Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 20

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Raises Sharia Question

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group dating to 1928, is stirring speculation about its influence on women in post-Mubarak Egypt. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician, among others, is wary.

(WOMENSENEWS)--In Egypt's transitional period after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and before the arrival of a new constitution, the world's eyes are on the Muslim Brotherhood--known in Arabic as al-ikhwan al-muslimun --or simply al-ikhwan: the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has been careful to refute the claim that it seeks the presidency and has taken a pro-democracy posture. Kamal El-Helbawy the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, said that the Brotherhood would only seek to implement Sharia, or Islamic law, "if the majority of the people and democratic practices allow it."

But plenty of people are wary of the group's real agenda.

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One of them is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken critic of violence committed against women in the name of Islam who belonged to the group as a teenager.

In a recent phone interview with Women's eNews, the Somalia-born Dutch politician and writer said the big questions now in Egypt are whether the military will allow a constitutional democracy to develop and whether the Brotherhood could take power. She thought it likely the Brotherhood would try to spread restrictions on women if they had a chance to consolidate political control.

The Brotherhood was founded by Hasan al Banna in 1928, when Egyptian politics and economy was still dominated by Britain, despite nominal independence in 1922. As the leader of the religious, political and social-welfare movement, he wanted to return Egyptian society--regarded as corrupted and subjugated by the West--to a more "authentic" form of Islam.

For women, the Brotherhood's push for authentic Islam meant adhering to the role prescribed to them under Sharia, namely that of childbearing and motherhood.

Modern-Day Brotherhood

The modern-day Muslim Brotherhood has reframed its gender agenda, but not reformed it, according to Mariz Tadros, a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton, England.

The Brotherhood continues to exalt the roles of mothers and wives for women, she wrote in the January 2011 issue of the Institute of Development Studies Bulletin, published online. And it prohibits a woman from serving as president.

But that doesn't mean restricting women entirely from public life.

"We welcome the participation of women in all our activities," Mahmoud Ghozlan, of the Brotherhood's Executive Bureau, told Ikhwanweb, the group's official English-language Web site. "Women have the right to occupy all positions except the office of presidency."

In 2010, the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, based in Maadi, Cairo, published an internal poll within the Brotherhood showing that 95 percent agreed with women's participation in the party.

An internally divisive issue for the group is female genital mutilation, known as FGM, which Egypt banned ineffectively in 1997. A loophole still allowed the practice to continue "for health reasons," but this was closed in 2007 with another ministry ban.

Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world--referred to in Arabic as khafd, lowering--and is popular especially in rural areas.

In 2008, Saad El Katany, the leader of the Brotherhood bloc in parliament, led the opposition to the Child Law amendment, which, among other things, reinforced the female genital mutilation ban.

Mariam Ali, then editor, fired back in a piece for Ikhwanweb: "The opposition of some Muslim Brotherhood MPs to the latest law criminalizing FGM should not be misinterpreted as to suggest the Muslim Brotherhood supports FGM," she wrote. "For most MPs, FGM is a hateful and brutal tradition that needs to be eradicated from Egyptian society."

The party is by far Egypt's largest unified opposition group. It has been outlawed since 1954, when blamed for the assassination attempt of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser.

But independent candidates still managed to win 20 percent of the parliamentary elections in 2005, despite harassment, arrests and widespread electoral fraud in favor of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

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The muslim brotherhood obviously does not have to be officially in government to have severe effects on the nation of Egypt, as shown by the women's dress changes described here. That is only the most visible sign of their power. Women in Egypt have a huge fight ahead for themselves to maintain what rights they have and to improve the lives of women there.
Thanks to womensenews for this article, the only news outlet I know that has reported on the problems for women in the Egyptian crisis.


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