4. The program of Mohammed Morsi: economic development in an Islamic democracy

Mohammed Morsi promises in his program for the 2012 Egyptian presidential elections to implement the program presented earlier by his Freedom and Justice Party (FJP): “Plan for an Egyptian renaissance”. His campaign slogan “Renaissance … the will of the people” underlines this intention. Although the term “renaissance” (nahda) can also be used in a non-religious context, it has in both programs a clear religious undertone. The Renaissance program is subtitled “Egyptian renaissance with Islamic authority” and aims for the “revival of the Egyptian nation” “based on Islamic principles”.

Although Morsi casts himself in the second round as the defender of the Egyptian revolution, the main topic of his program is religion with the revolution only briefly mentioned as the “revolution of the great Egyptian people that was made possible with power and might of God”. During his campaign, Morsi hoped to sway more conservative and orthodox Muslim voters by promising the implementation of Islamic law (sharia) and stressing his piety. But this approach also raised fears that Morsi wished to transform Egypt in a Taliban-like state. However, both programs stress that they are based on a “centrist, broad understanding of sharia” and call for a “tolerant sharia that embraces all children of the nation” and a “practical application of the principles of sharia”. Morsi stressed during his campaign that the effects of the promised implementation of the sharia would be minimal as the sharia has been part of the Egyptian constitution since 1971.

Moreover, Morsi stresses in his program that he does not want a theocratic state ruled by Islamic scholars, although he supports an advisory role for them to give “non-binding” advice to parliament. A state ruled by the military or security services is also out of the question as well as a “pharaonic” state. This Quranic term refers not only to the one-man rule of Mubarak, but also to the persecution of Muslim Brothers, like Morsi, by him. In order to prevent the rise of another “despotic ruler”, both programs propose the division of power between parliament (legislative powers), the president (executive powers) and the courts (judicial powers) in accordance the “characteristics of Islam”.

Egypt should become a “pluralistic democracy and state of law”, in which transitions of power happen through peaceful and free elections as the “people are the source of authority”. This last reflects a moderate Islamist view as more radical Muslims only acknowledge God as source of authority (“rule of God”) and not the people (“rule of Man”). To encourage participation in political live, Morsi wants to introduce direct elections for local government posts and lower the minimum age to run for public office (the current minimum age for the presidency is 40 years). Also, he wants more press freedom and encourage people to organise themselves in civil organisations and associations.

For the second round of the presidential elections, Morsi changed his campaign slogan to “Our strength, in our unity” and promised to form a coalition government to underline that he envisages an Egypt for all and not just for conservative Muslims. His program promises equality before law for all Egyptians and respect for “human rights that Hanifi (orthodox Islamic) law prescribes”, and “fundamental freedoms” as “freedom is a gift of God for people, regardless colour, sex or faith”.

For the Copts, who fear to become second class citizens, the Renaissance program promises to “realise full civil right for the brothers Copts and full legal equality for them as Egyptian citizens”. These rights include the right to apply their own personal and family law (for marriage and inheritance) instead of the general personal and family law which will be brought “in accordance with the sharia”. Furthermore, building permits for churches will no longer be issued by the president but by the office of city planning. These promises may be welcome, but Copts fear that in reality they will still be treated as second class citizens. For example, Morsi and the FJP do not want to give Copts and women the right to run for presidency. This viewpoint also casts doubts on Morsi’s promise to “support and empower Egyptian women” in their participation in society and politics and his assurance that there is “in Islamic law equality between man and woman in general rights and obligations”.

Morsi not only promises to improve the position of specific groups, but also for Egyptians in general. He wishes to tackle poverty and unemployment. The first should be done through “zakat and waqf, one way proposed by the Islam to fight poverty”. Zakat are alms given by Muslims, but Morsi also proposes the creation of Islamic financial institutes which will pay zakat over their profits. Waqf is a charitable Islamic trust, for which Morsi sees an important role as provider of education and healthcare to the poor. Morsi also promises general improvements in public services, preventing price increases on basic commodities (a common cause of riots in the Middle-East) and minimum income for the unemployed, employed and retired.

Morsi wishes to fight unemployment through economic reforms. Most of his program covers these reforms, which read as an investor’s guide to Egypt listing the economic potential of the Egypt’s regions. Generally speaking, Morsi wishes to make it easier to start and run a small company and educate Egyptians more in line with the demands of the labour market. He also extensively discusses the need for green development as the “development of the earth is an Islamic divine duty with which humans are charged since their creation by God”. He wishes to reduce pollution and overexploitation, but also to win back land from the desert. Finally, he wishes to improve transparency and overhaul the tax system in order to fight corruption and tax evasion.

The presidential program pays little attention to the issues of security or the army. It pays a little more attention to the police, which should become a more professional force that serves citizens and not oppresses them. The police should fight crime and terrorism, but also protect “public decency”.  The program does not tell how they should do this, but the term reminds me of the mutaween (religious police) in Saudi-Arabia. There they enforce Islamic law, which ranges from checking headscarves to punishing “adulterers”. In 2011 the conservative Islamist Nur Party attempted (unsuccessfully) to introduce this concept in Egypt.

The last point of Morsi’s presidential program is the “restoration of Egypt’s leading role” in the region and the world. Morsi remarks that Egypt’s foreign agenda should not be dictated by foreign powers, but by Egyptian interests. The relation with the USA should thus become a relation between equals. Furthermore, Morsi supports the “Palestinian people in the realisation of the plan to obtain their rights, build their state and liberate their lands”. It is unclear whether this last means support for the end of Israeli control of the West Bank or, more radically, the destruction of Israel. Finally, Morsi wishes to increase cultural and economic contacts with other Islamic and Arabic countries.

How will Egypt look with Mohammed Morsi as president? Only the future can tell, but his presidential program may have given us an impression how Egypt will look like. The emphasis on tolerance, equal rights and participation for all and his extensive economic and social program promises a more prosperous and happy Egypt. On the other hand, the form in which the sharia and Islamic values will be implemented, remains unclear leaving the possibility open of growing intolerance against non-Muslims and the deterioration of the position of women.

Main internet sources and further reading

– Campaign website Mohammed Morsi – drmorsy2012.com

– Egyptian daily Egypt Independent – egyptindependent.com

– Qatari news organisation al-Jazeera – aljazeera.com

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