October 25, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 753

Egypt's Islamic Camp, Once Suppressed by Regime, Now Taking Part in Shaping New Egypt – Part II: Muslim Brotherhood Prepares for Parliamentary, Presidential Elections

October 25, 2011 | By L. Azuri*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 753


Since the Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has come to play a central and overt role in the political arena; it is one of the most organized and popular movements in the country, especially in comparison to new movements that have recently arisen. Whereas the MB was outlawed and persecuted under the previous regime, since the revolution, it has entered a golden age. It has formed an official political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, and established large centers in Egypt's major cities, and its members have a strong presence in the media and in decision-making circles. One clear indication of its growing power was its landslide victory in the teachers' union and doctors' union elections, which took place over the last two months. Its representatives were elected to the leading roles in these unions, replacing members of the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP).[1]

Over the past months, the MB has led a campaign pushing to hold parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as possible and opposing proposals to postpone these elections until after the new constitution is drawn up. This campaign was presumably motivated by the MB's desire to take advantage of its strength and its current advantage over the new political forces, which have not yet had time to organize and solidify. The outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections is seen as crucial, because the stream that wins the majority will have a great deal of influence in the drafting of the new constitution and thus on the character and identity of the new Egypt.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' (SCAF) insistence on parliamentary elections prior to the drafting of the constitution, as the MB is also demanding, has led many to claim that the two have formed an alliance.[2] This claim was strengthened by the appointment of MB member Tariq Al-Bishri to head the Constitution Amendment Committee, which was established in February 2011 and whose recommendations were later approved by referendum, by the MB's campaign to secure this approval, and by the meager MB presence at the mass demonstrations against the SCAF and its policies. However, a rift emerged between the two bodies in August 2011, when the SCAF failed to include MB members in the governmental committee established to draft "super-constitutional principles" that are to underlie the new constitution. It should be noted that MB Supreme Guide Dr. Muhammad Badi' has repeatedly denied the existence of any deal with the SCAF.[3]

Since the revolution, the MB leadership has made efforts to allay fears in Egypt and in the world that the movement plans to take power in the country. Immediately following the revolution, the leadership declared that the MB would not field a presidential candidate and that its party would not seek to gain a majority in parliament, but would run for no more than one third of the seats, as part of an alliance of Islamic and non-Islamic parties. However, in the months since the revolution, senior MB officials have announced the Freedom and Justice Party's plans to field party candidates running for more than 50% of the parliamentary seats, as part of an alliance allowing the MB party to maintain the lion's share, in addition to fielding independent candidates in the elections. The MB's strength is also likely to gain from the fact that the independent candidates running for president include figures affiliated with and former members of the MB. Some of them have established parties that could draw voters away from the MB; however, these parties are likely to increase the overall weight of the Islamic bloc in the parliament and thus its influence in government circles.

The MB has set out its vision for post-revolutionary Egypt in a number of documents and statements. Both the movement and its political party endorsed the Al-Azhar Document;[4] as part of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, an alliance the MB party formed with dozens of other parties, the Freedom and Justice Party drafted guidelines for the constitution that are broadly similar to those laid out in the Al-Azhar Document. In addition, the party has posted a detailed elections platform on its website which sets out its political doctrine. The main points of this doctrine will be discussed below, and will be compared to the draft platform published by the MB in 2007.

The MB's Numerous Paths to the Elections

Following the strengthening of Islamic voices in the Egyptian political discourse and the recognition of the MB's official party, apprehensions emerged, in Egypt and in the rest of the world, that the Egyptian revolution was being Islamized. To allay these fears, MB leaders pursued a reassuring informational approach, reiterating that they have no intention to field a presidential candidate or to strive for a parliamentary majority, but only for 30%-40% of the seats – and only as part of an alliance with other parties from various streams. However, notwithstanding its attempts at reassurance, immediately following the submission of candidate lists for the parliamentary elections, deputy MB party chairman Dr. 'Issam Al-'Aryan announced that the MB would run for over 50% of the parliamentary seats.[5]

At the same time, the MB is working to maximize its achievements in the upcoming elections, via several channels:

A. Dominance of MB Representatives in the Alliance List

In an effort to allay fears that it was striving to monopolize the Egyptian parliament, the MB party decided to run in the parliamentary elections as part of an alliance with other parties, some of which, it should be noted, are not Islamic. However, it dominates this coalition, constituting a much more significant portion of it than the other parties.

