The Muslim Brotherhood and the Copts
By Guest Contributor, Magdi Khalil | April 20, 2006
Many have recently wondered about the Copts' evident concern over the Muslim Brotherhood's victory of 88 seats in the last parliamentary elections in Egypt. Why, exactly, are the Copts so upset, and would they stand against democracy if it works in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Actually, the Copts are not the only ones to have serious misgivings about this latest development in Egypt's political life; women, liberals, civil society supporters, leftists, and other advocates of democracy share the same sentiment. The champions of civil society are haunted by the nightmarish vision of a religious government, and it goes without saying that the Copts, as a religious minority, are particularly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda with regards to the creation of an Islamic state and Islamic nationalism.
In response to these concerns, the Muslim Brotherhood claims that it does not seek to establish a religious state, but rather a "civil state with an Islamic framework" or an "Islamic democracy." However, I am challenging if there is any person out there who can pinpoint the exact definition of those ambiguous terms, give accurate details as to what an Islamic democracy entails, or what it means to have a civil state with an Islamic framework.
Most importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood's history, actions, website statements and newspaper articles confirm the intent to establish a state that has a religious nature and not a civil one. To illustrate:
• Mustafa Mashour, the former supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, was quoted as saying that "Whoever stands against the Muslim Brotherhood is also standing against God and His Prophet." The implication here is that Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood are on an equal standing or are one and the same. The same feeling is reflected in the statement made by Hassan Hanafi: "What is so terrifying about the Muslim Brotherhood? The Western media is ruining their image in the same pattern it has been ruining the image of Islam and Muslims." (Al-Arabi, No. 989)
• Essam Al Erian: "The Muslim Brotherhood believes that a comprehensive reform will not have the power to inspire real public participation unless it is resting on an Islamic foundation... We seek to build an Islamic civilization under an umbrella of faith in God and in the after-life, a civilization that would re-establish man's psychological balance and restore his lost soul." (Al-Hayat, 30 Nov 2005). I wonder who told Mr. Erian that our souls are lost, and who can possibly determine the meaning of loss and restoration?
• The current supreme guide, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, responded to the civil society advocates' request for a constitutional amendment which would provide for a civil framework for the state by saying: "This is a futile and foolish request, and we will say no more about it, except to call on the people to protect their own faith." His deputy, Mohammed Habib, commented by saying, "This request crosses a line that shouldn't even be touched, because just touching it can trigger a civil war in Egypt."
• A spectacle that needs no comments: Members of Egypt's Parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood standing in line to kiss the hand of the supreme guide!
• Mustafa Mashour's declaration: "For now we accept the principle of party plurality, but when we will have an Islamic rule we will either accept or reject this principle" (in Refaat Al-Said's Against Islamization). The clear reference to an "Islamic rule," or in other words, a "religious state," is proof enough that our fears are well founded.
• Mohammed Mahdi Akef's statement: "The public opinion is ruled by Shari'a. We should not forget that the Egyptian Constitution states that 'the Islamic law is the principal source of legislation'" (Akher Saa, 20 Jul 2005).
• According to Mohammed Habib, even the separation of powers should be guided and inspired by the rules of Islamic Shari'a (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 Nov 2005).
• The Muslim Brotherhood's main slogan is "Islam is the Solution," a mysterious slogan that excludes "infidels" such as the Christians and the Jews. The Brotherhood's flag pictures two swords and the Qur'an and a Qur'anic verse which states: "Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies." (Spoils of War Surah - El-Ghanaem: 60)
• Their proclaimed purpose is to "restore the Islamic Caliphate (Islamic political system and rule).Their former supreme guide, Mustafa Mashour, has frankly stated: "We will not give up our mission to restore the lost Islamic Caliphate." (Asharq Al-Awsat, 9 Aug 2002)
• The professional syndicates in Egypt bear the mark of the Muslim Brotherhood's intrusion. For example, the solemn Hippocratic Oath was replaced by a Muslim oath in the Physicians' Syndicate; hard-earned Egyptian money is being donated to the "brothers" in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir; and the syndicates' funds are wasted on Islamic projects that belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.
