Kristen Stilt, Harry R. Horrow Professor in Int'l L. at Nw. L. Sch., The Influence of the Iranian Model in Egypt, Paper Presentation at the Law and Society Association 2010 Annual Meeting (May 28, 2010).
Abstract: The Iranian constitutional system has far-ranging influence in the Muslim world, and it is usually, although not always, referred to as a negative model. Recently, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the largest opposition movement in the country, issued a lengthy political Platform that expressed publicly for the first time its views on the relationship between Islam and the state’s constitutional structures. While the Brotherhood has a minority in the Egyptian parliament, it is believed that if free and fair elections were held, the Brotherhood would become a majority and thus threaten gravely Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Significantly, this Platform dealt with some of the most fundamental questions related to the role of Islam and Islamic law in a democratic system: who decides the content of legislation, and should there be limits imposed upon the results of the democratic process that come from some notion of religious law? Apparently in a last minute addition, the Brotherhood drafters added a few sentences to the Platform that proposed to create a body of Islamic scholars that would have to approve legislation before it could be promulgated. Critics, including human rights groups and the ruling NDP, immediately alleged that the Brotherhood wanted to create an Egyptian version of Iran’s Guardian Council. These criticisms directed public attention to the few sentences in the lengthy Platform proposing the body of Islamic scholars and away from the many other statements of the Brotherhood’s commitment to a civil (that is, non-theocratic) and democratic Egypt. Even though Brotherhood leaders have since backed away from the body of Islamic scholars idea, the entire event provides important insight into how the Brotherhood is struggling to formulate their approach to Islamic law as determined by popular democracy (and by legislators, who have no scholarly training) and Islamic law as determined by scholars or some kind of authority figure that would keep popular voices within some sense of religious limits. This fundamental tension runs through the Platform, although it is usually more subtle than the explicit statement proposing the "Egyptian Guardian Council." This paper will examine this tension in the Brotherhood’s political agenda, and show that despite the uniqueness of Iran’s religious and cultural context that produced its Guardian Council, the same kinds of large scale questions of law and society are present everywhere that Islam and Islamic law are attempted to be incorporated into constitutional structures for reasons that transcend the divide between Sunni and Shia Islam.