'Political Islam' and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Contents

4The policies of political Islam

Illiberal ideologies

63.Some witnesses have argued that, although political-Islamist groups may be democratic or non-violent, they are not ‘liberals’ in the sense of the social policies and rights that they are willing to support. Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, said:

Some Islamist political groups may be committed to non-violence, but many still have socially conservative agendas. Even if they are non-violent in that sense, we still find that there is much work to do in encouraging improvements on human rights issues, women’s rights and the rights of minorities.112

The FCO described a spectrum of political-Islamist ideology that included “attitudes that are fundamentally hostile to the West and liberal, progressive societies”.113 It told us that:

The degree to which political Islamists adhere to human rights varies greatly from context to context but, in some cases, there has been systematic abuse, including denial of freedom of religion or belief and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.114

64.Some witnesses affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood described to us how, while in power in Egypt, for example, the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) did work to improve human rights. Dr Nermeen Abdelbary, the Coordinator of the Human Rights Portfolio at the office of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt (2012–2013), explained how the Morsi administration had worked to create “a holistic vision and strategy for implementation of human rights laws as well as abiding by international human rights conventions”.115

65.But some of the answers that we received from the Muslim Brotherhood, more generally, showed ambiguity with regard to some fundamental principles. In terms of the punishments that it was permissible to use in the criminal justice system, Ibrahim Mounir, the Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, told us that he supported the death penalty. When asked clearly and specifically whether he supported “corporal punishments in criminal justice (with whipping/beating and amputation being some examples)”,116 Mr Mounir did not unequivocally reject these punishments. He instead gave a vague answer to the specific question, and spoke about the “divinely prescribed penal code” as well as the conditions under which it could be implemented.117

66.In terms of homosexuality, we asked Ibrahim Mounir if he accepted “that in sexuality an individual is entitled to a private life that the law should not interfere with”.118 Mr Mounir said that the Brotherhood had not yet been able to adequately discuss the issue.119 As an initial answer, he told us that an individual was entitled to a private life, but that this was a complex question that should not be legislated upon:

The answer of this question cannot be yes or no. I can say that it is not realistic to apply a global rule regarding this issue. This is new to human laws and behaviour and cannot be included under a rule this way. What I assert is that each man is free to choose in terms of sexual life and other matters. What I cannot understand is the attempt to force this in a society or region. If this is forced by law, it would have serious cons, not only in Muslim communities or because of Shari’a. If it is forced in a community, it will open the door for a wave of exclusion of persons from religious communities and resistance; leading to a kind of corruption no state can fight.120

67.Dr Anas Altikriti, Chief Executive Officer and founder of the Cordoba Foundation, told us that debates over homosexuality were cultural and regional, rather than being for the Muslim Brotherhood or ‘political Islam’ alone:

Laws exist under the rule of secular and non-Muslim governments, which criminalise homosexuality, and it is in largely non-religious, often non-Muslim societies that homosexuals are subject to persecution in various forms. Hence to make this an issue which Political Islamic actors are demanded to explain and justify, I fear, is irrelevant and unhelpful.121

We agree, and note that the difficult challenge around sexuality to a faith-based political movement in the Middle East now appears to be under reconsideration.

Pragmatic policies

Emphasis on welfare policies

68.In terms of the policies that they pursued in power, witnesses described the behaviour of political Islamist parties as being pragmatic rather than dogmatic. Some witnesses told us that political Islamists had been pragmatic in the sense of supporting policies with broad appeal, but that they could root in Islam in an abstract sense, rather than pursuing specific points of dogma. Emphasis on welfare policies, healthcare, education, and fighting corruption are typical examples. In its submission, the EnNahda party told us that:

Ennahdha has long held that the primary orbit for religion is not the state’s apparatus but rather personal conviction. The state’s duty is to provide services such as health and education and to provide the framework for a dignified life.122

For Egypt, Dr A. Amr Darrag, a member of the Freedom & Justice Party’s Executive Board, said that:

The FJP was able to advance a progressive agenda. Several legislations towards social justice and fighting poverty had been proposed and passed.123

‘Shari’a’ and the constitution

69.What constitutes ‘Shari’a’, or ‘Islamic law’, is disputed. Opponents of political Islamists have accused them of wanting to impose a highly restrictive understanding of ‘Islamic law’ based on a literal interpretation of the seventh-century sources of ‘Islamic law’. But Murtaza Shaikh, a Co-Director of the think tank Averroes, told us that some ‘Islamists’ have interpreted ‘shari’a’ differently:

In both the theoretical exposition and practical application of the shari’ah, a particular movement may drastically differ from another. The term shari’ah remains tenuous and to a great degree has always been flexible[ … ].

