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Freedom and Justice Party
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, could not have come into being without the 25 January revolution. Up to that time, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Egypt’s most powerful Islamist organization, was not only denied the right to form parties, but also barred – at least legally – from political life. As a result, the group had to pay a heavy price in detentions and repression to practice politics under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The group had been trying to get a foothold in the country’s political arena for decades but was met with entrenched opposition by the Mubarak regime, which tended to accommodate the Brotherhood, but only within strict limits. Now, after the 25 January uprising, the group’s political ambitions have resurged on an unprecedented scale.
Officially founded in May 2011, the FJP says that it is committed to a modern state, democracy, women’s rights, and national unity. The FJP’s initial membership of nearly nine thousand included one thousand women and one hundred Copts. New members are subject to a probationary period of six months after which, and based on their performance record, they become eligible for permanent membership. The FJP—along with the Salafist Al-Nour—is among a very few Egyptian political parties that issue probationary memberships.
The MB first thought of establishing a political party a few years ago but did not actually take tangible steps toward launching it. Some MB figures, including the Supreme Guide Mohammad Badie, used to oppose the idea of founding a party, partly on the grounds that it conflicted with the group’s charity work and preaching endeavors. While internal resistance toward the proposal was Initially strong, it eventually receded after the revolution made the formation of a political party actually possible.
According to MB spokesman Walid Shalabi, the FJP and the MB share the same Islamic ideals but are separate in matters of management and finance. “Each will support the other when necessary,” he said. “The MB has a bigger role than the party. As a non-governmental [institution], the MB is working on developing numerous aspects of Egyptian society, through preaching for instance. By contrast, the FJP engages only in politics,” Shalabi told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online. “The MB and the FJP will cooperate on certain occasions, during elections, for example,” he added.
Nevertheless, observers still find it difficult to differentiate between the MB and its party, and reporters often conflate their names, partly because, in practice, the MB and the FJP do not behave like two separate entities. For example, MB leaders gave explicit directives to their members not to join any party other than the FJP and those who chose to join other parties, such as the Egyptian Current, were reportedly expelled irrespective of their record inside the MB.
Before the Revolution
The MB was founded in 1928 by Hassan El-Banna, who was a schoolteacher and religious scholar. During the 1940s, its influence grew very rapidly as traditional political parties, especially Al-Wafd, began to lose their credibility. On the eve of the 1952 Revolution, which deposed the monarchy, the MB was already considered the largest political group in the country. Once an ally of the Brotherhood, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser banned political parties and eliminated the MB’s political role during the 1950s and 1960s, using much violence to that end. Sadat allowed MB leaders to resume their work in the 1970s, and thus the MB was resurrected after an absence that lasted more than two decades. Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood was generally allowed to participate in political life without an official legal status, though the degree to which the Mubarak regime tolerated the group’s activism varied over time.
With their activities resumed, the MB grew in influence over the past few decades and spawned chapters in other Arab countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain, though its name varied across countries. The MB maintains that its foremost task is preaching and charity work, but its interest in politics has steadily grown over time.
The MB started to field candidates in the Egyptian parliamentary elections in 1984, sometimes in coalition with other parties. It managed to score its largest electoral victory to date in the 2005 elections, when it won twenty percent of the seats of the legislature’s lower house, becoming the largest opposition group in the Assembly’s history. It is widely believed that the former regime of Hosni Mubarak committed flagrant fraud during the 2010 election to prevent the MB from repeating its 2005 feat.
Shortly before the January 25 Revolution, the MB announced that it would not take part in the nationwide mass protests that eventually led to Mubarak’s ouster—a decision that the group apparently reversed later. The group is often criticized for its initial hesitance to join the protests, even though its youth broke ranks with their leaders and participated in the 25 January demonstrations. Additionally, many MB members were quite active during the eighteen-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, and played central roles in defending the occupation of Tahrir Square by protesters, along with the rest of the political movements that took part in it.
