What does the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president of Egypt believe? What kind of Egypt would he seek to create?
Some answers to that question were given by a MB delegation to Washington recently, sent to reassure Americans about their intentions. The Project on Middle East Democracy has a good summary of the visit here and at my colleague Steven Cook’s CFR blog there is a good summary of the views of Khairat al-Shater, the MB’s candidate for Egypt’s presidency.
The MB’s decision to field a presidential candidate means it is now seeking political dominance in Egypt, as it has already become the largest party in the parliament. So it is worth looking at a lengthy speech al-Shater gave in April 2011 after his March 2011 release from prison, translated by the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth and published by the Hudson Institute here. Readers can judge for themselves, but I did not find it reassuring. Some key phrases:
the mission is clear: restoring Islam in its all-encompassing conception; Subjugating people to God; instituting the religion of God; the Islamization of life, empowering of God’s religion….Imam Al-Banna, may he rest in peace, through his understanding of the Prophet’s method (PBUH) and his way of instituting religion, outlined for us a number of stages or secondary objectives which, after their completion, eventually lead to the achievement of this overall mission. Thus we’ve learned [to start with] building the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, the Muslim society, the Islamic government, the global Islamic State and reaching the status of Ustathiya [eminence among nations] with that State. If all of these secondary objectives are completed, the overall mission is achieved, that is the Empowerment of God’s Religion….
He makes clear that the new Freedom and Justice Party he represents, and whose candidate he is, is a mere instrument of the MB:
The party, my brothers, as an instrument, means, or vessel, is not born of the Islamic idea, or of the Islamic experience, or of the Islamic model. Rather, it is one of the various products of Western civilization, the Western model…It is an instrument or a vessel for the deliberation of power in the political space, an instrument for [engaging in] the conflict for the sake of obtaining power.
And the MB requires obedience:
Imam Al-Banna in his memoirs warned of the pious unorganized man or he who always breaks ranks because the issue is not only one of individual piety, but rather with individual piety the issues connected to organizational developing must also be present.
Some of these descriptions of the MB and its role are uncomfortably reminiscent of the role of “vanguard parties” in the old Leninist catechism. How all of this can coexist with democracy in Egypt is a good question. The goals seem clear:
As Ikhwan we have spent a long time working on the individual, walking along this line, working on the household, working on society. So we are now developing the Muslim individual and God willing we will continue. We are developing the Muslim household and God willing we will continue. We are developing the Muslim society and God willing we will continue. We are preparing for the stage of Islamic government after this because it is what follows the stage of society. Our preparation for the stage of Islamic government does not, as the secularists understand it, entail us striving to reach the seat of government ourselves, no. Our one and only concern is for there to be a government that is faithful to the method of our Lord Almighty, a government keen on establishing the lives of people on the basis of Islamic reference….
Of course “Islamic reference” is an elastic term, and the MB spokespeople in Washington argued that “We are seeking to fulfill the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square, and these demands are our priorities.” But beyond ending the rule of Mubarak those demands were unclear, and the “young people” who started the revolt against Mubarak were not seeking an Islamic state. Al-Shater’s remarks bear a close reading, and anyone outside the MB will find them a source of worry.