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Many media reports regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt have focused on the international implications of the likely introduction of Sharia law, in particular for Israel and the West. Internally, the significance of a Sharia-based state for women, secularists and religious minorities has also been much discussed. But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Sharia’s implementation in Egypt is the economic one, and how the Muslim Brotherhood considers the Islamic law code the solution to their country’s substantial economic problems, especially regarding the blight of corruption.
Corruption is not a small problem in Egypt and, in fact, threatens to undermine the state. The finance committee of the Egyptian parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council, confirmed this in a recently released report that has reportedly “created a firestorm.” In it, committee members conclude that corruption is the “main reason” for Egypt’s worsening financial situation. So much money is being stolen, the report claims, that the “growth rate of government debt went from 10.4% before the revolution to 17.5% after,” and public debt “would soon surpass safe limits according to international standards.”
In some instances, the corruption problem is due simply to outright theft. “Wealthy intermediaries,” the report states, siphon off half of the subsidy money meant to keep down the price of commodities such as bread and cooking oil that help the poor to survive. But a major culprit in what is making a terrible economic situation in Egypt even worse, especially for its roughly 40 million poor who live close to, or below, the $2 per day poverty line, is the Nile state’s bloated government bureaucracy.
“The report highlighted 65,000 instances of corruption in a single year, with government agencies routinely exaggerating operating costs,” states the Daily News Egypt.
Corruption is nothing new in Egypt and neither is the fight against it by Egyptian Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. In his book Islamist Economics In Egypt: The Pious Road To Development, author Bjorn Utvik writes the Brotherhood has been actively combating corruption since it entered the national parliament in the 1980s. It was Islamists like the Brotherhood who “time and again” revealed cases of corruption in their newspapers and fought against it “in political and economic life” in the higher reaches of society and elsewhere. In the elections of 1987, for example, part of the Islamists’ program was entitled “establishing virtue and closing gates of corruption.”
“We must strike with an iron fist against these degenerate practices if we want to release the productive energy of the people,” Sayf al-Islam al-Banna, son of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, once said in the People’s Assembly.
The “iron fist” the Brotherhood intends to use to eradicate corruption and other “degenerate practices” like “favouritism, nepotism, and patron-client relationships” is, Utvik writes, Sharia law. But the harsh punishments contained within Sharia’s provisions, such as the cutting off of hands for stealing, are not viewed as the means to eliminate this modern-day plague of Egypt, but rather the moral renewal that Sharia will bring to Egyptian society. The Muslim Brotherhood believes that when laws have the force of religious legitimacy behind them, people will obey them. Besides solving the “degenerate practices” badly harming the Egyptian economy, this “establishing virtue” by Sharia will in turn also bring a much-needed “moral harmony” and “moral cohesion” to society.
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