The production of a political platform by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a sign that real developments—some encouraging, some worrying—are occurring in Egyptian politics. While the Muslim Brotherhood is prevented by Egypt’s government from forming a political party—a ban unlikely to be overturned in the near future—the release of a platform signaled what sort of party they would found if allowed to do so, according to a new report from the Carnegie Endowment.
In The Draft Party Platform of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Foray Into Political Integration or Retreat Into Old Positions?, Senior Associates Nathan Brown and Amr Hamzawy analyze the draft platform’s mixed signals—surprising progressive reforms; regressive, controversial stances; and the chances of achieving a consensus on the anticipated final document.
Encouragingly, the platform advances notions of freedom of religion and expression, pluralistic politics, property rights, women’s enfranchisement, and state sovereignty. Yet it also called for the establishment of a council of elected senior religious scholars, effectively placing the government under the scrutiny of an extra-constitutional entity—a regression from more moderate positions upheld by the movement’s leadership in recent years.
• The platform was designed to regain momentum following a marked increase in government restrictions on the Brotherhood after their success in the 2005 parliamentary elections. However, caught between the expectations of loyal activists, who strongly support the implementation of shari’a law, and alienating the more moderate public, disputes among Brotherhood leaders over the platform showed confusion and a lack of consensus over strategy at this critical juncture.
• The platform fails to address how the future political party would relate to the broader social movement. The Brotherhood ignores both the experiences of Islamist parties in Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen, who advocate a functional separation between the party and the movement, and a major constitutional hurdle by failing to address opening membership to all Egyptians.
• Public debate about the platform has focused exclusively on the major contentious issues to the exclusion of detailed economic and social positions. For example, the economic strategy advocates a strong interventionist state, yet the platform also calls for a limited social role for the state, with a larger role for civil society and NGOs.
• While the final platform is expected to exclude women and non-Muslims from holding Egypt’s top office, recent statements by key leaders indicate that the Brotherhood would accept a democratic referendum by the Egyptian people on this matter.
“Brotherhood leaders were aware from the beginning of the limits of what a platform could accomplish. At most it could show Egyptians what a Brotherhood party would look like, but the regime, the law, and now the constitution seem to be far more serious obstacles than public opinion to a Muslim Brotherhood party. The platform shows that the movement is still very much struggling with how to handle the demands of its ambition to be a normal political actor. But no amount of internal debate is likely to reassure a regime that seems unable to accept any serious political actor as a legitimate partner in Egyptian political life,” the authors concluded.
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About the Authors
Nathan J. Brown, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University where he directs the Institute for Middle East Studies.
Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment and is a noted Egyptian political scientist who previously taught at Cairo University and the Free University of Berlin.