On extremism and imposing sharia law:

What if an Egyptian extremist group like Islamic Jihad wanted to take part in the elections, would this be allowed?

No, if they want to make a terrorist operation against civilians we would jail them and stop them from participating in the elections. We will only accept the peaceful and democratic way in political life. If they use violence, we would jail them.

Do you support the establishment of sharia (Islamic law) in the way the government of Saudi Arabia has established it?

The Brotherhood does not agree with the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, because it is simply not democratic.

So you believe that there has to be a certain way to put sharia into place, but that establishing it through monarchy or by force is unacceptable?

Yes, democracy is the only way.

What about the Iranian model?

The Iranians follow the Ayatollah; we do not believe Islam requires a theocracy. In our view, the ulema (clergy) are only for teaching and education—they are out of the political sphere. Iran has some good things, such as elections, but we disagree with all the aggression. We disagree also with the human rights abuses from the government and attacks on the population.

On women’s freedoms:

Should women be forced to wear the hijab, as they are in Iran?

No, they must choose. They should not be forced to wear hijab. We would never push the people to do something they don’t want to. But if a woman does not wish to wear hijab, there would be law to wear something respectable—not like a prostitute. Women must choose their way of Islam.

And on Israel:

What about relations with Israel? What would the Brotherhood do regarding the situation between Israel and Palestine?

We think Israel is an occupation force and is not fair to the Palestinians. We do not believe in negotiation with Israel. As the Muslim Brotherhood, we must resist all this. They are an occupation force and we must resist this. Did you see what they do in Gaza, on the flotilla? Israel is a very dangerous force and we must resist. Resistance is the only way, negotiation is not useful at all.

So would the Muslim Brotherhood, if in a position of government, help groups like Hamas? Yes, sure.

Do you recognize Israel as a state?


Those few answers reveal an interesting and difficult complexity for journalists. The MB, at its more progressive edges, seems to be group that can neither be pegged as a fully liberal non-threat to Israel, nor the herald of an Iran-in-waiting hard-line state to be feared. And this is just one voice from the thousands that constitute the group.

As we report on the developments in Egypt in the coming days and weeks, it will be important to remember these complexities. And where we write about the Brotherhood, to remember the group is not something yet to necessarily be feared (or not to be feared) but, at this point, primarily something to be explained.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.