The Muslim Brotherhood seeks public approval to go political in Egypt

Sherif Tarek , Thursday 19 May 2011

The MB submitted a petition Wednesday for official recognition as a political party, as they try to soften their hardline image by appointing a Coptic vice president

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Morsi (Photo: Reuters)

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.‎

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