Mixed reactions to 'secular' nature of Egypt's new Muslim Brotherhood party

Mohamed Mursi (right), the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, talks during a recent news conference. [Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters]

Mohamed Mursi (right), the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, talks during a recent news conference. [Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters]

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The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt announced that their newly established political party, the Justice and Freedom Party, seeks to establish a modern state based on a constitutional foundation.

Hilmi al-Jazzar, a leader in the new party and member of the Brotherhood's Shura Council, told Al-Shorfa that the party aims to establish a state "with an elected parliament and significant judicial oversight."

"[The party] decided not to run in any elections in the future using the slogan 'Islam is the solution' as it has done in the past," al-Jazzar said. "The party's programmes are fashioned by humans and are not sacrosanct", noting that the party's leadership "decided instead on the slogan 'Freedom is the solution, and justice is the application'".

Al-Jazzar said the party "is a centrist party open to all Egyptians and intends to cooperate with all national political forces for the advancement of the country," adding that "the criticism of democracy by some Islamist groups is misplaced, and there is no conflict between theocratic and intellectual [views] provided a constitution exists that is accepted by the populace."

The Muslim Brotherhood officially submitted its founding documents to the party affairs committee of the administrative court at the state council headquarters last week. The party will become official on June 17th if no objections are raised against it.

According to press statements made by Saad Katatni, secretary-general of the party, there are 1,288 founding members, including 879 women and 39 Copts. In total, 52% of its members are from outside the Muslim Brotherhood.

During the presidencies of Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat, the Brotherhood focused on advocacy work to preach the teachings of Islam, which enhanced its popularity and enabled it to gain support among the public in various provinces.

Many observers fear the group may not succeed in separating advocacy work from political activity if clear divisions are not made between the group and the political party. They also expressed reservations that the group might exploit advocacy for political gain.

Writer and political activist Dina Samak said, "The separation of the Brotherhood and the party is hard to achieve. When the Brotherhood says that none of its members are permitted to join any other party, it means that this party is going to be a Brotherhood party and not a party that expresses views similar to the Brotherhood."

Samak also casts doubts on the Brotherhood's stance in relation to the party's commitment to a civilian and secular state.

"When the Muslim Brotherhood talks about a civilian state, they are manipulating the term and intend it to mean that it is a non-military state ruled by civilians, which is completely different than how liberal powers define the [civilian/secular] state in Egypt which is wanted by everyone," she said.

"It is difficult during the initial phase to attain complete separation between the group and the party," said Mohammed al-Qassas, a Muslim Brotherhood youth representative in the Revolution Youth Coalition. "Conservative leaders in the group fear a complete separation because they believe it would hurt the group's cohesive organisational structure that could lead to a split in the ranks later on."

"There should be total separation between the party and the group on the financial, administrative, and political levels," he said. "The party should not play a preaching role and should allow all Brotherhood members to freely join any party they believe is consistent with their political views, not just the Freedom and Justice Party."

He said the election of Freedom and Justice Party members must be "on the basis of their political agenda, not their religion", an ideal that was illustrated by the selection of Rafiq Habib, a Coptic Christian, as vice chairman of the party's foreign relations. Habib worked for over 20 years as a researcher specialising in Islamist groups and political Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood announced in early May that it would compete for only half the seats in parliament. The group won 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections in a fierce competition with the former ruling National Democratic party.

Essam al-Erian, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party, told Al-Shorfa, "The party's goal is to win between 30 and 35% [of the seats] only, but it will contest 50% of the seats as a safety measure to ensure the attainment of the desired 30 to 35% goal."

Brotherhood members said they will not field a candidate for presidential elections.

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    Daniel Del

    2011-7-19

    I think that Egypt can be a beacon, or an leader in where humanity ventures. She is much older than all of the current religions combined. Egypt can lead the entire world into the future...but not, as a people that adhere to and only follow one belief; Islam, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Animist, any of them. I think that Egypt can base itself and improve upon the Constitution of the United States. The most important part of this being the establishment of a Republican form of government, where the rights of the minority are strongly protected against the wishes of the majority. That is a critical idea that should be put in stone. Maybe a new Pyramid? That will last for thousand and thousands of years. Let people worship or have beliefs in any deity they wish. That should never be a part of an official government. There should never be another Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, or any other Religion based form of government. It is just another method of spelling HATE. Peace

  • عزيز جمال

    2011-7-3

    It is better to choose a secular government rather than an Islamic one that will work to spread sectarianism using the words of the despicable leader Al-Zawahiri, who wants to sow discord and racism among Muslims. And I think that Egyptians are conscious people who know more about their interests. Today, they are under pressure due to the elections that will take place in Egypt and that will change the current situation. Thus, I think that Egyptians are facing a great challenge, because the results of the elections will save or damage Egypt in the near future. That’s why we advise Egyptians to follow their minds and hearts during the elections. And they must give their votes to the most competent person who can promote Egypt again and help it to regain its prominent Arab and regional position. Unfortunately, Egypt lost this position, due to the failed regime of Hosni Mubarak, who harmed Egypt. In fact, Hosni Mubarak has destroyed the country. That’s why the Egyptian youth must obtain their freedom in order to live in calm and comfort, especially since Hosni Mubarak caused the Egyptians’ suffering during his regime. And I think that Egyptians will elect the secularists because Egypt is in need of a secular government that doesn’t distinguish between sects, religions or doctrines. In fact, it will treat Egyptians equally, and it will serve them without discrimination. Today, Egyptians are facing a great challenge, because the elections results and the forces that will take power will decide the country’s destiny in the next period. Thus, Egyptians must follow their minds and hearts during the elections, and they must give their voice to the most competent person who can promote Egypt again, and who can help it regain its Arab and regional position. Unfortunately, Egypt has lost this position due to the failed regime of Hosni Mubarak, who harmed Egypt. In fact, Hosni Mubarak destroyed the country. That’s why the Egyptian youth must obtain their freedom in order to live. Thus, an Islamic government will cause the country’s collapse and Egypt

  • جمال

    2011-6-14

    Many of the regimes that have ruled Egypt over its long history are systems that lean toward secular rule. The Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, usually played the role of the opposition, which did not have big impact that enabled them to rule Egypt. Hence, I believe that the Egyptian people do not lean much toward the Islamic rule, which is opposed by many Egyptians, and the evidence is that the Islamic parties have not received a lot of support from the people. I think that Egypt will be a state ruled by a secular government. Islamic governance may not survive long in Egypt, since many Egyptians do not respond to the Islamists, as this type of governance does not fit the nature of the vast majority of the Egyptian people who aspire to freedom. The Egyptians are open-minded, and these things are not consistent with the aspirations of the Islamic governance, where there are usually many militants who do not fancy the concepts of freedom and openness. In personal view, it is better for Egypt to be a secular state, and this fits Egypt, especially since we are going through a difficult phase at the present time, because many of those who claim Islam are exploiting this religion to distort a lot of its tolerant ideas and lean towards the radical Islamic ideology of extremism. We fear such models reaching power in Egypt, which would increase the problems of the Egyptian people, because these people will do their best to convert Egypt into an Islamic state. This means that a lot of differences will appear on the surface, which will affect the overall situation in Egypt. I think that Egypt today is going through a stage of change achieved by the people of Egypt in order to get more freedom. I support a secular Egypt, because this is the appropriate solution for Egypt to continue its march.