The MB party is a major player in the Democratic Alliance for Egypt – an alliance that started with over 30 parties, many of which have since left it. The most prominent of these parties, Al-Wafd, left the alliance as the date neared for fielding candidate lists. Recently, there have been more reports of internal disagreements in the coalition, and within some of the parties that are part of it,[6] and some further parties left, most notably the Salafi parties, whereas other parties, such as the Al-Ghad party, have joined the coalition. Currently the coalition includes 10 parties. In light of the parties that have left, MB representatives are expected to ultimately constitute about 80% of the alliance list.[7] Commentators expressed doubts that the alliance would make it to election day, but some said that if it did, it would have a very great chance of success.[8]

The Salafi parties that left the alliance with the MB established an alliance of their own including the Al-Nour, Al-Asala, and the Al-Binaa Wal-Tanmiya party, the political wing of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, after the MB, according to these parties' claims, failed to afford them sufficient representation in the alliance list.[9] On the other hand, attempts were made to establish rival alliances to run against the Islamic alliance. For example, in August 2011, the Egypt Bloc alliance was formed; it called for the establishment of a civil state, as opposed to a religious state. This alliance included Tagamu', the Egyptian Democratic Party, the Party of Free Egyptians, and more. But this alliance too has recently shown cracks, and it has no significant media presence, unlike the MB alliance.[10]

B. MB to Field Candidates both on Party List and as Independents

Under pressure from the MB and other political forces, the SCAF decided to revoke Article Five of the Election Law, so that parliamentary candidates can now run simultaneously on party lists and on independent lists, instead of on just one list.[11] Various political forces insisted on the change, claiming that this would minimize the chances of former NDP members becoming MPs via an independent list, considering that the NDP was disbanded and its former members are thus expected to run as independents. This also works in the MB's favor, increasing the chances of its candidates taking seats for which they were unable to run before this section of the law was revoked. A Freedom and Justice Party source said that the party would run for at least 50% of the independent seats in the parliament.[12] It should be noted that in the last elections for parliament under the Mubarak regime, MB candidates only ran independently. In 2005, the MB took 88 seats, while in 2010, they ended up with no presence at all in parliament.[13]

C. MB Associates to Run as Independent Presidential Candidates

Although the MB will not field a presidential candidate, independent candidates who have been members of the movement, such as 'Abd Al Mun'im Abu Al-Futouh, a former member of the office of the General Guide who left in order to facilitate a presidential bid, are slated to run for the presidency. It should be noted that MB activists who joined the campaign in support of Abu Al-Futouh, or who participated in a Ramadan iftar (breaking of the fast) that he held, were interrogated by the MB, and some were even suspended from the movement.[14] Other candidates affiliated with the MB will run for president, such as Hazem Abu Isma'il, who ran for parliament in 2005 as an MB representative, and 'Abdallah Al-Ash'al, who writes for the movement's website. The latter assessed that the MB would support him because he is close to the movement's ideology.[15]

D. Splinter Parties Will Run Separately

Former MB members may get into the parliament via parties that have split off from it. The Al-Wasat party, which split from the MB in 1996 and which at the time was not approved by the state Party Commission, gained recognition after the revolution, attracting many MB members.[16] Recently, four additional parties have split off from the MB, most of them established by the younger generation of the movement that opposes the old guard:[17]

· Al-Tayar Al-Masri: Founded by several young people from the Coalition of the Revolutionary Youth, among them Islam Lutfi, Muhammad Al-Qassas, and Muhammad Al-'Abbas. The founders refused to join the MB's Freedom and Justice Party, claiming that it was not sufficiently independent from the MB movement. Al-Tayar Al-Masri defines itself as a civil, democratic party with religious principles and values, advocating strengthening the achievements of the revolution and building up the weak political and social groups.[18] Young people from the MB who joined Al-Tayar Al-Masri have been interrogated, suspended, and even expelled from the MB.[19]

· Al-Riyada: Founded by Khaled Daoud, it recently united with the Masr Al-Mustaqbal party, according to its leaders with the aim of representing Islamic liberals.[20]

· Al-Islah Wal-Tanmiya: A youth party headed by former MP Anwar 'Ismat Al-Sadat which advocates the rule of law, freedom of religion, social justice, and the independence of judicial, religious, and educational institutions.[21]

