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Do Egyptians want a Muslim Brotherhood government?

We will not know the answer to that question unless the ban on religious parties is lifted in Egypt . But for the sake of debate, this is a question Egyptians must ask. I devoted my column last week to an interview I conducted with the Brotherhood’s supreme guide and his deputy. I am grateful for the reader response which created exactly the kind of debate we need to have about the role of religion in the politics of our countries.

Regardless of whether the Brotherhood are banned or not, there is no ban on Egyptians asking themselves if they want a Brotherhood government. The Brotherhood seem to be confident that if they were allowed to contest elections they would win – is that what Egyptians want?

The group’s popularity among Egyptians is usually placed at about 20-25 percent. In the absence of professional polling in

Egypt , there is no way to confirm this of course.

The Muslim Brotherhood might have been the most recognizable opponents to the Egyptian government for many decades but that is changing. A small but active opposition movement that has been demonstrating publicly in

Egypt since December has captured the imagination of Egyptians who for years have longed for an alternative to the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

I saw how this growing opposition movement has caused ripples in

Egypt when I visited in June. This holiday was different than earlier ones. This time there were no arguments with my relatives over the United States, Israel, Palestine,

Iraq or any of the other &#34hot spots&#34 that used to dominate every meal and spill over into tea, coffee and dessert. This time, all conversations were about the opposition movement.

I have never heard so many relatives and friends take such an interest in Egyptian politics or — more important — feel that they had a stake in them. This opposition movement holds almost weekly demonstrations. It draws Egyptians from across the political spectrum: leftists, liberals and Islamists. And, more worrisome for the Egyptian government, it has solid roots in the country”s middle class: Journalists, lawyers, judges and university professors have all thrown their hats in.

My concerns about the Brotherhood’s involvement in politics are threefold: their position on women, their position on Shariah and their position on religious minorities. I discussed these issues in my column last week, using quotes from my interview with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef and his deputy Mohammed Habib.

A technical error deleted an important part of my column in which I quoted Akef describing the way I was dressed as “naked” because I wasn’t wearing hijab. I did not pull this word from a hat – he actually used it. And I quoted his use of this word to illustrate the same old attitudes towards women that Islamists share.

I am tired of hearing that the only way to “de-radicalize” Islamists is to allow them into the political system, such as

Jordan and Kuwait have. Proponents of that belief fail to tell you that while Islamists in both those countries may have diluted some of their more hard-line language, they remain steadfast in their militant anti-women stance.

In Kuwait , it was Islamist lawmakers who for years blocked women’s right to vote and to contest elections. Women finally won those rights earlier this year but only after language that appeased Islamists was included in the election law. In Jordan , Islamist parliamentarians repeatedly block any attempt at legal reform that would allow women to file for divorce and they refuse to vote for legislation that would toughen sentencing for so-called honor crimes.

Here is another problem I have with the Muslim Brotherhood – their attitude towards the Camp David peace treaty that

Egypt and Israel signed in 1979.

I asked Mohammed Habib what the Brotherhood would do with the

Camp David treaty if his organization ever took power.

“The Zionist entity has raped the land of Arabs and Muslims. Power is the only language that the Zionist entity understands. How can we recognize it (the treaty)? Who has recognized Camp David ? Have the people? We will put it to the people as a referendum of course. The people are the ones who decide and have the right to determine this. If the people say no there won’t be a treaty,” Habib told me.

Even Hamas does not talk like this anymore. The fact that he would not even use the word “Israel” was dismaying. It is 2005 and there is a country called Israel which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. That is reality. To question long-standing treaties and to use such language that even Palestinian Islamists have stopped using is the height of irresponsibility.

If the Brotherhood wants to convince Egyptians it is ready for politics, it has a long way to go. It should not assume that just because many Egyptians are religious that they want a Brotherhood government. And it should not forget that at least 15 percent of Egypt’s population is Christian. And that at least 50 percent of the population is female.

Yes, the Brotherhood can bring out 10,000 to a demonstration as they did in Alexandria to protest the desecration of the Quran. There is no doubting their organization and their discipline. But what would the average Egyptian want if he or she could choose? I don’t think if there were fair and free elections in Egypt that the majority of Egyptians would want a Muslim Brotherhood government. I’m sure their supporters would turn out in large numbers as they do for the elections of the professional syndicates but that does not mean that all Egyptians want a Brotherhood government.

Egyptians want choice and they want alternatives.

Egypt is not at the door of democracy – there is a long way to go. We don’t have to wait until we are at that door to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Mona Eltahawy

Mona Eltahawy

Born in Egypt, Mona Eltahawy was a correspondent for the Reuters News Agency in Cairo and Jerusalem and has also written for the Guardian newspaper from the Middle East. Ms. Eltahawy is also a frequent contributor to opinion pages in the US and abroad. Her op-eds have appeared in the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Monitor. She has also been a guest analyst on ABC Nightline, BBC Newsnight, MSNBC,Fox News&#39&#39 The O&#39&#39Reilly Factor and various NPR shows. She is based in New York.

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