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October 09, 2007


Joe M.

Omar is the first person who gets to the meat of the reason westerners are skeptical of religious parties, but let me be more concrete and explicit.

This is probably too obvious to even say out loud, but the difference between secular parties and religious parties like the Akhwan is that the religious parties see the state as means to bring about their vision of God on earth, while secular parties see the state as an end in itself. Secular parties believe that a republic is enough, and citizenship in the republic is enough. They see the state as only having that much authority, it ends there. But religious parties do not believe it ends there, they believe that the state is of little importance itself (other than as a means to do bigger things) and their goals are religious (bringing about a religious society, obeying God's laws... and such things). So religious parties tend to see the state as a vehicle in their effort to advance their religious goals. Secular parties often have their own agendas, but they almost always believe in the authority of the state first.

Therefore, for a religious party, citizenship itself does not grant you rights (those can only come from God) and a government is only successful when it is organized in accordance with God's laws. It is possible for a government to have a policy that is successful at bringing people up from poverty, for example, but this type of work is necessarily a second order goal in a religious state (if a religious party was forced to choose between their view of "God's law" and personal sovereignty or eliminating poverty, God's law will always beat out the other two).

So when religious parties meet skepticism from secularists, it is for this reason. Secularists simply don't believe that they are bound by "God's law" in the same way that religious people do. Also, not all religious people believe that they are bound in the same way that a particular religious party does. And there is only one way to completely eliminate this tension, and that is for religious parties to dedicate themselves to the authority of the state first in their political work. This can only be done by a religious party if they exclude the achievement of their religious goals (their first order goals) from their political work. For example, this could be achieved if a religious party decided that they would uphold the highest moral and ethical standard, and show the utmost respect for individual sovereignty, and then use that as a means to achieve their religious goals rather than have explicitly religious goals as part of their party platform. I mean, if they restrict their political work to strictly political work and lead their religious efforts in the political sphere only by example, rather than lead through the state. They could continue to do religious work and explicitly work toward their religious goals in other ways, but they must maintain a strict separation of this from their political work. Otherwise it will always be clear that people who do not share their particular religious beliefs are walking on thin ice. They might never fall through the ice, but when the state is not an end in itself, secular people are by definition at tension with the state. And as secular people see the state as an end in itself, and by virtue of their citizenship believe that they have specific guaranteed rights, they feel threatened when a specific political party puts the role of the state in a much lower position in terms of authority.

Now, practically speaking, parties like the Akhwan have many short-term goals. I am a secular Arab and I believe in many of these goals. I like their position on American and Israeli influence in the Arab world, I like that they are against corruption, that they are working to make voting more clean and fair...(and more..)... but in the end I do not trust the Akhwan because I know that they do not share my reasons for supporting these positions. I only allow myself to support them because I think egypt has enough various political forces so that the Akhwan could not really gain the level of acceptance they think they can (I believe they think they are more popular than they are because Mubarak is universally hated and they are seen as a counterweight). Therefore i do not fear them as much as most of my friends do. But i do not accept them overall, and though i support them in the short-term because i share many of their immediate goals, in the longer-term i am more skeptical of them than i am of a corrupt and idiotic government like Mubarak's (though, he specifically seems to believe in himself as god in a very scary way).

Anyway, sorry this was so long, but my point is that there is almost always an inherent though (usually) implicit tension between a religious party and the state. And it is very hard for a religious party to bridge that. Mostly because their philosophy precludes themselves from accepting the state as an end in itself.

I hope some people respond to this post. sorry that it is probably redundant.


I agree with most of your analysis, Joe. But I think that they do have a lot of support among Egyptians, and the Egyptians who support them are not under any illusions; they understand very well that they're a religious party. As for the example that you mentioned, they also probably believe that the Muslim Brotherhood would do a much better job of addressing poverty than Hosni Mubarak does.

Joe M.

yes, i absolutely agree that they have a lot of support (i consider myself something of a supporter, for example). But i think that a large part of that support is because people are against Mubarak and are looking to them as the only alternative. I don't want to guess at proportions, but i am sure another large part of their support is genuine and whole-hearted support from people who know their goals and objectives, but (if or when they gain power) i think they will be surprised by how many people don't support them as much as they are against Mubarak. This worries me because they may see their support as vindication of their views and positions, but i don't think that is completely true.

