CAIRO: The separation between religion and politics was one of the chief concerns political activists and analysts expressed about the recently accredited Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which is yet to put together a comprehensible program and set of goals easily accessible to the public and distinguish it from the Muslim Brotherhood group.
Several political groups and parties do not rule out the possibility that the party — accredited earlier this week by the Parties’ Affairs Committee — being the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group will use social and religious advocacy to accomplish political goals.
“We welcome the advent of any new party that has no religious basis … we seek a civil state based on social justice and equality,” senior Al-Wafd party member Wafiq El-Ghitany told Daily News Egypt.
“But if any kind of deception comes up, citizens and political forces will be able to eradicate this party,” he added.
Al-Wafd and the Brotherhood, as a banned group, formed a coalition in 1984 that enabled the members of the latter to field candidates in the parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood formed another coalition with the Islamist Labor party in 1987. But since then, it’s been fielding candidates as independents to bypass the government ban.
After the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak last February, the Brotherhood was the first to announce its intention to form a party. It has since been visibly active on the political scene.
FJP was the first party to be recognized by the government. “This is quite normal as the MB was the most organized and funded…conforming to the policy of the ruling army council in running the country throughout the transitional stage,” said Deputy Director of Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies Nabil Abdel-Fattah.
Political parties were welcoming but cautious. “We primarily welcome the multi-party life and the right of any Egyptian to establish a party provided that it entails no religious advocacy,” Mohamed Farag, a senior member of the rival leftist Tagammu Party, told DNE.
“It is normal that parties vary in their adopted political and social ideologies or else it’s not a multi-party system anymore,” he added.
Farag doubts that the party is separate from the group, which would make the separation of politics and religion unlikely in the FJP's future discourse
“The Brotherhood is the origin … that was always involved in any statement about the party. So it’s not like they are two entities,” he argued. “The group used to say in the past that their frame of reference is Islam. Now the reference of the party is the Brotherhood ... which causes a political dilemma about integrating religion with politics.”
The recently amended law regulating political parties bans religious parties.
Deputy head of FJP Essam El-Erian denied what some websites published about the party that it adopts political Islam as an ideology, even though the party has an Islamic frame of reference.
“We reject the expression of political Islam. It is a civil, Egyptian party open to all Egyptians,” he said. Yet El-Erian, also the MB official spokesman, confirmed that the party’s ideology is inspired by Islam.
There can be no separation between religion and politics, he said. “Such concepts appeared only in Western communities … Religion is an integral part of the lives of Egyptians.”
Clearer lines, however, separate the party from the group. “We never denied that the party was established with the Brotherhood’s will and based on the group’s thoughts. But it is a separate entity on the regulatory and administrative levels,” El-Erian explained.
Abdel-Fattah, however, remained skeptical about the party’s ideology. “The Brotherhood currently adopts two forms, religious advocacy and another that has to do with politics,” he argued.
On May 18, the group presented the party’s founding papers as well as member lists including 978 women and 93 Copts among the 8,821 founding members in 27 Egyptian governorates.
“Allowing women and Copts into the party aims to allay the fears of Copts and middle and upper middle class women … but I don’t think this will change the group’s structure of ideas much,” Abdel-Fatah said.
“Some of these modern women who want to practice politics in a bid to compete with men and realize equality have concerns over the MB's [impact on society],” he added.
“Our response to such claims will be practical not in words,” El-Erian said, calling for other forces to engage in a dialogue with the party.
El-Ghitany considered this move a sign of hope. “But we will wait and see what their role will be like,” he said.
Even though she believed the foundation of a new party after the January 25 Revolution is positive, National Association for Change (NAC) activist Karima El-Hefnawy still called on the party to clarify its identity.
“Any party has to differentiate between religion and social and political principles,” El-Hefnawy, also a founding member of the Kefaya Movement for Change, said, adding that the party cannot by any means follow the group’s long-adopted principles.
“In general, the presence of any political party in society enriches political life,” she said.
“At the end of the day, what we care about is the content rather than the form,” she added.
Head of the party Mohamed Morsi said in press statements last month that the group was not seeking to impose the principles of Sharia law. Activists and politicians have always called for separating religion from politics as well as establishing a secular, civil state.
Coptic researcher of political Islam and Islamist movements, Rafiq Habib, who is also the party’s deputy head, begged to differ.
“It’s impossible to separate religion from politics or the state in a country like Egypt, Habib told DNE in an interview earlier last week.
“Egypt is a community built on religious foundations since the beginning of time,” he said.
The Brotherhood is expected to play a key political role starting with the People’s Assembly (PA) polls slated for September. MB members will hence contest parliamentary seats as legal political party members for the first time in the group’s history.
The MB’s Shoura Council previously said the party will contest 45-50 percent of seats in the upcoming People’s Assembly elections slated for September.
Most analysts and researchers of Islamist movements say that the FJP is not likely to win more than 25-30 percent of the votes.
Abdel-Fatah, however, speculated that the group will probably field more candidates, some as independents, to win a majority with other Islamist movements, the same strategy adopted by the disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP) over the past three decades.
The MB repeatedly stated that it will not field a candidate for the presidential elections nor support members who run as independents. Senior member Abdel-Moniem Aboul-Fotouh announced his intention to run for president, but said he had frozen his activities within the group, but didn’t quit.
The popular support of the MB is believed to be highest of any other political forces in Egypt.
Based on a study released by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center on Sunday, nine out of 10 Egyptians surveyed in a recent poll plan on voting in the upcoming elections. The Brotherhood won over the support of 15 percent of the respondents, the highest in the poll. Ten percent of the respondents supported the NDP. The majority of the poll respondents however, rejected a theocratic state.