, like the FJP, has crossed a line.

Perhaps individuals within the church are privately backing Sisi behind the scenes, and directing Copts to vote for him through internal discourse. If so, they too are crossing a line. But the church has had good sense to avoid this distinction publicly, officially instructing priests not to directly support a candidate.

Whether turnout is high or low, it may well prove that together, this Trinity elected Sisi. The Brotherhood may be right to fume, but they are wrong to do so with such sectarian language. Unfortunately, it is only one more example of the morass into which Egyptian politics has descended, and the mud slung by many.

But mud is slung in advanced democracies as well, and generally speaking it does not hinder straightforward readings of electoral results. The election of Sisi was supposed to be simple, though Egypt’s democracy is far from mature. Contested turnout figures are just one more bump in a very long road.

Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.

Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Amr Darrag on the Brotherhood’s Mistakes, Sort of

Amr Darrag
Amr Darrag

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

During the lead-up to the June 30 protests demanding early elections through the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins, several Brotherhood members spoke in vague terms of their ‘mistakes.’ It was a conciliatory gesture of sorts, admitting Morsi’s less than stellar performance but arguing this was not enough to undo his democratic legitimacy.

It is a fair enough logic, but it was never accompanied by any details concerning these mistakes. The closest to an admission came from Salah Sultan, who apologized for the Brotherhood’s negotiating with Omar Suleiman, opening channels with the military, not being honest enough about the efforts of corrupt regime figures to sabotage the revolution, and failing to absorb youth and women in their project. His statement was posted on the webpage of the Freedom and Justice Party, but later removed and described as only a ‘personal’ viewpoint.

This has been one of my frustrations in listening to the Brotherhood post-Morsi. They speak of mistakes, but are rarely specific. I understand the political logic, but wish for greater transparency. So I was thankful for an opportunity to press the issue directly:

But Darrag, instead, is put off by the question. “I don’t actually agree on the prescription that there are mistakes that the Brotherhood has to acknowledge and apologize for,” he said. “Of course there are mistakes, I am not saying that we don’t make mistakes. But this has to come through a process that all political forces, if they want to learn from past experiences, acknowledge their mistakes.”

Rather, he anticipates this process eventually coming from those who sided with the removal of Morsi:

“It doesn’t make sense to ask one side to keep apologizing and apologizing and apologizing. I mean, this is not helping.”

Perhaps it is not helping the Brotherhood, but if they tried apologizing even once, it might help the original revolutionary cause. But consistent with his position, Darrag anticipates the reflection coming from the other side. “People think and reconsider,” he said. “I am sure that one day the majority will join us in the same way that happened on January 25th.

“But when, I don’t know.”

Please click here to read the full article on Egypt Source.


More Brotherhood Doublespeak

From the Atlantic Council, following the Muslim Brotherhood’s English and Arabic discourse on Dalga, an Upper Egyptian village seized by Islamists and recently recovered by the security forces:

The Muslim Brotherhood has been quick to roll the Dalga raid into an on-going crackdown on the organization and its supporters, but has once again offered different reactions in English and in Arabic. Arabic Brotherhood media outlets make no mention of the sectarian violence that Christians in Dalga faced. In fact, they have gone so far as to accuse Copts in Dalga of lying to gain the sympathy of the world.

On the Freedom and Justice Party’s official website, they write: “A number of Christian families started to spread false news about being detained by locals of the village as hostages and claimed that some of the village residents burned their churches. The Coptic Diaspora exploited the news to prepare the international community, particularly, American politicians for a new massacre in Dalga.

The article shows a screenshot of the FJP website, and then continues:

In contrast in English, the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office sent a statement to journalists condemning the attacks on Dalga’s Copts, expressing “solidarity” with their “Christian brothers and sisters.”

The Brotherhood’s official website, Ikhwanweb, similarly condemned the attacks on Christians, expressing solidarity with Dalga’s Copts, and called on authorities to “protect all citizens and places of worship.”At the same time, however, the statement placed the blame of the sectarian attacks on the military and ‘thugs’. The official statement read:

“The Muslim Brotherhood strongly condemn attacks on places of worship, including attacks on Egyptian Copts and churches as well as indiscriminate attacks on the innocent civilians in Dalga by the military junta, which it claims to protect Christians from “Islamist Militants.” This is part of the military junta’s propaganda to push for sectarian strife and justify their atrocities against the innocent people of Dalga for their fierce opposition of the military coup.”

Of course, it is possible the Brotherhood’s opponents are also using doublespeak. On the one hand they are terrorists; on the other, they are invited to be part of the nation’s democratic transition.

But in claiming a religious higher ground, the Muslim Brotherhood only reveals a deeper hypocrisy. In a war of propaganda it is good to be reminded regularly of such discrepancies. Here, a pundit offers her advice to all.


Muslim Brotherhood Newspaper Soldiers on Despite Crackdown

This is a very interesting article from Reuters:

Whenever Muslim Brotherhood journalist Islam Tawfiq files a story about the group’s struggle for survival for its newspaper Freedom and Justice, he fears his Internet address will tip off state security agents to his whereabouts.

Thousands of Brotherhood members have been arrested in a widening crackdown on the group since the army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.

Reporters for the newspaper, which still appears in a tiny fraction of its previous circulation, see themselves as the last people left to tell the Brotherhood’s side of the story in a country dominated by media that back the military crackdown.

The price, the journalists say, is an underground existence, moving from place to place, communicating from Internet cafes, rarely seeing family or friends.

“The greatest form of jihad is speaking up against an unjust authority,” Tawfiq, 27, said by telephone from an undisclosed location, citing the words of the Prophet Mohammad.

It also has two very interesting tidbits of information I did not know previously about the paper. The first concerns where it got its money:

He and about 50 others produce Freedom and Justice. It used to be a 16-page daily but is now half that length because, since the arrest of Saad al-Katatni, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and the newspaper’s financier, it has no money.

And the second concerns who printed it, and does still:

A mystery is why the government, which has closed down Islamist television channels, still allows the paper to be printed on the presses of the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

Some suggest it may help keep tabs on the movement, in the knowledge that the paper is struggling to stay afloat and reaching only a small audience. It also could provide a defense against accusations that the government is suppressing dissent.

The article also mentions that none of the paper’s employees are arrested, though it tells a horrific story of a photographer who was killed at a protest.

Now that we are back in Egypt after a long visit away, I am curious to find out the condition of mid-level Brotherhood members. I called one on the phone from the US and he spoke freely. Others, even prominent members, appear to speak freely in the press. Reports say that 100s have been arrested; do the rest live in immanent fear?

But courage to the FJP journalists who are still trying to tell their side of the story. I only hope they tell it objectively, rather than continuing in the pattern of partisan press they and others engaged in prior to the deposing of Morsi.

Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

The People Chose Us: Inside the Mind of the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahmed Kamal
Ahmed Kamal

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

It is a simple matter, really. No matter how many people poured into the streets on June 30 to demand early presidential elections, Mohamed Morsi had a mandate to govern for four years. “We cannot accept the loss of legitimacy because this is not our demand to compromise,” said Ahmed Kamal, youth secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Helwan. “It is the will of Egyptians who chose Morsi in the democratic process.”

Fair enough. But in the mind of his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, he had a mandate for far more. “The people chose us,” he continued. “The Islamic ideology is to apply to the whole of life, and this is the view of our party.” Kamal’s words are punctuated by one of the key issues Morsi’s supporters grasp at: legitimacy. “When Egyptians chose it – and we do not wish to impose it – we cannot accept the idea of jumping over its legitimacy.”

Many commentators over the past year have criticized the Brotherhood for a majoritarian view of democracy. Kamal’s comments appear to bear this out. Morsi’s narrow win in the presidential elections, perhaps coupled with the sizeable Islamist win in parliamentary elections, was enough to confirm and empower the triumph of Islam. In their view, opposing their political project, therefore, is opposing Islam itself.

