Speaking out against religious extremism takes courage in today's Egypt, especially when extremists make up an absolute majority in Parliament. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has translated the comments of two courageous Egyptian intellectuals who took to Arabic television to denounce the dominant Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties.
As Egyptian liberals, these two commentators have made it their goal to get the message out about the dangers of the Brotherhood and Egypt's Salafi movement.
Philosopher Murad Wahba told Egypt's CBC TV that the Muslim Brotherhood was the latest in a line of historic movements trying to bring Egypt back to religious extremism. These groups "all took us back to the context of the 13th century, and we have developed 'antibodies' against the 21st century. This is the real crisis of our society today," he said in a March 8 broadcast.
For Egyptian thinker Sayyid al-Qimni, the Brotherhood doesn't just reject modern society and the West. To him, there really isn't much distinction between political Islamists like the Brotherhood and Salafis, or even violent jihadists like al-Qaida.
Both the Brotherhood and the Salafis are willing to have "blood on the streets" to protect constitutional guarantees that Islam serves as the state religion and Islamic law as the source of all legislation. Their insistence on protecting state-sponsored discrimination against secular and Christian Egyptians is "ripping Egypt apart," Qimni lamented on Arabian Gulf channel Al-Arabiya TV on Feb. 23.
Both political Islamists and jihadists are willing to do whatever it takes to form an Islamic state ruled by strict religious law, with al-Qaida preferring open violence and the Brotherhood relying on manipulation of the political system, al-Qimni said.
"For one thing, they differ in degree, but not in their nature… some groups say they are conducting political activity, but at the same time declare that they reject democracy," he said. And when the Brotherhood says "that Man cannot make laws unto himself, since Allah alone makes laws – that is exactly what Al-Qaida and other such groups say."
Salafi leaders have confirmed their ideological closeness with the Brotherhood. "At the end of the day, we and the Brotherhood want the same thing. What is that?" Sheikh Ayman Shrieb, the leader of the Salafi al-Nour Party, asked in December. "Well, we want an Islamic state. Every vote we don't get, we hope it goes to the Brotherhood."
The Brotherhood and the Salafis differ in one other key area, al-Qimni said. The Brotherhood is notorious about making political expedient comments at one time and turning on a dime when the moment is right. "Therefore, the difference [between the Brotherhood and al-Qaida] is not in nature, but in timing – one moment they [the Brotherhood] say something, and the next moment they deny it," al-Qimni told viewers.
So while al-Qaida is open about its goal of an Islamic state, the political Islamists seem to have fooled everyone, even government officials, with their deceptive rhetoric.
The examples are abundant. The Brotherhood promised last year not to run a presidential candidate, to respect concerns about the forceful and total transition of the country into an Islamic Republic. But following the group's domination of parliamentary elections, the MB's No. 2 man has thrown his hat into the ring in next month's presidential race.
This flip-flop resembles the group's stance on parliamentary elections and on the independence of its political party from the Brotherhood.
Early last year, officials issued statements that the party would be "completely independent" of the movement, and pledged that the FJP would not contest more than a third of the seats in Egypt's first parliamentary election in more than 30 years. But the FJP is made up almost exclusively of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and has acted as a tool of the Brotherhood to legalize its ideological platform.
The Brotherhood quickly changed its aim on winning seats in parliament. In early April, Mohsen Radi, a former lawmaker and Brotherhood leader, told Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm that the Brotherhood had raised its target "to secure 35 percent to 40 percent of parliamentary seats." Apparently sticking to earlier cautions, Radi reassured the Egyptian daily that "the Brotherhood will not run for more than 49 percent of parliamentary seats."
But less than a month later, the group's stated plans changed again—albeit ever-so-slightly. On April 30, the Brotherhood Shura Council acknowledged its plan for the FJP to contest half of Egypt's parliamentary seats. In a public display of confidence, Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie also stated that if his group was to contest all available seats, it would be able to win upwards of 75 percent.
Egypt is going to need more voices like Wahba and al-Qimni to remind their countrymen about the promise of last year's peaceful revolution that appears to be fading rapidly.