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The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood

Posted by vmsalama on August 26, 2005

The youngest members of Egypt’s largest – but banned – party talk politics and more

The Daily Star Egypt talks to the youngest members of Egypt’s largest, but banned, party about politics, religion, and life in general in a two part series.  Click here for Part Two.

(to read the PDF version of this story, click here-pdf-ikhwan-youth-part-1.pdf) 


by Vivian Salama


CAIRO – They are feared and outlawed equally as much as they are supported and renown worldwide.  The Muslim Brotherhood (El-Ikhwan El-Muslimeen), perhaps the most misunderstood political movement in existence, arguably has the greatest number of supporters in Egypt, and possibly, across the Arab world.  With a presence in 70 countries, a target audience of the fastest growing religion in the world – some 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide – and dozens of Islamic organizations spawned off of it, its influence is far beyond the reaches of Egypt’s government and any other.  Yet for decades, they have attached to their name the leprous image of political bad boys, their candidates for office banned from the election ballot should they bare the party’s name. 

            In this era of political transition, as weathered generals sit in their offices and engaging solely in a war of words, their soldiers – young, passionate, in some cases, naïve – head to the frontlines day in and day out defending their cause.  Perhaps they are the most accurate depiction of a party and their views – honest, refreshing, and unacquainted with the politics behind the politics.  This week, four young men and two young women of the Muslim Brotherhood came together for a discussion held exclusively with the Daily Star Egypt, to talk politics, religion and life in general.  While certain topics riled them up more than others, they look to communicate that they are just average young adults who hold politics and religion close to their hearts. 

            Most surprisingly, as strong-minded as each is about their political views, of the six, two of them have not told their parents they are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a third says his parents do not know to what degree he is involved.  The reason across the board is fear.  Those whose parents are not aware of their involvement say they hide it simply because they don’t want their parents to worry. 

            “They would not refuse it, but I do not like to make them worried,” admits Lubna Mohamed, 20, a political-science major at Cairo University.  “Generally here in Egypt, even if you’re a communist, the idea of getting involved in politics, holding a political stand on anything is not easy, it comes with consequences.”

            “The idea is that maybe the father and mother will support the movement with their heart, but they don’t want their son or daughter to be involved,” explains Osama Ghobish, 21, who studies electrical engineering at Cairo University.  “My parents know I am in the Muslim Brotherhood, but I’m not sure they realize how much I am with them.” 


            Even those who have told their parents say it is a tough thing for any parent to accept.  As opposition movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Kafaya grow more outspoken by the day, the government’s grip equally tightens in the face of growing resistance.  In recent months, sweeping arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood have shaken the group out of a period of surveillance and reflection, and into active-duty, only this time, with a slightly different edge.  Under the leadership of Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, today’s Muslim Brotherhood appears gentler, more peaceful, and placing greater emphasis of their political platform, not a religious agenda.  Akef has even instructed his members not to raise the Quran at protests for it overshadows the Brotherhood’s true message – political reform.

            Just this week, Akef released a statement confirming that the Muslim Brotherhood would not endorse President Hosni Mubarak in his bid for re-election during Egypt’s first ever multi-candidate campaign.  It comes as no surprise.  However as candidates such as El-Ghad party leader Ayman Nour sought support from the Brotherhood, the outlawed group is refusing them one by one.  The fact remains, Egypt’s largest party will not participate in this historic election, but just as significant, they have chosen not to boycott the ballot as many opposition groups have.  While members of the Muslim Brotherhood are permitted to run as independents, no independents are among the ten candidates approved by the Electoral Commission as they could not secure the backing of 250 elected officials, such as parliament which is dominated by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).

            “Within the 10 candidates, it’s not even a question of whether there are two or three better than Mubarak.  No one is good,” insists Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, 22, a senior at the American University in Cairo (AUC) studying political science.  “I don’t care about the person, I care about his program.  If we see that a candidate’s program was a good, strong program, of course we would support him.  Anyone besides Mubarak would be a step forward, unless it is Gamal [Mubarak].”              “If you look at the people we have here in the country, ask yourself, can any of them be president?  It’s difficult,” says Asmaa Gamal, 20, studying commerce at Cairo University.  “Even the publicity that’s written in the newspapers about the candidates, they are showing all of these strange personalities running for president.”              “How can you expect change when the people must walk down your path, must enter your door in order to reach the other side?” questions Lubna, the others nod in agreement.  “The other point we want to communicate is that it is not whether or not someone from the Muslim Brotherhood is elected, but that it is a natural process, that it is coming from the people and the candidate is someone that the people want,” adds Mahmoud Moustafa, 19, a commerce student at Cairo University.  “However, I believe that these elections are just a big show and that’s it.”     While Egypt has remained moderately liberal next to countries in the Gulf, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to push for a Shar’ia based government, where Islam and politics work hand in hand.  The country has, under rule of the NDP, managed to cling to secularism, as citizens adopt a more conservative outer image.  The young people of the Muslim Brotherhood say the idea of secular and non-secular is an unnatural concept conjured up by the West

“The idea of non-secularism originally is coming from the West,” says Lobna.  “The idea of Islam, as a non-secular government, it doesn’t mean that a Sheikh is running the government.  It simply means that we follow the rules of Shar’ia.  There is no discrimination.” 

“We don’t say that if the Brotherhood holds the government that they are going to enforce the ideologies of Islam in the country,” explains Ahmed Ibrahim, 24, a medical student at Cairo University.  “We would try to enforce what is naturally considered right and wrong.  The ideas of [Islam] would be there, but it does not have anything to do with having a non-secular government.”

“The people think that we will drastically change things and have a religious authority running the country and that we will change things to a way we see fit,” adds Mahmoud.  “It will stay as it is, a secular country, which under the constitution would be supported by Islam.  Nothing new would come out of it.”

The Brotherhood’s leader, Mahdi Akef himself, told the Daily Star Egypt last June that there is no perfect government in the world – citing polar examples such as the United States and Iran as both missing the point to true, honest democratic governance.  “The government that works right must respect the people’s opinion,” explained Akef.  “There is no government that respects the people’s opinions.”

The young people of the Muslim Brotherhood agree.  When asked to define democracy, most of them initially responded, with a chuckle, “Not Egypt!”

“Democracy is the ideas of the people,” responds Asmaa.  “The people choose, they decide.  They govern themselves.”

“Democracy is the opinion of the majority,” adds Ibrahim.  “We don’t look at the government for the first steps.  The government is the result of a strong civil society.” 

“Democracy is the opposite of what we are in now, that’s for starters,” says Ahmed, sparking giggles from the group.  “It is an idea of free expression.  It would give people the opportunity to express his or her own point of view, and the situation should be the opinion of the majority and that a person can make himself heard.”



2 Responses to “The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood”

  1. […] The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt’s ambassador to Israel marks ‘new phase’ […]

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