The interview continues to include Kamal’s views on Christians, martyrdom, and the Brotherhood conception of peaceful protest. Please click here to read the rest of the article at Egypt Source.


Amr Hamzawy on the MB Shadow Government

From Arabist, translating an article by political commentator and liberal politician Amr Hamzawy:

The bifurcation of Egypt’s government into an official and unofficial administration – as has been noted before – is at the root of a serious crisis that is blighting the chances for democratic transition and the rule of law. One half of this dual administration is made up of the president, his team of advisors and his government as the executive wing on one hand and the Freedom and Justice Party as the legislative wing on the other. Meanwhile, the other half of this administration is composed of the Muslim Brotherhood and the shadowy figures that they have placed in influential political and executive positions that involve direct, decision-making authority. This dual administration now holds sway over the Egyptian state, its institutions and agencies, while giving birth to disastrous mix-ups and derailing plans to reform the state, to implement transparency and freedom of information, and to ensure accountability and equal opportunity.

If this has been noted before, it is often overlooked as part of the current reality of Egyptian politics. But not just in government is it noted that Western governments engage the wrong actor, but within the MB structures as well:

They give support to the idea of fixing the relationship between religion and politics, then they elevate the Muslim Brotherhood over the Freedom and Justice Party — that was founded as the Brotherhood’s political wing — through their ongoing communication with decision-makers in the Brotherhood concerning Shura Council legislation, economic and social issues, matters related to aid, etc. This is despite the fact that all these issues fall within the Freedom and Justice Party’s purview, not to mention that of the official administration consisting of President Mohamed Morsi, his team and his government.

I have had several non-political Egyptian liberals tell me they do not want to see President Morsi fail, but to fulfill his mandate and then be voted out of office. They say as well they do not oppose political Islam as a concept, but wish to see them active through the registered Freedom and Justice Party, rather than through the nebulous Muslim Brotherhood.

Basically, they want politics up front, legal, and transparent. Hamzawy is convinced it is not happening, and in fact, the West is abetting the very opposite.


MB Leader’s Teenage Son Killed in Mob Violence

A horrible account of vigilantism mixed with politics, from Ahram Online:

Security sources told Ahram Online that hundreds of El-Qataweya village residents ransacked the house of Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leader, Rabie Lasheen, in the early hours of Friday, setting his furniture and three cars on fire apart from killing his son. Revenge was their motive.

Lasheen’s son, Youssef, was accused of shooting a 28-year-old man merely for insulting his father in a Facebook post for his affiliation with the FJP. An auto rickshaw (tok tok) driver in his 40s was accidentally gunned down too.

The revengeful mob, including members of both men’s families, dragged Lasheen’s son to the street and used bladed weapons while assaulting him, according to Al-Ahram’s daily correspondent. The assistants then left him for dead in the street.

The Freedom and Justice Party issued a terse statement denying the killing was political. It must have been the most difficult press release they have written in some time.

The region where this murder(s) took place has witnessed several examples of mob violence against alleged criminals in recent months. Other governorates, including Cairo, have not descended into such chaos.

I won’t say it is ominous as much as it is sad. If the reporting above is accurate, it is a vivid illustration of the downward spiral of sin, metastasizing like cancer deeper and deeper into tragedy.

I wished to find a better word than sin. Ambition isn’t enough, and sin seems too harsh. Sin makes it sound like he/they deserved it. But small or large, well or ill-intentioned, is there a better description for what is ailing the nation? It just eats away at everything, and so many share in the blame.

May Egypt be spared.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

An Unnecessary Constitution

The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution
The word in Arabic, al-dostour, means ‘the constitution’

From my recent article on Arab West Report:

The new Egyptian constitution was unnecessary from the start, says Ragy Sulayman of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP). The 1971 constitution, with added amendments, would have served just fine.

Sulayman is the founding lawyer who brought the liberal FEP into existence following the January 25 revolution. A member of the party’s political office, he also heads its legal and constitutional committees. Though the FEP declined participation in writing the constitution in protest of the lack of sufficient women and Coptic representation, they actively opposed the final draft. Rather than delving into the problems of content, Sulayman preferred to describe how the process was flawed from the beginning.

The basic problem is that though nearly all segments of society agreed on the need for a new constitution following the success of the revolution, there was no unified justification for why. This lack of consensus would come to polarize the political scene, made worse by the initial decisions of the suddenly ruling military council.

His main critique of the text of the constitution is interesting, for he does not take aim at its increased religious language but its virtual replication of the old system:

Once formed, however, the Constituent Assembly proved uncreative and unprepared to write a new constitution. First of all, they failed to conduct any social studies to determine the problems of the Egyptian people and take them into account. But second of all, the new draft largely patterned itself off the 1971 constitution, often using the exact same wording. The only significant divergence, which Sulayman admits as substantial, is the transformation from a presidential system of government to a parliamentary.

Even the religious aspects of the constitution do not represent a radical change in parliamentary procedure. Watching the Muslim Brotherhood’s majority Freedom and Justice Party deal with recent legislation concerning Islamic bonds, it is clear they intended the Azhar to play only a consultative role when the Supreme Constitutional Court is brought a case. Sulayman agrees with this interpretation, actually, though the Azhar has insisted on prior review. But parliamentary procedures under the old system also called for sharia-compliant legislation, with a designated committee to seek the opinion of the Azhar on relevant draft laws. Even the controversial Article 219, defining the principles of sharia, does not significantly alter the system.

This convinces Sulayman the increased religious language of the constitution was mainly a campaign tool – coupled with efforts to convince the population of a yes vote for ‘stability’ – to ratify the document by referendum. A rushed process hammered through a flawed constitution to a population misled by propaganda. The Egyptian people were denied a chance to achieve a national charter worthy of their aspirations.

Elsewhere Sulayman takes note of a significant divergence from the old system, in which a mixed presidential-parliamentary system replaces the former presidential.

Overall his critique seems fair, but if the 1971 constitution would have been fine, why does he criticize the new draft patterning off of it? Especially if he approves (seemingly) of the new governing relationship between president and parliament?

I suppose it is due to the hodge-podge nature in which everything was done, but please click here for the full article on Arab West Report and decide for yourself.


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Doublespeak beyond Boston: Revealing the Brotherhood’s Arabic Rhetoric

Essam Erian Facebook

From my new article in Egypt Source:

As the world community condemned the recent bombings in Boston, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm joined the chorus.

“The Freedom and Justice Party categorically rejects as intolerable the bombings committed in the US city of Boston,” reported Ikhwanweb, the official English website of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The FJP offers heartfelt sympathies and solemn condolences to the American people and the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.”

But, as many have complained, in Arabic the thought was different, expressed by a prominent leader on Facebook:

Erian proceeds to establish a timeline of suspicious violence, from Mali to Syria to Somalia to Kurdistan. No further mention is made of Boston, and he is led to questioning.

“Who disturbed democratic transformations, despite the difficult transition from despotism, corruption, poverty, hatred, and intolerance to freedom, justice tolerance, development, human dignity, and social justice?

“Who planted Islamophobia through research, the press, and the media?

“Who funded the violence?”

Erian’s musings on conspiracy are nowhere to be found on the Brotherhood’s English language websites.

But the focus of the article is to highlight a new blog which is translating questionable material on Brotherhood websites, both current and from their archive. It turns up gems like this one:

For example, an FJP article described “a growing case of hatred of the majority of Copts towards Islamists in general,” and “the Coptic spirit of hatred for everything Islamic.” The article concerned anti-Brotherhood chants during the funeral, but failed to condemn the subsequent attacks on the mourners exiting the cathedral.

From the conclusion, describing the blog’s grand goals, but subtle methods:

“Part of our appeal is that we make it very neutral – not in selection, but in translation,” said Carr. “We’re challenging the Muslim Brotherhood, but in an indirect way, we want it to be subtle.”