It has remained the MB’s position that the FJP is not subservient to the MB Guidance Bureau, and that would-be party leaders like Essam El-Eryan had given up their posts inside the MB before assuming the FJP’s leadership. Many observers, however, believe that the Guidance Bureau’s decisions and disagreements somehow reflect on the party. In August, ranking MB member Sobhi Saleh said that the MB would be instructed to vote for the FJP candidates in the upcoming legislative election. The Brotherhood, moreover, barred its members from joining any party other than the FJP, and has reportedly punished members who have not complied with that directive.
A Higher Council (HC) and Executive Bureau are tasked with running the party. Both bodies are elected by the General Assembly (GA), which comprises representatives from all governorates. Party members are supposed to elect their representatives in the GA for a four-year term, but the first GA members were appointed without election. The HC, also elected every four years, passes decisions by an absolute majority.
The MB’s appointment of the current leaders of the FJP caused a serious rift inside the group. Many of the Brotherhood’s younger members had rejected these appointments on grounds that they completely ignored the MB’s youth and were made in a non-transparent manner. Dissenting youth decided to form their own party, namely the Egyptian Current. In response, MB leaders expelled these activists from the group because they violated the Guidance Bureau’s orders not to join parties other than the FJP.
The MB is poised to have a strong presence in Egypt’s next parliament, being the most resourceful and well-organized political force on scene, following the disbanding of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).
FJP leader Mohamed Morsi said that contrary to popular allegations, the MB has no intention of dominating the next parliament and wishes to see a legislature that represents all strands of Egyptian society. “We do not seek a monopoly on power, nor do we wish to control the parliament. This would not be in Egypt’s best interest, which is the only thing we care for,” he said. “We want a balanced parliament that is not dominated by anyone.”
In an apparent gesture to reassure secular forces that it would not seek to dominate national politics, the MB said last spring that its party would compete for no more than forty-five to fifty percent of parliamentary seats. However, as part of the Democratic Alliance electoral coalition, the FJP is presenting more than 500 candidates and is thus contesting more than seventy percent of the parliamentary seats that are up for election. The FJP tops over sixty percent of the Alliance’s forty-six electoral lists, and is scheduled to contest over seventy percent of single-winner seats. Yet according to FJP’s Secretary General Saad Al-Katatny, no more than forty percent of the MB candidates have a real shot at securing representation. Nevertheless, the fact that FJP eventually breached its promise not to contest more than half of the seats in parliament deepened suspicions within the secular camp about the Brotherhood’s intentions.
Earlier in the spring, the MB, along with many political groups, embarked on a long-lasting debate over whether a new constitution should be put in place before elections are convened, or vice versa. A majority of the political forces argued that a constitution should be drafted first in order to clearly define the mandates of (and divisions of power between) the new parliament and president before they assume office. They also argued that the formation of the assembly that would be tasked with writing the country’s new constitution should be independent of the results of the elections. The constitution, they argued, must be drafted by representatives of all walks of Egyptian political life, not the winner of one round of elections. Most of the non-Islamist political groups also needed time to get established and organized ahead of the elections.
By contrast, the MB has no problem participating in the elections right away. Along with other Islamists, the MB said that a delay in elections would prolong military rule. Therefore, they pushed for convening elections as soon as possible, arguing that the concerns of their opponents could be addressed once the ruling military council transfers power to elected bodies.
The legislative elections are currently scheduled to take place late November 2011, ahead of the formation of the constitutional assembly that will be tasked with writing the constitution.
Relationship with Other Political Parties
“The FJP will cooperate with all parties and political movements, not just the Islamists, as long as this is in the country’s best interest,” Shalabi said when asked about the FJP’s relationship with other political forces. The definition of the country’s best interest, however, remains highly contested. Moreover, the FJP is still uneasy about cooperating with the Egyptian Current, which was created by former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian Current will contest the upcoming elections through the Revolution Continues electoral coalition.