· Al-Nahda: Founded by former MB leaders 'Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Al-Futouh and Ibrahim Al-Za'frani, and later joined by former MB deputy general guide Dr. Muhammad Habib, who is one of the candidates to serve as the party's deputy chairman.[22] The party regards religion as the central component of Egypt's identity, and believes that any attempt at revival that excludes this factor is doomed to fail.[23]

The Controversy over the Constitutional Guidelines

The political orientation of the MB and its party is reflected in various documents. The MB has opposed the proposal to have the government draft guidelines, or "super-constitutional principles," for the new constitution before the holding of parliamentary elections. It hopes to play a central role in shaping this constitution following the elections, and aims to prevent any move that might limit its freedom of action in this regard. That is why it opposed Deputy Prime Minister 'Ali Al-Silmi's document of super-constitutional principles. The movement did, however, sign the Al-Azhar Document, drawn up by Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, which sets out general guidelines defining the status of religion in post-revolution Egypt. The document opposes the establishment of a religious state ruled by clerics, advocating instead to define Islam as the state religion and Islamic shari'a as the primary source for legislation – as stated in Article Two of Egypt's current constitution – while granting non-Muslims the right to follow their own laws in matters of personal status. It should be noted that the MB's supreme guide asked the movement's mufti, Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Barr, to write a detailed article on the content of the Al-Azhar Document, though this has yet to be published.

Furthermore, the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, of which the MB is a member, has drafted a document as a basis for the new constitution. Like the Al-Azhar Document, this document too advocates preserving Article Two with the addition of a clause granting freedom to non-Muslims in personal status matters. It also advocates freedom of belief and worship, national unity, non-discrimination, and equality for all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, and gender. In contrast to the party platform, which opposes only the establishment of military parties, this document opposes the establishment of all religious and sectarian parties.

Like the MB party platform, to be discussed below, the Democratic Alliance document also advocates honoring human rights as set out in international conventions, in a way that does not contravene the principles of the shari'a. It defines the Arab-Islamic-African arena as the major theatre of operations for Egypt's foreign policy, and defines the liberation of Palestine and Iraq as the main pillars of this foreign policy. It also advocates holding strategic dialogue with Iran and Turkey over the future of the region – a clause that does not appear in the MB party platform – and speaks of re-assessing the agreements and settlements with Israel, "on the grounds that there is no real peace and that [Israel's] violations of the [Palestinians'] right to self-determination continue."[24]

The MB Party Platform

The official platform of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party as posted on its website[25] is identical to the draft platform published in 2007,[26] with the exception of changes made to several clauses that were a matter of controversy among MB members and that also sparked criticism against the movement in 2007, on the grounds that they indicated an intention to establish a religious state in Egypt. These latter clauses were moderated or omitted in the new platform, so as to avoid criticism by the MB's opponents. It should be noted that the platform was published on the MB party's website without any official public announcement, and it is possible that the party may at some point release an alternative platform.

The Party's Source of Authority Is the Islamic Shari'a

According to the platform (pp. 5-9), the Freedom and Justice Party is "a party whose source of authority is the Islamic shari'a, in which the majority of the Egyptian people believes." The platform defines the shari'a as the primary source for legislation. It adds that non-Muslims have the right to follow their own religious laws in matters of faith, worship, and personal status whenever these laws differ from those of the shari'a, but should be judged according to the Muslim principles of justice and equality in all other domains of life. The platform states further that the aims of the shari'a must inform Egypt's priorities, goals, policies, and strategies and must form the basis of the cultural principles of both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Accordingly, the MB party champions the following values, which, it claims, emanate from the shari'a: national unity; freedom of belief and worship; equality of rights and duties; respect for human rights; and employing the principle of shura (council) as a democratic tool in both political activity and in private, family, and social circles. The platform emphasizes that the party is open to all Egyptian citizens regardless of religion, gender, age, profession, or social status, that the party strives for an overall reform in all domains – political, constitutional, and moral – and that it advocates inculcating "the real meaning of the principles of the Islamic shari'a, its moral standards and its values, which are shared by the other monotheistic faiths, as a way of life for the individual and for society" (p. 9).

The platform states further that the status of the shari'a as a source of authority will be reflected in the views of the majority in the elected parliament that represents the national consensus. Like the 2007 platform, it supports re-establishing the Supreme Council of Clerics, but not as a body that will dictate to the president and the legislative branch on matters of shari'a. The present platform states in one of its inner sections (rather than in the front section, like the 2007 platform) that the Council will only assist state institutions in interpreting religious fatwas, and will be the body from with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar is elected (p. 75).

