Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: A project of patriarchal extremism

Margot Badran , Thursday 28 Mar 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood's rejection of a UN declaration against violence against women has shown up the Islamist group's patriarchal atavism for all to see

Gaining freedom of speech and other forms of unfettered public visibility after long decades of repression and silencing – thanks to the January 25 Revolution – the Muslim Brothers now raise their collective voice in defence of patriarchal oppression writ wide and deep.

The Muslim Brothers (not the breakaways and principled youth among them) with increasingly shrill voices have been telling everyone that they decide upon the rights of human beings – what is good and necessary for everybody – in an aggressive display of authoritarian arrogance. 

They unabashedly use Islam to shore up the patriarchy they hold dear and the power that goes with it. What they have dribbled out piecemeal over the past two years on the floor of the (now defunct) parliament or in the media the Muslim Brothers have now pulled together in an official declaration of their patriarchal project.

What brought this out we might ask?  Can this be seen as an answer to the spectre of women’s power and anxieties about creeping egalitarianism?  The 57th meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) from 4 to 15 March confronting violence against women in all guises flushed out the pronunciamento. Now we have it, not in stray demands for reigning in women that might have been put down to rogue voices but as a larger package.

The international attention given this month to the scourge of violence against women was highlighted in neon by the spike in physical and sexual attacks against women in streets and public squares in Egypt. Young women, along with outraged young men, are taking matters into their own hands trying to provide security and fighting back in the absence of efforts by the Islamist-headed state, which seems more involved safeguarding itself than its citizens. We see the Muslim Brothers fiercely protecting their headquarters under attack, including roughing up women, they who pretend to value women.

Instead of joining efforts to stop violence against women, demonstrating genuine concern for women, the Muslim Brothers seized the occasion of the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting to blast these global efforts and flex their patriarchal muscle.

If they wish to deflect attention from their waning influence, the Muslim Brothers are courting just the opposite. They are pushing the proponents of justice, freedom and dignity to fight harder to achieve the societal transformation the revolution has set in motion.

Rather than making common cause with Egyptian women, and the world at large in tackling the urgent matter of violence against women now reaching epidemic proportions, the Muslim Brothers swivel attention away from the blight of violating women back to distracting harangues about religion and culture (as defined by them), fecklessly sheltering their patriarchy in its folds.

In the lead-up to the vote on the draft statement on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls, the Muslim Brothers issued their patriarchal broadside condemning the CSW statement claiming it “includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family.” 

If ratified, they warned, the declaration “would lead to complete disintegration of society.” They topped it up with the old mantra that this would “be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve the cohesion of Islamic societies.” 

Apart from the pontification of the Muslim Brothers bordering on shirk by seeming to endow the Muslim Brothers with divine authority, the old ‘religious and cultural invasion argument’ has become threadbare.

From the Muslim Brothers’ declaration we hear about the doom and gloom that await if the UN document is ratified (which was soon after their statement was posted). Their declaration is an outline of patriarchy, egregiously alleging the benediction of Islam in its assault against the notion of equality. 

It intones on what women and girls should do and not do, should be and not be. It is about men’s control of women. It is concerned with men’s privileges, power and authority. There is not a word about violence against women, about men’s physical and sexual violence against women and violation of women’s rights. The Muslim Brothers outrageously exploit an occasion for dealing with violence against women to uphold male pre-eminence.

In demonising the UN statement, the Muslim Brothers enumerate “the destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution that would subvert the entire society.”  We name three. (For the full list see: Ikhwan Web)

·       “Replacing guardianship [of women by men] with partnership, and a full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as spending, childcare and home chores.”

·       “Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges [actually this already happened a decade ago when a law was enacted allowing women to request divorce in front of a judge through a mechanism known as khul’]

·       “Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like travel [around the same time this has already been granted to women]…”

The Muslim Brother’s patriarchal atavism is in direct clash with the time of revolution when Egyptians are fighting to assure the triumph of freedom, justice and dignity achievable only in an egalitarian order. Patriarchy as a regime of control, of the older over the younger, of men over women, of the privileged over the less advantaged is doomed. Bashing women, sending them home, telling them how to live their lives – all this violence and violation of women as part of broad intersecting layers of violence and violation to assure the domination of the few over the any will not do the trick.

The revolution as a profound and comprehensive transformation will be realised when patriarchy and its institutions, ideas and practices are dismantled and all the political, social and cultural jahaliyya detritus is dumped in the trash bin. Islam will no longer be called upon to do patriarchy’s political work. Egalitarianism of gender, age, class, ethnicity and belief will triumph over patriarchy as its grid of inequities is split apart.  It will be an undivided secular/religious victory.

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