Monday, June 9, 2008

Egypt's Adaptive Band of Brothers

By Justin Martin
Photo by Jasmin Bauomy

Directly in front of the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic organization, a Playboy Bunny sticker adorns the back window of a townie’s dusty SUV. A young man walks by wearing a Stella T-shirt, publicizing his support for Egypt’s most popular homebrewed beer.

Inside the Muslim Brotherhood’s offices, some of Egypt’s most conservative opinion leaders greet us.

The Brotherhood straddles two worlds. One world is characterized by Egypt’s recent resurgence of religious conservatism, while the other world contains the realities of secularism in modern Cairo.

At a press conference inside the organization’s modern workspace, a Brotherhood spokesman delicately tries to stay vertical while straddling the two spheres, answering some tough questions. One reporter's question involves relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. People of these two faiths, he responds, are “people of the book” and, therefore, should live in harmony. When asked a question about punishment for Muslim converts to Christianity, however, he stops far short of condemning retribution for Islamic renunciation.

Asked by another reporter to comment on a lack of gender parity in Egypt, he responds by saying that women and men are created equal and that gender inequality in Egypt is not as bad as some critics allege. He neglects to reveal, however, his opinion on women in societal leadership positions, particularly in the Islamic power structure that would exist if his organization gained control of the country.

Visiting the Muslim Brotherhood is to experience adaptation. Men in business suits sit in leatherback chairs in front of modern computers. Meetings are held in sleek conference rooms with abundant air conditioning.

When pressed about its contemporary policies, however, the Brotherhood is not quite as modern as its facilities, and the distance between the two worlds it bestrides becomes clearer.

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