The Muslim Brotherhood’s main presidential candidate seeks to
fundamentally Islamicize Egyptian society if elected, according to newly
uncovered footage of an extended address he gave supporters last year
shortly after his release from prison.
Egyptian activists have
transcribed Khairat al-Shater’s 90- minute address into English,
offering a rare glimpse into the worldview of the normally tight-lipped
candidate who is a front-runner in upcoming elections to lead the Arab
world’s most populous state.
Shater delivered the address,
entitled “The Islamic Renaissance Project,” in Alexandria on April 21,
2011, less than two months after his release from prison. The veteran
Brotherhood financier had served four years of a seven-year sentence for
money laundering and membership in the once-banned Islamist group when
he was freed in the aftermath of president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
of his remarks has been available on YouTube for the past year, but
only in Arabic. Following Shater’s announcement as the Brotherhood’s
candidate late last month, activists from the Egyptian Union of Liberal
Youth translated and transcribed the video and last week posted it
online. The English translation is now available on the homepage of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, a journal published by the US-based Hudson Institute.
the Brothers are working to restore Islam in its all-encompassing
conception to the lives of people,” Shater says in the address. “Thus
the mission is clear: restoring Islam in its all-encompassing
conception, subjugating people to God, instituting the religion of God,
the Islamicization of life, empowering of God’s religion, establishing
the renaissance of the ummah [worldwide Muslim nation] on the basis of
Islam... Every aspect of life is to be Islamicized.
“We call upon
God Almighty to make this transformation the beginning of a new
renaissance for the ummah and the shaking off of the state of
backwardness from which it has suffered for decades,” Shater says in the
clip. “As Muslim Brothers, it is imperative that we, as well as the
entirety of the ummah, God willing, take advantage of this revolution
which took place in Egypt and continues in the countries surrounding
Shater uses the Arabic “nahda” to refer to his hoped-for
renaissance. Nahda literally means “rising up,” and can refer to
prosperity or success rather than the strict Western meaning of rebirth.
Ennahda also is the name of the leading Islamist movement in Tunisia,
which took a plurality of that country’s parliamentary votes in
elections last year.
Shater appears to have adopted the word as
an unofficial trademark. His campaign Facebook page – which has garnered
some 90,000 “likes” in its first two weeks – features the motto “Nahda
is the people’s will.”
Shater’s use of “ummah” also appears
deliberately ambiguous. In this context the word, Arabic for “nation,”
may refer either to the Egyptian people or to the Islamic community of
The Muslim Brotherhood garnered around half
of Egypt’s parliamentary seats in elections earlier this year, with even
harder-line Islamists taking another 25 percent. Eager to assuage
Western apprehensions over an Islamist takeover, the Brotherhood had
originally insisted it would not field a candidate to replace Mubarak in
Egypt’s first comparatively free presidential elections in decades.
last month the group reversed its decision, naming Shater, a successful
businessman and longtime senior Brotherhood official, as its candidate.
Still, Shater’s candidacy may ultimately be annulled: His prison term
was due to expire in 2015, and he must now receive a pardon from either
the military court that tried him or the ruling Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces in order to run.
The Brotherhood has hedged its
bets, naming Mohamed Morsi – head of its Freedom and Justice Party – as a
“backup” candidate should Shater be deemed ineligible.
freed from prison Shater has remained reticent over the most sensitive
questions facing the Brotherhood: Its future treatment of women and
religious minorities and Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Leading
Muslim Brotherhood members have given mixed signals over their
commitment to the treaty – some have insisted relations with Israel
would be unacceptable while others have pledged commitments to keep all
of Egypt’s international obligations.
Over the last year Shater has referred to the treaty just once, in a January interview with Al- Ahram
newspaper, in which he tersely affirmed that his party would “abide by
the commitments of the Egyptian government, regardless of our
reservations.” In footage of last year’s Alexandria address he does not
mention Israel at all.
Shater’s caution is part of a wider
Brotherhood effort to uphold the rigid religious principles its
followers expect while at the same time mollifying Western unease over
the prospect of Islamist government.
Last week, the organization
sent a delegation on a tour of Washington to meet with policy analysts,
university students and the media. At every stop, the delegates assured
their hosts they intend to preserve the rule of law and minority rights.
Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party would be “as inclusive as possible –
including liberals, secularists” and Christians, a Brotherhood lawmaker
told an audience at Washington’s Georgetown University, adding that
peace with Israel would not be altered “unless if there is a massive
popular will to change that.”
“We are... working to improve the
situation of women in society, getting to the root causes of the problem
of the marginalization of women,” the female editor of the
Brotherhood’s Englishlanguage website assured the Georgetown audience.
Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said
the Brotherhood’s visit was an exercise in dishonesty.
lied constantly and emphatically, as if there were simply no evidence of
contrary views to the ones they were putting out,” Trager told The Jerusalem Post.
“Of course the evidence they were lying is freely available – the
Brotherhood’s history of opposing laws banning female genital
mutilation, and its statements about wanting to put the Camp David
Accords to referendum, are all public.”
“Anyone seriously following Egypt has to know they were painting a highly inaccurate picture of themselves,” he said.
interviewed Shater last year in the course of doctoral work on Egyptian
opposition parties. He said the candidate’s remarks in the video
largely comport with what he had told him in person.
“The idea is
that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to implement Shari’a, but an
interpretive form that seeks to realize what they would call social
benefits,” he said. “It’s an Islamic jurisprudential approach in which
there is constant reference to Islamic law, but it’s interpreted in
terms of the general aims of a given text.”
Mina Rezkalla, a
former member of the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth and an intern at the
Hudson Institute, said he believes the Brotherhood remains committed to
the same principles that have marked the movement throughout its
“They have a double voice. They play with the words, but not with the content,” he told the Post.
“When talking about Israel to a Western audience, they will use the
word ‘Israel’ rather than ‘the Zionist state.’ But if you had a long,
deep conversation with them, they would see they never change their
They will never tell you that Israel is legitimate – they simply talk about protecting Egyptian interests.”
Watching Shater’s remarks, Rezkalla said, he was struck most by the Islamist candidate’s sincerity.
such a believer – he didn’t talk about himself or his own sacrifices.
He didn’t talk about anything but the glory of the organization and the
glory of the goal,” he said. “He talks about a perfect totalitarian
project – to Islamicize Egyptian society from top to bottom, and to do
the same all over the world.”