Jihadist ideology is underpinned by the ultimate goal of establishing a theocratic State, otherwise referred to in popular discourse as a caliphate, predicated on the medieval and imperial construct of politics and international relations. Jihadi groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram reject any and all forms of democratic governance as a violation of ‘pure’ shari’ah[ … ].

The majority of religiously based movements lie on various points on the spectrum of progressiveness, exploring the application of religious ideals in modern society. Thus we see a number of mainstream movements that do not conceptualise the relationship between religion and politics as manifesting in a medieval caliphate but as a modern democratic nation-State.124

70.Speaking on behalf of EnNahda, Dr Radwan Masmoudi told us that the Tunisian constitution of 2014 did not include a reference to ‘shari’a’, and that EnNahda had not insisted on one:

From the beginning EnNahda took a position that they would not require, insist or demand that shari’a be mentioned at all in the constitution. The first clause in the old constitution says that Tunisia is a republic whose language is Arabic and whose religion is Islam, and they said, “That is enough. That is all we need. We do not need shari’a in the constitution, because shari’a can be misinterpreted”.125

71.Critics of the FJP government in Egypt, however, describe ‘Islamification’126 or ‘Islamisation’ as having taken place under the party’s rule. When asked what led to the FJP being deposed from power, Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, told us that “there was a rejection of the attempted Islamisation of the Egyptian state and society”.127

72.Critics of the FJP expressed the fear that, although the FJP did not necessarily move to implement a more restrictive interpretation of ‘shari’a’ while in power, it nevertheless intended to do so in the future. A particular point of anxiety, for these critics, was the new constitution that was produced for Egypt in 2012 under FJP rule. Detailing particular concerns, the FCO told us that:

73.Despite these anxieties, several witnesses nevertheless maintained that the FJP-government did not intend to introduce a more restrictive interpretation of Islamic law. Dr Barbara Zollner, from Birkbeck College, University of London, concluded that “there is little evidence that the Mursi-government, despite its many short-comings, showed any intention to turn Egypt into an Islamic republic”.131 Michael Marcusa argued that, in Egypt and elsewhere, the dependence of political Islamists on retaining a wide range of support, meant that they did not offer “a radical, revolutionary ideology”,132 as their support within the electorate included “those who don’t have a particular commitment to the symbols that Islamists use, but see Islamists as the only viable alternative to the powers that be in the region”.133

74.Political Islamists have varied in the policies they have pursued in power. Some have been very pragmatic. Others have been more dogmatic. The PJD in Morocco and EnNahda in Tunisia have generally articulated their Islamist ideology in a broad sense, through the promotion of welfare policies. Fears over the introduction of a restrictive interpretation of ‘Islamic law’ by the FJP in Egypt were based on both speculation about the future and on experience. The FCO should see the pragmatism of some political-Islamist parties as an opportunity to engage with them, and to influence their current trajectory, as well as considering their future intentions.

75.We assess that exposure to free and fair elections, the need to appeal to a broad range of the electorate in order to win elections, and the need to work with other political perspectives in order to govern effectively, will serve to encourage political-Islamist groups to adopt a more pragmatic ideology, and an increasingly flexible interpretation of their Islamic references. Moves by them towards embracing certain universal human rights may be slower, and more tentative. The FCO should do all it can to hasten this process, in keeping with its global commitment to defending human rights.

An evolving policy debate

76.Witnesses told us that profound debates are taking place within (and between) political-Islamist groups about what their policies should be, and how to achieve them. Some commentators, such as Tarek Osman in his book Islamism,134 and Dr Rifai Sulaiman Lebbe135 (from the Centre for Eradication of Muslim Radicalism) in his evidence, argue that the outcome of these debates will define whether political Islamist groups can succeed in winning broad appeal and governing inclusively.

