UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Muslim Brotherhood - Policy Agenda

Some analysts point to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's 50-page declaration in 2004 endorsing elections, reform, accountability, and nonviolence as evidence of a new era in Islamists' dedication to democracy. Many also see the Brotherhood's cooperation with the Kifaya opposition movement in Egypt as an indication of budding cooperation between Islamists and secularists. Other analysts, however, noted the Brotherhood's past cooperation with secular parties in Egyptian elections as evidence that this trend was not new. When the Muslim Brotherhood published its platform for a proposed political party there was considerable consternation over its implied agenda of bringing about a totally theocratic state, ruled by a body of Muslim clergymen.

As recently as 2004, the organization’s program was:
“Allah is our objective.
The Prophet is our leader.
Qur'an is our law.
Jihad is our way.
Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed to disavow violence and attempted to win political power as a religious and social organization. It was increasingly successful with allied candidates winning 17 seats in the parliament in 2000 and then a stunning 88 seats (or 20%) in 2005.

In January 2007 Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders publicly announced the organization's intent to form a political party within "a few weeks," an unprecedented step for the 79-year old organization. The new party would reportedly be "a civil party with an Islamic reference," and will not submit a license application to the Political Parties Committee (as required by Egyptian law) as the Brotherhood deems the ruling-party dominated committee "unconstitutional." Party formation may provide the mechanism for the Brotherhood to counter long-standing criticism that there is no official platform that clarifies the group's policy views. At a time when Hosni Mubarak was trying to showcase new constitutional reforms, and rhetorically beating the drum of increased political party diversity, the Brotherhood appeared to be calling the government's bluff. The formation of a political party was in no small part a political maneuver designed to embarrass the regime, and demonstrate the emptiness of its reformist rhetoric. Talk of political party formation came against the backdrop of continuing arrests of Brotherhood members, with six more businessmen detained on 15 January 2007 on charges of financing Brotherhood activities, and another three on January 17.

Long criticized for its ambiguous stands on key issues such as religious freedom and women's rights, the process of developing a political charter was an attempt by the Brotherhood to present detailed policy prescriptions, rather than just amorphous slogans such as "Islam is the Solution." The Brotherhood's draft platform was "released" in September 2007 to a range of non-Brotherhood intellectuals and academics for comment, and was heavily criticized.

The 2007 Muslim Brotherhood draft political platform contained a number of indications on how this organization would govern Egypt if it came to power. The platform called for the establishment of a board of religious scholars with whom the president and the legislature would have to consult before passing laws. Both the parliament and the president would have to consult the elected "Senior Religious Scholars Group" before passing legislation, and this Group would have the right to veto laws that do not conform with shari'a (Islamic law). As noted by Mohamed Elmenshawy - the editor in chief of Taqrir Washington and Arab Insight: “Reminiscent of Iran's Guardian Council, this undemocratically selected body could have the power vested by the state to veto any and all legislation passed by the Egyptian parliament and approved by the president that is not compatible with Islamic Sharia law.”

The same document raised the important question of the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to a pluralistic society. Despite pledges to treat minorities and women as equals, the platform allows neither to hold high public office. As stated in the platform, “non-Muslims are excused from holding this mission.” For women, the post of the Presidency or Prime Minister would “contradict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles.” The draft also cautions against “burdening women with duties against their nature or role in the family.”

By early 2008 the Brotherhood's internal debate over its draft party platform has markedly demonstrated the diverse range of opinions within the organization, with members grouped into either the "moderate" or "conservative" faction. The debate over the platform has featured the unprecedented public airing of the variant views within the Brotherhood, with leading senior members such as Political Bureau member Essam El Erian, leading Guidance Council member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and influential former Brotherhood parliamentarian Gamal Heshmat criticizing specific aspects of the document. As the April 8 local council election races heat up, and the military tribunals of forty senior Brotherhood members come to a close, the Brotherhood has put the political party platform on the back-burner. According to our contacts, the Brotherhood's leadership determined not to push decisions on such a seminal document, and risk deepening divisions and internal dissension, at such a critical time for the group. No further movement is expected on the platform until after the verdict is delivered in the military tribunals (expected on March 25) and after the April 8 local council elections.

Divisions within the group were not solely focused on the draft party platform. The decision to contest the local council elections was apparently very controversial within the Brotherhood, with the conservative faction arguing that the Brotherhood should not participate. The moderates, advocating for continued electoral engagement, won the day. Another high-profile rift was exposed with El Erian's unprecedented comments in October 2007 that "should the Brotherhood win power, it would recognize Israel and respect treaties. As for the Camp David Accords, they would have to be changed according to what is suitable for us, which does not mean that we would be declaring any war" (ref C). His comments were walked back by Brotherhood leaders, and he recanted publicly. But a confidante of El Erian told us that his comments "were not a slip of the tongue, but rather a deliberate attempt to move the ball forward, in terms of at least getting the Brotherhood cadres discussing recognition of Israel."

The Brotherhood's inability to produce a consolidated final platform indicated continuing deep tensions between the moderate and conservative wings of the Islamist organization. By putting the platform on hold, the Brotherhood's leadership is likely trying to calm the philosophical internecine battling over the substance of the charter, and avoid a damaging potential public split between the two factions.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list