Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Muslim Brotherhood’s Appeal Lies in Group’s Social Programs

February 22, 2006
Cairo – Reuters reported last week that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has “built considerable grass-roots support by providing much needed social services in impoverished areas. Such activities have earned it a reputation for competence and honesty, often in contrast to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), popularly perceived as self-serving and corrupt.”

In addition to running shelters for widows and orphans, the Muslim Brotherhood runs 22 hospitals and has schools in every governorate in the country.

In Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood garnered 88 seats in the People’s Assembly. But despite its growing popularity and political influence, the Muslim Brotherhood has also raised suspicions among religious freedom and women’s rights advocates.

Reuters explored some of these concerns:
According to Abul Futouh, the brotherhood's goal is simply to establish "a participatory, democratic country, based on the principles of Islamic law". Some observers, however, express concern about the group's social agenda, elements of which remain unclear.
"The positions of the brotherhood-affiliated parliamentary bloc are mixed, and this applies to social issues as well," noted Hossam Bahgat, programme director at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The group had "been careful to stay away from women's issues and issues of freedom of expression", he said. During the 2000 parliamentary elections, it pressured the government to seize books deemed morally offensive. A year later, it did not support the passage of legislation aimed at bolstering the legal status of women. "Now that they have a parliamentary presence, we don't expect [the brotherhood] to support amendments to the personals status law, which would give more rights to women in areas of child custody and divorce," he added.
Amin expressed concern about the movement's religious affiliations: "The fact that the brotherhood mixes religion and politics is, in itself, very dangerous," he said, "particularly among a population as religiously charged as Egypt's".
"While Egypt, on the whole, can't be considered a secular country, whether and how one chooses to practice religion should be a wholly personal choice," he added.
Nevertheless, the movement has drawn praise on other issues relating to civil and human rights. "We were pleasantly surprised by its support for a new unified law for the building of places of worship," Bahgat noted. Egyptian Christians have long complained that legislation has traditionally favoured the building of mosques over churches.

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