Attempted charm offensives aside, it’s back to business as usual. The Muslim Brotherhood is still the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in Egyptian politics, but the Salafists’ unexpectedly strong performance in the election (weren’t they supposed to be a Tiny Minority of Extremists?) sheds new light on the ideological orientation of the electorate.
A democracy is only as good as the values that inform its participants, and therein lies its success or failure in protecting human rights and civil liberties. As noted below, these are the people who will be writing Egypt’s next constitution.
“Ultraconservative party to push for Islamic Egypt,” by Ben Hubbard and Maggie Michael for the Associated Press, December 2:
CAIRO (AP) “” Anticipating a strong presence in the new Egyptian parliament, ultraconservative Islamists outlined plans Friday for a strict brand of religious law, a move that could limit personal freedoms and steer a key U.S. ally toward an Islamic state.
Egypt’s election commission announced only a trickle of results from the first round of parliamentary elections and said 62 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the highest turnout in modern history.
However, leaked counts point to a clear majority for Islamist parties at the expense of liberal activist groups that led the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, toppling a regime long seen as a secular bulwark in the Middle East.
The more pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take the largest share of votes, as much as 45 percent. But the Nour Party, which espouses a strict interpretation of Islam in which democracy is subordinate to the Quran, could win a quarter of the house, giving it much power to affect debate.
A spokesman, Yousseri Hamad, said his party considers God’s law the only law.
“In the land of Islam, I can’t let people decide what is permissible or what is prohibited,” Hamad told The Associated Press. “It is God who gives the answers as to what is right and what is wrong.”
The Nour Party is the main political arm of the hard-line Salafist Muslim movement, which espouses a strict form of Islam similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia. Salafis, who often wear long beards and seek to imitate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, speak openly about their aim of turning Egypt into a state where personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, women’s dress and art, are constrained by Islamic law “” goals that make many Egyptians nervous.
Salafis object to women in leadership roles, citing Muhammad as saying that “no people succeed if led by women.” However, when election regulations forced all parties to include women, Salafi cleric Yasser el-Bourhami relented, saying that “committing small sins” is better than “committing bigger ones” “” by which he meant letting secular people run the government.
In the end, the party put women at the bottom of its lists, represented by flowers since women’s photos were deemed inappropriate.
This week, Salafi cleric and parliamentary candidate Abdel-Monem Shahat caused a stir by saying the novels of Egypt’s Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, read widely in Egyptian schools, are “all prostitution.”
Salafis are newcomers on Egypt’s political scene. They long shunned the concept of democracy, saying it allows man’s law to override God’s. But they formed parties and entered politics after Mubarak’s ouster, seeking to enshrine Islamic law in Egypt’s new constitution.
By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized political group, was officially banned under Mubarak but established a nationwide network of activists who built a reputation for offering services to the poor. After Mubarak’s fall, the group’s Freedom and Justice Party campaigned fiercely, their organization and name-recognition giving them a big advantage over newly formed liberal parties.
Stakes are particularly high since the new parliament is supposed to oversee writing Egypt’s new constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country when Mubarak fell, has tried to impose restrictions on membership in the 100-member drafting committee. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will challenge the move, and a strong showing by Islamists in the elections could boost its popular mandate to do so.
Hamed, the Nour Party spokesman, said democracy can’t pass laws that contradict religion.
“We endorse Egyptian democracy,” he said. “However, I don’t give absolute freedom to people to legislate to themselves and decide on what is right or wrong.
“We have God’s laws that tell us that.”
He suggested, for example, that alcohol should be banned and that a state agency could penalize Muslims for eating during the day during the holy month of Ramadan, when the devout fast from dawn to dusk….
Regarding alcohol, Hamed needs to get his talking points straight with fellow al-Nour spokesman Essam Darballah.