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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs