Unease Grows Over Islamist Political Agenda In Egypt Islamist leaders in Egypt say they want the country to remain a secular state. But recent actions by Islamist lawmakers suggest otherwise. They've proposed laws to take away women's rights and to ban foreign-language instruction in schools.

Unease Grows Over Islamist Political Agenda In Egypt

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149560139/149829272" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And now let's turn to Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood there announced over the weekend that one of its leaders will run in next month's presidential election - this after insisting that it would not field a candidate. That was to calm fears that the Brotherhood was consolidating too much power.

The Brotherhood's candidate is Khairat el-Shater, described as a well-connected businessman and political strategist. He's considered a moderate compared to other presidential hopefuls, including an ultra-conservative candidate who's rapidly moving up in popularity. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson sent us this report.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Salwa Gerges is one of many Egyptians at this outdoor clothing market who are nervous about Islamist politicians' plans for their country.

SALWA GERGES: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The 46-year-old Coptic Christian housewife says she has a hard time believing they embrace secularism and diversity as they claim. She points to one Islamist lawmaker who recently proposed adopting punishments prescribed by religious law, such as cutting off limbs. Fellow shopper Mona El Shazly is also annoyed with what she sees as the mixed messages coming from the Islamists.

MONA EL SHAZLY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The nursery school owner and conservative Muslim who covers her hair with a veil complains that Islamists have done nothing to fix Egypt's deteriorating economy and security. Shazly says, instead, the Islamists come up with misguided proposals like stripping foreign-language instruction from Egyptian primary schools. Ultra-conservative lawmaker Mohammed El Kordy introduced that measure in February.

MOHAMMED EL KORDY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In a televised session, Kordy argued that teaching foreign languages leads to Egyptian children embracing the West. Creating a more conservative Islamic identity for Egypt is also at the root of other legislation introduced in parliament during its first 60 days. The measures include getting rid of a law allowing women to initiate divorce and banning access to Facebook, as well as porn sites. None of these proposals has been approved, but such ideas have proved a headache for leaders within the main Islamist parties who want to portray a more moderate image of their movements. One is Amr Darrag.

AMR DARRAG: I can assure you, these are not the priorities that we are going to have in terms of legislations or issues to be raised.

NELSON: Darrag heads the Giza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which holds just under half the seats in parliament.

DARRAG: We don't want to get into anything that will incur any disputes regarding ideological issues or things like that. We are looking for things that unite the Egyptian people.

NELSON: Emad Abdel Ghaffour agrees that consensus is key. He heads the Nour Party, which holds the second-most seats in parliament and to which the lawmaker who introduced the suggested foreign-language ban belongs.

EMAD ABDEL GHAFFOUR: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Abdel Ghaffour says that lawmaker was rebuked by the party for speaking out of turn. He adds the lawmaker meant well. But many secular Egyptians believe the Islamist agenda is neither inclusive nor benevolent. Khaled Fahmy heads the history department at the American University in Cairo.

KHALED FAHMY: The only thing they say in order to placate public opinion is that we understand, we're not going to do this suddenly, we will take it step by step. And beneath this placating language, in my mind, is a huge condescending attitude towards Egyptian society.

NELSON: He and others say the condescension is evident in the ongoing battle over the panel Islamist lawmakers created recently to draft Egypt's new constitution. Some two-thirds of the panel members are Islamist or allied to them. Only a handful of women and Christians were selected to take part. More than a dozen secular panelists have since quit in protest, including economist Ahmed Elnaggar.

AHMED ELNAGGAR: If they take the decision to make a religious regime, they have the majority to make it in this committee.

NELSON: The Nour Party's Abdel Ghaffour denies that's their goal.

GHAFFOUR: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says the main change he and other Islamists are seeking is to balance control of Egypt between the parliament and future presidents. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.