The Muslim Brotherhood shows its true colors

The group's latest thinking reveals a troubling agenda.

By

If Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were alive today, he would celebrate the expansion of his Islamist vision. As evidenced by the latest version of the Muslim Brotherhood's recently released political party platform, the late Iranian leader's dream of spreading the ideology of Islamic revolution is gaining ground in Egypt, the largest Sunni Arab country.

The draft is just that – a draft still open to adjustment, reflecting ongoing debate within the Brotherhood itself about its stances before it publishes the final version of the platform. Still, the preliminary program that it outlines doesn't herald the democratic values the Brotherhood has claimed to hold in previous public statements and addresses. Instead, it calls for the adoption of a "Civic Islamic State."

Perhaps the most alarming feature of the draft platform is the call to create a Majlis Ulama, or Council of Islamic Scholars, that could end up being elected by Islamic clerics, not through free and fair elections. 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.

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The Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, has been outlawed by the Egyptian government since 1954. Today, it packages itself as a moderate organization, and its members hold 88 seats (about a fifth) in the Egyptian parliament as independents. Many Egyptians have long sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood in its struggle against an increasingly authoritarian regime. It was hard not to feel for the banned organization when its members faced the harsh treatment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's military tribunals.

Still, having gone since 1928 without releasing any official party platform, the Muslim Brotherhood has escaped an honest and critical review – until now. In publishing this draft, it missed a golden opportunity to prove its pro-democratic stance.

The Muslim Brotherhood should have looked to Turkey as a model for how to integrate Islam into a secular system. The Turkish parliament's recent election of the Justice and Development Party candidate Abdullah Gul to the presidency produced a proudly Muslim president committed to guarding Turkey as a secular state. In stark contrast to President Gul, Mohamed Habib, the Muslim Brotherhood's second-in-command said in an interview in August, "Islam is the state religion. No secular citizen is allowed to publicize his secularism, and no laws against the sharia."

The Brotherhood's consistent call for a purely Islamic state can only mean the marginalization of secular opposition voices.

Also alarming is that the draft document would discriminate on the grounds of gender and religion by denying women and members of Egypt's Christian Coptic community the right to run for presidential office.

The rise to power of a Muslim Brotherhood based on this new party platform could spell disaster for Egypt's already tenuous relations with Israel. In the same interview, Mr. Habib assured his followers that the Brotherhood would not recognize the "Zionist entity" or "unjust" international treaties, in reference to the peace treaty signed with Israel in 1979.

Many people used to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was simply a political movement using religion to gain support and present itself in contrast to the ruling National Democratic Party, but now it appears that the inverse is true. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious movement using politics to spread its values and beliefs.

In the wake of 9/11, many analysts have called on the American administration and policymakers to engage with so-called moderate Islamists in the Arab world. While engagement is necessary, and greater diplomatic efforts should be encouraged, the Brotherhood's dangerous political platform should be questioned. Before opening a dialogue with any group – even one that has renounced violence, as the Brotherhood has – there needs to be an examination as to whether a political organization that categorically denies equality on the basis of religion and gender can be lauded as moderate, and whether engagement can lead to positive political reform and democratization.

Egypt is in desperate need of new political blood. With the dictatorial nature of Mr. Mubarak's 26-year rule and the recent sentencing of several editors in chief, the Egyptian people want a viable alternative.

But the Muslim Brotherhood's new platform dispels the hope that it could be the lifeline Egypt needs to start becoming a true liberal democracy.

The Egyptian people, lacking a vibrant and diverse political arena, are left to choose between the devil they know and the devil they are now beginning to know.

Mohamed Elmenshawy is editor in chief of Taqrir Washington and Arab Insight, a project of the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C.

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