It is both subtle and a challenge, but Dabh and Carr are committed, expecting either the best – or the worst.

“We’ll continue until the Brotherhood falls or we fall,” said Carr. With a laugh she continued, “Or get shot.”

Please click here to read the full article on Egypt Source, and here to visit the mbinenglish website.


Jon Stewart on Morsi and Bassem Youssef

Fans of Jon Stewart probably have already seen this video, but here is a ten minute segment in which he lambasts Egypt’s president for the arrest warrant given to his friend, and clone, Bassem Youssef.

It is quite funny, and biting, as is the exchange of criticism issued by the US Embassy in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and the Office of the Presidency, which insists it has nothing to do with the suit. Have a look at Salama Moussa’s blog for a good run-down of the situation.

Check out this article also, by HA Heller, describing the international public relations nightmare Egypt has stumbled into. Arresting a comedian… It is comic in its own right, and Egyptians love their humor.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: An FJP Ezba?


Protests this week were stronger, safer, but the symbolic divide was wider. It remains to be seen who has the momentum.

As thousands filled Tahrir Square to protest lack of social justice and an unrepresentative Islamist constitution, they introduced a uniquely Egyptian term to the English speaking world. ‘Egypt is not an ezba,’ they declared, saying the Muslim Brotherhood was treating the nation as its own private estate.

At the same time, the Brotherhood’s party – Freedom and Justice – was holding elections for party president. The winner took two-thirds of the vote over his competitor, but both celebrated the display of democratic credentials.

So which is it, God? Are protestors reactionaries who lost an electoral contest and now sing of sour grapes and malign their opponents? Or have they identified patterns of governance which exclude and deny the basic goals of the revolution?

Do Freedom and Justice Party elections signal a commitment to the rule of the people in open and transparent choice? Or was the competition theatrical disguising a choice made or manipulated by Brotherhood leadership, signaling the same for Egypt?

God, it is good these issues are before the people. Give discernment as Egypt’s political forces state their case. Refine them as they navigate the task of winning the people’s trust and favor. Reject them if their politics stray too far into propaganda.

Build Egypt in these days, God. It is now known a full quarter of the people live in poverty – and half of those in Upper Egypt. A constitution is being written which will guide the nation for years to come. And these challenges must be solved by a nascent – and some fear transitory – democracy with little political consciousness.

It is required the leaders be men of good conscience, at least until the people can catch up with them and create institutions of accountability.

Bless Egypt with these men, God. Surely they exist, and surely among them are charlatans. Bring Egypt to the right ones.

And as for the president who does exist, strengthen and encourage him. Give him wisdom to govern wisely. May all he has placed in authority serve well.


Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Misunderstanding Plagues the US Embassy Protest over anti-Muhammad Film: A First-Hand Account

As clashes continue in the areas surrounding the US Embassy, I have had opportunity to publish my account and analysis from the original incident on EgyptSource. Please click here for the article in full, and excerpts follow below:

The sad spectacle on display at the US Embassy in Cairo on September 11 shows nearly everyone in a poor light. Sadder still is that most parties involved acted from a sense of virtue, but misunderstanding and prejudice corroded the good intentions.

I next proceed to describe some of the background events as well as the misunderstandings on the part of the US Embassy and US media. Next follows perhaps the most crucial observation I gained:

The stranger inference is that the embassy was not surrounded from the beginning. The protest was announced in advance, and yet Egyptian riot police were present throughout the demonstration. Yet it was the army, absent the entire time, which secured the premises.

The US Embassy complex is surrounded by a high wall lining almost entirely the adjacent street. The entrance is located in the center of the wall. Black clad police with helmets and shields lined the wall to the right of the entrance, but yielded the left side to protesters. Essam, an older Salafi protester, told me the police deferred to the ‘Islamists’ to keep the youth under control.

Next follows viewpoints expressed by some of the participants, including these:

Consistently the crowd shouted, ‘With our lives and blood we will redeem you, oh Islam.’ Muhammad, another son of the Blind Sheikh, explained, “For any offense against Islam, the Muslim has the right to defend himself against the one who says it, and this slogan displays his love of his religion.

“Everything has its time and place. It makes no sense to issue simple good preaching during jihad. If someone is attacking you, you resist and fight back, you do not just say a good word.”

Another participant in the protests, Mustafa, who had returned to Egypt after living fifteen years in Brooklyn, commented further. “Those Copts making this film should be killed.”

The sad fact is that so few involved in this episode, whether gathered at surrounding the embassy or abroad, exhibit a will to understand and appreciate the other. For his part, Muhammad Abdel Rahman acknowledged the legitimacy of debate. “A Copt in Egypt may stand publically and state he does not believe in Muhammad. But there is a difference between discussion and insult.”

Yet where is the line to be drawn? What Muhammad might allow Mustafa might murder. Both act from the virtue of principle, yet each is open to the condemnation of fellow Muslims. Such difference in interpretation is witnessed in all actors.

The transition to conclusion involves weighing each actor on the basis of their motivation from virtue, only to be spoiled by misunderstanding. Of course, the virtue of each may be completely false, which is also considered. I end looking ahead to tomorrow, a day seeming increasingly ominous:

The test will come on Friday, when Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for more demonstrations against the film. Meanwhile, their political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, described the film as “a failed attempt to stir strife between Muslims and Copts.”

These rallies will only cement the ill image many Arabs and Westerners have of one another. The former see the latter as irreligious libertines, while Muslims get labeled as oversensitive fanatics. It is a sad exchange, overcome only through awareness, acceptance, understanding, and respect. Will wiser heads prevail? Humankind is capable of great virtue, but it is easily marred.

Perhaps nothing of significance will take place, but the fear is that there is significant political capital to play with. Demonizing America has long been a feature of Egyptian domestic policy, even while official relations are maintained, even strengthened. President Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood again face the choice to imitate Mubarak, or change the political culture of Egypt.

But if they change, in what direction? Better, or worse?

Please click here for the full text.

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Confrontrations Brewing between Brotherhood and Military

Saad al-Katatny, speaker of parliament

Early results of the presidential elections show Morsy the likely victor, with a small 51% to 48% margin. Official results will not be issued until Thursday, though Morsy has declared victory. Shafik is mostly silent, though he protests Morsy’s declaration.

As news of Morsy’s victory was emerging, the military council issued a supplementary constitutional declaration. It gives them the rights of the legislature following the dissolution of parliament, as well as near veto power over the coming constitution. It isolates the military from the command of the president, and establishes martial law powers for the military police.

The presidential elections settle very little.

Tomorrow is a very key day in the continuing struggle. First of all, the Muslim Brotherhood is challenging the right of the military leadership to execute the decision of the court to dissolve parliament. It claims, following past precedent but iffy legal standing, that the people must ratify this decision through a referendum.

If it was just legal challenges all would be back page news. Tomorrow, however, represents a normal working day for parliament. The Brotherhood – it is unclear though unlikely other parties would follow – is threatening to march its elected representatives to the building, so as to enter. Meanwhile, police have barricaded the entrance, fitting with the official dissolution.

What sort of protest will this become?

Even more far reaching could be a legal decision expected to be issued on the same day. A court will rule if the Muslim Brotherhood itself must be dissolved.

The Brotherhood had long been dubbed a ‘banned’ organization under Mubarak, but was allowed freedom of operation since the revolution. Yet it never registered. It is a non-state entity operating independently of all government oversight and regulation.

This was the same situation of the US and other NGOs shut down several months ago. They were allowed to operate in a quasi-legal arrangement in which registration was never granted. However much their closure represented a crackdown on pro-democracy activity, it was in accordance – somewhat – with the law.

Such is the situation of the Brotherhood now, only that unlike the Western NGOs, the MB never sought registration to begin with. It is hard to know if this is just a threat raised against the group or a card to pressure them with. But if there is a true and absolute struggle between the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood, this court decision could be a critical blow.

It is not certain what a ruling against the Brotherhood would do to a Morsy presidency, but it appears the political arm of the group would be allowed to stay. The Freedom and Justice Party did register successfully following the revolution, as did every other political party. Of course, few consider the FJP to be independent of the Brotherhood, so the separation between the two is sure to be murky.

Egypt never ceases to be interesting.

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The Goal of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood is a difficult subject to tackle. Some of this is the fault of others – there appears to be significant bias against them in many quarters. Some of this is their own fault – they are a closed organization accountable to no government oversight.

Some of it is due to the nature of their task. Their goal – to be examined below – is currently being pursued in the arena of politics. It is the nature of politics to appeal to as many as possible, presenting one’s ideas in as amenable a form as possible. The general public is left wondering what is real and what is spin, though usually most politicians can be pegged somewhere along a definitive spectrum.

This is true of the Brotherhood as well, which has fully embraced the vagaries, if not the hypocrisy, of the political game. After the revolution they appeared as centrists, seeking to unite all political powers in cooperation with the military’s transition plan. Though unity broke down, their strategy was successful as they won the lion’s share of seats in the parliament.

As the first round of presidential elections approached, they turned to their base. They gathered conservative Salafi scholars around them and spoke of sharia law, while their handlers rallied the crowds with chants against Israel and the establishment of the caliphate. Again, they were successful, as a splintered electoral field yielded just enough votes to advance to the run-off elections.

Now, with the final round of elections only days away, the Brotherhood positions itself as a revolutionary force. Running against the ‘old regime’ candidate of Ahmed Shafik, they are mostly assuming the support of conservative, non-political Muslims while trying to assuage the substantial non-regime, non-MB electorate they will be inclusive in government and faithful to the nation. Time will soon tell if they will be successful again.

Yet despite these changing postures and the confusion it engenders, almost everyone understands the Muslim Brotherhood to be a conservative, religious entity seeking greater integration of Islam into the fabric of society and government.

The difficulty is in establishing what this means. Detractors make them out to be fascists, while promoters paint them as democrats. Brotherhood rhetoric – tailored to the audience – can lend credence to either extreme.

Therefore, the best solution is to examine what the Brotherhood says to itself. Earlier I partially translated and analyzed a book distributed by the Brotherhood which assembles excerpts from the speeches of Hassan al-Banna, the group’s founder. More recently I came across the transcript of an address given by Khairat al-Shater, the MB’s chief financier and one-time presidential candidate. The video and translation are available online.

This speech was delivered in Alexandria on April 21, 2011, significantly before current political machinations yet after revolutionary euphoria had settled. Much of the speech concerns issues of internal organization and the importance of unity and obedience. It describes a group battered by security during the previous decades, which now has finally been able to rebuild itself. Now that the democratic moment has arrived, the group must double its effort to maintain cohesion and discipline, so as to accomplish the goal of Nahda – renaissance.

This is now the Brotherhood’s presidential slogan: Renaissance… the Will of the People.

Before exploring this goal in more detail it is useful to examine why this internal cohesion is so necessary. On the one hand, Shater compares it to party discipline found in every political movement:

‘[Political] parties always talk about partisan commitment, which is synonymous with obedience; meaning that people hear and execute the party’s policy and commit to its instructions, so the analogous term we have for partisan commitment is obedience.’

Yet it is clear that Shater does not see the political arm of the Brotherhood – the Freedom and Justice Party – as an end in itself:

‘The party is a vessel born of the Western idea which has a particular nature within particular limitations; it is designed and conceived, as manifested by everything from its philosophy to its methods, for the political process which is only one part of the greater Nahda project in politics, economy, society, education, morals, values, behavior, children, women, the elderly, the young.’

Stated even more clearly:

‘It is an instrument or a vessel for the deliberation of power in the political space, an instrument for [engaging in] the conflict for the sake of obtaining power.’

Yet obtaining political power is not necessarily the end goal:

‘Our one and only concern is for there to be a government that is faithful to the method of our Lord Almighty, a government keen on establishing the lives of people on the basis of Islamic reference, whether it be us or someone else. We are different from other parties; the issue is not that we ourselves need to govern as some think.’

So while the party is only an instrument, the group – the Brotherhood itself – is the focus. Interestingly, though, it also is only an instrument:

‘The Gama’a [group – the Muslim Brotherhood] is thus an instrument and not a long-term goal. It is an instrument or means to Islamize life in its entirety and institute religion.’

In this line of thought the Brotherhood is conceived as a vanguard, but Shater is clear the responsibility for renaissance is not theirs alone, it is upon all:

‘When we talk about developing the Ummah’s [nation, in collectivity of Muslims] Nahda on the basis of Islamic Reference, we don’t mean that the Muslim Brothers are the Ummah’s representatives in developing the Nahda, but rather that they think, plan, spread awareness, and market the idea. The entire Ummah participates in developing its Nahda because the responsibility falls on the shoulder of the Ummah as a whole.’

Therefore, while the Muslim Brotherhood seeks power in order to implement this renaissance, it does not imply the monopolization of power. Current political events may or may not argue otherwise, but establishment of a dictatorship is not part of the essential Brotherhood program:

‘[We desire the revolution] to guarantee that the current government or any future government commits to the interests of the people, to building a stable political life including peaceful rotation of power, independence of the judiciary, rule of law, security, and attempts to develop the country and people and fix [their] problems.’

Yet while these aims are democratic and for the good of the nation, the group as an instrument is clearly a vanguard, derived not from useful political philosophy but from God’s method in establishing Islam, exclusively along this vision:

‘The Muslim Brotherhood’s method is that of the Prophet’s, and thus we say that the Muslim who is connected to the Gama’a and the method must believe and realize that he is on the right path and that he must not be on a path other than this one. One of the fundamental prerequisites to develop the Brother within the Gama’a is to realize that you are on the right path and that you must not be on a path other than this one.’

This vision is also necessary:

‘We say Islam disappeared from life, thus preachers of the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] undertook the work of restoring Islam in its all-encompassing conception to the lives of people, and they believed that this would only come by way of the strong Gama’a … Whoever studies the jurisprudence of instituting religion as established by our master the prophet will find that the instrument which our he used was the Gama’a.’

The stakes are high, for without this group religion itself cannot exist:

‘Omar Bin Al-Khattab [the second caliph in Islam], which some scholars attribute to the prophet himself, stated, “There is no religion without a Gama’a, no Gama’a without an Imam [leader], and no Imam without obedience.”’

Therefore, as seen above, the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to ‘restore Islam’. Here is how Shater states it clearly, at the opening of his address:

‘You all know that our main and overall mission as Muslim Brothers is to empower God’s religion on Earth, to organize our life and the lives of people on the basis of Islam, to establish the Nahda of the Ummah and its civilization on the basis of Islam, and to subjugate the people to God on Earth.’

The word ‘subjugate’ should not imply compulsion, for Shater says at the end of his speech:

‘Every human is free in his choice because a Gama’a is based on voluntary commitment. We chose this path; no one forced it upon us, and if our Lord Almighty said, “No compulsion is there in religion,” then definitely there is no compulsion in the Muslim Brotherhood’s method.’

But subjugation does have a clear worldwide connotation. It is achieved through the concept of Ustathia, best translated as ‘professorship’.

‘Therefore, the path was clear, thus the Rashidun [rightly-guided] Caliphs continued the stage of the Global State of Islam, and so its domain expanded, and the Persian and Roman (Byzantine) States fell as the new state of Islam emerged on the global level. This state arrived after some time to the point where it became the strongest state in existence, and therefore Ustathia was actualized in reality.’

The crisis for Muslims came centuries later:

‘The last form of the Islamic Caliphate was the Ottoman government, but last century, it first lost the state of Ustathia which had been present but in a weak form. Hence we lost Ustathia and then after this the caliphate itself collapsed.’

