?Is the Muslim Brotherhood a Supporter or Enemy of Reform

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The Egyptian arena is currently witnessing a state of escalation in political and public activity. This activity expressed

itself through the increase in the demands for reform from various political powers and courses, causing the acknowledgement, theoretically, of the need for reform.

The Muslim Brotherhood group was not, as a political power and course, excluded from these actions and interactions. It has recently witnessed the group going out to demonstrate on a large scale, demanding more political reforms, which places pivotal questions about the role of the brothers in the democratic shifting process as a whole, and about the extent of the possible integration of the brothers into the political system. Another question is whether history would repeat itself where the brothers would create another alliance with the ruling regime in return for receiving political gains that would serve their own interests as they did in the seventies. As well as the question of whether there will always be a fear within the voters and a huge section of the public from including the brothers, even if they would “mount” the democracy, and whether there is, in the present experience with the brothers, anything to eliminate or support this fear.

These questions were the matter at hand in a symposium held by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) within the Ibn Roshd Salon under the title “Are the Muslim Brothers an Enemy or Asset to Reformers?” The symposium was moderated by Bahey El Din Hassan, Director of CIHRS. He started by saying that the source of the questions addressed in the symposium comes from the fact that everyone, in spite of their different tendencies, realizes that the brothers are the most important political power present in the Egyptian opposition street, pointing out that the thrust that has been experienced in the Egyptian street for a while in regards to demanding reform and the brothers going into the streets for the first time to take part in these demands in what is considered the first independent demonstrations for the brothers in about half a century carrying special demands concerned with internal reforms.
Hassan mentioned that there is a fear within the observers towards the nature of the brother’s attitude concerning the case for democracy despite the fact that there has been a great and gradual development – according to Hassan – in the group’s anti-violence attitude and their disapproval of the use of violence in armed political combat. This is in addition to them declaring their stance on the case for democracy, human rights, and their attitude towards non-Muslims in their famous April 1995 statement, as well as their stance in many occasions specifically on nominating or supporting Christian candidates in electoral divisions.

Hassan added that the source of the questions on the brothers’ attitudes also goes back to the nature of the group’s agenda and whether they had abandoned their governorship principal and whether the group treats the democracy case as a technical mechanism or as values to be respected by their members and to be sought for adaptations between it and their interpretations of Islam.

Dr. Mohamed Habib, the first deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood group, started his speech by assuring that the group does not consider democracy a mechanism but as a goal as much as the group itself practices democracy as a method on its various levels. Habib also said that the group tries, on its different levels, to have elections for the commanding of different posts in it, assuring that the group would not have demanded democracy if it didn’t have it internally.

He pointed to the group holding elections for the governorates’ consultation councils from which executive offices where elected in each governorate, as well as a general consultation council including the whole of Egypt from which members of the guidance office come. He also said that the security organizations know that well, pointing out that the group takes care not to aggravate organizations or authorities.

Habib clarified that the group organizing elections for the guidance office in Cairo despite the warnings of the security bodies cost the group the arrest of 83 of its leaders – including 8 from the guidance office – and the sentencing of some of them for 5 years of imprisonment, others with 3 years, while others were vindicated.

Habib also pointed out that the members of the group have a court martial every year or year and a half to prohibit their meetings, and he stressed that the group has cancelled the principal of governorship a long time ago, and has assured that the nation is the source of authorities, saying that the group is now talking about a civil party with Islamic reference with elections held from the smallest entity to the party presidency. He also pointed out that, at the same time, the Islamic legislation is characterized by perfection, transcendence, and perpetuity, and opens the door to efforts concerning the choosing of the governor and the bodies and laws that the nation uses, and that the essence of the Shari’a is justice, and that it considers all people equal before the law. Habib also aid that the wide door through which we enter to this justice is public freedoms, and that freedom is the highest duty in Islam.

Habib also pointed to the initiative announced by the group in March of 2004, in which it included its visions for reform and internal and external issues, and said that the group considered this step an opening for conversation and debate with the other political and national powers.

Habib continued by pointing out that the group, after presenting the 2004 initiative, started moving and contacting political parties and adopting the idea of what the group called the fifty-committee to lay down the common factors between the parties and political powers concerning the issue of political reform. The group also suggested that this should be governed by a certain authority that should have the power to make decisions and determine the motion techniques. Habib also said that the group suggested to the parties the importance of going into the empty space especially that the time has passed the state of being content with presenting documents and petitions to the authorities. He said that the group warned the parties of the governmental policy that depends on dividing the parties and destroying them from within so that each party would focus on its own problems, pointing out that Al-Wafd party asked that the coordination would be dual between only it and the group, which the group rejected.

Habib added that the result of these movements was that the government pressured the parties and turning on the project suggested by the group, pointing out that the group is coordination with the Karama party – which is still being formed – and communicating with it in various activities and operations.

Habib assured that the group’s stance towards reelecting President Mubarak was set, but he pointed out that the group has not yet made its decision in this topic and considers it early to decide. He clarified that the group is dealing with this issue subjectively and not personally and that it agrees with President Mubarak on some issues and disagrees with him on others.

Habib also added that the crisis the nation is living currently requires the cooperation of everyone together, pointing out that the external pressures are strong, assuring that the group refuses practicing pressure under the American shadow, and sticks to keeping the reform internal.

The journalist Hasanein Koroom, the director of the Cairo office of the “Al-Kods Al-Araby” newspaper, then took over the conversation. He started by pointing out that he would have preferred that the brothers be given the right to political work and be admitted as a party and political power, pointing out that the brothers contributed to the political and party work starting from 1982 after the release of Omar Al-Telmissany, the group’s guide at the time, with which came a great change and conversion in the group’s mindset, as well as an outspoken deviation – according to Koroom – from the line of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the group who firmly disapproved of political parties and variety in parties. Koroom pointed out that the group entered into an electoral alliance with Al-Wafd party in 1984 and then with Al-Amal and Al-Ahrar parties in the 1978 elections and then started to participate with other parties and political powers including the communists in meetings, congregations and shared statements. Koroom also said that it was unfair to hold the brothers accountable for their intentions, especially since they have declared their acceptance of variety and the peaceful succession of authority and committing to the constitution and the law and refusing violence, pointing out that the same changes have happened to the Nasserites and the communists who also didn’t believe in political party variety.

Potential Deals
Yet Koroom assure that there is a great possibility of alliance between the governing regime and the Muslim Brothers group, considering that this is not deemed a fault towards the group and saying that prominent opposition parties do that and have deals with the governing regime. He took as an example the shared statement between the Tawafok-Al-Eslah parties and the National party in the course of national discussion which carried a compromise from these parties about the principal of amending the constitution before the presidential referendum.

Koroom also assured that the governing political system will seek alliance with the brothers since they are a main an prominent power, pointing out that there is an opportunity before the brothers to get a good number of seats in the coming People’s Assembly if they continue the system of individual election and the possibility of the international monitoring of the coming elections. Koroom then turned to the danger of a possible alliance between the regime and the brothers, saying that the danger s in the possibility of the brothers using the same opportunistic policy they used before the July 1952 revolution and after it and the brothers abusing other political powers in order for them to gain. Koroom also added that the fact that the brothers hold up Qur’ans during their demonstrations raises the question of the source of their governance, whether it is the constitution or the law or the Qur’an.

Koroom excluded the possibility of the brothers coming into power in a democratic way and then turning on democracy and canceling parties, pointing out that they would be realistic under international pressures, expressing his fear that the brothers would seek an alliance with the regime and therefore abandon their demands for reform in return.

Religion and Politics
Dr. Jamal Abdul Gawad, the president of the international affairs unit at the Al-Ahram Political and Strategic Studies Center praised what he called the new thought within the brothers, and the presence of a great change in the group’s political thought towards democratic intermediation, considering this a gain to all society.

