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Egypt`s Muslim Brotherhood: Its History and Egypt`s Future
Toni Johnson, Council on Foreign Relations
National Journal
December 05, 2012

Several hundreds Imams listen to Muslim Brotherhood`s presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi at a rally in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, May 20, 2012. (AP /Fredrik Persson)


The Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) is Egypt`s oldest and largest Islamist organization. As the most organized opposition group following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the brotherhood became the country`s dominant political force, winning a near majority of seats in the post-revolution parliament, and its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, winning the presidency. Some Egyptians are concerned about the group`s aim to establish a state ruled by sharia, or Islamic law, and ambiguity over its respect for human rights. Such concerns intensified after Morsi announced new sweeping powers for the presidency in late 2012 and a draft of the proposed constitution was published. The domestic political challenges also provide a difficult road for U.S.-Egypt relations, especially with regards to foreign aid.

A History of Violence

Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood is widely considered the world`s most influential Islamist organization, with numerous branches and affiliates. It is “the mother of all Islamist movements,” says Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution`s Doha Center. The brotherhood`s original mission was to Islamize society through the promotion of Islamic law, values, and morals. An Islamic revivalist movement from its early days, it has combined religion, political activism, and social welfare in its work. It adopted slogans such as “Islam is the solution” and “Jihad is our way.” It played a role in the fight against British colonial rule and was banned for a short time in 1948 (BBC) for orchestrating bombings inside Egypt and allegedly assassinating Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi. It then experienced a short spell of good relations with the government that came to power through a military coup, which ended British rule in 1952. But following a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, the group was banned again.

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At that time, Sayyid Qutb, a prominent member of the brotherhood, laid down the ideological grounds for the use of jihad, or armed struggle, against the regime in Egypt and beyond. Qutb`s writings, in particular his 1964 work Milestones, has provided the intellectual and theological underpinnings for the founders of numerous radical and militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaida. Extremist leaders often channel Qutb to argue that governments not ruled by sharia are apostate, and therefore legitimate targets of jihad.

The Muslim Brotherhood has spawned branches across the globe. These organizations bear the brotherhood name, but their connections to the founding group vary. In addition, some of the world`s most dangerous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden`s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

But Ed Husain, a senior fellow at CFR, says it is wrong to make the Muslim Brotherhood “responsible for the actions of all of its intellectual offspring.” Since 9/11, prominent members of the brotherhood have renounced violence publicly and tried to distance themselves from al-Qaida`s violent practices. The brotherhood`s foray into electoral politics has also widened the schism between it and groups like al-Qaida. Zawahiri had been openly critical of the Brotherhood`s participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

But like other mass social movements, Egypt`s Muslim Brotherhood is hardly a monolith; it comprises hard-liners, reformers, and centrists, says terrorism expert Lydia Khalil. And some hard-line leaders have voiced support for al-Qaida or use of violent jihad. For instance, as recently as 2006, Khalil points out, a member of the brotherhood elected to parliament, Ragib Hilal Hamida, voiced support for terrorism in the face of Western occupation.

Toward Pragmatic Politics

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has more than 300,000 members and runs numerous institutions, including hospitals, schools, banks, businesses, foundations, day care centers, thrift shops, social clubs, and facilities for the disabled. Since the 1970s, the group has not engaged in violent activity, even though it was officially banned by the Mubarak regime. In the last three decades, the brotherhood increased its advancement into the political mainstream through alliances with other opposition parties and through members running for parliament as independents.

Some analysts say the group has evolved to become more moderate and embrace democratic and liberal principles such as transparency and accountability. Analysts Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher say in a 2006 Middle East Report that the group “settled on a strategy of political participation.” Brotherhood-affiliated candidates first participated in local and parliamentary elections as independents in 1984, and in 2005, its candidates won 88 seats, or 20 percent of the legislature.

Political Challenges Since the Revolution

Following the 2011 political shakeup in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as a dominant political force, surpassing most other political parties in terms of organization and outreach. Its Freedom and Justice Party won 47 percent of the seats (al-Jazeera) in the lower house of parliament in January 2012, and in June 2012, the party`s candidate took the presidency.

Yet these wins have been marred by a number of power struggles with the judiciary and the military. In June 2012, the country`s Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament, saying the rules, under which a third of the parliament candidates contested, were unconstitutional, making the entire body`s makeup invalid. The court also revoked a law that would have barred former regime officials (Telegraph) from holding office, which allowed Mubarak`s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to remain in a presidential runoff against the brotherhood`s candidate, Mohammed Morsi.