Explaining the nature of an Islamic state, the platform says it is a civil state in the sense that it is not run by the police, by the military, or by clerics. In fact, the platform claims that Islam does not have clerics, but only religious scholars who are not immune from criticism and do not have a monopoly over the religion or legislation. The rulers of an Islamic state, it adds, are citizens elected according to the people's will, and the main difference between an Islamic state and other states is that the Islamic shari'a is the source of authority which regulates all domains of life, both for Muslims and for their non-Muslim partners in the homeland.

The New Regime Will Be Parliamentary, Not Presidential

The platform also advocates (p. 11) a parliamentary-constitutional regime, which it considers to be best suited to the conditions of the country. Egypt will have a prime minister and a president, but the latter will be a symbolic rather than executive role, contrary to practice over recent decades. The party considers the government the official representative of the Egyptian people, which is the source of authority, power, and rule. This means that the nation has the right to choose its leaders and representatives in government, to hold them accountable for their actions, and to dismiss them in case of misconduct. The party advocates flexible separation between the branches of government, with cooperation between the executive and legislative branches, and holds the government responsible before parliament.

According to the platform (p. 14), the democratic ideal must inform all realms of life, from the political arena and state institutions to the individual's conduct and social relations. The platform identifies democracy with the principles of shura accepted in Islam, defining it as the right of the people to decide its own fate. It explains that, since Islam does not dictate a particular form of shura rule, it is the best form of rule mankind has developed which must be adopted – namely, democracy. The platform (p. 17) calls for party pluralism, not including military parties or parties whose platform promotes discrimination among citizens. It also calls for an active civil society to work alongside the state.

Egypt Must Reconsider Its International Agreements

It is further stated (pp. 21-22) that the MB party will aspire to peaceful relations with foreign countries and peoples, and with international institutions, on the basis of mutual respect, equality and human fraternity, as defined by the shari'a. The party will honor international human rights conventions as long as they do not contravene the shari'a, and disputes will be settled and resolved in accordance with internationally accepted principles that are in line with the shari'a. The platform calls for reform in the UN and the annulment of veto power, for the sake of neutrality and balancing conflicting interests.

Hinting at Egypt's peace agreement with Israel, the platform specifies (p. 22) that agreements between countries must be accepted by their peoples, and must suit the parties' interests and the principles of justice. Such agreements will be honored on the condition that their signatories remain committed to implementing them to the letter, as is accepted in international relations, and "therefore, the party deems it necessary to reconsider many of the agreements signed in various domains under the previous regime."

The new platform addresses Israel more bluntly than the 2007 draft, in line with the general atmosphere of post-revolution Egypt. It defines (p. 24) the Palestinian issue as "the most dire issue from the standpoint of Egypt's national security" in view of the fact that "the Zionist entity is a racist, settling, expansionist and aggressive entity that has weapons of mass destruction, and which has caused many wars in the region, affected [the region's] geographic, political, social, and economic situation and sabotaged development plans. It drove a people from its home, and seized control of Palestine's Islamic and Christian holy places. Therefore, the party deems it necessary to make a maximum effort to resolve this issue and to ensure the Palestinian right to self-determination, and the right of the refugees to return to their homes, to establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital, to restore all of Palestine's Islamic and Christian holy places [to their rightful owners], and to disarm the entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction..."

According to the platform, the MB party will strive to restore Egypt's leading role in the Arab, Islamic, and African world and internationally. It stipulates Arab and Islamic unity as a condition for Egypt's national security, which must be sought in an informed and gradual manner, and in accordance with the will of the people. Among the party's aims specified in the platform (p. 42) are the establishment of a land bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the removal of tax and visa barriers among Arab states. The platform (p. 54) rejects a policy of conditional foreign aid, advocating self-reliance and economic partnership.

New Platform Strikes Controversial Clauses regarding Women, Copts

The MB party's previous platform promised to empower women, affording them all their rights without undermining basic values in society and while balancing women's obligations and rights. The new platform (p. 16) also specifies that all citizens will have the right to run for and serve in public office, join political organizations, study, and work, so long as this does not undermine basic values in society. It specifies (p. 65) a married woman's right to work in political, cultural, social, and economic fields as long as this "does not violate the right of the family or the dictates of the Islamic shari'a." Absent from the new platform is the clause, which appeared in its previous draft (p. 103), according to which "the burdens of presidency must not be placed on a woman's shoulders - any more than the supervision and leading of the army – since they contradict her nature and the rest of her social and humanitarian roles..."

