3/18/2011 Egypt (ISN) – One of the concerns discussed in the western press is the issue of what it will mean for the country’s new democracy if the trans-national Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s oldest Islamic movement, gains the majority vote . For the moment there are few organized political groups in Egypt capable of creating new governmental structures. In the 2005 elections Brotherhood members earned twenty percent of the seats in parliament, and over fourteen hundred charitable foundations make the organization immensely popular among Egypt’s poor and lower classes.
Mr. Subhi Saleh, the Brothers’ representative in the transition committee creating a new government, maintains that he advocates democracy. Yet, many Egyptians perceive the entire committee to be Islamist oriented. It has proposed amending the laws concerning presidential elections, but not the second article of Egypt’s soon-to-be-revised Constitution: “Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Shar`iah).” This article coincides with the Brotherhood’s 2007 Charter and does not guarantee equal citizenship for all Egyptians – one of the main demands of many groups involved in the January 25th Revolution.
Commentators put much trust in the Brotherhood’s youth wing whose members seem more moderate and congenial towards political compromises than the older generation. Young Brothers in Tahrir Square downplayed their agenda and refused to carry Islamist banners. French Islam scholar Olivier Roy believes that younger Islamists have lost their hold on Islamic societies since Muslims have become more individualist and pluralist-minded.
So the Brotherhood has many members who are not of one mind about how they envision a new democratic Egypt. However, they do see Islam as a political ideology able to solve society’s ailments. Brotherhood writings convey profoundly ambiguous opinions about non-Muslims: they are full citizens but never quite equal; tolerance towards them remains conditional. This mode of thinking is so engrained in large parts of Egyptian society that arguing against it is a novelty.
The ideology stems from classical applications of the Shari’ah which places citizens in a religious hierarchy. It translates into excluding non-Muslim leadership from vital parts of modern-day society such as government, the army, diplomatic services, and the educational system. It has also created mindsets that are quick to find excuses when Christians are being attacked. When a church in Helwan Province was burned to the ground in March 2010 the cause was an alleged love affair between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman. A dozen died and over 140 were wounded in the ensuing clashes.
Regular attacks on Copts have occurred since the 1970s, when during Sadat’s reign radical Muslim groups – many inspired by the Brotherhood -became active in Egypt. They continued throughout the Mubarak period. His regime was good at window dressing, and public meetings with the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III cemented the President’s image as protector of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Although it remained difficult for Copts to obtain permits to build or repair churches, he allowed several grand projects, and declared January 7th, Coptic Christmas, a national holiday.
Yet, whenever Copts were being attacked the government remained passive and refrained from intervention or action. Police seldom arrived at the scene on time, and few perpetrators were ever prosecuted or punished. Justifications for the attacks abounded: a village feud, two merchants fighting, Copts had raped a Muslim girl. Attacking Christians became the new normal; somehow they deserved what happened. This mode of thinking chillingly resembles pervasive views on abused women: they asked for it. Journalist Rosen had to be corrected before he realized that making fun of the brutal attack on Lara Logan on Tahrir Square was unforgivable.