Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the power behind President Mohamed Morsi, usually makes its more incendiary statements in Arabic only. But such was the movement's horror at a United Nations proposal to reduce violence against women that it issued a statement in English today complaining that "the complete disintegration of society" would result if the UN adopts a set of recommendations from its Commission on the Status of Women.
While I haven't read the document in question, judging from the Brothers' response, the UN thinks it would be useful to raise the age of marriage, decriminalize homosexuality, make contraceptives more readily available, and give unmarried mothers the same rights as married ones. The Brothers are not pleased:
"The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution," the movement wrote. "This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies."
A concern about cultural colonization is what spurred the foundation of the Muslim Brothers 80 years ago. Leading early Brotherhood member and influential thinker Sayyid Qutb (an earlier version of this article incorrectly called him a "founding member"), executed by the Nasser regime in the 1960s for his activism, spent time in the late 1940s in the US and was horrified by what he considered the country's loose morals and materialism. A desire to preserve Egypt and Islam from what its leaders view as an external, hostile onslaught remains at the forefront of their agenda today.
They are terrified that the modern world is dragging Egyptians back to jahalliya, the age of ignorance before the coming of Islam, and made that clear in their complaint today. "These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution," they complained of the UN proposal. "They would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance."
It's hardly a surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to equal rights for women in society. But the vehemence of today's statement, directed at a UN committee document that will have no binding authority over any member state, let alone Egypt, is striking. At least there's admirable clarity from the Brothers on where they stand. Some of their complaints are on specifically religious grounds, some related more to cultural attitudes toward women that require them to be subservient to men.
Below is their list of what "decadence awaits our world" if the UN passes this violence against women document:
1. Granting girls full sexual freedom, as well as the freedom to decide their own gender and the gender of their partners (ie, choose to have normal or homo- sexual relationships), while raising the age of marriage.
2. Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls and training them to use those, while legalizing abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, in the name of sexual and reproductive rights.
3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.
It's also worth remembering that Egypt is gripped in a financial and political crisis, yet the Brother's would prefer to fight quixotic battles against foreign "subversive immorality."