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Muslim Brotherhood Takes Egypt's Parliament

from the January 24, 2012 eNews issue



The Muslim Brotherhood won elections in the new Egyptian government with 235 seats in the 498 seat interim People's Assembly earlier this month. The Brotherhood is reportedly not as extreme as other groups like the hardline Salafists, but Islamists as a whole took nearly three-quarters of the assembly seats. The new chamber speaker, Saad Katatni, will lead the way in this ancient country with its influence in the Middle East.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has long concerned many moderate Egyptians because of the group's heavily conservative Islamic views on shariah law and women's and minority rights. Formed in 1928, this powerful political force in Egypt has the credo, "Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

After the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has "the same mission and goals, but different roles" than the Brotherhood. The hardline Islamist Nour Party won 29 percent of the assembly seats in the elections, followed distantly by the secular party New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc coalition. The top two parties in Egypt's parliament are therefore fundamentally Islamic in their positions on important issues.

Egyptian publisher Hisham Kassem, expressed surprise at the success of the Islamist groups, saying, "I never was so off-track as I was with my forecast for the parliamentary elections. I didn't see the Salafi party having any presence. I forecast 10 seats for them and I didn't think the [Muslim] Brotherhood would exceed 20 percent."

The Nour Party, Egypt's fundamentalist Salafi party, wants to roll back the clock for Islamic peoples, returning them to the time of the generations just following Mohammed. They want Muslims to live, to interpret the Koran and worship in the same manner as the immediate descendents of Mohammed's Companions 1500 years ago. The Muslim Brotherhood holds some positions in common with the Salafis, but the two groups disagree on other points. The Brotherhood has stated that it will not push an extreme agenda and has demonstrated an interest in putting the international community at ease. This is not a particularly stable time in Egyptian history, and the Muslim Brotherhood knows it cannot afford to shake things up too much. Not right away.

Omar Ashour, professor of political science at Britain's University of Exeter, notes, "Any confrontation with the international community will reflect badly on the economy and a clash with the military will reflect badly on politics. So, I think what they will try to do is avoid a clash with these two big entities ... They are trying to avoid being in the front line, too visible and holding direct responsibility," he said.

The parliament met for the first time Monday to elect the new speaker. Saad Katatni, Secretary-General of the Freedom and Justice Party won the seat with 399 votes, while the runner up, Essam Sultan, the deputy leader of Al Wasat party, had 87 votes. This newly elected interim parliament will be responsible for selecting a 100-member panel to draft a constitution, and the world is watching to see how much it is based in strict shariah law. The new government has a lot of major issues to deal with, and balancing power with the military will take great care.

Even if the strictest of shariah law is not imposed, however, businessmen in Egypt fear that there may still be enough of it to cause grief. Forbidding alcohol consumption, segregating women from men, or forcing the financial sector to employ Islamic banking practices could have a serious effect on the country's economics. The Muslim Brotherhood has worked to keep people's fears down, but those who do not trust their newly moderate tone are finding ways to steal out of the country.

In the meanwhile, defense attorney of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made his closing argument Monday before the court, stating that Mubarak was still the president and could not be tried under the (suspended) Egyptian constitution. The ailing 83-year-old Mubarak has been on trial since August 3 for the deaths of protestors during the uprising last February and could face the death penalty. The former head of Egypt's State Council, Judge Mohamed Hamed el-Gamal doesn't think the argument will fly. "He will be judged by Egyptian law like any other Egyptian because he is not president."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns reached out to Egypt's Islamists earlier this month when he met with Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party. The FJP has stated it would abide by the international agreements Egypt has made.

Related Links

- 'The Quran Is Our Law; Jihad Is Our Way' - The Wall Street Journal
- Muslim Brotherhood Parliament Speaker Creates Worries For Some - Voice Of America
- Final Results: Muslim Brotherhood Wins Sweeping Victory in Egyptian Elections - Haaretz
- Egypt's New Assembly Elects Muslim Brotherhood Speaker - BBC News
- Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Poised To Prosper In Post-Mubarak New Era - The Guardian

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