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The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's powerful opposition movement, has laid down its first detailed political platform, which would bar women and Christians from becoming president and establish a board of Muslim clerics to oversee the government, reminiscent of Iran's Islamic state.
The platform has dismayed secular reform activists who have cautiously hoped the Brotherhood was becoming more moderate and who supported the movement in the face of a tough government crackdown against it.
The document also complicates the debate in Egypt over how to deal with the Brotherhood, which proved its widespread popularity in 2005 parliament elections.
The Brotherhood in recent years has increasingly touted itself as a pro-reform movement, insisting it wants a democratic playing field and an end to the autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak's regime. Some secular reformers increasingly have said that, given the Brotherhood's popularity, there can't be real democracy in Egypt unless the group has a seat at the political table.
But the blueprint illustrated the dominance of a more hard-line trend in the Brotherhood, known as the "Daawi" - Arabic for "preaching" - over a minority of moderates who seek to reform the group and call for a civic government that respects Islamic principles.
"Conservatives are the majority inside the group in general," said Abdel Moneim Mohammed, a young Brotherhood activist who has criticized the controversial aspects of the platform on his blog.
The blueprint is a draft platform for a Brotherhood political party, which Mubarak's government has vowed never to allow. The Brotherhood circulated the draft last month to a number of intellectuals for reaction.
So far, it has been strongly negative.
"It establishes a religious state," Abdel Moneim Said, head of the leading Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, said. "Its an assassination to the civic state."
The program calls for the formation of a commission of senior religious scholars, chosen in national elections, "to give consultancy to parliament and presidents," according to a copy of the program obtained by The Associated Press.
The commission's opinion on government and parliament decisions would be the "recommended one," suggesting it could veto those decisions.
The platform says parliament could overrule the board but not in issues governed by "proven texts" of Islamic Sharia law, a vague phrase which could be a wide range of issues.
The body recalls the system in Iran, where clerical councils have final say on a wide range of political issues and can even vet candidates running for president and parliament.
Mohammed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood committee that drafted the blueprint, defended it saying that the clerical body will only play a consultative rule. "We don't want a religious state," Mursi said.
He said the Brotherhood could make changes in the draft before it publishes its final version. He did not say when the final text would be announced.
The program also bars women and Christians from holding the post of president - Christians because the presidency and the prime minister's post have Islamic religious duties so "non-Muslims are excused from holding this mission."
The president cannot be a woman because the post's religious and military duties "contradict with her nature, social and other humanitarian roles," the document says.
The blueprint discusses women's issues under its "Issues and Problems" chapter, alongside problems like unemployment and child labor. It underlines "equality between men and women in terms of their human dignity," but also warns against "burdening women with duties against their nature or role in the family."
Sameh Fawzy, a Christian political analyst, described the Brotherhood stance as "very distant from the principle of a modern nation state."
The platform is the most concrete policy paper yet by the Brotherhood, which won a fifth of the parliament's seats in the 2005 elections, making it the biggest opposition bloc. The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but its candidates run in elections as independents.
In the past, the group has been vague about its goals, saying it seeks greater rule of Islamic law in Egypt without giving details.
Bahy Eldin Hassan, head of Cairo Center for Human Rights, said the new platform shows the Brotherhood has added "vocabularies of democracy and human rights (to their rhetoric). But the content remains the same as the old generations."
Hassan said reformists inside the group have "no weight" inside the decision-making body of the group.
In his blog, Mohammed, the Brotherhood activist, criticized the idea of the clerical council as a "flaw" in the platform.
He also opposes the ban on women and Christians from the running for president. "As a Muslim, I have the right to reject a Christian as my president, but I will decide that in the ballot, not before," Mohammed, who was detained for several weeks earlier this year in the government crackdown, told AP.
But he doubted the platform would be a blow to the group's wider popularity, saying many Egyptians back it as a protest vote against the government. Even critics within the Brotherhood will "follow whatever the supreme leader says, since the group's membership is based upon listening and obedience," he said.
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