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Muslim Brotherhood Looks to Soften Stance on Women, Christians

ICC Note

The leaders of the Muslim brotherhood, the de facto opposition party in Egypt , are discussing reforms including changing their policies regarding Christians and women. Originally, they intended to bar Christians and women from running the country as presidents. Despite such discussions, the Muslim brotherhood is still a radical Islamic party.

Written by Joseph Mayton

02/26/2009 Egypt (The Media Line)- [ Cairo , Egypt ] Party politics have always proven illusive for Egypt ’s Muslim Brotherhood. As a movement entangled in a tradition based on Islamic Shari’a, and founded as a pro-Palestinian, anti-American organization in the late 1920s, the more traditional factions within the modern structure are apprehensive of change.

But that appears to be changing as the movement’s leaders are currently discussing reforms to its platform that could see changes to the roles of women and Christians.

In October 2007, the banned Islamic group released its platform, surprising many over its conservative overtones, including barring women and Christians from holding the post of president.

At the time, the Brotherhood argued that Christians could not become president or prime minister because both posts have Islamic religious duties, so “non-Muslims are excused from holding this mission,” the 2007 version reads.

It also says the president cannot be a woman because the post’s religious and military duties “contradict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles.”

While the document attempts moderation, arguing that there is “equality between men and women in terms of their human dignity,” it also warns against “burdening women with duties against their nature or role in the family.”

In February, the Egyptian newspaper Dar El Sharouk published a report that the Brotherhood was expected to announce a number of reforms to the platform, including the controversial issues surrounding women and Christians.

Essam El Arian, a leading member within the Brotherhood, and seen as a moderate, told The Media Line (TML) that a final decision had yet to be taken and “discussions are currently underway.”

He did not say whether there would be changes.

“We are debating these issues right now and it will be some time before conclusions are taken,” he said.

“These issues have always been contentious within the Brotherhood and with the outside community. It only makes sense that this is going to change. I hope that people see that the people calling for reform are doing what they can,” he adds.

Arian and the moderate factions within the movement are unsure of when a decision will be made public as to the status of women and Christians, but the mood in opposition circles here is that the Brotherhood is recognizing that they need to change.

“It is time for them to look at dealing with these issues. When they first reported the platform, I was disappointed,” says Copt and opposition leader George Ishaq. “I had a great relationship with them [Brotherhood] and since the platform was published we have not been on good terms.”

Khalil Al Anani, a political analyst at the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo , believes that in the end, it is not necessarily what is written in a platform that is important. Rather, he considers that as a movement, its actual beliefs and views on women and Christians will have a major impact on how Egyptians and the world view the group.

“It is not confirmed yet if they [the Brotherhood] will remove these controversial aspects of the platform,” Anani says, adding that people should look beyond an actual draft platform and into the views of the movement.

“I think the problem is not whether they will remove these articles or not, but more what they actually think about women and Copts. That’s the point.”

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