The Muslim Brotherhood is a patient organization, and it recognizes that preparatory work must be done in stages. Yet the end goal is clear:

‘As Ikhwan we have spent a long time working on the individual, walking along this line, working on the household, working on society. So we are now developing the Muslim individual and God willing we will continue. We are developing the Muslim household and God willing we will continue. We are developing the Muslim society and God willing we will continue. We are preparing for the stage of Islamic government after this because it is what follows the stage of society.’

While nothing Shater mentions in his speech demands the use of military force, his analogy to the Prophet allows it, seeking application of Ustathia outside the realm of the peoples of Islam:

‘We have reviewed the stages from the Individual to Ustathiya, but where are we now along these stages? I mean are we now at the stage of the Individual, Household, Society, Government, Global Islamic State or Ustathiya? To answer this question we look at our situation and our history. His Eminence the Prophet, before he met his creator, had already made headway for the Muslim Gama’a under his leadership, regarding the household, individual, and society stages, and he established the Islamic state in Medina. He then began to expand this state to cover the Arabian Peninsula, and then began the launch of the Global State of Islam; and the evidence is that Ghzawat [raid] Mo’tah took place in his time, and we all know that Mo’tah is in Jordan and not in the Arabian Peninsula.’

Shater does not speak in detail of what Ustathia would imply if realized. It seems fair, however, to translate the concept as ‘leadership of the world’. A few final comments are necessary in conclusion, therefore.

It must be remembered that while this speech was given to Brotherhood members, these ideas are discussed publically. As seen in the video above, popular preacher Safwat Hegazi interpreted this vision as anticipating a march of millions of martyrs to Jerusalem to establish the United Arab States.

Yet when asked about the idea of caliphate by Western audiences, the Brotherhood refers to ideas like the European Union or the gradual economic integration of Islamic nations. Asked specifically about Hegazi, they emphasize he is not a Brother, does not speak for the group, is not based in reality, and in any case they have enough to worry about in Egypt.

But there is no denial; the dream is simply pushed back a hundred years or more.

It is not a matter of timing since God is on their side. Long or short, they follow the path of the Prophet and will in the end be victorious.

For non-Muslims, then, or non-Brotherhood Muslims, what should the response be? It is hard to gauge.

There is no reason a nation should be prevented from integrating their religion into the fabric of society if this is the will of their people.

Furthermore, there is no reason sovereign states should be prevented from consolidation if this is the will of their people.

Then, when a civilization establishes itself it is fully natural for it to seek a place of primacy in leadership and the promotion of principle consistent with its interests.

In each of these aspects Western nations, indeed Western civilization, can see itself reflected. If it criticizes the Brotherhood, does the pot call the kettle black?

Recognizing this reality, there are three areas worthy of discussion in which to take caution concerning the Brotherhood.

First, though a sensitive topic, Islam itself must be considered – at least in the sense the Brotherhood interprets it. Do the values of Islam in their entirety, since the Brotherhood calls for full implementation, befit the world and the principles of human rights?

Second, this consideration begs the following. Is the Brotherhood a worthy vanguard? By embracing the duplicity of politics do they show themselves as true Muslims or as frauds and manipulators? This is essentially a question for Muslims within their lands of influence.

Third, whether or not Islam is a power for good in this world, the discourse of the Brotherhood reinforces the narrative of a clash of civilizations. They are clearly engaged in a civilizational struggle in which Islam must obtain worldwide leadership. Many in the West are very guilty of the same; the question is if all must desist.

The above is rendered in hopeful education about the Muslim Brotherhood’s purpose. Loud cries from many are issued with little consideration to be fair toward their intentions. Others fail to consider these matters at all, either from ignorance, complicity, or dismissal.

Neither attitude serves the public. I am hopeful this article honors their words and contributes to the better discussion of proper domestic and international response.


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Christianity Today Published Articles

How MB-Evangelical Dialogue Began

On February 28, 2012 the leaders of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt met with the Muslim Brotherhood, and produced a document delineating the shared values of both organizations.

About a month ago I posted the text of this agreement online. Today, my article was published on Christianity Today, drawing out from leaders on both sides the substance of what exactly was agreed upon. Please click here to read it on their site.

Seventeen evangelical signatories are listed; perhaps the one most surprising comes at the very end.

Rev. Rifaat Fikry is the pastor of an evangelical church in Shubra, a densely populated suburb to the north of Cairo well known for its high concentration of Christian residents.

Rev. Fikry is well known for his strident anti-Islamist stance. In fact, it is this very posture which involved him in the dialogue in the first place.

President of the Evangelical Churches Rev. Safwat el-Bayadi and Vice-President Rev. Andrea Zaki first contemplated the quiet invitation of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued through Dr. Rafik Habib. Habib is a controversial figure in evangelical circles. He is the son of Rev. Samuel Habib, founder of the Coptic Organization for Social Services – one of the largest charity and development groups in the country.

He is also a vice-president in the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Coptic community of Egypt is very wary of Islamists, fearing an agenda they believe will result in their marginalization and loss of citizenship rights. Knowing full well the sentiment of their flock, Bayadi and Zaki turned to Fikry as the best exemplar and most informed of those who could express Coptic fears through an evangelical lens.

They asked him to write a letter to the Brotherhood detailing every concern, complaint, and consternation. After review, Bayadi and Zaki placed their names on the document, and sent it to the Brotherhood through Habib.

As the original author, it was only appropriate for Fikry to attend the subsequent meeting. He was especially interested to sit face to face with Brotherhood leaders, to ask them the questions at the heart of his opposition. During the sessions, he did so, with boldness.

In the end, Fikry was very pleased with the document. His main complaint lies in the Brotherhood’s rejection of referencing international treaties on human rights. MB leaders were concerned this could open the door to an acceptance of homosexuality, but Fikry argued nothing of the sort. His concern was for religious rights principally.

Even as the meeting ended, Fikry maintained an anti-Islamist stance. He was skeptical; after many months he finds confirmation that the Brotherhood simply used the evangelical churches for political gain.

But he is not regretful. Fikry is clear that he will sit for dialogue with anyone. The lasting value in the meeting comes not only from the agreed upon document, but also from the beginning of relationship. Though this has not continued in subsequent months, it still exists. If Islamists reach to power – a proposition Fikry finds very unlikely – these relationships could be invaluable. If not, they are valuable all the same.

They enable a man to say his piece, and to hear an answer directly.

As the evangelical churches and Muslim Brotherhood agreed, this is part and parcel of citizenship.

The only question, for Fikry especially, is of implementation. Even so, fear thereof should not preclude the effort.

On the contrary, such fear demands it.

Note: Christianity Today also published a feature text on Egypt and the responses of Christian leaders to the transition period. Please click here for access, and click here for the article on the MB-Evangelical agreement.


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Statement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Leaders of the Evangelical Church in Egypt

At head of table: Rev. Bayadi (L) and Dr. Badie (R)

This text is transcribed from documents received from the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, headed by Dr. Andrea Zaki, a chief participant in this meeting.

The text reads:

Based on a welcoming letter from Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi, President of the Protestant Community of Egypt and Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki, Vice-President, sent to the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which addressed some public opinion issues at this critical stage in Egyptian history after the January 25th Revolution and gained the attention of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood, and based on the two parties’ communication, the General Guide called for a meeting to gather the leaders of the evangelical church and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting took place on February 28, 2012, at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The General Guide has agreed to visit the headquarters of the evangelical church upon invitation.

The participants consented on the importance of the current historical moment Egypt is going through after the revolution, which requires everyone to take social and historical responsibility to advance the country. The participants emphasized that Egypt’s future depends on community cohesion and unity, and stressed on the basic values of the Egyptian society that represent its social and cultural identity and brings its citizens together.