By late November 2012, as the court was poised to rule on whether the upper house of parliament was valid, Morsi announced an emergency decree to exempt his decisions from judicial oversight, setting off widespread protests.

At the center of this struggle has been the effort to rewrite the country`s constitution (WashPost). Created before the lower house was disbanded, the Constituent Assembly is largely composed of members of the brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist al-Nour Party. Morsi said his decreed powers were needed to protect the assembly from being disbanded by the court. But critics say the draft constitution would accord sweeping power to the president as well as weaken human rights, freedom of worship, and protections for women.

The assembly approved the draft on November 29 (AP), despite significant opposition. The next step is a countrywide referendum. The court was expected to rule by early December 2012 on whether the assembly is valid, but it shelved the matter after receiving what it said was “psychological pressure” (EuroNews).

An Islamic State?

Following the 2011 revolution, the specter of the 1979 Iranian revolution loomed large for many in the West who have long feared an Islamist regime in Egypt. CFR`s Steven Cook notes how Mubarak has used the organization as his bogeyman for three decades to “stoke the fears of successive American administrations and, in turn, secure Washington`s generous diplomatic, political, and financial support.” Israeli leaders too, feared a replay of 1979.

Establishing an Islamic state based on sharia is at the center of the Muslim Brotherhood`s ideology, both in Egypt and among the group`s many offshoots abroad. But the brotherhood in Egypt has often said it is committed to gradual and peaceful Islamization and only with the consensus of Egypt`s citizens. In recent times, some leaders have dismissed the idea of an Islamic state and expressed commitment to work with other secular and liberal parties.

However, human-rights advocates and secular political opponents have raised concerns about the recently drafted constitution, which some argue is an attempt at the creation of a religious state. “If this constitution passes, it will be the first Egyptian constitution that adopts a specific religious doctrine for the state,” writes Ragab Saad of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, adding that some provisions could allow for “instituting authoritarianism in the name of religion.”

At the same time, Salafis have criticized and protested against the draft for not immediately imposing sharia law. “The tensions between the Salafis and the brotherhood have important implications for the referendum on the draft constitution and the parliamentary elections that will follow,” writes Mara Revkin for Foreign Policy. Revkin adds, “It will take more than the brotherhood`s core constituency to pass the new draft constitution. Salafis and liberals will need to vote in significant numbers.”

Law professor Sahar Aziz of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law says that despite the flawed process, the drafting of the constitution has been revolutionary for Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood is being forced to moderate. The current head of the brotherhood, Mahmoud Hussein, told Turkey`s Today`s Zaman in September 2012 that the organization was not seeking a secular state like Turkey or a religious state like Iran. “We want a state like Egypt,” said Hussein.

Implications for the United States

Since the Muslim Brotherhood`s electoral wins, considerable discussion has been given to how to manage U.S. policy toward a brotherhood-led government. Egypt remains an important strategic ally in the region on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as it showed after Morsi helped broker a cease-fire for the November 2012 Gaza conflict. TIME`s Tony Karon says this could make the Brotherhood a possible “peace player” in the future.

Middle East expert Robert Malley told CFR in an interview that the brotherhood`s interests are “very much to maintain a working relationship with the United States, to show the United States that it can be a reliable partner when it comes to America`s strategic interests, while at the same time ensuring that they can consolidate their power at home without undue interference from the outside world.” Yet other observers say that Morsi`s recent domestic actions, which were criticized by the U.S. State Department, have presented the Obama administration with a difficult but familiar dilemma (AP) of how much to separate Egypt`s domestic politics from its regional diplomatic role.

Foreign aid to Egypt (ProPublica) has become a contentious issue, especially following an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo (WSJ) on September 11, 2012. Some Republican leaders in the U.S. House have threatened to block $450 million in aid, the first installment of $1 billion pledged by the Obama administration to prevent a fiscal crisis.

Lawrence Haas, a senior fellow for the American Foreign Policy Council, says the United States should make clear that foreign aid to Egypt is not free, and that it seeks “a government that will promote the promise of Tahrir Square, one that allows for a strong civil society, opposition parties, independent media, and free elections that let Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parties compete for power—but does not guarantee their victory.” A November 2012 paper from the Washington Institute recommends “engagement without illusions.” Authors Vin Weber and Gregory B. Craig argue that Obama should “certify to Congress that Egypt must fulfill two well-defined sets of commitments—on regional peace and on bilateral strategic cooperation—as a condition of continued U.S. aid and political backing for international loans.”

