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Egypt Experts Examine Islam’s Role

By Zidong Liu, Contributing Writer

Three experts discussed the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in a democratizing Egypt during a panel discussion entitled “Islam and Politics in the New Egypt” at the Harvard Kennedy School yesterday.

The panelists, who included professors and a journalist, offered their opinions and perspectives on the role Islam would play in Egyptian politics.

Tarek Masoud, assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School, explained that the desire of some politicians to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections was driven in part by the fear that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most organized political force, would win.

George Washington University Professor Nathan J. Brown, agreeing with Masoud on the strength of Muslim Brotherhood, added that people do not need to be frightened.

“The Brotherhood’s main goal is to ensure Islam’s place in the Egyptian society, not to take over the country. In order to do so, chances are they would move very cautiously not to invest all of their resources into politics,” Brown said. “As of now, the Brotherhood is not actually all that interested in taking all political power, nor are they capable of doing so.”

Charles M. Sennott, co-founder of GlobalPost, said that with the National Democratic Party and the police now gone, only two of Egypt’s previous institutions remain, namely the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. He said that the picture of Egypt’s future is blurry but he nevertheless remains hopeful.

After brief speeches the floor was  opened for audience questions.

Asked if Egypt will move towards democracy or more or less stay in the same position a year from now, Brown said that “democracy is beautiful, democratic politics can sometimes be pretty ugly.”

Nonetheless, he said he thinks that the future looks good long-term.

Masoud, however, offered a gloomier picture of Egypt’s future.

“The constitutional writing process could be very difficult,” Masoud said. “For a country that doesn’t have a lot of experience with democratic elections, I’m nervous about what the future holds.”

Audience members said they found the panel informational.

“It is so interesting to learn about so much first-hand and in-depth knowledge from the speakers,” said Erum K. Sattar, a first-year doctoral student at Harvard Law School. “It is not something you can get by simply reading a post on New York Times. Their distinct perspectives are all very enlightening.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: APRIL 5, 2011

The Mar. 31 article "Egypt Experts Examine Islam's Role" mischaracterized statements by Kennedy School Professor Tarek Masoud about the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian political organization, and their impact on that country's elections.

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PoliticsHarvard Kennedy SchoolEgypt