The participants agreed on the following:

  • The sons of the country are all partners in one destiny and one future.
  • The joint struggle of all Egyptians of all segments of society, that was manifest in the January Revolution, represents the cornerstone of societal unity; the struggle reflects that full citizenship, based on equality, is the foundation of this society.
  • All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.
  • The Egyptian society is based on solidarity, interdependence and compassion among all people, which represents the bond that includes all citizens without discrimination. Therefore, education should promote the values of tolerance, solidarity and pluralism.
  • Respect for beliefs and sanctities is obligatory. Prevention of any contempt of others’ beliefs and the incitement of hatred is a compulsory social responsibility of loyal citizens.
  • Freedom of belief and religious practices as well as freedom to build or renovate religious houses – in light of the law and the right for citizens to resort to their own religious laws concerning their personal affairs along with other rights mentioned in the Islamic Sharia’ – are all considered part of the values of the Egyptian society and a base for its cultural authenticity.
  • The participation of all citizens in defending the country is the responsibility of all, and it is the crucible where all segments of society are melted and form national unity. This national unity is crucial to fighting all internal and external enemies of Egypt who want to drive a wedge between its societal segments.
  • The religious values are the motives of the renaissance. Therefore, everyone must mobilize these values to achieve a better future for Egypt.
  • Societal responsibility obliges all leaders, institutions and religious movements to fight against all types of strife, intolerance and discrimination, and consolidate the unity of society.
  • The Egyptian society’s identity represents the frame for all its people. All people have made contributions to this identity and deserve its legacy. Protection of societal values is considered the basis of cultural uniqueness and the responsibility of all citizens who contributed to building Egypt’s civilization together over time.

All participants of this meeting made emphasis on the importance of communication between the two parties to promote joint activities, especially among the youth, such as encouraging active participation, advocating for values and religious morals, and carrying the social responsibility of fighting the illness that affected the Egyptian society under the previous regime. This will guarantee everyone the right to participate in building a new Egypt that achieves the demands and dreams of the revolution.

Attendees from the Muslim Brotherhood:

  • Dr. Mohamed Badie (General Guide, Head of the Executive Office)
  • Mr. Mohamed Mahdy Akef (former General Guide)
  • Dr. Rashad Mohamed Bayoumy (Vice-General Guide)
  • Dr. Hosam Abo Bakr al-Seddik (Member of the Guidance Office)
  • Mr. Walid Shalaby (Media Counselor to the General Guide)

Attendees from The Evangelical Church in Egypt:

  • Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi (President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki (Vice-President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. George Shaker (Secretariat of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. Soliman Sadek (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Fagala)
  • Dr. Rev. Makram Naguib (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Heliopolis)
  • Dr. Rev. Atef Mehanny (President of the Evangelical Seminary)
  • Dr. Helmy Samuel (Member of the Parliament)
  • Dr. Rafik Habib (Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services)
  • Rev. Refaat Fathy (Secretariat of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Rev. Sarwat Kades (Chairman of the Board of Dialogue of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Emad Ramzy (Secretariat of the Board of Directors of CEOSS)
  • Rev. Daoud Ebrahim (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Eid Salah (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Mr. Farouk al-Zabet (Head of the Congregation of the Evangelical Brethren Church)
  • Dr. Fready al-Bayadi (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Nady Labib (Head of Cairo Presbyterian Council)
  • Rev. Refaat Fekry (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Ard Sherif)

Please click here to access the agreement in Arabic


Is a Man as Good as his Political Islamic Word?

Mahmoud Ghozlan

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Muqattam area of Cairo. I interviewed their official spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan about a recent document of principles agreed upon by the Brotherhood and the leadership of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt.

It is a very interesting document, and I hope to share a full article about it shortly. For now, I simply wanted to share some pictures of the building as well as brief reflections from the visit.

The MB HQ, labeled in both Arabic and English
From afar; translation: Headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood
The entryway; translation: The Muslim Brotherhood Welcomes its Guests; We Bring Good to All People (slogan of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party)

This final picture is from the reception area, displaying the nine ‘General Guides’ in Muslim Brotherhood history. Though each of these figures deserves further research, here simply I present their names, from left to right in the picture:

Hassan al-Banna (1928-1949)

Hassan al-Hudaybi (1949-1972)

Omar al-Tilmisani (1972-1986)

Muhammad Hamed Abu al-Nasr (1986-1996)

Mustafa al-Mashour (1996-2002)

Muhammad al-Ma’moun al-Hudaybi (2002-2004)

Muhammad Hilal (uncertain)

Muhammad Mehdi Akef (2004-2010)

Muhammad Badie (2010-present)

Our discussion centered on the document of principles establishing citizenship and religious freedom as common values. Still, I also gained some insight into the current political crisis between the Brotherhood, the military council, and liberal parties. Most interesting was the change in demeanor as we navigated certain topics.

It is not useful to read too much into the following, but when Ghozlan justified the Brotherhood for going back on an earlier pledge not to field a presidential candidate, his manner was humble and seeking an audience. He expressed that the media was engaged in deliberate mischaracterization of the group and its intentions, and appeared hopeful his story would be carried faithfully.

In another setting, I hope to, but while I find his explanations reasonable, I stated that for this article in particular I was not seeking political justification, but religious. If Egyptian Christians wish to have hope in the words of this document, how should they respond now that the Brotherhood has gone back on its word not to field a presidential candidate?

I was keen to not be accusatory, but to seek their mindset.

Strangely, his attitude changed. He immediately straightened and delivered justification from the life of Muhammad. It was no longer an invitation to see their political condition sympathetically, but a pronouncement of their non-culpability in terms of religion. I felt, hopefully wrongly, that he instinctively needed to assert/defend the moral high ground of Islam, or at least of their political Islam.

I had the distinct impression the group feels vulnerable and defensive. Indeed, it appears all are against them these days. Could it also be their conscience is pricked, underneath a Machiavellian exterior?

In the media, at least, it seems this is true of many in the organization, despite the official choice of the majority to go against their pledge.

It may be politically expedient and even necessary for the good of all Egypt. But as Muslims, is it right?

Ghozlan gave justification, even if the Christian or merely moral person might cringe – to be written about shortly. I think the pulse of general Egyptian morality will not permit it, though, no matter what presidential choice they make in the end.

Update: The article is still in process, but here is the full text and list of signatories to the agreement. Please click here.

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Previous Articles on Egypt’s Constituent Assembly Members

Egypt is currently undergoing a major political stir concerning the formation of the constitution. The referendum in March 2011 assigned parliament the right to elect a 100 member constituent assembly to draft the constitution, which would be put to a popular referendum after fifteen days. Very little instructions were provided on how this should be done, resulting in the current crisis.

Consistent with their powerful parliament majority, Islamist forces have approved an Islamist-dominated assembly. First they apportioned one-half of the membership to be drawn from parliament, which was distributed roughly according to party percentage. As Islamists represent 70% of this body, they immediately commanded a dominating percentage of the assembly as well.

The remaining half of the assembly was to be drawn from civil society, but the Islamist parliamentary majority submitted the final candidate list only one hour prior to voting, and then pushed through their desired candidates. This list includes several prominent non-Islamist figures, but most of these have since resigned in protest over Islamist dominance of the assembly.

The crisis is ongoing, with reformist Islamists seeking to reach out to the disgruntled liberals, while the Muslim Brotherhood engages in an ongoing war of words with the government and military council over the cabinet – which they want dismissed so as to form one themselves (in coalition, they insist, with all political currents) – as well as the presidency. The next few days in Egypt may be very politically telling.

In the meanwhile, this article purposes also to provide brief background on some of them selected members of the constituent assembly I have interacted with or written about in the past.

Only six Coptic members were elected to the body, but one of them is Rafik Habib. He is noteworthy as being a vice-president in the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. A Protestant, he cares deeply for the issues of Copts, but wraps their best future in an Islamic vision.

