Lawyers representing the Muslim Brotherhood have been informed that the Prime Minister’s review into the organisation’s activities has cleared them of any links to terrorism.
In August, the Financial Times reported that the review had concluded that “the group should not be labelled a terrorist organisation and in fact […] found little evidence its members are involved in terrorist activities.” The Financial Times report went on to say the review’s release had been delayed because of its conclusions and their diplomatic implications. Continue reading →
The longstanding debate over whether Islam and democracy can coexist has reached a stunning turning point. Since the Arab uprisings began in late 2010, political Islam and democracy have become increasingly interdependent. The debate over whether they are compatible is now virtually obsolete. Neither can now survive without the other.
In Middle Eastern countries undergoing political transitions, the only way for Islamists to maintain their legitimacy is through elections. Their own political culture may still not be democratic, but they are now defined by the new political landscape and forced in turn to redefine themselves — much as the Roman Catholic Churchended up accepting democratic institutions even as its own practices remained oligarchic.
At the same time, democracy will not set down roots in Arab countries in transition without including mainstream Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia, or Islah in Yemen. The so-called Arab Spring cleared the way for the Islamists. And even if many Islamists do not share the democratic culture of the demonstrators, the Islamists have to take into account the new playing field the demonstrations created.
The debate over Islam and democracy used to be a chicken-and-egg issue: Which came first? Democracy has certainly not been at the core of Islamist ideology. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has historically been strictly centralized and obedient to a supreme guide, who rules for life. And Islam has certainly not been factored into promotion of secular democracy. Indeed, skeptics long argued that the two forces were even anathema to each other.
The preface to the translation correctly characterizes the lecture as “perhaps the single most important elaboration to date of not only Al-Shater’s worldview and politics, but of the MB’s plan for the future of Egypt and the region more generally in the post-Mubarak era.” According to the translator’s notes:
Translator’s Note: After his release from prison in March 2011, the Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Khairat Al-Shater was reportedly tasked by the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council to perform a comprehensive review of the movement’s overall strategy in post-Mubarak Egypt. This new strategy, which is supposed to reflect the fact of the MB’s rise as the most powerful political force in Egypt today, has often been referred to as “The Nahda Project.” (Nahda means “Renaissance” or “Rise”.) We know very little about Al-Shater as politician. He has been described as the “Iron Man” of the Brotherhood movement. As one of Egypt’s most successful businessmen, his prestigious stature within the MB’s ranks might be attributed to his financial support to the movement. His prestige also derives from the enormous personal suffering that he has endured for the MB’s cause: He has spent more than half of the past two decades in prison, and his property has been confiscated twice in the same period. Al-Shater, moreover, has very strong business ties across the region: in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among other places. He is also said to be a major supporter of Hamas. When the Muslim Brotherhood sought to bring down the present Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri and his cabinet, it was not surprising that their nominee for the office was Khairat Al-Shater. When, more recently, the Brotherhood failed to force their will on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the movement decided to renege on all of their reassuring promises since the outbreak of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 and run a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. Once more, this candidate was Khairat Al-Shater. Therefore, the importance of Al-Shater and his project cannot be exaggerated. The following text is a complete English translation of a lecture Al-Shater gave in Alexandria, Egypt on April 21, 2011. The lecture, which is entitled “Features of Nahda: Gains of the Revolution and the Horizons for Developing,” is perhaps the single most important elaboration to date of not only Al-Shater’s worldview and politics, but of the MB’s plan for the future of Egypt and the region more generally in the post-Mubarak era.
The name and face of the Muslim Brotherhood leader, businessman Khairat El-Shater, has dominated the political sphere for weeks now, and for good reason.The multimillionaire has unrivaled leverage within the organisation and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and enjoys enormous influence over the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and Shura Council, the two highest bodies within the group. But what has really gripped the attention of pundits and the media have been the slew of leaks from the Brotherhood that El-Shater may be the organisations’ candidate for president, despite earlier promises that it would not be fielding a nominee. The obsesion is justified. At 62 it is El-Shater, and not the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei, who really runs the Muslim Brotherhood. Ask anyone in the organisation why the leadership is at war with Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, one of the group’s most popular figures until he broke rank, announced his candidacy for the presidency and was immediately expelled, and the answer is El-Shater. Why did the Brotherhood punish Abul-Fotouh’s supporters within the organisation and expel those who joined his presidential campaign? Because of El-Shater. Who has been the driving force behind the Brotherhood’s tactics and public discourse since Mubarak’s ouster? It is El-muhandis – the engineer – as El-Shater likes to be called. He was, after all, once an assistant professor at El-Mansoura University’s Faculty of Engineering.
A newspaper seller waits for customers in Tahrir Square. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP
What now for Egypt‘s beleaguered liberals? Ahead of disputed parliamentary elections, the secular forces that featured so prominently during the first months of the revolution are struggling.
With one foot in the sphere of formal politics and the other in the politics of the street, they are failing to make headway in either direction. The liberals are being derided in Tahrir Square as having sold out to the supreme council of the armed forces (Scaf) by agreeing to participate in a flawed “transition” proceeding at a snail’s pace; and outgunned by the organisational firepower of the Islamist parties and remnants of Hosni Mubarak‘s old ruling NDP, both of which look set to sweep the board when voting stations open their doors on Monday.
April 15, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.684
By: L. Azuri*
The domestic protests and demands for reform and change in post-revolutionary Egypt have not missed Al-Azhar University, which is considered the most important educational institution and religious authority in the Sunni Muslim world. Elements within the institution – ulema, imams, and officials – are demonstrating to protest against Al-Azhar’s backing of the Mubarak regime, demanding reforms that will ensure Al-Azhar’s independence from the regime and freedom from corruption, so that it can regain its former place of honor in Egyptian society and in the Muslim world.
Another complaint voiced by the Egyptian public against Al-Azhar is that the institution has not been fulfilling its role as a guide for the people in the difficult revolutionary and post-revolutionary period, abandoning the field to radical Islamic elements. Some Salafis have sought to ride the wave of criticism against Al-Azhar, demanding the establishment of an ulema council drawing from all Islamic streams that will advise Al-Azhar in its religious decision-making.
In response to this protest,Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb initiated contacts with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf over amending the Al-Azhar Law so that it would assure the institution’s development and independence. A committee was formed to draft the bill, headed by jurist Tareq Al-Bishri. In a gesture aimed at supporting the fragile Egyptian economy, Al-Tayyeb has donated to the Egyptian treasury all the income he has earned at Al-Azhar since assuming his post.
On the other hand, Al-Tayyeb dismissed the criticism of the institution’s actions during the anti-Mubarak demonstrations in the early days of the revolution, and to date has not responded to the protestors’ demands for his resignation so a new sheikh could be elected, rather than being appointed by the president, as had traditionally been the case under Mubarak. Continue reading →