© 2012. National Journal Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Egypt: Who holds the power?
BBC Middle East
November 27, 2012

Opposition leaders in Egypt have expressed outrage at President Mohammed Morsi`s decision to grant himself sweeping new powers. A new emergency decree says the president`s decisions cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary.

The president insists the powers he has taken are meant to be temporary, but their breadth has raised fears that he might become a new strongman. The dispute has raised questions about where power lies in the country.


When Mr Morsi took office on 30 June 2012 as Egypt`s first democratically elected head of state, he appeared to have relatively little power.

Two weeks earlier, the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) had issued an interim constitutional declaration amending the 30 March 2011 declaration promulgated following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak the previous month.

The interim declaration restored all legislative powers to the Scaf until fresh elections were held for the lower house of parliament, the People`s Assembly. The generals had decided two days earlier to dissolve the chamber in line with a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the law governing the recent elections was unconstitutional. The Scaf also gave itself control of the military budget and also the national budget until parliament reconvened.

The declaration also gave the Scaf responsibility for “all issues related to the armed forces” and stated that its head was to serve as defence minister until a new constitution was drafted. A third major amendment gave the generals - as well as the president and the Supreme Council for the Judiciary - the power to appoint a new constituent assembly if it was unable to complete its job and also to demand the revision of any articles of the draft charter.

The president was left with authority over administrative and domestic affairs, but with the Scaf`s generals lurking in the background.

Following his inauguration, Mr Morsi moved swiftly to challenge the generals` power. Within days he issued two decrees creating a committee to investigate the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising and recalling the dissolved People`s Assembly. The latter was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Constitutional Court.

A month later, in the wake of the killing of 16 border guards in Sinai by suspected Islamist militants, Mr Morsi issued a series of edicts that reconfigured the political landscape of Egypt.

On 12 August, he amended the 2011 constitutional declaration, revoking the interim declaration issued by the Scaf in June and transferring the authorities the generals had assumed over the previous year and a half to the presidency, including absolute legislative authority.

Mr Morsi also made a series of personnel changes in top military positions, including forcing the retirement of the head of the armed forces and defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and his chief-of-staff, Gen Sami Annan, and legally reinserting himself as chairman of the Scaf - a position previously held by Mr Mubarak.

It was not clear that the president had authority over the military changes, but they appeared to be made with the generals` acquiescence.

The response to Mr Morsi`s August decrees was by and large favourable, with only truly negative comments coming from groups opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group to which the president belongs.

However, there was widespread anger on 22 November when, with the constitutional assembly on the brink of collapse and protests over the slow pace of change 20 months after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Mr Morsi issued an emergency decree granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt`s revolution.

Article 1 of the declaration ordered retrials for Mubarak - who was sentenced to life in prison in June 2012 - and other former regime and security officials accused of responsibility for killing protesters during last year`s uprising.

Article 2 stated that all constitutional declarations, laws and decrees issued by Mr Morsi since he took office were “final and unchallengeable by any individual or body until a new constitution has been ratified and a new parliament has been elected”.

All pending lawsuits challenging his decisions were void, it added, pre-empting an expected ruling by the Supreme Constitution Court on the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, requested by liberal and secular groups who believe it is dominated by Islamists. Most secular members and representatives of the Coptic Church have walked out.

Mr Morsi`s declaration also gave the constituent assembly a further two months to finalise the draft constitution and stated that both it and the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, could not be dissolved by the judiciary.

The president also replaced the public prosecutor, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointee widely criticised for failing to win stronger prison sentences against the former leader and his associates, and against abusive police officers. Mr Morsi had been forced to back down in October when he attempted to force Mr Mahmoud to resign. Only the Supreme Council for the Judiciary currently has the power to dismiss the public prosecutor.

Article 6 of the declaration granted the president the “power to take all necessary measures and procedures” against any potential threat to the revolution, national unity or national security.

Mr Morsi portrayed his declaration as an attempt to fulfil popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy.

Following four days of opposition protests and the resignation of several senior advisers, Mr Morsi agreed to limit the scope of the decree.

His spokesman said an agreement, reached with top judicial authorities, would leave most of the president`s actions subject to review by the courts, but preserve his power to protect the constituent assembly from being dissolved by the courts before it had finished its work.

The decree`s language had not been altered, but Mr Morsi had promised its scope would be restricted to “sovereign matters”, he added.

Mr Morsi also agreed there would be no further retrials of former officials under Hosni Mubarak, unless new evidence was presented.

