Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt: Scoop/New Government Has No Illusions About the Muslim Brotherhood

By Barry Rubin

Pay close attention. This is an important signal of where the Egyptian regime is going. Tarek Heggy, one of Egypt’s most distinguished intellectuals and a man who, more than anyone else I know, predicted the course of events there, has written an  analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is the best thing on the Brotherhood written recently and I think it reflects what Egypt’s current rulers believe.

To sum up this article, it is a very tough evaluation, one that should be read carefully by American policymakers and those with illusions about the Brotherhood. Heggy provides a plan for dialogue with the Brotherhood but one in which the Brotherhood must prove that it really is ready for democracy.

Heggy clearly sets out the Brotherhood’s historic program,

“To restore a caliphate, a global religious government aimed at fighting the `non-believers’ (specifically, Christians, Hindus, and Jews) and at spreading Islam. The group opposed the existence of any secular states in all Muslim societies throughout the Middle East.”

He continues, “The Brotherhood remains extremely opposed to Western civilization and to a political peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas is a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Then he sums up the Brotherhood’s political thinking in a way that’s so cogent I have to quote most of it:

“Political Freedoms: Unlike Western democracies, which guarantee the political participation of every citizen regardless of ideology, opinion, or religion, the Muslim Brothers make the political participation of individuals in society subject to the principles of Islamic Sharia.

“Freedom of Belief: The Muslim Brothers guarantee freedom of belief only for the followers of the three revealed (Abrahamic) religions, otherwise known as `the people of the Book.’

“Personal Freedoms: While Western democracies guarantee the absolute freedom of the individual as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, the Muslim Brothers set freedom of thought within the strict parameters of a moral code derived from the Sharia.

“They call for the restoration of hisbah, which allows a private citizen to prosecute any individual who commits an act he considers a breach of the Sharia even if the plaintiff himself has not been personally injured by such an act....

“Women’s Rights: In Western democracies, women enjoy the same political rights as men: they can hold public office and participate in political life without any restrictions based on gender. But as far as the Muslim Brothers are concerned, women’s political participation would be limited to municipal elections; there is no question, for example, of a woman ever becoming head of state. To further marginalize women and exclude them from any meaningful role in public life, the Muslim Brothers call for educational curricula to include material that is appropriate for women, tailored to suit their nature and role, as perceived by them. In addition to special curricula for girls, they insist on a complete segregation of the sexes in the classrooms, in public transportation, and in the workplace....

“The Economy: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of an economic system based on the respect of private property. At the same time, however, they insist that it be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia, which criminalizes bank interest. They also call for state ownership of public utilities.

“System of Government: Contrary to the system of government applied in a democracy, which is based on the peaceful rotation of power through elections, the Muslim Brothers call for a system of government based on the principles of Sharia and the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.

“Civil Society: The freedom of movement enjoyed by civil society organizations in a democracy would, in an Islamist system, be conditional on their adherence to the strictures of Sharia.

“Government: The Muslim Brothers oppose the notion of a state based on democratic institutions, calling instead for an Islamic government based on the shura (consultative assembly) system, veneration of the leader, and the investiture of a Supreme Guide. In this they are close to Iran’s system....

“The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Muslim Brothers...have opposed all attempts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in particular the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel initiated by the late President Sadat. It would be true to say that the Muslim Brothers will never recognize the existence of Israel as legitimate.

“Religious Minorities: ...their position on the question of religious minorities include the barring of any non-Muslim from becoming president and the subjection of non-Muslims to the principles of Sharia on which the entire legal system is based.

“The Legal System: The Muslim Brothers call for the establishment of a constitutional and legal system based on the principles of Sharia, including the application of corporal punishments in the penal code (stoning, lashing, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc.)

“Violence against Civilians: The Muslim Brothers have never condemned the use of violence against civilians, except if it is directed against Muslim civilians and even that only selectively.

“Finally, `progress' in today's world is realized by two tools, “science and modern management”; two qualities that the Muslim Brothers have neither access to nor interest in.”

After this devastating critique, which is based on the Brotherhood's platform, Heggy goes on to argue for allowing the Brotherhood to operate legally:

“Nevertheless, the harsh and often illegal treatment to which the Muslim Brotherhood is subjected is both unacceptable legally and self-defeating in that it hardens attitudes on both sides. In fact, the only way to resolve this problem with the Islamists is through dialogue, by opening channels of communication and engaging in a frank interchange of views. Debating the issues is the only way to transform a religious party, in the long term, into a civil political party that subscribes to the main tenets of democracy: acceptance of the `Other,’ rotation of power, and respect for other religions and for women.”

I think this is going to be the government’s line. The Brotherhood will be legalized but will be closely watched and not allowed to become too powerful.

He concludes with a long list of questions for the Brotherhood to answer, including the following:

Is the Brotherhood prepared to accept the equality of Egyptian Christians and women? Would it accept coeducational arrangements in Egyptian schools? Would it allow a continuation of foreign tourism including at beaches, the sale of alcohol, gambling, and women being free to choose how they will dress?

Would the Brotherhood accept the peace treaty with Israel including continuing economic cooperation and a two-state resolution to the conflict? Do they believe the killing of Israeli civilians is a good and heroic action?

Does it insist that all Egyptian laws must be based on Sharia and do they demand punishments like stoning, whipping, and amputations? Are they ready to accept a Western-style banking system including the charging of interest (forbidden under Islamic law)? And what do they think of Iran?

Finally, he concludes, “one must know that the Brothers are likely to use taqqiyya, a principle which--according to some clerics such as Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya--allows Muslims to lie if so doing assists them in ultimately defeating the infidels!”

These are questions that should also be asked by any Westerners—especially governments—thinking of a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. We should watch and see how the new Egyptian government interacts with the Muslim Brotherhood before elections are held.

If it listens to courageous men like Tarek Heggy I believe that there is real hope for a democratic Egypt succeeding.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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