Hey, let's mellow out about the Muslim Brotherhood

Many of these men were lawyers, doctors, or engineers. But I also spent several evenings with an electrician named Magdy Ashour, who had been elected to parliament from a dismal slum at the furthest edge of Cairo (he’s now an independent, after being ousted from the Brotherhood in December). He was at pains to counter what he assumed were my preconceptions. “When people hear the name Muslim Brotherhood, they think of terrorism and suicide bombings,” Ashour conceded. “We want to establish the perception of an Islamic group cooperating with other groups, concerned about human rights. We do not want to establish a country like Iran, which thinks that it is ruling with a divine mandate. We want a government based on civil law, with an Islamic source of lawmaking.”

And just what is an “Islamic source of lawmaking?” Muhammad Habib, then the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide — its second-ranking official– explained to me that, under such a system, parliament would seek the advice of religious scholars on issues touching upon religion, though such views could never be binding. A democratically elected parliament, he asserted, would still have the “absolute right” to pass a law the Brotherhood deemed “un-Islamic.” And the proper redress for religious objections would be a formal appeal process in the constitutional court.

Maybe they were lying. But I didn’t think so. More to the point, the Muslim Brotherhood’s then 88-member caucus in the legislature studiously avoided religious issues and worked with secular opposition members on issues of democracy and human rights.