gains in the 2005 legislative elections. Independentcandidates belonging to the group captured eighty-eightseats in the 454-member parliament despite contestingjust 35 percent of the races.
Eager to put domestic andinternational concerns to rest after the elections, promi-nent Guidance Bureau member Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh told the English-language
that, concerning Akef’s stance, “No law, no matter howdivine, can be enforced without the public’s consent.”
Muhammad Habib, Akef’s deputy, later seconded Abul-Fotouh’s view in an April 2007 interview with
when he declared that, should thePeople’s Assembly (the lower house of parliament) pro-pose a law in violation of
, the legislature wouldhave ultimate jurisdiction in reconciling the matter.“The People’s Assembly has the absolute right in thatsituation,” Habib explained. “Parliament could go toreligious scholars and hear their opinion, but it is notobliged to listen to these opinions.”
Abul-Fotouh’s and Habib’s comments may appearto reflect enlightened thinking, but when juxtaposedwith the Brotherhood’s most recent platform, dissemi-nated to Egyptian intellectuals in August 2007 in apreliminary draft and intended as a blueprint for acivil party, they are far less reassuring. The program,according to the independent Egyptian daily
, calls for the creation of a “Supreme UlamaCouncil,” a body of elected religious scholars thatwould review executive decisions prior to implementa-tion for their compliance with Islamic law.
Theplatform states that while the body would serve in aconsultative capacity, its opinions would be compulsoryon matters governed by “proven [Islamic] texts,”
anamorphous term that could easily expand the council’sauthority. Muslim Brotherhood officials have defendedthe program as a trial balloon, but their claims miss thepoint. For a group sorely in need of revamping its publicimage, the mere reference to such a council, one reminis-cent of Iran’s
(guardianship of the jurists)system of governance, will recast discussion about itstrue intentions.The group’s actions, especially in parliament, havealso engendered little confidence in its agenda. Althoughthe Brotherhood’s growing presence in recent years hasinjected more accountability and debate into an otherwiseanemic legislature—representatives from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) now attend committeevoting sessions with greater frequency lest their moredisciplined Muslim Brotherhood colleagues obtain aquorum—increased representation has done little tomoderate the movement’s ranks. Muslim Brotherhoodlawmakers have often used their forum in parliamentmore to rail against what they perceive as Egypt’s culturaldecadence than to offer real prescriptions for the country’sunemployment, inflation, or housing crises.A 2005 study conducted by the Al-Umma Center forStudies and Development in Cairo revealed that of thetotal number of Brotherhood interpellations during the2000–2005 parliament, approximately 80 percent dealtwith issues of culture, media, or education. The trend hascarried over to the current parliament. In November2006, Brotherhood member of parliament Ali Labanexcoriated Education Minister Yousri al-Gamal forappointing Monica Chavez, a U.S. education expert, toadminister a project reforming the country’s curricula.“The appointment of an American expert to take respon-sibility for modernizing education in Egypt is an act of treason for which the minister should be executed,” statedLaban, who is a visceral critic of the U.S. Agency forInternational Development’s efforts in Egypt.
Herecommended a similar punishment for Prime MinisterAhmed Nazif and Minister of Religious EndowmentsHamdi Zaqzouq after they approved tearing down a Cairomosque to make way for a downtown subway line. Labanmay be a firebrand, but his outlook for Egypt is not anaberration: other Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarianshave routinely submitted proposals to ban alcohol,Western novels, coed schooling, beauty pageants, andindividual music artists from performing in Egypt.Despite these concerns—or perhaps because of them—ambiguity in the group’s official programs persists. Thoughprogressive in the area of constitutional reform, theBrotherhood’s electoral platform for the June 2007 ShuraCouncil (the consultative upper chamber of parliament)elections continued to gloss over the contradiction interms between its calls for both
and parliamentarydemocracy. Like the 2004 reform initiative before it, theseventy-three-page manifesto confirmed the “Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarianshave routinely submitted proposals toban alcohol, Western novels, coed schooling,beauty pageants, and individual music artistsfrom performing in Egypt.