Since its establishment in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood movement has advocated that the Islamic teachings of the Koran and the Prophet Mohamed should be the sole basis for Muslim family life, society and the state.
The movement has officially rejected violence as a way to achieve its political goals with the exception of fighting those it considers occupiers of its country.
Over the years, the Muslim Brotherhood has become a multi-national Sunni Islamist focal point -- the largest political opposition group in many Arab nations and, according to many experts, one of the world's most influential political Islamist groups.
For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood never issued an official political platform because it is a movement, not a party; and because political parties with religions platforms are now allowed in Egypt. But it recently issued a draft of its first political party platform, which has given many policymakers and experts reason to take notice.
A Political Agenda
Egyptian political scientist Amr Hamzawy is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here in Washington. "It is going to be up to the Muslim Brotherhood in this very specific case to decide where to go -- whether they would like to embrace more democratic ideals, credentials and procedures or whether they will keep their sort of mix between some democratic and some highly undemocratically-spirited components,” says Hamzawy.
Hamzawy says that while the organization advances freedom of expression and religion, property rights and the notion that a nation's citizens are the source of the state's sovereignty, the Muslim Brotherhood's platform calls for the establishment of a board of elected religious scholars that would be consulted before laws are approved.
According to Amr Hamzawy, who spoke at a recent Carnegie Endowment conference on the Muslim Brotherhood, the board would override the president and parliament on issues involving Islamic law.
"This is one big controversial issue; it raised a great deal of discussions; it was opposed from within the movement and from outside it by basically compromising the civil nature of the state by moving Egypt into an Iranian-style theocracy," says Hamzawy.
Impact on U.S Foreign Policy
But Hamzawy contends that the proposed platform will not effect the push for democracy in the Arab world. "Democracy promotion from the U.S. and Europe never looked at Islamist movements in any positive way. In fact, they have been perceived and are still perceived as an impediment to democratization and they have never been included in Western democracy promotion activity,” says Hamzawy. “So there is no clear linkage between democracy promotion and what the Muslim Brotherhood put out."
Political scientist Nathan Brown at The George Washington University says there are other examples of the Muslim Brotherhood moving away from some of the moderate positions it has held in recent years. The party platform advocates discrimination against women and non-Muslims in Egypt by denying them the right to run for president and prime minister, which Professor Brown says causes concern in the West.
"I think there would be a real concern in the West about those particular issues -- about the rights of women and Christians to run for the high offices. I think realistically and politically, Egypt being a religious society and a very conservative society, a woman or a Christian is unlikely to be elected in a perfectly free election anyway-- just as in the United States, an atheist would be unlikely to be elected,” says Brown. “In my own mind as an analyst, I am not sure it is the most critical issue to focus on. But it certainly is one that most Americans would focus on."
Brown says the Muslim Brotherhood argues that political leadership positions entail religious duties that only Muslim men should be allowed to perform. According to Professor Brown, this could encourage governments and secularists to avoid working with the Brotherhood as a political party; something he says would be counterproductive.
"I think the most important thing that could happen for the political health of the region is that Islamist movements -- those that are willing to participate in the legal system -- be viewed as a political challenge rather than as a security threat. And making the mental shift, viewing them as a rival than as a mortal enemy, would do a lot to improve the political climate in the region," says Brown.
Brown says the Muslim Brotherhood has been pressed on how it envisions implementing Islamic law in practical political and legal terms. Its platform does not go into detail. It also does not address the relationship between the party the Brotherhood seeks to form and the broader movement.
Drawing from the experiences of Islamist parties in Morocco, Jordan and Yemen, many analysts expected the Muslim Brotherhood platform to advocate a functional separation between the political party and the broader social and religious movement. They say that as the Muslim Brotherhood attempts to integrate into Egypt's political system, it needs to learn from other Islamist movements by adopting a more democratic agenda.