CAIRO: A seminar about The Rise of Islamic Movements in Arab Parliaments early this week turned into a heated debate about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt.
The seminar is part of a series hosted by the One World Foundation for Development and Civil Society Care, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
While Dr. Michael Lange, resident representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, presented the European perception that Islamism and democracy were antithetical, local attendees themselves debated the idea at length.
Lange said that Islamic movements could be part of the solution or part of the problem. His differentiation was based on whether such movements resorted to violence. He said that a successful Islamic movement was one which recognizes the right of its adversary to exist.
Gamal Asad, former head of the Coptic Labor Party, recalled how a Muslim Brotherhood candidate once insisted that Asad s name should not come before a Muslim s on the parliamentary ballot list. He also criticized superficial religiosity and his dismay that the MB would not accept a Christian president, a stipulation already within Egypt s constitution.
Yet Asad confirmed that he defended the right of any political faction to exist as long as it didn t go against citizenship rights.
Other panelists expressed concern that an MB regime would have a negative impact on women s rights.
MP Ashraf Badr El-Din attacked the global hostility towards the MB. He confirmed that they would not discriminate against women or Christians, telling Asad you could be a candidate for president or any other position.
He added that the problem was not among the elite, but among the ordinary public who needed more awareness to overcome prejudice.
Lange said that much of the support for Islamic parties, particularly the Brotherhood and Hamas, stems from a rejection of current regimes, corruption, and a desire for good governance.
Professor of constitutional law Yahia Al Gamal, former minister and member of the NDP s policy secretariat, agreed that rampant corruption was a source of mobilization for the MB. He also blamed the weakness and dearth of political parties.
Al Gamal credited religious parties for changing their tactics and talking increasingly about democracy and participation.
He suggested amending the political party law as long as that does not open the doors for military parties or parties like the MB that would discriminate.
On the other hand, Professor Alli El Deen Helal suggested that inclusion, the process of transforming a political power from one outside the system to one within the system, could moderate Islamic groups.
However, he also presented the opposite possibilities that groups which only follow divine law would not compromise or distinguish between the dawa and politics.
Dr Amr El Choubaki, analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), suggested examining Islamic movements not in isolation but as products of their times. He pointed to democratic countries like Turkey and Morocco, where Islamic movements have not been a threat and continue to respect the democratic institutions already in place.
Along the same lines, ACPSS s Ahmed Al Naggar re-emphasized that what is secular is not always democratic and that democracy need not be secular.
Waheed Abdel Meguid head of the Arab Research Unit at the ACPSS added that founder of the MB, Hassan Al-Banna attacked existing parties but was not against the multi-party system.
The One World Foundation was developed nine months ago to support civil society organizations and to mobilize the public to vote and raise political awareness. They hosted the event in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German NGO which supports a variety of civic education projects.