Members of the ultra-conservative Salafist al-Nur party attend the first session of the Egyptian parliament since a popular uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on 23 January 2012. Egypt`s first free parliamentary elections, which were held in phases between November and early January, saw Islamists clinch nearly three-quarters of the seats. GETTY


The lower house of parliament, the People`s Assembly, was tasked under the 30 March 2011 constitution declaration with determining the “public policy of the state, the general plan for economic and social development, and the public budget of the state”. It was also supposed to oversee the work of the executive branch.

However, on 15 June 2012 the Scaf issued a decree dissolving the People`s Assembly, a day after the Supreme Constitutional Court found the law that governed Egypt`s first democratic elections in more than six decades unconstitutional. The court ruled that party members should not have been allowed to contest the one third of the seats designated for independents. The Muslim Brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won several 235 seats in the People`s Assembly by running candidates for individual seats, as did the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party.

On 17 June, the Scaf issued an interim constitutional declaration that gave it all legislative powers until a new parliament is elected. The decree also gave the generals power to form a new constituent assembly to draft the new constitution, replacing the 100-member panel which had previously been selected by parliament. The make-up of the constituent assembly had proved controversial, with liberals, youth activists, secularists and Christians complaining that it was dominated by Islamists and did not reflect the diversity of Egyptian society. A compromise was eventually reached but then parliament was dissolved. The generals, president, prime minister and judges can now also demand the revision of articles in the draft constitution.

Nine days after taking office, President Morsi unexpectedly issued his own decree ordering the People`s Assembly to reconvene, challenging the Scaf`s decision to dissolve it. Mr Morsi called on the generals to respect a popular will that was expressed through free elections. He said he was not ignoring the Supreme Constitutional Court because fresh elections would be held a month after the new constitution was approved, but its judges responded by insisting their decisions were “final and not subject to appeals”. In the end Mr Morsi backed down.

The upper house, the Shura Council, was not affected by the Supreme Constitutional Court`s ruling or the Scaf decree, as its elections were separate to those of the People`s Assembly. The Shura Council is a consultative body that only gives its opinion on issues and draft laws suggested by the president and the government.

Supreme Constitutional Court

The Supreme Constitutional Court decides cases in which the constitutionality of a law or regulation is challenged. The judges on the court have been accused of being Mubarak appointees, though the current president, Maher al-Beheiry, was selected by the court from among the three most senior members, in line with a law amended by the Scaf last year.

Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the court`s autonomy varied considerably under Mr Mubarak, and that its reputation and record for independent action has declined over the past decade. “What justices on the SCC tend to share, despite diverse orientations, is a strong sense of mission to the law and abstract constitutional principles,” he adds. “In a sense, their attitude is analogous to that of the Scaf, though the comparison might offend some of them: senior judges, like senior generals, see themselves as guardians of the public interest and the interests of the state, and therefore as above politics, democratic mechanisms, and accountability.”

President Morsi`s constitutional declaration of November 2012 challenged the authority of the SCC, removing its power to rule on the legitimacy of any laws and decrees issued by him until a new constitution has been ratified and parliamentary elections held, and also stopping it dissolving the constituent assembly and Shura Council.

Egypt`s new President Mohamed Mursi (R) poses with a gift from Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi (L), head of Egypt`s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), during a ceremony where the military handed over power to Mursi at a military base in Hikstep, east of Cairo, June 30, 2012. Mursi was sworn in on Saturday as Egypt`s first Islamist, civilian and freely elected president, reaping the fruits of last year`s revolt against Hosni Mubarak, although the military remains determined to call the shots. The military council that took over after Mubarak`s overthrow on February 11, 2011, formally handed power to Mursi later in an elaborate ceremony at the desert army base outside Cairo. REUTERS


Although President Morsi regained the executive and legislative powers claimed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) in August 2012, the military is still the most powerful government entity. Many say it operates like a state within a state.

The three presidents who ruled Egypt before the revolution, along with their defence ministers, all had military backgrounds and bestowed unrivalled powers and benefits on the armed forces, particularly Hosni Mubarak.

The military has about 460,000 personnel and possesses vast land holdings and businesses. It plays a social role, providing employment and a sense of national identity to many Egyptians. But its pervasive influence has long been the subject of fierce criticism.

Estimates vary as to the size of military-owned industries - they account for around 8%-40% of Egypt`s gross national product - but since their revenues are a state secret, along with the military`s budget, it cannot be known for certain. The companies not only produce military hardware, but also products and services for the domestic consumer economy.

The military`s influence extends far beyond its own institutions and businesses. The majority of provincial governors are retired army officers and many of the big civilian institutions and public sector corporations are run by former generals, including the three main land-developing authorities. The military is also involved in major infrastructure projects.





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