Egyptian Muslim Brothers reportage

This work has been done in collaboration with the photographer Carlo Gianferro ( Article published on Alias by Il Manifesto on Saturday 14th January 2012.

Cover of ALIAS de Il Manifesto: Fratelli Musulmani - Muslim Brothers


PDF Alias from Il Manifesto newspaper: Muslim Brothers


One third, this is the share that, in the opinion of most of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members, will take their political party Freedom and Justice (F&J) in the forthcoming elections. The precedent of Al Nahda inTunisiamakes supposing that the Brotherhood may break even the most optimistic forecasts and go over the 40% mark inEgypt. At the first round for the Lower Chamber they obtained almost 45%. The MB are preparing to take power, but they do not want to do alone, they want to share the responsibility to rebuildEgyptwith other political forces, with the Liberals they hope, perhaps it is a mere political calculation. In fact, the country lay under disastrous conditions: high unemployment, rampant corruption, no foreign investment, tourism dropped by 90% … The problem is not to win the elections but to govern. The MB are aware that 5 years will not be enough to mend the country, this means a high price to pay in terms of votes in the elections to be held in the subsequent round in 2016.

Giovane FM al quartier generale dell'organizzazione - Yonge MB at the General Headquarter

The Arab Spring has awakened a lot of oppressed movement by many dictatorial regimes. InEgypt, Mubarak used to wave the MB as bogeyman in front of the West’s eyes: bearded Islamic extremists ready to set on fire the wholeMiddle Eastand the entire world. At the same time, in somehow, the MB were internally tolerated by the former political regime, and even though they could not fully act openly, they had created an underground network in political, social, economic and cultural activities within the society. The Arab Spring someone says is turning into a nightmare, like as happened in Tahrir in November: “I think there is a sabotage against the country … made by the Ministry of Interior (MI), the SCAF (Superior Council of the Armed Forces) and a third party that is fueling the anger and mutual attacks between police and young people because any attempt to calm the situation fails”, says Sondos Shalaby, a young student in Media Communication at the American University in Cairo, member of the Muslim Brothers (MB), her mother Manal Abou Hassan is a candidate for F&J parliamentary election and her father Asem is one High Bureau’s chairman.

But, who really are the MB? They are doctors, pharmacists, trade unionists, teachers, computer engineers, publishers, writers, directors, businessmen, politicians, bloggers … A special feature that seems to distinguish them is their belonging to the middle class, a bizarre coincidence like last century who possessed a political party membership in such a way to gain a good job position. The doctrinal framework of MB is bordering the rigid discipline that reminds the Communist Parties doctrine in the post-Second World War era, where their members were classified into a rigid structure that set aside any internal dissent, otherwise expulsion from the organization, as already happened to many former MB members. “We are like the conservative people inAmericawho vote for the Repubblican Party”, says Sondos. Meanwhile Mohamed El Morsy, head and leader of the F&J says: “… we are not properly like the Italian Church …we are different from goals, fields and general mechanisms, we are like an NGO, we are an Islamic organization, and we are not a state, or a government”. The MB are spread in all continents, exactly in 95 countries. Nowadays the Brotherhood owns capital in many nations, banks inLiechtenstein, inBrussels, inNew York… It is structured as a financial holding company with bank accounts around the globe.

Mahmud Shaban and Abdelrahman Akile - MB journalists of F&J party

The MB must carry out social aid for the needy according to the principles of Islamic charity. Their structure of Caritas has nothing to envy to European’s and American’s ones. They provide economic aid to those who cannot afford to go to school, food is distributed directly into poor’s homes, clothes are provided too, and health care is given to who cannot afford it into hospitals with MB’s partnership … “There were many MB doctors in Tahrir in last November clashes, ours is a humanitarian mission, we cannot abandon the wounded in the square without help. Many refused to receive medical care outside Tahrir, because they were afraid of being arrested if they were brought to hospitals. Surely there are policemen belonging to the old regime who want to return in power using violence and banned weapons such as this dangerous tear gas. This makes clear as these police officers are determined. There are conspiracies to deny freedom toEgypt, with the evident intention to delay or cancel the elections and carry on with the military authorities”, said Dr Wahda Iddin Zaid, director of El Markesy hospital inNasrCityand member of MB since 1952.

