While this fatwa did little to assuage concerns regarding the Brotherhood’s view of minorities, the Easter ruling’s specificity strikes a sharp contrast with the Brotherhood’s otherwise vacuous approach towards interpreting the sharia for crafting policy. While the Brotherhood technically embraces the jurisprudential doctrine known as istislah, in which Islamic legal principles are interpreted to achieve “societal benefits,” the vagueness of this outlook has long enabled Brotherhood leaders to avoid explaining how they would “implement the sharia” once empowered. This obfuscation has persisted even since Morsi’s June 2012 electoral victory.
Indeed, compare the specificity of Barr’s fatwa on greeting Christians on Easter with the list of bromides that Brotherhood leader Farid Ismail threw at me during a July 2012 interview, when I asked him what policies would change once Morsi implemented sharia. “It means peace, security, equality, citizenship, freedom, and giving rights for people despite their religion or ethics or color or sex,” said Ismail, declining to identify a single specific policy that would change when I pressed further. It is the type of answer that even Muslim Brothers in positions of executive authority continue to give nearly a year later. “Everything I’m doing is sharia!” Kafr el-Sheikh Governor Saad al-Husseini, a top Brotherhood figure, proclaimed to me this past February. “Justice is sharia. War against corruption is sharia. Security is sharia. … Improving the economy is the sharia. This is the sharia. To preserve the dignity of Egyptians is the sharia. … Day and night we are with poor before rich. This is sharia!”
With such an ill-formed view of what the sharia implies for policy, it is no wonder that the Brotherhood’s tenure as Egypt’s ruling party has yielded so few distinctively Islamic laws.