In June 2011, the MB and seventeen other political parties, including the Wafd, formed the Democratic Alliance for Egypt. The alliance included more than forty political parties at one point. Today only eleven parties remain, including Al-Karama and Ayman Nour’s Ghad Parties, after successive defections occurred due to ideological differences between Islamists and non-Islamists forces, as well as complaints that the FJP was dominating the coalition’s candidate list. The most notable defection was that of Al-Wafd Party, which was once a major partner in the Democratic Alliance. Many Wafdist figures publicly criticized their leaders’ decision to create an alliance with the MB. Some Wafdists based this criticism on the grounds that the alliance made Al-Wafd subservient to a rival organization and compromised the party’s commitment to secular principles, which the MB opposes. Al-Wafd’s officials, however, hold that they left the Democratic Alliance primarily because there was insufficient room on the joint candidate list for the party to field all of the candidates who it had recruited. The fact that each list consists on average of only seven seats makes it difficult for a large number of parties to cooperate in a single coalition. All coalitions experienced similar defections once they started forming their joint electoral lists.
The Egyptian Bloc, an electoral alliance founded by a group of liberal and leftist forces, is often portrayed as an attempt by secular forces to counterbalance the MB in the upcoming the election. The fact that the alliance brings together a group of secular leaning parties with contradictory economic agendas, such as the socialist Al-Tagammu Party and the pro-business Free Egyptians Party, reinforces this perception. Some members of the bloc insist otherwise, asserting that their alliance was not created to oppose any particular political force, stressing that Islamists were welcome to join the coalition if they shared the specific values espoused by the Bloc.
The press conference launching the Egyptian Bloc’s electoral campaign featured strong attacks against the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Tagammu Party’s Rifaat Al-Said accused the Brotherhood of trying to “hijack Egypt and Egyptians” and said that the group is driven by its goal to dominate politics even if it comes at the expense of national interests. Al-Said is known as a long-standing and vehement critic of Islamist groups.
Relations between the MB and other Islamist political groups seemed tense after three Islamist parties, namely Al-Nour, Building and Development, and Al-Asala Parties entered an electoral alliance separate from the MB-led coalition under the name the Islamist Bloc. MB candidates are scheduled to compete against Salafist candidates in Alexandria. Notwithstanding its frequent criticism of the MB, the Islamist Bloc may coordinate its electoral strategies with the MB’s FJP.
Al-Nour Party spokesperson Nader Bakkar told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that the Bloc and the MB had agreed to avoid competing for the same single-winner seats, though FJP officials have denied that such an agreement has occurred. The final candidate rosters of both parties in Alexandria suggest that they might indeed end up competing over single winner seats.
Moreover, the Brotherhood and Al-Nour signed a joint document committing both sides to “clean and fair competition” in their electoral faceoff, though it is unclear why other parties were not included in the agreement. Nevertheless, the two Islamist coalitions are expected to compete fiercely in party list races over votes cast by Islamist constituents who had previously had little choice but to vote for the MB.
Caught between the new Islamist parties and the secular blocs, the FJP has been trying to recruit prominent independent candidates from outside the MB to run on its lists. For example, party leaders have reportedly asked Hassan Nafaa to run on one of their electoral lists in Cairo. Nafaa is a prominent political scientist, public figure, and former coordinator of Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change. FJP initially assured him that they he would not have to officially join the party in order to run on its electoral lists. According to Nafaa, however, after accepting the FJP’s offer, the party reneged on its promise and asked that he fill out a membership application in order to process the paperwork for his candidacy. Nafaa took the matter to the press, implicitly accusing the MB of opportunism.
Stances on Salient Issues
Form of Government
The FJP supports a parliamentary form of government on the grounds that such a system would provide a healthy balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
In the FJP’s mission statement, “justice” is defined as consisting of three elements: (a) equality of individuals before the law; (b) social justice; and (c) solidarity among all members of society. According to the FJP’s platform, social equality will only be achieved when every citizen is granted the right to participate in national production and be a recipient of state benefits. Providing basic needs to the handicapped and those unable to work, the platform reads, is also imperative.
The solutions that the FJP proposes for dealing with poverty focus on encouraging public charity work and providing essential social services, as well as microloans for the poor. To reduce poverty, the FJP recommends that twenty percent of oil revenues be collected to fund welfare programs for the poor. It also recommends the restructuring of social security and subsidy systems to ensure a decent standard of living for low-income households.