What is the women’s role? “Women are active into the Brotherhood; they consist of 50% of its membership. They have a very good representation and they take part in all social outreach programs and political activities. They have a very big role during the political campaigns, calling and monitoring the elections, standing at the ballot stations, and raising the people’s awareness to expose any voting incident, some of them were even candidates for the parliament, like my mother Manal. The role of women is very much present in the media, blogs and websites … but it is according to the kind of expertise that each one possesses. Yes, we can say that women do almost the same activities as men”, explains Sondos Shalaby. The women’s problem is they are at the bottom of the electoral lists, which means low chances to be elected. And according to Eyptian newspaper Al Masr Al Yom report, women are appointed from the MB’s High Bureau and not democratically elected, even though they state the contrary.

Sondos Shalaby and Manal Abou Hassan in their flat in Heliopolis (Cairo)

Apart from achieving a greater women’s emancipation in Egypt, another problem that must be addressed in the future will be the role of the Armed Forces in Egypt, in such a way to prevent situations like those happened at the end of November 2011: “… to resolve the current crisis, the elections are the best solution to remit the power to a civil government … The intentions of the SCAF sometimes are clear and sometimes are not. Then we ask them more transparency, because they always say that there are political conspiracies against the country, but people do not see them. So, we also ask the Army to show these plots, to have our own opinion”, says Hussein Abdel Qadir El Bassiouni, coordinator for F&J’s public relation. “As a political party, we see the Armed Forces intervention was important in January revolution, but the Army is not used to deal with civil situations. Therefore, we wish the Army will step back to its role once we will have the parliamentary and presidential elections”, adds Mohamed El Morsy.

And Israel? What do the MB think about it? Mr El Morsy clears it: “The best solution is to have just one country, under the Palestinian authority, where Muslim, Christian and Jewish can live together in peace. Because now there is a Jewish religious State, a racist state, which expels all people who are not Jewish … this escalate all the problems. Thereby, we refuse the Jewish country, like a Christian or Muslim one; we are against the Zionists. We refuse the occupation of the Palestinian soil, the Palestinian bloodshed, and all international decisions token until now. We believe on the return of the Palestinian to their land”

Regarding last clashes in Tahrir, Manal Abou Hassan added something more: “The demands of our demonstration on Friday 18 November were to continue the democratic process inEgyptand opposing the Salmi document that would put the Army above the parliament and the Constitution. But now the square demands a Unity National Council composed of several major political figures, but this involves a long period of time that will have an impact on the achievement of democracy inEgypt. The MB follow the course marked by the referendum we had in March 2011, approved by 70% of the population: first parliamentary elections, second appointment of constitutional commissions and a new Constitution and ending with presidential elections. Who is in the square now denies the referendum result, and they are against the constitutional reforms approved by that referendum. So we do not accept any advice even from a restricted Council composed of respectable personalities like El Baradei, Al Fotouh, Amr Mousa …. “. However, it is true that after Mubarak’s resignation few are the changes and the efforts made to start democratic reform in the country; the militaries could not manage to clean the interior ministry and the police departments, both still full of people layal to the previous regime. Moreover, the decision of the MB, not formally to join or support Tahrir during November clashes, has already created a fracture in part of civil society that could have deeper consequences in the future.

Rashaad Al Bayumi - Vice Leader of the MB - Vice leader dei FM

There is an implicit challenge that the Brotherhood will have to face in the future to continue to have the same success it has nowadays on a large part of Egyptian society: the challenge of modernity and democracy. “… El Banna’s thinking is directly linked to the Islamic values ​​and principles of Muhammad so, there is nothing new apart from addressing the modern life’s problems in a different way”, explains Rashaad El Bayoumi, 73 years old vice-leader of the MB.  The Youth Muslim have a big responsibility to push for the implementation of the democratic values that the organization says to be based on. Sooner or later they will have to accept a compromise with the democratic system and its mechanisms, where the dialectic and the confrontation are the basis of political life. Under the dictatorship of Mubarak, the MB were the only opposition to the regime, but now, aside their official party, there are many other liberal and Islamic parties, which have led to numerous defections of the MB’s members, but probably the will take just few votes away from F&J party.

Moaaz Abdel Kareem - Leader of the Youth MB - Leader dei Giovani FM

After the revolution of January 2011, many young MB headed by Moaaz Abdel Kareem have started to criticize the too rigid organization’s structure, devoted to values too much conservative and in opposition of what they see through internet and social networks.  The Youths have a strong hold on society, and contrary to the impositions of the Brotherhood, they most likely will support the presidential candidacy Abou Al Fotouh, a former member of the Brothers. Youth Muslims want greater representation within the organization, want to be associated in the High Bureau decision making. The young people look at the future through Facebook, blogs, websites and online newspapers, through democratic discussion, through which the new Egyptian citizens may interface with the values ​​of their future.

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