Rafik Habib: On Sharia, State, and Christianity – April 14, 2011

A more traditional Islamist is Nadia Mostafa, who is one of only six women in the 100 member assembly. She is a professor at Cairo University and discussed with me the relationship between Islam and civil society, especially how the promotion of civil society is often to the exclusion of the Muslim religion.

Islam and Civil Society – April 22, 2010

The final figure I have profiled was former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Nasr Farid Wassel. In a short interview I highlighted his statement honoring Osama bin Laden, but then spoke with an official member of the Azhar to dispute his interpretation.

Refuting bin Laden’s Martyrdom – May 24, 2011

It is certainly a unique body of Egyptians. Will they be able to draft a constitution acceptable to the Egyptian consensus? While already in question, the outcome is still to be decided.


Understanding Egypt’s Elections

Egypt’s first free elections in over thirty years did not err on the side of simplicity. Even so, this did not deter massive national participation and excitement, as 54% of the nation lined up for hours on the street to cast their ballot. Many, however, admitted to having little knowledge about the political process, enabling accusations of fraud and voter manipulation. In this they mirrored many casual Western observers who valued the accomplishment of the elections, but were confused by the mind-boggling complications.

The results were simple: Islamists won a major victory, securing around 70% of the seats. The tale of this victory, and what it means for Egypt, is the subject of this recap.

The Set-Up

Egyptian elections for the People’s Assembly were conducted in three stages over a period of nearly two months. Each of Egypt’s 27 governorates was then subdivided into electoral districts, according to population. Two-thirds of the seats were awarded by proportional representation according to votes cast for their party. The remaining third was chosen by individual ballot for the candidate alone. Of the total representatives chosen, fully one-half were required to be workers or farmers. Together, the People’s Assembly consists of 508 seats, 10 of which were appointed by the military council.

Confused? Naturally. The process did not result from consensus planning or a democratic heritage. Instead it was cut and pasted from a mishmash of Egyptian history through pressure and compromise between political parties and the military council.

The 50-50 division between workers/farmers and professional seats is a holdover from President Nasser. He stipulated a place for the common man in the People’s Assembly in accordance with his Arab nationalist and socialist policies, but in reality the designation was little more than an administrative token. The military council represents a continuation of his legacy, and insisted on keeping the division. Political parties did not raise significant objection.

There was loud protest, however, over the electoral system. The party list format groups candidates together under broad alliances. Citizens then cast one vote for their party of preference, which is awarded seats per district according to the total percentage won. If a district, for example, represents ten seats, every party must field ten candidates. Should the party capture 60% of the vote, its top six candidates would claim seats.

This was the system Egypt utilized for elections in the 1980s, before switching to an individual candidacy format more akin to politics in the United States. The winner was the first to capture 50%+1 of the ballots cast, requiring a run-off for the top two candidates, if necessary. Intentional or not, this allowed for simpler vote-rigging and intimidation of voters, allowing the National Democratic Party to win a sweeping (fraudulent) victory in 2010.

Fearful the remnants of the NDP would claim victory after the revolution through similar methods, political parties argued to return to a party list system. Through subsequent pressure on the military council the percentage of such party list candidates moved from one-third, to one-half, and finally to two-thirds. The military council refused to abandon individual candidacy altogether, leading to fears it would promote old regime fortunes in the election process.

These fears were also buttressed by their refusal to allow international observation of the elections. Instead the military council decreed the nation’s judges would supervise legitimacy, but this created a problem of logistics. In order to guarantee a judge at every ballot box, the elections were divided into three stages. Stage one took place in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, and others, while stages two and three mixed between the governorates of the Delta and Upper Egypt.

In the end, the military council did allow limited international observation. Former US President Jimmy Carter was prominently involved through his Carter Center, with its longstanding work in democracy promotion. While noting irregularities, he ultimately judged the elections ‘acceptable’.

The Parties

The military council further placated popular demand and issued a law to bar former members of the NDP from participating in elections. Though this law was struck down by the court, it proved to be unnecessary. A number of old regime parties acquired legal registration and ran in elections, but altogether secured only 3.5% of the seats.

The true competition centered on five parties/alliances, though initial efforts sought to maintain one national effort to unite all political forces. This hope quickly degenerated into a liberal-Islamist divide, as fears rose some wished to craft Egypt into a religious state.

Soon greater divisions emerged on both sides. The broad Democratic Alliance was led by the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood. It tried to position itself a religious but centrist force, keeping an alliance with the historically liberal Wafd Party. It faltered, however, as conservative Salafi Muslims split to form their own alliance, under the banner of the newly created Nour Party. Eventually, the Wafd also decided it could not align with the Muslim Brotherhood in good faith, and decided to go it alone.

On the liberal side, political parties from both the right and left of the economic spectrum formed the Egyptian Bloc, dedicated to the civil state. Yet the young revolutionaries felt marginalized, and split to form a left-leaning activist alliance named The Revolution Continues. A major factor in the dissolution of all alliances was the placement of candidates on the party list and assignment to favorable individual districts. The interests of party outweighed formation of a common front.

The Results

In the end this hurt the liberal far more than the Islamists, if indeed it was a factor at all. The Democratic Alliance headed by the FJP did slightly better than anticipated, winning 45% of the seats. The surprise of elections was the showing of the Islamist Bloc headed by the Salafi Nour Party. Assumed to be marginal and full of political novices, they captured a solid 25% of the People’s Assembly.

The liberal Egyptian Bloc fared decently in the first stage of elections due to concentrations of upper class and intellectual pockets in the big cities. Their appeal failed to materialize in the rest of the country, however, in the end receiving only 7% of the seats. The Wafd Party captured a slightly higher number, as their name recognition echoed through the rest of the nation winning the allegiance of most non-Islamist-inclined voters. Despite the popular appeal of the revolution, however, the Revolution Continues Alliance faltered miserably, winning only 2% of parliamentary representation.

The Stakes

Though the powers of the People’s Assembly remain undetermined, the military council has bequeathed it full legislative authority. This raises significant questions for the coming period. Will the Islamist forces align to move Egypt in the direction of a religious state? Will liberal forces find common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP to marginalize the Salafis? Will the FJP evolve into a new NDP with the blessing of the military council, to revive the former regime? Or, will they gradually continue the revolution in effort to send the military council back to their barracks?

Not much is clear except the existence of a popularly elected legislative body. This in itself is an achievement of the revolution.

note: This article is a bit dated but has been held until publication in the Maadi Messenger, a monthly magazine for the expatriate community in Cairo.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Dr. Osama Farid on the Brotherhood, Hamas, and Salafis

Translation: The Muslim Brotherhood; Prepare

Who are the Muslim Brotherhood, and what do they represent? Having thousands of members means that many people are able to speak as representatives, whether they are qualified or designated to do so or not. Yet if one relies only on an official spokesman, it is difficult to know if the comments are sanitized for public consumption, especially if directed towards a Western audience. A useful remedy can come through personal interviews, though one must still be wary of a politician’s skill in PR.

Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of Arab West Report, secured such an interview in June 2011 with Osama Farid, the son of Dr. Farid (94), secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood, several decades ago and until today highly revered in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Based on his notes I prepared this report.

Osama Farid echoed the caution needed in applying any and every statement a Muslim Brother makes as the heartbeat of the group, saying care should distinguish between the organization and the community. As an example he spoke of Subhi Saleh, who in the past several months has made outspoken comments on how the Muslim Brotherhood will apply Sharia law if elected, and that Muslim sisters should take care to only marry within the group. Salah had been a high profile Muslim Brother in the aftermath of the revolution, having served on the legal committee to propose constitutional amendments submitted for the March 19 referendum. Osama Farid, however, states categorically that he does not represent Muslim Brotherhood thinking, though he gets frequent attention in the press.

The press has been equally misleading, states Osama Farid, by characterizing the Muslim Brotherhood as beset by internal splits. Yes, he says, there is a difference of opinion on several issues, and there are different attitudes in how to deal with change. This is normal in an organization of its size, but reflects only the biased press the Brotherhood has dealt with for years.