When it is so obvious that public affairs have been turned into "holy" affairs, and the debate revolves around religious credentials and how to best abide by Islam's rule, it seems pointless to expect that their promised state would be a civil state.
When asked about the program of action for this alleged civil state, the Muslim Brotherhood usually refers to the reform initiative issued in March 2004 in the Journalists' Syndicate, and which is posted on the Muslim Brotherhood's website. A study of the initiative leads to the undeniable conclusion that this document is, in fact, a proposal for an Islamic state.
It plainly states: "Our mission is to implement a comprehensive reform in order to uphold God's law which is good for both secular and religious affairs." It goes on to state that "Our only hope, if we wish to achieve any type of progress, is to go back to our faith, and to apply the Shari'a," clearly confirming "our mission is to build a Muslim individual, a Muslim family, a Muslim government, and an Islamic rule to lead other Islamic states."
The document touches briefly on what we can expect if that mission is accomplished:
- Regarding the media: "The media will be cleansed of anything that disagrees with the decrees of Islam."
- Regarding the economy: "We believe in an economic system that is derived from Islam... usury should be outlawed as a source of funding."
- Regarding politics: "The state should have a democratic system that is compatible with Islam, and within Islamic boundaries."
- Regarding the social system: "The zakah (alms) institutions should be in charge of the distribution of income."
- Regarding education: "To increase the number of kuttab (a rudimentary religious school) and nurseries, and the focus of education should be on learning the Qur'an by heart."
- Regarding women: "Women should only hold the kind of posts that would preserve their virtue."
- Regarding culture: "Our culture has to be derived from Islamic sources." This would also impact television: "Improper drama and offensive TV shows should be banned."
The notion of a civil state is nowhere to be found in the sole document offered by the Muslim Brotherhood.
I have yet to meet anyone who knows what Islamic democracy means. As Ragaa ben Salama says: "If we have no doubt that a Muslim can live within a democracy, and remain a practicing believer, can we say the same about democracy surviving an Islamic label? Democracy basically means the supremacy of the people, a rule by the people for the people, so can we call democrats those who opt for an Islamic state which, according to Rashid al-Ghanoushi, is ruled by the highest legislative authority issued by God, the Qur'an and Sunna (the Prophet's traditions)?
How will we proceed in finding a middle ground between the Holy Texts and human rights principles, and do we have viable suggestions in that respect?
It seems that with that type of "democracy" we will only be trading one tyranny for another, to live under the rule of Shari'a is to experience the greatest level of tyranny, because every tiny detail in human life, whether public or private, is subject to the haram and halal (permissible and forbidden) rules (Middle East Transparent, 21 Dec 2004).
As we can see, the notion of a religious state is a scary one for all, particularly for the Copts, who have not, throughout the history of Islam, enjoyed equal treatment as full citizens while living under a religious Islamic state.
I have met Muslim Brotherhood leaders more than once in the course of television interviews, and it did not take me long to realize that we come from two different worlds and spoke different languages: our civil perspective versus their religious perspective. However, they have been strangely determined to force this delusion of a "common civil ground" on their audience by using a plethora of mysterious expressions and misleading theories. Needless to say, the "delusion" can only work until you discuss the details of their proposals, then their religious orientation will ultimately reveal itself.
The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that they are hard to pin down, with their elusive style, word play, taqiyya, contradictory statements, and double language. They are all-set to accommodate different clients: The West and Americans, the Copts, women, liberals, as well as Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. To this moment they refuse to condemn the writings of Said Kutb, the philosopher of terror and violence.
Meanwhile, the Copts have particular reasons to fear the Muslim Brotherhood:
First: The Muslim Brotherhood's racist declarations against the Copts.
