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Muslim Brotherhood on Islam and democracy

February 13, 2011

I was very intrigued by this op-ed in the NYT from the Muslim Brotherhood. The author, Essam El-Errian, a member of the Brotherhood’s guidance council, tries to put to rest worries of an Islamic dictatorship in the wake of Egypt’s popular revolt and leadership change. The Brotherhood, he argues, is committed to a democratic system that meets the needs of all Egyptians, not just Muslims. But, he writes, that doesn’t mean it must be a secular democracy:

As our nation heads toward liberty, however, we disagree with the claims that the only options in Egypt are a purely secular, liberal democracy or an authoritarian theocracy. Secular liberal democracy of the American and European variety, with its firm rejection of religion in public life, is not the exclusive model for a legitimate democracy.

In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage. Moving forward, we envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.

First of all, I would take issue with the suggestion that American democracy has a “firm rejection of religion in public life.” We’re constantly debating the role religion played in the founding of the U.S. and the role it should have now in the public square. I would say, for good or for ill, we are not a strictly secular democracy. It’s just not that cut and dried.

But our commitment to not establishing a state religion is definitely a good thing in my eyes. And I just don’t think it’s realistic to have a true democracy that serves everyone when you have an established state religion. You can say these democratic ideals fit nicely with the majority religion of Islam, but I would be very cautious about mixing religion and government.

Other observers say the op-ed whitewashes the Muslim Brotherhood’s history of violence in Egypt. Here’s a response from Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week.

And then there’s this op-ed from anthropologist Scott Atran who argues the Brotherhood doesn’t have the power the West seems to think it does.

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