77.There is great diversity within political Islam in this respect. Tunisia’s EnNahda has even debated what role religion, and religious figures, should play in its official structures. At its party conference in May 2016, EnNahda decided to draw a distinction between social-religious activities and religiously-inspired politics. Its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, said that EnNahda would henceforth be a purely political party and not a social movement.136 Speaking about these changes before they took place, Dr Rafik Abdessalem wrote on behalf of EnNahda that these proposals would:

Introduce a definition of the party that separates it from cultural and religious activities, which should be kept within the exclusive sphere of religious institutions and civil society organisations. Ennahdha does not purport to speak for religion. Like other Tunisian parties, Ennahdha is also evolving to meet changing times and more clearly define its vision.137

78.In terms of their policies towards women, Dr Machteld Zee, a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, told us that “the political ideology of Islamism actually can be brought to a core that, regardless of the women’s issue at hand, will never be liberal democracy”.138 But EnNahda told us that women played a significant role within its institutional structures and, when asked whether a women could lead the party, Dr Radwan Masmoudi, an advisor to EnNahda’s leader Rached Ghannouchi, said:

Absolutely, yes. Female members are at every level of the leadership in EnNahda. Tunisia is the only country that has parity in the elections for Parliament in the constitution, so about 30% or almost 40% of Members of Parliament are women.139

79.When asked whether a woman could lead the FJP, the Brotherhood’s political party in Egypt, Ibrahim Mounir confirmed that they could do so within the Brotherhood’s democratic system.140 In terms of more clearly distinguishing between its religious and political activities, as EnNahda has done, the Brotherhood released a statement in May 2016 saying that it was considering the issue but that the debate was on-going.141

80.In debates as diverse as those on anti-Semitism,142 homophobia,143 sectarian prejudice by Sunni Muslims against Shi’a Muslims,144 and the role of ‘shari’a’ law in the state,145 witnesses told us that political-Islamists were products of societies where illiberal attitudes were prevalent. A frequent counter-point to criticism of illiberal views held by political-Islamist groups has therefore been that these are broad cultural and social debates, rather than being views held by political-Islamists alone. Mokhtar Awad, a Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, countered that political-Islamist groups themselves had played a role in making society more conservative.146

81.The FCO should encourage political-Islamist groups to accept an interpretation of faith that protects the rights, freedoms, and social policies that are congruent with UK values, with the EnNahda party in Tunisia being a prime example of one that has moved in this direction. The FCO is also right to look for indications that political Islamists may act to undermine these values. But it should also hold all governments—in the Middle East and North Africa, and around the world—to the same standards, regardless of their ideology.

112 Q159

113 ISL0047, para 1

114 ISL0047, para 5

116 ISL0051, Sixth Question

117 ISL0051, Sixth Question

118 Q98

119 Q99

120 Q99, ISL0058

122 ISL0022, para 8

123 ISL0009, para 9

124 ISL0045, paras 15, 20, and 21

125 Q64

126The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power 2012–2013’, para 112. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This, the second report in the series, was provided to us by the Egyptian Embassy in London.

127 Q170

128 ISL0057, Q3

129 ISL0057, Q3

130 ISL0057, Q3

131 ISL0043, para 8

132 Written evidence from Michael Marcusa, Doctoral Candidate in Political Science, Brown University, Notes on Political Islam for UK FAC, placed in the Parliamentary Archives

133 Written evidence from Michael Marcusa, Doctoral Candidate in Political Science, Brown University, Notes on Political Islam for UK FAC, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

134 Tarek Osman, Islamism, 2016, ‘Conclusion’

135 ISL0004, ‘Western social values vs Islamic religious values’

137 ISL0022, para 24

138 Q124

139 Q95

140 Q94, ISL0058

141 IkhwanWeb, Muslim Brotherhood Press Statement 22 May 2016, accessed 18 August 2016

142 See, for example, “the context of the society in which they are operating” in ISL0039.

143 See, for example, ISL0049, ‘Political Islam/Muslim Brotherhood and Homosexuality’.

144 See, for example, the citing of a 2012 Pew Research Centre poll in ISL0046, para 11.

145 See, for example, Q72, “Shari’a is not the issue to be asked of Islamic parties, the Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise. Societies demand shari’a”.

146 Q150

3 November 2016