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Tuesday, April 24, 2012
In Egypt Race, Battle Is Joined On Islam’s Role
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK from Cairo
Mohamed Morsi, center, standing, giving the first speech on Saturday of his campaign for Egypt’s presidency. He is using an “Islam is the solution” platform.
has argued for barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency on the
basis of Islamic law, or Shariah. He has called for a council of Muslim
scholars to advise Parliament. He has a track record of inflammatory statements
about Israel, including repeatedly calling its citizens “killers and vampires.”
Morsi is also a leading candidate to become the country’s next president.
Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist group, declared last
week that his party platform amounted to a distillation of Islam itself.
is the old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he said, recalling the group’s
traditional slogan in his first television interview as a candidate. “It has
been developed and crystallized so that God could bless society with it.” At
his first rally, he led supporters in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution,
and Shariah is our guide!”
month before Egyptians begin voting for their first president after Hosni
Mubarak, Mr. Morsi’s record is escalating a campaign battle here over the place
of Islam in the new democracies promised by the Arab Spring revolts.
Morsi, who claims to be the only true Islamist in the race, faces his fiercest
competition from a more liberal Islamist, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a
pioneering leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was expelled from the group in
June for arguing for a more pluralistic approach to both Islam and Egypt. He is
campaigning now as the leading champion of liberal values in the race.
face a third front-runner, the former foreign minister Amr Moussa, who argued
this week that Egypt cannot afford an “experiment” in Islamic democracy.
winner could set the course for Egypt’s future, overseeing the drafting of a
new constitution, settling the status of its current military rulers, and
shaping its relations with the West, Israel and its own Christian minority. But
as the Islamists step toward power across the region, the most important debate
may be the one occurring within their own ranks over the proper agenda and
Morsi’s conservative record and early campaign statements have sharpened the
contrast between competing Islamist visions. The Brotherhood, the 84-year-old
religious revival group known here for its preaching and charity as well as for
its moderate Islamist politics, took a much softer approach in the official
platform it released last year. It dropped the “Islam is the solution” slogan,
omitted controversial proposals about a religious council or a Muslim president
and promised to respect the Camp David accords with Israel. Its parliamentary
leaders distanced themselves from the Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists who
won a quarter of the seats in Parliament.
Brotherhood’s original nominee was its leading strategist, Khairat el-Shater, a
businessman known for his pragmatism. He had close personal ties to Salafi
leaders, but he did not leave much of a paper trail besides an opinion column
in a Western newspaper stressing the Brotherhood’s commitment to tolerance and
democracy. Mr. Shater was disqualified last week because of a past conviction
at a Mubarak-era political trial. In his short-lived campaign he stressed the
Brotherhood’s plans for economic development and rarely, if ever, brought up
contrast, Mr. Morsi, 60, is campaigning explicitly both as a more conservative
Islamist and as a loyal executor of Mr. Shater’s plans. He campaigns with Mr.
Shater under a banner with both their faces, fueling critics’ charges that he
would be a mere servant of Mr. Shater and the Brotherhood’s executive board.
Mr. Morsi is also courting the ultraconservative Salafis, whose popular
candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, was also disqualified. Mr. Morsi may be
tacking to the right to court the Salafis as a swing vote in the contest with
Mr. Aboul Fotouh, or he may merely be expressing more conservative, older
impulses within the Brotherhood.
want to stop our march to an Islamic future, where the grace of God’s laws will
be implemented and provide an honest life to all,” he proclaimed Saturday night
at his first rally, in a Nile delta town. “Our Salafi brothers, the Islamic
group, we are united in our aims and Islamic vision. The Islamic front must
unite so we can fulfill this vision.”
he received a Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Southern California in
1982, Mr. Morsi spent the past decade as a public spokesman for the
Brotherhood’s political wing, where he left a far more extensive and
controversial record than Mr. Shater did. Last year, for example, Mr. Morsi led
a boycott of a major Egyptian cellphone company because its founder, Naguib
Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, had circulated on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey
Mouse in a long beard with Minnie in a full-face veil — a joke Mr. Morsi said
the Brotherhood first considered trying to start a political party under Mr.
Mubarak, in 2007, Mr. Morsi was in charge of drafting a hypothetical platform.
