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Muslim Brotherhood to Form New Political Party
The (Egyptian) Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s most influential opposition movement, announced just a few days ago that it will be forming a political party. The MB has flirted with the idea since the early 1980s. They probably would have gone ahead and formed one long ago, if there was any reason to think the government would legalize it. The Egyptian government, however, refuses to legalize
Monday, January 22,2007 00:00
by Shadi Hamid

The (Egyptian) Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s most influential opposition movement, announced just a few days ago that it will be forming a political party. The MB has flirted with the idea since the early 1980s. They probably would have gone ahead and formed one long ago, if there was any reason to think the government would legalize it. The Egyptian government, however, refuses to legalize parties it doesn’t like, which can lead to years (decades?) of administrative limbo. Al-Wasat, a moderate religious party that included both Muslims and Copts, has been waiting for approval from the “political parties committee” for more than a decade. Who’s to say they won’t wait another?

This is a good example of how government policies create a political environment entirely unconducive to moderation. Forming a political party would have forced the Brotherhood to modernize their political program and make their internal organization more transparent. All that aside, this announcement is quite important because it, for the first time, makes explicit – and in a sense formalizes – the distinction between the political and religious. The Brotherhood will continue to operate as a religious organization, focusing on social work, service distribution, charity work, and preaching. The political party (which will almost certainly include a significant number of non-Brotherhood members, and perhaps even a number of Christians) will be focused solely on political affairs. This may mark the relative “secularization” of the Brotherhood. This is not to say that the new party will be “liberal” or that it will no longer be explicitly “religious.” Such an outcome (which would likely please American observers) is unlikely nor would it be particularly desirable since that would leave the Brotherhood’s right flank open for electoral poaching and eventually a more radical group might fill the gap.

I also want to quickly point to a recent statement from the Brotherhood’s general guide, Mahdi Akef, who is an interesting character and prone to weird outbursts when you ask him anything having to do with Israel (as I did when I met with him in August). People often complain that the very existence of religious parties presents a threat to democracy. It is worth noting that Akef, in the statement, emphasizes a point which I’ve read and heard from many Brotherhood leaders over the last three years:

If the so called religious method means monopolizing truth and ruling according to a divine right and infallibility of rulers and monopolizing power, and discriminating among citizens according to creed, doctrine or religion, these are things which are rejected by Islam and accordingly rejected by us.


 

 

 

Shadi Hamid is founding member and associate at The Project on Middle East Democracy. He is a contributor to Democracy Arsenal, the Security and Peace Initiative’s foreign affairs blog.

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