The 2007 draft paltform also specified (p. 15) that non-Muslims are not fit to serve as president of the country: "There are basic religious offices in the country whose [function] is to protect religion... These religious offices include that of the president or prime minister, depending on the political regime [in the country]. Accordingly, we believe that the duty of the president or prime minister - depending on the political regime - runs against the beliefs of non-Muslims. Consequently, a non-Muslim is exempt from this position, based on the Islamic shari'a, which does not obligate a non-Muslim to perform functions that contradict his faith..." This clause is absent from the new platform, which does not specifically address the question of Copts' rights to serve in public office.

In addition, the 2007 draft platform included a clause specifying that "all activities related to [the] aspects of tourism must be in line with Islamic principles, values, and laws," and that "a tourist must familiarize himself with Muslim religious boundaries, so as not to transgress them in public during his stay [in Egypt]." In contrast, the new platform (p. 41) recognizes tourism's importance as a source of national revenue and as a source of income for hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, and does not contain this clause.

The MB was aware of the criticism, both at home and abroad, aroused by the abovementioned clauses in the 2007 draft platform, and of the international community's expectation that the movement would address this criticism in the final version of its platform. The removal of the controversial clauses regarding the role of the Supreme Council of Clerics, the role of women and Copts, and tourists' obligation to honor the laws of Islam mark an ideological shift, at least outwardly, toward a more moderate stance. This shift, however, may merely be a tactical move aimed at avoiding criticism, presenting the Freedom and Justice Party as tolerant, modern, and moderate, and drawing as broad a support base as possible in the upcoming elections.

* L. Azuri is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 16, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 17, 2011.

[2] Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy claimed that as early as February 2011, the SCAF and the MB had struck a deal, orchestrated by former Egyptian intelligence chief 'Omar Suleiman, to involve the MB in the government. According to Fandy, the SCAF intends to ensure the MB's victory in the elections, in return for an MB effort to draft a constitution guaranteeing the military a central role in running the country, as in the Turkish model. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 4, 2011.

[3] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), July 7, 2011; Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), April 14, 2011.

[4] On this document and the MB's position regarding it, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No. 734, " Egypt's Islamic Camp, Once Suppressed By Regime, Now Taking Part in Shaping New Egypt – Part I: The Al-Azhar Document," September 6, 2011, Egypt's Islamic Camp, Once Suppressed By Regime, Now Taking Part in Shaping New Egypt – Part I: The Al-Azhar Document.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 23, 2011.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 5, 2011.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 24, 2011.

[8] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 4, 2011.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 23, 2011.

[10] Al-Ahram, (Egypt), September 4, 2011; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 10, 2011.

[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 9, 2011.

[12] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), October 14, 2011.

[13] For more on the results of the 2010 parliamentary elections and on the MB's place in them, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.653, "Results of Elections to Egyptian People's Assembly - Ruling Party: 420 Seats, Muslim Brotherhood: 0," December 28, 2010, Results of Elections to Egyptian People's Assembly - Ruling Party: 420 Seats, Muslim Brotherhood: 0.

[14] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 4, 2011, September 20, 2011.

[15] Al-Wafd (Egypt), March 22, 2011.

[16] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 2, 2011.

[17] On the rebellion of the younger generation of the MB, see MEMRI Special Dispatch Series Report No.3654, "Young Members of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Call for 'Revolution' Within the Movement," March 9, 2011, Young Members of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Call for 'Revolution' Within the Movement.

[18] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), June 23, 2011; Al-Ahram (Egypt), June 22, 2011.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 1, 2011.

[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 5, 2011.

[21]; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), June 26, 2011.

[22] Al-Dustour (Egypt), July 13, 2011.

[23]; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 5, 2011.

[24] Al-Wafd (Egypt), August 1, 2011.


[26] On the 2007 MB draft party platform, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.409, "Public Debate on the Political Platform of the Planned Muslim Brotherhood Party in Egypt," December 11, 2007, Public Debate on the Political Platform of the Planned Muslim Brotherhood Party in Egypt.

Share this Report:

Help Fight Extremism - Support MEMRI

MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.