Is, then, Osama Farid a capable source of information for the group? As a the son of a Guidance Bureau member he speaks from authority, and in this interview provides insightful comments on his personal history with the Brotherhood, the current relationship between the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, the relationship with Hamas and attitudes toward Israel, as well as other comments on Salafis and other Islamists in the contemporary arena. Osama Farid is an accomplished businessman; his investments once included a fleet of private airplanes for charter.


Osama Farid described several periods of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the 1970s many members of the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya joined the group. Osama Farid states that al-Gama’a was internally divided, however, over the question of violence. The members opposing violence broke away and enrolled into the more established Muslim Brotherhood, which had committed itself to a nonviolent methodology. The large influx represented a sort of second founding for the historic organization, which began in 1928 founded by Hasan al-Banna.

Osama Farid expresses admiration for the thought of Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologue executed in 1966. Osama Farid described his execution as a tragedy, and celebrated him as a great thinker whose philosophy was on par with Georg Friedrich Hegel. Though many believe Qutb was a primary factor in the radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood, Osama Farid countered that Qutb’s view of hakimiyya (God’s sovereignty) has been mistranslated and misunderstood by the majority of media and critics.

The Brotherhood, Osama Farid says, looks to select members who enjoy a good reputation in society, and who demonstrate leadership in morals, athletics, and intellect. If agreeable, candidates are given a syllabus to progress through. Yet regardless of entry, many Muslim Brothers have wound up imprisoned for their association and/or activities – over 30,000 in the group’s history, according to Osama Farid. His own uncle, Saleh, spent twenty-five years in prison.

Relationship with the Freedom and Justice Party and current politics

As an organization, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to engage Egyptians to build a good culture of citizenship. Historically, though always having a political component, this has meant the provision of social services, engagement in society, helping the jobless (with priority to members but including all). They have also supported the families of imprisoned members, and provided legal services to those run afoul of the government. Only following the revolution, however, has the Muslim Brotherhood been able to channel their social gains into a legal political party.

The Muslim Brotherhood believes the primary purpose of government is to cultivate the good life for the people, so they can be happy. Yes, the government should be concerned with matters of Sharia, but it also needs to promote a culture of tolerance. The Freedom and Justice Party, Osama Farid believes, is working towards this end.

For example, the Muslim Brotherhood, through their party, will seek neither the majority of seats in parliament nor the presidency. Yet he also believes that the ruling military council should fulfill its vow to the people and turn over soon the matter of governance to the people. The military council made agreement to do so in six months, providing elections first for the parliament, then the Shura Council (upper house), then the presidency, and culminate in the drafting of a new constitution. They should not deviate from this, though some decry liberal parties and others have not yet had time to develop their constituencies. Farid, though, believes this to be their own problem, and of more serious concern is the return to civilian rule.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has faced criticism within Egypt on several fronts, and Osama Farid provided perspective on certain issues pertaining. Political parties must be independent, and in the case of the FJP not be based on the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Freedom and Justice Party is believed by many to simply be an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. Osama Farid said the current leadership of the party was proposed by the broad Shura Council of the Brotherhood, and chosen by the Guidance Bureau. Yet he confirmed that this was only for the creation of the party, and that after their initial term expired all positions would be determined by internal party elections.

Yet Osama Farid also provided some statistics that suggest an ongoing strong linkage between the party and the Brotherhood. 40% of the party membership originated in active, working members of the Muslim Brotherhood, all of whom had 10-15 years of experience in the group. Though not a majority, there is the potential for significant overlap between the agendas of the two entities.

In another controversial accusation, some believe there to be a secret pact between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council. Osama Farid finds it normal that there is a direct line of communication between the two since the Brotherhood has a large following, but the military council also has established links with other political forces.

Osama Farid also gave historical perspective to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been averse to making such deals. In 2005 many Muslim Brotherhood members ran as independents for parliament, as the group at that time was banned from official participation. Eight-five of these members won a seat, and Osama Farid believed it could have been much more had the elections not been rigged. Yet he stated that within the context of political corruption, the Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with the authorities to determine which Brotherhood candidate would be victorious in which district. That was politics at the time, and the Muslim Brotherhood played along.

Relationship with Hamas and Israel

Another fear expressed about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt concerns their relationships with Hamas and their Israel policy in general. Osama Farid stated that Hamas are our brothers, but that while there is coordination between the two groups, the level of coordination is low. Personally, Osama Farid hopes this coordination will increase, but he recognizes the sensitivity of the issue keeping the groups largely separate.

Osama Farid also stated that each group secures its own financing. While there is no money that moves from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Hamas (though there has been sharing of medical supplies during Israeli operations), the Brotherhood does provide consultative services if needed, though Hamas takes its own decisions. As an example Osama Farid revealed that the Brotherhood intervened to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but their advice was not heeded.
Concerning Israel, Osama Farid stated the Muslim Brotherhood believes that all international resolutions directed at Israel (such as UN #242) should be implemented. While he does not want normal relations with Israel, he also stated the Muslim Brotherhood does not want war. He stated they know the line between the ideal and the possible, and that the Brotherhood is realistic. Any war with Israel would be suicide. In this matter and in political matters of all sorts, he believes the Brotherhood to be a wise and moderate organization, aiming for stability both domestically and internationally.

Salafis and Other Islamists

In presenting the Brotherhood as a moderate organization, he contrasted it starkly with another Islamist group emerging in Egyptian politics, the Salafis. Having never been in political life previously, Osama Farid explained, the Salafis were taken advantage of by Mubarak since many opposed participation in politics. For many Salafis, the God-appointed leader should be obeyed without question. These believe democracy to be akin to kufr (unbelief), and though they may enter into upcoming democratic elections, they are not democratic. Osama Farid believed they needed to be monitored due to the danger they posed; it is quite possible they could win a large percentage of parliament.

The Salafi role in society, by contrast, is quite positive, Osama Farid explained. They help families and widows, provide finances for the poor to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as for needed school supplies and fees. Yet they have an aggressive social agenda, focusing on gaining control of the larger and more influential mosques where they are strong in number. Small mosques, Osama Farid elaborated, are not as influential, and will often follow the ideological trend of the largest mosque of the area.

Osama Farid also provided a description of Salafi organization in Alexandria, considered a stronghold of the movement. There are three main Salafi trends, the largest of which is led by Sheikh Hasan Yaqub, drawing support from the slum areas of the city. These three trends have organized a Shura Council for each of Alexandria’s fifteen districts, and each trend supplies five members so that each council has fifteen members. As such they have established themselves in the city, and their influence is strong.

Osama Farid recommended contacting Salafi sheikh Safwat Hejazi for more information. Though he is not their official coordinator he unofficially links between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Osama Farid made briefly a few closing comments about al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. These also are participating in politics since the revolution, and the group has sought to make revisions to its former methodology, especially in forswearing the use of violence. Mitwali al-Sharawi is in the lead of the revision group, but not all members accept the changes. Without placing him in either category, Osama Farid commented on al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leading figure Abbud al-Zumur, who is unapologetic over his involvement in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Osama Farid believed al-Zumur to be deficient in Islamic jurisprudence.

The essential question posed concerning the Muslim Brotherhood remains: Do their public statements reflect internal policy, or, especially when speaking to the West do they put on a moderate face? It is never possible to know a man’s heart or to discern fully his true intentions. Yet the information provided by Osama Farid displays a level of openness suggesting his words to be both transparent and authoritative. Certainly he has commented on matters often not addressed in Brotherhood public discourse.

As such, this interview is offered for public consumption, so that interested parties might hear from the Muslim Brotherhood through an Egyptian who knows them well. In the controversial and confusing public square of Egypt, it is necessary to filter the news from the din. Much more is necessary, but it is hoped this contribution may help shape English language readership in their understanding and opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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