News / Middle East

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda

Senior members of Egypt's  Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsi,  right,  and  Essam el-Erian  hold a press conference on the latest situation in Egypt in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011.  (AP Photo/ Mohammed Abou Zaid)
Senior members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsi, right, and Essam el-Erian hold a press conference on the latest situation in Egypt in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Abou Zaid)
Cecily Hilleary

The Society of Muslim Brothers is Egypt’s largest and most well-organized group. Its activities are divided between social services, political advocacy and religious reform. The Society is admired by some, feared by others and, now that Hosni Mubarak has resigned the Egyptian presidency, analysts will be taking a closer look at the hitherto banned organization and seeking to understand its political agenda.

Sharia is a collective group of laws which governs all aspects of Muslims’ lives, from marriage and family life to conduct in society and business.  Based both on the Quran and the customs and sayings of the Prophet and other early Muslims, Sharia varies by region; in some countries, it is the basis for all laws.  Other countries have adapted and blended it with secular legal systems.

On its English-language website, the Brotherhood states that the Western concept of “secular liberal democracy” is undemocratic, because it rejects religion in public life. In its published guidelines, the Brotherhood states goals that include spreading Islamic teachings, bring Islamic sects closer together, improve the lives of the poor and otherwise marginalized; and secure the Islamic state against foreign rule and internal enemies.

Nathan J. Brown
Nathan J. Brown

Nathan J. Brown is a Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and Director of its Institute for Middle East Studies.  He has written extensively about the Muslim Brotherhood.  He says that since the group’s founding more than 70 years ago, it has been committed to seeing Sharia implemented in Egypt.  However, their ideas about Sharia have evolved over time: The group has clearly come to terms with political rights—that is, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and free and fair elections--however, the Brothers have not yet come to terms with what Brown calls “social rights”—or freedom of expression in the "artistic sphere."

“When it comes to women and non-Muslims, they are increasingly comfortable with the idea of citizenship,” Brown said.  “If you are a member of the Egyptian community, you’re a full member—with one very important exception, perhaps a symbolic one, but one that is important in Egyptian debate, and that is the position of head of state; the Brotherhood still says that if you want their support to become a head of state, you have to be a Muslim male.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda

What about that other controversial and confusing concept of Islam—jihad?  Muslims have alternately used the word to describe the struggle for spiritual enlightenment or perfection--or a holy war against enemies of Islam.  

There’s no doubt, says Brown, that the Brotherhood has historically talked about jihad and used military metaphors to present itself—for example, the movement’s official symbol consists of two swords crossed under the image of the Holy Quran.  Exactly what jihad means, Brown said, is not clear.  

“Is it supposed to be peaceful?” Brown asked.  “When is it okay to use force?  Who has the authority to use force?  Is this something that individual Muslims or a group has the right to do?  All those are places where there’s considerable ambiguity.”

Brown says the Brotherhood believes that the best path to change in a Muslim society is that of peaceful change and talk, not force.  But the group also believes that jihad is legimate in cases of foreign occupation.  Thus, he says, the stronger the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the worse for Israel.

“That said,” Brown said, “I think that anybody who has studied the Brotherhood in recent years knows that the Brotherhood is not in a position to rule Egypt by itself, and it doesn’t even seem interested in making a move in that direction. What the Brotherhood wants to do is participate in politics and to have a voice.”

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda

Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York.  He's also the author of Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.  He believes the West has allowed fear and misunderstanding of Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood to justify their support of repressive regimes

“We are sleeping in the bed that decades of mistaken policy have made for us,” he said.  “We were sold a bill of goods by Arab regimes which told Americans and the world that they were the only bulwark between their countries and unrestrained fanatical Islam, that if you did not support dictatorship, repression and systematic violation of human rights, you'd have bearded fundamentalists raving from the top of every minaret in every one of these countries--and taking over.”

Khalidi points out that regardless of how one feels about the Muslim Brotherhood, the group has a valid role in Egyptian history and society.  He says it would be arrogant for any outside government to work to keep the Brotherhood out of power in Egypt - if in fact they should ever make it that far. “The last thing that the Egyptians would tolerate would be any form of foreign interference.”

"One is either in favor of democracy and allowing people to make choices or not,” Kahlidi added.  “Whether they are wise ones is another matter.”

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid