The Muslim Brotherhood has always been one of the most potent, well-funded and most organised groups in the country, but for decades its potential as a political force was limited by the ruling regime’s relentless defamation and suppression of Islamic entities. Now, in post-revolution Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has high aspirations of assuming power - an aim that stirs up controversy amongst Egyptians.
Only 10 days after former president Hosni Mubarak was deposed on 11 February, the Muslim Brotherhood announced its intent to establish the Freedom and Justice Party, even though the newly-enacted political parties law prohibits the establishment of parties based on religion.
The MB has officially submitted the required documents Wednesday to launch their party – consisting of 8821 members, including 978 women and 93 Copts – leaving their sky-high political ambitions clear as day. Two days ago, Rafiq Habib, a coptic politician, was appointed as vice president of the party.
Its challenge, however, remains qualifying as a secular party and coming across as moderate Islamists, rather than hardliners.
The fact that the Brotherhood is among the frontrunners for presidency has frightened many people, mainly thanks to the notion that a Brotherhood president would apply the strictest interpretation of Sharia (Islamic) law, which would mark the end of pivotal intellectual values and those that emerged among Egyptian youth — such as freedom of speech, gender equality and religious diversity — and also herald the beginning of a devastating foreign policy turn that might result in wars with neighbouring countries, or worse.
The Muslim Brotherhood are quite aware that they must soften their gloomy image if they are to pursue the presidential dream, so prominent members of the group have been speaking frequently to the media to enhance their standing swiftly. They claim they do not object to the election of women or Copts to the government, although they deem both "unsuitable" for presidency.
They also underline their full respect for all treaties between Egypt and other countries, including Israel.
Mohamed Morsi, head of the not-yet-official Freedom and Justice Party, elaborated on the Muslim Brotherhood’s political outlines.
He told Mehwar TV: “The party is completely distinct from the group [MB]; our Coptic brothers are welcome to join the party and take part in its presidential elections, as well. All members are equal and any Egyptian can join, except those who belonged to the dismantled National Democratic Party.”
The prominent Brotherhood member, however, did not deny that Islamic doctrine will be the party’s sole frame of reference. “All parties have their respective systems and mindsets,” he explained. “Some are liberal, socialist or leftist...The Freedom and Justice Party is civic and is led by Islamic principles; we believe in modern nations and the freedom of people.”
Speaking on the difference between the group and the party, Morsi said: “The Muslim Brotherhood has a bigger role than the party. As a non-governmental institution the Muslim Brotherhood is working on developing numerous aspects of Egyptian society, by preaching, for instance. On the other hand, the party is only into politics.”
Walid Shalabi, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, reiterated that the group and the party are independent both financially and managerially. He said, however, that both sides will back up the other when needed.
“The group and the party will cooperate on certain occasions, during elections, for example,” he told Ahram Online. “The Muslim Brotherhood has long been involved in many activities in society, even under the former regime, and now we will be seeking to expand our involvement to serve the nation.
“Some of the party’s founders and members are Copts. All that has been said these days about the party’s stringent policies is baseless; people need to wait and see its political practices and then judge,” Shalabi added.
The Muslim Brotherhood will not be the only Islamic political force in Egypt. The Salafists, who have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, are to establish Al-Nahda (Renaissance Party), according to Mamdouh Ismail, a lawyer and founder of the party.
Al-Nour (The Light) is another Salafist party that has recently fulfilled the compulsory minimum number of members – 5,000 from at least 10 governorates – to be eligible to launch, says Sheik Yasser Metwali, one of the founding members.
Al-Wasat Al-Gadeed Party (The New Centre) is also under construction following a lengthy judicial battle for 15 years to secure a political license. The party embraces the idea of al-wasatiya (moderation or centrism): a tolerant version of Islam with liberal tendencies, formed by a group of young professionals who defected from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1995.
“The Freedom and Justice Party will cooperate with all parties and political movements, not just the Islamic ones, as long as it’s in the country’s best interest,” said Shalabi, who asserts the Freedom and Justice Party will soon see the light.