Also, just to be clear, i disagree with their economic views, but i am very proud of their dedication to the poor in society. Similarly, i don't think Mubarak cares at all about the poor. So i too think they would do a better job on poverty than Mubarak.


I wouldn't guess at proportions either, but certainly some of their supporters are as you described - just like some of the people who voted for Hamas because they were disgusted with Fatah.

GrahamMackenzie Spence

Hi Marc,

Do you know where I could lay my hands on an English translation of the new MB draft. I will be interviewing Dr Helbawy on the 20th in London, and would appreciate a copy to read before i do.

Graham Mackezie Spence



You said you are MB supporter because of their social work. From what you wrote, you and ummabdulla, will probably vote for them as they will do much better job than Mubarak in reducing poverty and, as you said, you agree with some of their interpretation of international situation.
But I have a question for you. Let's say that MB will get the power in Egypt through the election process. How sure are you that when/if you won't like their policies you will be able to remove them from the power?


I look forward to the articles arising from the meetings Lynch discusses here. Out of curiosity, did the subject of Darfur come up at all?

I urge him also to remember that youth is at all times a relative concept.


The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is required to fight corruption, poverty, extremism. it is required to make its moderate voice heard in the West and to call for freedom and power sharing the East. It is required to make its liberal voice heard and its conservative voice quelled. in the midst of all these efforts, its top, midlevel and grassroots members are harrassed andhunted by the Egyptian regime and its top leaders arefacing a military trial that lacks any guarantee required for a fair trial. don't you think what the Muslim Brotherhood is actually facing a tough atmosphere while it is preparing an MB draft program which is required to be a reflection of the group's moderate path. I think that the liberal trend in the MB is so powerful both in the leadership heirarchy and is gaining groung among the MB grassroots. its main obstacle is the Egyptian regime


Ella, I'm not in Egypt, but I would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood - not just because of their social programs but because, as a practicing Muslim, I want to have an Islamic government.

"How sure are you that when/if you won't like their policies you will be able to remove them from the power?"

I don't know where you live, but just to put that into perspective... how sure is anyone else? When the U.S. President is deeply unpopular, the citizens can't remove him. When citizens of various countries overwhelmingly want to get their soldiers out of Iraq, they can't do it. (The British speak proudly about their big antiwar rally, except that it had no effect on the government's support for the war...) And since we're talking about Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has been President for 26 years and it looks like he will be until he dies, in which case, he intends for his son will take over. I think if you look around the world, you'll find that most people - even in "democratic" countries - don't really have that much say about who their leaders are. Many countries in Asia have family dynasties who have been controlling them for years, and the U.S. seems to be going that way, with its "Bush/Clinton/Bush/possible Clinton again" presidencies.


"It is required to make its liberal voice heard and its conservative voice quelled."

As Yohan pointed out, labels are not very helpful. Sms, can you give some specifics to explain what you mean by "liberal", "moderate" and "conservative" views within the Muslim Brotherhood?


it is better to ask who is requiring it to do so than ask what is the definition of this and that. I agree that labels can't help but the liberals of the Muslim Brotherhood are, I think, the ones fighting the group's tendency to get into a self-imposed isolation under continuous crackdowns, those who still see a beam of hope at the end of the dark tunnel

Joe M.

I agree with ummabdulla. It is most likely that I would also vote for the Brothers in an election given the current circumstances on the ground in Egypt. Also, had they run a candidate against Mubarak and Ayman Noor in the last election, I would have also voted for their candidate even though my ideology is much closer to that of Ayman Noor. This would have been a tough decision on practical grounds though, because i doubt the military or the government bureaucracy would accept a victory by the Brothers. But if there could have been an honest transition to the Brothers (had they won the election), they represent more genuine change that Ayman Noor did, and would have been more likely to seriously address my short-term goals than he would have (he was already too close to Bush for my blood, for instance).