The FJP’s platform clearly supports private ownership, private business, and free market solutions. According to the platform, the state’s economic role should be limited to providing a healthy investment climate and maintaining the country’s infrastructure. Hassan Malek, a businessman and ranking MB figure, said that the principles guiding economic policies followed under Mubarak were sound, but corruption and nepotism marred their implementation. He said he supported the policies that Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Mubarak’s minister of trade and industries, adopted in order to boost foreign direct investments in Egypt. In contrast with Malek’s remarks, the FJP’s platform expresses opposition to what it describes as “the imposition of neoliberal economic policies.”
The FJP also believes that the state is responsible for helping underprivileged groups by granting charity and state benefits. Additionally, the FJP contends that the state should protect workers by guaranteeing fair wages and social insurance schemes. In practice, however, party officials spoke out against labor strikes after the revolution on the grounds that they are destabilizing Egypt’s already fragile economy.
The FJP is of the view that Islamic banking is beneficial to Egypt’s economic wellbeing and that the country’s Central Bank should promote Islamic banking modes throughout the commercial banking sector. In its platform, the FJP makes no mention of banning interest, which is arguably inconsistent with Islamic laws.
The FJP’s stance on women’s rights is quite controversial. The MB itself does not allow its female members to participate in internal voting and MB officials had said that women were unfit to assume the presidency. More recently, MB leaders have indicated that the group believes that women are entitled to run for president, but that the FJP would only support a male candidate for the position. The FJP platform does not elaborate on women’s rights and the document mentions the word “women” six times only. While the FJP’s position on citizenship is that all citizens are equal, the platform notes that women’s rights should be subject to the principles of Sharia. In the platform’s background notes, references are made to the key roles of women in education and business, as well as women’s rights to defend themselves and their religion. Women also have the right to participate in public forums, to be part of decision making, and to voice their views, the FJP says in its background notes. But neither the platform nor the background notes address women’s roles in leadership and top administrative posts. In practice, neither the FJP nor the MB has women leaders.
Religion and State
In its platform and public statements, the FJP pledges commitment to a “civil state,” which is not led by the military or clerics, but rather seeks guidance in the makased, or “objectives,” of sharia. Non-Muslims should be allowed to follow their own practices in matters of personal status, the FJP says. Otherwise, Sharia must offer the general frame of reference for decision-making. The platform’s position on the form that the next government should take makes scant reference to religion and more or less resembles other programs of non-Islamist parties.
The term “minorities” is mentioned only once in the FJP’s platform. Still, the document advocates equality among all citizens, regardless of their religion, race, color, or gender, in all matters related to freedom of expression and the right to run for public office.
The FJP’s official statements sometimes refer to Egyptian Christians and the Church as if the two are interchangeable. The platform recognizes the role of the Church in helping “Egyptians attain the goal of reform and change.” The platform also reads that the Church is crucial in defending cultural values and morality, promoting political participation, maintaining goodwill between Christians and Muslims, and providing support to vulnerable groups such as orphans, individuals with special needs, and the elderly.
In a statement issued 14 May 2011, the FJP rejected any attempt to decide the manner in which the constitutive assembly, responsible for writing the constitution, should be formed in advance of the elections. According to the FJP, the rules governing the writing of the constitution were defined in the constitutional declaration, which was approved by seventy-seven percent of voters in the referendum held on 19 March 2011. The FJP has refused to formulate supra-constitutional principles on the same grounds.
Meanwhile, the FJP supported the “Al-Azhar Document,” which many consider to be a statement of supra-constitutional rights. The FJP hailed this document as a worthy attempt to bring consensus to the national scene. The FJP suggested that the wording of the above document be changed to stress that non-Muslims should follow their own practices in matters of personal status. In this regard, the FJP also wishes to define non-Muslims as followers of the “legitimate” monotheistic creeds, thus narrowing the definition in a manner that differs from its own platform.
The debate about supra-constitutional principles stems from fears that Islamists will dominate the next parliament. Some also fear that Islamists would take advantage of such a situation to write a constitution that changes the nature of the Egyptian state and jeopardizes democracy and individual rights.
Although the FJP has so far been silent on the matter of military trials, the MB Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat has clearly stated that the MB opposes military trials of civilians, ending months of MB silence on the matter. Ezzat’s remarks followed the trial of activist Asmaa Mahfouz.
