FJP is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Arab world’s oldest and most powerful Islamist movement. FJP won around 47% at the legislative elections in 2011, on a platform best-described as centre-right in the terms of Western politics. It is poised to be a leading party for years to come, but faces big challenges in defining its place within Egypt’s new political system.
Muslim Brotherhood: From Social Work to Government
Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928. For more than eight decades Muslim Brotherhood has inspired and frightened Egyptians: inspired some to defy successive secular dictatorships by returning to religious values, and scared others who feared the Brotherhood would turn Egypt into a strict Islamist state.
The Brotherhood itself was not always clear on its direction, as the leadership vacillated between a retreat to religiously-inspired social work and active participation in political life. But the uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak changed everything: the Muslim Brotherhood embraced the protests and through the Freedom and Justice Party became the strongest parliamentary force.
- Political system: Parliamentary democracy with independent judiciary and limits on the powers of the presidency. FJP has discarded the Brotherhood’s old idea of establishing a commission of religious scholars that would oversee secular authorities, floated in the 2007 party platform.
- Economy: Market economy with support for small and medium enterprises, fight against corruption, strong focus on social justice and support for the poor. FJP is expected to push for promotion of Islamic finance.
- Role of Islam: The big unknown for many Egyptians. FJP says that legislation and freedoms must comply with Sharia, Islamic canonical law. But here’s a key thing to remember: there’s no consensus on how to interpret and apply Sharia and even the old Mubarak’s constitution claimed its source was Islam. FJP has pledged not to impose a strict religious code on the Saudi or Iranian model, but it’s still expected the party would push for a conservative religious agenda in the public space.
- Women and minorities: The old Brotherhood’s 2007 party platform excluded women and Copts from the Egyptian presidency, a line FJP has not unequivocally repudiated, although the new party says all citizens should be treated equally. The Brotherhood has had a strong tradition of female activism but its leadership line-up is an all-male affair.
- Israel: One of the strongest critics of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, but few people expect a FJP-led government to tear up the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The army would never stand for it.
Who Supports the FJP?
Support across Egypt is derived from the broad grassroots base built by the Brotherhood: conservative businessmen, urban professionals (often of rural background), and low-income Muslim families in the cities and in the countryside.
More generally, FJP enjoys strong support among ordinary Egyptians who care about jobs and transparency, and see in the organization a clean pair of hands that inspires more credibility than the divided secular parties.
Relations With the Military
FJP advocates a timely transition of power to civilian authorities. It wants the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to recognize the legislative powers of the parliament and allow it to form a government based on election results, although it has tried to avoid direct confrontation with the military.
Read more on why the generals still run the show in Egypt.
What to Watch For
- Internal divisions: The party program is designed in a way that appeals to the broadest segments of Egyptian society, and the party’s leadership is still derived from the secretive senior ranks of Muslim Brotherhood, This all but guarantees intense debates over what exactly the party stands for and how it should be run. Many younger Brotherhood members did not join the new party.
- Economy: Any ruling party will have to deal with the enormous challenging facing the Egyptian economy and high voters’ expectations. Lack of growth and job creation would further divisions in the party, with some pushing for more Islam, other for more pragmatism.