As for whether they can be removed from power, well, again, i second ummabdulla. we can travel that road when we reach it. The region doesn't exactly have a stellar record of transitions to and from power (of course, this is not the people's fault, they have never been allowed sovereignty over their political systems. they have always been forced militarily either internally or externally. even with Hamas or Lebanon), so , taking a leader out of power is not as immediately important to me as change is. at some point it will be, but that will be addressed then.

Zathras, there is almost no chance Darfur was discussed. I know it is an issue that is important to you, and I think you are right about it's importance, but there are far too many domestic problems in Egypt for their political leaders to put it high on the agenda. Plus, from Egypt it is not seen as such a cut and dry issue as it is portrayed in the USA. Sudan's leadership is not seen as evil and the rebels are not seen as saints. Plus, no one wants more colonial intervention (it is typically seen as colonial first, humanitarian second).


I am well aware of Joe M.'s opinion about Darfur, and my question upthread was not directed at him.

Lynch is quite right about American doubts about the intentions of these Muslim Brotherhood types, and right at the core of those doubts is their reluctance to go anywhere near the "strong, clear, public condemnation" he alludes to, of any outrage perpetrated by any Arab cloaking himself in Islamic rhetoric. If the government of Sudan decided to do something like banning the hijab I suspect outrage over this event would quite overcome the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's reluctance to discuss subjects beyond domestic politics. The cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of Muslims done under the auspices of an Arab government does not appear to have inspired anything but indifference among these pious defenders of the faith, any more than it has within the Mubarak government during the last four-odd years.

But my question upthread was not meant to delve deeply into the intellectual relationship of Egyptian Muslims to genocide. All I asked was whether the subject came up at all.


Firstly, We thank you Dr. Marc for your objectivity and academicality when dealing with political and social phenomena.
Regarding the issue you strive for, i.e. promoting dialogue between MB and the US, the Muslim Brotherhood will never fed up extending hands for cooperation with the other, but the problem lies in that other party that MB shall engage and negotiate (US Administration).
The US administration has to review its policies and goals in the middle east if it has genuine motives for a US-mideastern dialogue.


The Theorist, www.islamocracy4ever.blogspot.com


I have nothing to offer in this discussion besides thanking you all for informative and well-reasoned comments on an important topic. I learn a great deal from reading them, so thank you for that.

Best regards,

Sanaa El-Banna

First, i think i need ti thank Mr.Lynch for such a topic.It simply gives hope for those who started to think about western scholars as inherently biased whenever they come through issues of Muslim Brotherhood.Thanks so much for your contributive aticle.
Second i need to pass quickly on certain points.
- the double sided discourse of any popular movements with a solid and coherent intellectual background,is simply a natural phenomenon when it passes a transitional phase in its history.Muslim brotherhood passes now such a phase,and they need to respond to new challanges in the world,and Arab politics.Dealing with their discourse in a skeptical manner means indirectly that we blame them for being responsive to new circumstances,which is not right.
- when we examine the case of MB in Egypt,as the original homeland of their international organization,we should bare in mind the issue of contextualization.Meaning that, old brothers and new brothers are not different because the former is a historical and organizational load over the later.the theoretical basis on which muslim brotherhood was established are there in Hassan El-Banna's wtitings,the organizational apparatus and its specific characteristic and culture reveal the differences of place and time .Again it means that, we shouldn't judge old brothers with today's criterea,and vice versa.So, it's not a shame, to say that muslim brothers used violance one day, because it was then directed toward the British occupying troops.and so on. ihope this point is clear!
- the secularists'and Americans' doubts about muslim brotherhood reflects the absence of formal channels of communication,a sitiuation imposed by Mubarak's governments to ensure its control and authority.I'm sure that people wouldn't have talked much about the Islamic law,if thay had colser relations to MB through media or other channels of dialogue.The very idea of Islamic law appliation depends on the society in which its applied.since we don't have a 100% Muslim society-except in Mouritania as much as i know- the application of Islamic law will pass through many stages before people get ready for it.and it must be their choice at the end.and it must count for differnet minorities in the society.
Thnks again for Mr.Lynch and i hope i will be able to recover the meeting i missed in Egypt!

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