“Right now, they don’t want to struggle with anyone, they want to take steps cautiously, and it’s making them look weak. They are not in full control.”
The Brotherhood knows it needs the co-operation of the military, and appears to have tacitly reassured the behemoth institution that it will not try to wrest back control of the estimated 15 per cent of the Egyptian economy that it controls as a private fiefdom. Even cronies of Mr. Mubarak are being welcomed into senior political positions and big business deals, as the Brotherhood tries to solidify its position. No one on either end of the political spectrum likes that.
But Mr. Mowafy says that, above all, the Brotherhood is characterized by its long-term view. “They take their time, and it may be a very long time, but they get to what they want.
“You have to understand that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want, as an organization, to take control of the state – they want the state to become the organization. Every Egyptian should be a Brother. Not today or tomorrow – they want to plant their seeds and watch them grow.”
A critical indicator of what seeds are being sown – what plans the government has for the future face of Egypt – is the new constitution, which is months past its deadline. Until it is accepted in a national referendum, now tentatively slated for November, no new parliament can be elected and all else – bailouts from international financial institutions, reform of the vast public service, changes to a deeply skewed subsidy system that does little to help the poor – remains on hold.
Mr. Darrag is chair of the special assembly convened by parliament to draft the constitution and emphasizes that it represents all streams of the Egyptian polity – including Coptic Christians and liberal feminists.
But Prof. Hassan, who studies the Islamists, says that, by his count, Brotherhood and Salafist members make up 85 per cent the body, which needs agreement from only 75 per cent to adopt a motion. In fact, it is so deeply divided that this week liberal, secular members threatened to quit en masse.
There is as yet no final draft of the document, although some portions have reached the public. The central focus of debate is an article stating that principles of Islamic law (sharia, in Arabic) will be the basis for legislation. Most Egyptians are fine with a bland statement like this – the question is what the Brotherhood intends to do with it.
“The constitution can have 200 amazing amendments and have three articles override them – it’s meaningless,” Prof. Hassan says.
It will not mean much unless, for example, judges appointed by the government start setting aside legal precedents in favour of rulings drawn from sharia – and Mr. Mowafy says that, in recent weeks, judges have indeed begun to refer to sharia and the anticipated constitution, rather than historic jurisprudence.
The Brotherhood has also begun to appoint its people to posts in the state-run media, local government, the state governorate system and key agencies such as the auditor’s office.
This prompts Khalid Fahmy, a political historian with the American University of Cairo, to wonder: “To what degree are they infiltrating the state down the ladder to the lower and lower echelons?”
Egypt’s liberals are watching all this with trepidation. In an office filled with posters and banners calling for women’s rights, Mozn Hassan, director of an organization called Nazra for Feminist Studies, slumps wearily in her chair, her eyes ringed with dark circles, her hands twitching.
“This wasn’t paradise before,” she points out acidly. Egypt was socially conservative before the revolution, and parties took up issues such as sexual harassment and women’s right to education because they sounded good, but not, she says, because they really wanted to engage with equality.
Now, however, there is intense debate over the fact the new constitution refers to the need to “protect women and children” – but does not, like the old one, articulate what their rights are. For example, language prohibiting enslavement of women and children has been removed, thus eliminating 18 as the minimum age of marriage. Gone, too, is the official minimum quota for female parliamentarians.
Since the political transition, Ms. Hassan says, there have been “100 little stories” of gender equality in retreat – such as the medical college in upper Egypt that has begun to seat male and female students separately, claiming the women wanted it so they would not be harassed.
As Islam takes hold, she says, “women won’t be out of public space, but they will have more limitations. It won’t be, ‘Where are the women?’ but ‘What is the role of women?’ Women will wear modest clothes, for example, to have less hassle, to have access to public space.”