• A famous fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam) prohibited the construction of new churches in Egypt. The fatwa was published in Al-Dawaa magazine, which speaks for the Muslim Brotherhood, in December 1980, and was issued by Mohammed Al-Khatib who was, and still is, a member of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Twenty-five years later, the Muslim Brotherhood still acknowledges the validity of this fatwa.
• Another outrageous fatwa issued by Mustafa Mashhour stated that: "Islamic law, Shari'a, is the principal point of reference (authority) for governance. Copts must pay the jizyah instead of joining the army, lest they ally themselves with the enemy, if that enemy happens to be a Christian country" (Al-Ahram Weekly 13 April 1997). A calculated change was later made by Mashhour, who still would not deny the validity of his statement. Recently, on 22 December 2005, Mohammed Akef used the same tactic to contain the angry responses to his statement about the holocaust being a "myth," but he neither denied the statement nor offered an apology.
• In an interview with the newspaper Azzaman, Mohammed Habib said: "The Muslim Brotherhood rejects any constitution based on secular and civil laws, and as a consequence the Copts can not take on the form of a political entity in this country. When the movement will come to power, it will replace the current constitution with an Islamic one, according to which a non-Muslim will not be allowed to hold a senior post, whether in the state or the army, because this right should be exclusively granted to Muslims. If the Egyptians decide to elect a Copt for the presidential post, we will issue a protest against such an action, on the basis that this choice should be ours" (Azzaman 17 May 2005).
On another occasion he stated that the Copts should submit to Islamic law like the rest of Egyptians" (Mona Al-Tahawi, Asharq Al-Awsat 18 Aug 2005). Later, when it became obvious that his statements provoked an angry reaction, he wrote an article in Asharq Al-Awsat where he stated: "We consider the Copts as citizens who are entitled to the full rights of citizenship, and consequently they have the full right to hold all sorts of public positions except for the presidential post." (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 Nov 2005)
The danger here lies in the reasoning behind such statements: the presidential post is considered welaya kobra (major governance) and in this case a non-Muslim is not allowed to govern a Muslim, which completely shatters the basic notion of citizenship. It is a given that a non-Muslim Egyptian will have serious obstacles to be elected president. But, the problem is if an obstacle is based on a religious rule advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
While Habib seems to be adjusting his original statement, he is in fact joining his fellows in making a tactical change, given that this principle applies not only to the presidential post but to all senior official posts, as previously mentioned by another Islamist, Dr. Neemat Ahmed Fouad: "Those who are making a big issue out of the fact that there are no Christian governors in Egypt forget that the governor is ruling his governorate on behalf of the president, who is Egypt's ruler...the same logic and same criteria are applicable" (Al-Ahram, 4 Aug 1992).
This explains Milad Hanna's prediction: "The Muslim Brotherhood will resort to taqiyya (deceit). They will claim that they believe in citizenship, but I know that the principle of their religious ideology has more power than the intentions of its followers" (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 Nov 2005).
• In an interview with Sameh Fawzi in 1996, Mamoun Al-Hudaibi answered the question about whether the Copts were considered citizens or dhimmi by replying that they were both. When pressed for a specific answer, he clearly states: "They are dhimmi" (Al-Hayat, 30 Nov 2005).
Second: While the Muslim Brotherhood's statements and declarations inspire concern, what they have left unsaid is as much a source of concern as what they actually said.
In the reform document, their only one to date, there was not even an allusion to the issue of citizenship, no specific details about other issues, and much general talk. For instance, in talking about their vision, Mohammed Habib says: "To have open and strong relations with the Arab and Islamic regimes, and to achieve a high level of cooperation in the economic, cultural, information and defense fields" (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 Nov 2005). He avoided mentioning Egypt's international relations, and its relation with Israel. They have followed that same pattern in dealing - or rather in not dealing - with critical issues, intent on hiding pertinent political and moral details.