Strike Law and Labor Movements
The FJP has not yet stated its position on a law banning strikes, which the government announced last March, but Brotherhood officials have previously condoned the SCAF’s opposition to labor strikes. FJP officials have expressed opposition to the teachers’ strike on the basis that the current conditions are not suitable for these types of demands. Adel Hamed, assistant leader of the FJP Cairo branch, explained that the FJP was not against people demanding their rights, but rather it preferred individual demands be balanced with the greater good for society. More than once, the FJP has helped end labor strikes through mediation, as in the case of the Salheya workers. On the other hand, Muslim Brotherhood activists have attempted to force an end to teachers’ strikes in some governorates last September. Some reports indicate that the Brotherhood also tried to stifle the medical doctors’ strike last spring.
International Monitoring of Elections
The FJP has not yet made an official statement regarding international monitoring, but its deputy leader, Essam al-Eryan, told the Egyptian News website that the MB objects to such monitoring. Meanwhile, FJP senior official Mohamed Gamal Heshmat called on the SCAF to explain its objection to international monitoring if the elections are guaranteed as free and fair. The MB was in favor of international monitoring during the 2010 elections.
The FJP’s platform describes the “Palestinian problem” as one of Egypt’s most critical national security concerns. The party supports Palestinians’ rights to form its own state with Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the right of return.
The Brotherhood’s position on Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been fairly ambiguous. A week after the downfall of Mubarak, a Brotherhood spokesperson stated that the group respects the treaty, whereas other officials have often said that it should be “revised.”
Media Image and Controversies
According to MB officials, FJP funding is separate from that of the MB. The FJP says that it relies on annual subscription fees of its members, which number nine thousand. The annual fee for party membership is one hundred and fifty EGP. Some have claimed that the MB receives financial support from Saudi Arabia, but the MB has categorically denied these allegations.
The absence of women and young people from the FJP’s top ranks is worthy of note, and has been a cause for concern among young MB members. Some say that the FJP’s apparent lack of interest in promoting its younger members has led some MB youths to join other parties, such as the Egyptian Current Party.
The widespread impression that the MB and its newly formed party are moving toward a strict interpretation of Islamic law has prompted secular activists to denigrate the MB and the FJP. Some secular activists claim that these groups pose a threat to religious freedom, free speech, and gender equality.
Dealing with the SCAF
Many activists in the non-Islamist camp allege that the MB and the SCAF struck a deal after the revolution, whereby the MB would support SCAF’s policies in return for a more permissive environment for the MB to conduct its political activities. The MB and FJP repeatedly denied such allegations, but it has been noted that since the FJP was created, the MB has generally refrained from participation in anti-SCAF demonstrations and sit-ins, and has often opposed them.
A former member of the MB Guidance Bureau, Morsi is the current FJP leader. In 2000, he was elected to the People’s Assembly, the Egyptian parliament’s lower chamber, and served as spokesperson of the MB parliamentary bloc. He lost his seat in the 2005 elections in what seemed to be a close race.
The FJP deputy leader Essam Al-Eryan, a surgeon by training, is former chief of the MB Political Bureau, former member of the MB Guidance Bureau, and former MB spokesperson. Al-Eryan was arrested several times over the past three decades for political reasons. He was a member of the People’s Assembly between 1987 and 1990.
FJP deputy leader Rafiq Habib is the most prominent Copt in the party, which boasts one hundred Christians within its ranks. Critics of the FJP say that Habib’s appointment is cosmetic and that his real influence does not match his senior post.
FJP Secretary General Al-Beltagi, a medical doctor, was a highly visible parliamentarian between 2005 and 2010. During his tenure in the People’s Assembly, al-Beltagi questioned the government’s performance on major issues, including the sinking of the Al Salam ferryboat, bird and swine flu , real estate taxes, and inflation. He also played central roles in supporting the Palestinian struggle. Al-Beltagi was one of the two Egyptian Brotherhood Members of Parliament who were on board the Flotilla, and he organized a convoy to Gaza right after Israel had released him from custody.
[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]
From Jadaliyya Editors:
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