Abdul Gawad pointed to the brothers taking up new political combat means such as going out in demonstrations demanding reform, which faced many different reactions. He also said that there is a real problem which is that some democratic writers demand that the brothers – who form the biggest political power – stay inactive in demanding reform.

Abdul Gawad said that we are facing a yet unsolved problem in the relationship between religion and politics, which is the secret to the contradiction we are still living. He pointed to an attitude which appeared in the ruling authorities avoiding starting real reform for fear that this would lead to the brothers coming to power, and he said that this idea has been used as a “scarecrow” internally and externally to discourage the idea of reform, and that this strategy has been used successfully to delay reform to an extent that it can be said that the ruling authority gained from the brothers’ power and weakness at the same time.

He also pointed out the presence of civil non-religious opposition other than the brotherhood yearning for reform, but has its fears concerning the brothers’ group and the religious authority. He assured that the more radical part of this opposition has no problem with allying with the brothers, adding that Egypt has reached a point where it is no longer acceptable, whether morally or politically, to delay reform, and at the same time there is still an effort to distance the brothers, pointing out that the rest of the picture is in external powers which have upheld non-democratic regimes for a long time until the 9-11 events which changed the situation so that these powers now do not mind dealing with governments led by religious parties.

He pointed out that the brothers’ recent movements started to present the issue of political authority which shows a great transfer in their thoughts and movements. He considered the greatest problem with many people is not knowing the greater hidden body of the brothers’ group and not knowing the experiences the leadership of this group and whether these experiences are transferred to the greater hidden body or are exclusive to the leadership whose opinions concerning political assembly and party variety as well as the knowledge of the extent of the brothers’ contribution to the spiritual moral fabric of the Egyptian society. Abdul Gawad also said that the raising of the brothers of demands for democracy is praise-worthy, but that it is inadequate to reassure the public and that the case is not only their opinion on elections or emergency only, but that it is required to know the social hierarchy sought after by the group and their stance on personal and public freedoms.

He then pointed to four scenarios for change: the first is revolution, which is unlikely in Egypt, the second is parliament and assemblies, which are lacking in Egypt, the third is reform from the top and the forth is a political treaty between the various social and political groups. He said that the scenario he considers possible in Egypt is the last along with some initiative from the top, and that the treaty include the various powers of society including Islamists, liberals, leftists as well as the ruling party. He said that there is no way to build this treaty except by conversation and transparency. He also expressed his belief that it is hard to have a democracy without including the brothers.

Enmity to Democracy
Dr. Jihad Awda, the professor of political sciences at Helwan University harshly attacked the Muslim Brotherhood group during his talk. He pointed out that the appearance of the group in the Egyptian political arena came with the anti-democratic powers and the 1923 constitution, and that they were, since 1937, among the anti-democratic powers and then they allied with the July 1952 revolution which shows – in Awda’s opinion – that the displacement and non-constitutional thought is the group’s favorite method.

Awda then pointed to the absence of definite historical knowledge of the group’s structure before and after 1952, and that the mystery surrounding the group’s actual structure continued even during the Sayed Kotb organization as well as not knowing the nature of the group’s international connections.

He pointed out that during President Mubarak’s rule the group developed two structures, the first a public one, and the second a covert structure, with the first appearing in unions and political movement, while the second stayed under cover. Awda also assured that the total revealing of the group’s structure is a necessary condition to considering the brotherhood a lawful constitutionary reform power.

Awda said that what the group’s leadership offers has limited value since it is like the government’s talk which carries many promises and doesn’t deliver anything practical or present anything really different. Dr. Awda agreed with Dr. Abdul Gawad regarding the necessity of knowing the conceptions of the group’s leaders and members, pointing out that proving that the group has abandoned the overthrowing idea counts them among the democratic powers.

Dr. Awda requested the reforming of the group as a reforming civil power and not only taking up some civil images.

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