Third: The Muslim Brotherhood's discourse bears a religious and superior tone, with constant references to the "other", often in a belittling and hurtful manner. Their frequent use of terms such as infidels, crusades, the triumph of the Islamic nation, and the armies of Muslims is guaranteed to antagonize Christians.
The discourse can turn downright hostile, as Hassan Al-Banna was quoted to literally say: "it is necessary to kill ahl el-ketab (Christians and Jews), and God will give a double recompense for those who fight them." Al-Banna also tackled the issues of employment for non-Muslims in a haughty tone: "It is alright to employ non-Muslims, but only when it is necessary, and in posts that do not deal with matters of public governance" (Messages of Hassan Al-Banna, The Legitimate Printing, 1990, p. 280 & 394 - Samir Morkos, Middle East Transparent, 24 Dec 2005).
At best, the Muslim Brotherhood resorts to vague conciliatory statements such as the famous quote which states: "They (Christians) have the same rights as we do and the same duties as we do." Yet, there is no way to reconcile the theory of peaceful coexistence on the basis of equality and citizenship and the prospect of a religious majority imposing its rules and perspective on the minority - in that case, we are no longer talking about a citizenship status but about dhimmi status."
Fourth: The Muslim Brotherhood and their allies insist that the Coptic population amounts to only 6% of Egypt's total population, in spite of a recent official declaration by Osama Al-Baz that the Copts constitute 12.5% of Egypt's population, and despite the fact that other organizations have estimated the number of Copts to be 15 millions, i.e., 20% of the population. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood claims that the Shi'a amount to 30% of the total population of Iraq, while it is a well-known fact that they constitute 50-60% of the population (Mona Al-Tahawi, Asharq Al-Awsat, 8 Aug 2005). This purposeful twisting of numbers and percentages is a strategy used by the Muslim Brotherhood to deny the rights of their opponents, and on this point, they are worse in deceit compared to the current Egyptian regime.
Finally: Egyptian liberals, advocates of democracy, and the national movement strive towards the achievement of "national integration" for all elements of society, but the Muslim Brotherhood has in mind for the Copts a sort of "religious assimilation," and there is a large difference between the two. Islamization is the first enemy of national integration, it pushes for the religious assimilation of the Coptic minority through a gradual desertion of their faith, or at the very least through a loss of their cultural and religious identity as it melts into the majority's Islamic culture.
Evidently, Hassan Al-Banna and his followers have managed to sabotage the good work of the national movement. The Muslim Brotherhood is constantly praising the Copts who have accepted the idea of religious assimilation such as Rafik Habib, who promotes this idea among the Copts; Gamal Asaad, a candidate who adopted the slogan "Islam is the Solution" in his parliamentary campaign; and Hani Labib, who accepted a membership in the labor party under the same slogan, and whose books bear prefaces written by Islamic fundamentalists Tarek el-Beshri and Selim el-Awa. According to the Muslim Brotherhood, those Copts represent a commended Coptic ideal.
Throughout the history of Christianity, many martyrs have paid the price for resisting such religious assimilation, but none as much as the Copts.
The idea that religion should become the framework for the state is not acceptable to advocates of civil society in Egypt. It is not even open for debate or compromise. The Egyptians cannot be expected to live according to rules that are more than 1400 years old, and that are contradictory with those of modern civilization.
The Muslim Brotherhood is welcome to the political process if they share the values and principles of the modern world, but definitely Egyptians refuse to go back to those dark ages.
Magdi Khalil is a political analyst, researcher, author and Executive Editor of the Egyptian weekly Watani International. He is also a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, London, a free-lance writer for several Arabic language newspapers, and a frequent contributor to Middle East broadcast news TV. Mr. Khalil has also published three books and written numerous research papers on citizenship rights, civil society, and the situation of minorities in the Middle East. E-mail: Magdikh@hotmail.com