One provision called for restricting the presidency to Muslim men. “The state
which we seek can never be presided over by a non-Muslim,” he said at the time
on the group’s Web site, arguing that the Brotherhood wanted both a tolerant
constitutional democracy and an expressly “Islamic state.”
“a state whose top priorities include spreading and protecting the religion of
Allah,” he said, Islam assigned the president some duties and powers that
“can’t be carried out by a non-Muslim president.”
provision called for a council of scholars to advise Parliament on fidelity to
Islamic law. But unlike Iran’s Guardian Council, he said, it would be
independent of the state, and its findings would be nonbinding.
Morsi also brings to the race a reputation as an enforcer of Brotherhood rules
of obedience, even in politics. When a group of young online activists known as
the Brotherhood bloggers argued that the platform Mr. Morsi oversaw
contradicted the group’s stated commitment to pluralism, Mr. Morsi met with a
group of them at his office.
said, ‘This is the Muslim Brothers’ interpretation of Islam, and this is Islam,
and it’s nobody else’s business,’ ” recalled Mohamed Ayyash, a former
Brotherhood blogger who helped organize the meeting. “He said: ‘You can’t talk
like that. You can’t talk to the media.’ ”
said, ‘This is Islam the way the Muslim Brotherhood sees it,’ ” Mr. Ayyash
recalled. (The Morsi campaign declined to comment on the meeting.)
Habib, a former deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood who years ago appointed
Mr. Morsi to oversee its political arm, said, “There is no doubt that Morsi is
more conservative than the conservatives” in the Brotherhood, including Mr.
presidential race is now shaping up in some ways as a rematch of the internal
debate over that hypothetical platform. Mr. Aboul Fotouh, Mr. Morsi’s current
opponent in the presidential race, was one of the few Brotherhood leaders who
openly opposed the scholars council and presidency restrictions. Two years
later, he was removed from the executive board in a conservative purge.
Mr. Morsi has the Brotherhood’s organization behind him, Mr. Aboul Fotouh is
considered more charismatic and carries strong Islamist credentials. While Mr.
Morsi was working toward his engineering degree in Los Angeles in the late
1970s, Mr. Aboul Fotouh was founding an Islamist student movement that went on
to merge with and revitalize the more established Muslim Brotherhood. He stood
up to former President Anwar el-Sadat in a face-to-face confrontation at Cairo
Aboul Fotouh, a physician, also led the Brotherhood-dominated doctors’
syndicate, which ran the field hospitals during the protests that toppled Mr.
Mubarak last year.
a crowd of thousands last week in Imbaba, a poor neighborhood of Cairo, Mr.
Aboul Fotouh all but brushed off questions about Islamic law.
has been proud of its Islamic and Arabic identity for 15 centuries,” he said.
“Are we waiting for the Parliament to convert us?” Besides, he said, the
correct understanding of Islamic law should not be reduced to penalties or
restrictions but should mean “all mercy and justice.”
at many stops, Mr. Aboul Fotouh was also asked to confront rumors circulated in
an online video — by Brotherhood operatives, his supporters charge — that if
elected president, he would order the arrest of all the group’s members.
the overthrow of Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Aboul Fotouh said, the Egyptian public would
never allow another president to detain Islamists, leftists or anyone else for
political reasons. “If he did this, the Egyptian people would be the ones to
for his former colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Aboul Fotouh said he
believed that they should be treated just like any other nonprofit group. “They
have to be legal associations and to work with transparency and clarity,” he
said repeatedly. “All associations and all parties are equal before the law.”
the Brotherhood, though, it was also a threat. The enforcement of Western-style
financial and disclosure requirements could force the Brotherhood to separate
its political party from its charitable and preaching organizations, depriving
the party of much of its financing and clout while simultaneously diminishing
the Brotherhood board’s control of the party.
for Mr. Aboul Fotouh, Mr. Morsi suggested that he had brought on his own
expulsion by defying the Brotherhood, in part by running for president. When a
member breaks away, Mr. Morsi said in the interview, “we don’t blame him; we
-This report was published in the New York Times on 24/04/2012
-Mayy El Sheikh and Dina Salah Amer contributed reporting