Interim Stay granted to ZI Publications

July 31, 2012

Kuala Lumpur High Court grants Interim Stay to ZI Publications

by Hafiz Yatim@

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has granted an interim stay preventing Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) from investigating and prosecuting ZI Publications and its director Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid.

Ezra is scheduled to report before the Syariah Lower Court tomorrow as he has been asked by the authorities to do so.Following today’s development, the Syariah Court is not expected  to charge Mohd Ezra tomorrow.

NONEJudge Rohana Yusuf also granted ZI Publications and Ezra leave to initiate a judicial review against the seizure of the book Allah, Liberty and Love by Manji Irshad.

Following the interim stay granted today, ZI Publications has seven days to file an inter-party stay.

This is because the Selangor government, which is named as one of the respondents, in the judicial review application was not represented in today’s proceedings.

It should have been represented by the Selangor legal adviser. The court also ordered the Selangor government to file its full judicial review application as soon as possible.

The court also fixed September 5 to hear the judicial review application of Erza and ZI Publications.

Lawyers Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, K Shanmuga and Nizam Bashir who appeared for ZI Publications and Senior Federal Counsel Nor Hisham Ismail who represented the Federal Government met with Justice Rohana in her chambers.

ZI Publications and Mohd Ezra has named JAIS, its Director-General, its Chief Enforcement Officer, its Syariah Chief Prosecutor and the Selangor and Malaysian governments as respondents.

Unlike the bookseller Border’s case, Ezra is yet to be charged with any offence, resulting in the court granting a temporary stay.

In the case of Borders, owned by Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, its store manager Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz was been charged at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court last month for allegedly distributing materials that go against Islamic teachings.

‘Jais had no jurisdiction to enter premises’

In the application filed earlier this month, ZI Publications and Ezra claimed that Jais and its officers had no jurisdiction to enter into their premises on May 29, as it was a company and the authorities could only take action against Muslims.

Furthermore, the warrant is for a search and hence JAIS and its officers do not have the authority to seize the books. Ezra further claimed his arrest violated his constitutional right to freedom of expression, which could only be limited by Parliament and not by the Selangor legislative assembly. He also claimed Section 16(1) of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment was ultra vires the Federal Constitution on the freedom of expression.

NONEAlternatively, Erza and ZI Publications claimed the seizure of the books was a violation of the freedom of religion.

Since there is a federal law limiting the freedom of expression based on the Publications and Printing Presses Act (PPPA), the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment, a state law, is, therefore, inconsistent with the Federal Constitution.

The two plaintiffs sought a declaration that Section 16 of the enactment is null and void as it violates the federal constitution on the freedom of expression. They are also seeking an order of  certiorari to quash the actions of the authorities in raiding, seizing the books and arresting.

Ezra and ZI Publications are also seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the authorities to return the books and cancel the arrest order. Furthermore, they are seeking a declaration that the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment and the Syariah Criminal Procedure Code are only applicable to Muslims and not to companies.

They further contend that the Syariah Criminal Offences law does not criminalise acts of book translations and based on Article 121(1), the proper forum to interpret the PPPA on the enactment is the civil bench of the High Court, not the syariah court.

The two are also seeking a stop to any JAIS action until the disposal of their judicial review application and other relief deemed necessary by the court.

They also filed a judicial review seeking to lift the ban on the book and his matter has been fixed for hearing on August 13.

Is China Losing its Plot

July 31, 2012

Is China Losing its Plot

Kishore Mahbubani (07-26-12)

In 2016, China’s share of the global economy will be larger than America’s in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China’s share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.

China’s leaders would be naïve and foolish to bank on their country’s peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment. Read On Project Syndicate: Kishore Mahbubani on China

Sulaiman Al-Rajhi: A Poor Man by Choice

July 31, 2012

Rags-to-Riches Sulaiman Al-Rajhi: A Poor Man by Choice

Saudi Arabia’s rags-to-riches billionaire Sulaiman Al-Rajhi is the founder of Al-Rajhi Bank, the largest Islamic bank in the world, and one of the largest companies in Saudi Arabia.

As of 2011, his wealth was estimated by Forbes to be $7.7 billion, making him the 120th richest person in the world. His flagship SAAR Foundation is a leading charity organization in the Kingdom. The Al-Rajhi family is considered as one of the Kingdom’s wealthiest non-royals, and among the world’s leading philanthropists.

Al-Rajhi is a billionaire who chose last year to become a poor man at his own will without having any cash or real estates or stocks that he owned earlier. He became penniless after transferring all his assets among his children and set aside the rest for endowments. In recognition of his outstanding work to serve Islam, including his role in establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank and his regular contribution toward humanitarian efforts to fight poverty, Al-Rajhi was chosen for this year’s prestigious King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam.

In an interview with Muhammad Al-Harbi of Al-Eqtisadiah business daily, Al-Rajhi speaks about how he was able to succeed in convincing chiefs of the leading central banks in the world, including that of the Bank of England, nearly 30 years ago that interest is forbidden in both Islam and Christianity, and that the Islamic banking is the most effective solution to activate Islamic financing in the world and make it a real boost to the global economy.

The story of Al-Rajhi is that of a man who made his fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination. Al-Rajhi threw away his huge wealth through two windows — distributed a major part of his inheritance among his children and transferred another portion to endowments, which are regarded as the largest endowment in the history of the Islamic world. He had to fight poverty and suffering during his childhood before becoming a billionaire through hard work and relentless efforts, and then leaving all his fortunes to become penniless again.

Al-Rajhi is still very active and hardworking even in his 80s with youthful spirits. He begins his work daily after morning prayers and is active until Isha prayers before going to bed early. He is now fully concentrated on running the endowment project under his SAAR Foundation, and traveling various regions of the Kingdom managing activities related with it. He always carries a pocket diary containing his daily programs and activities and he is accustomed to stick on to the schedule he had prepared well in advance.

Al-Rajhi scored excellent performance results in almost all businesses in which he carved out a niche for himself. In addition to establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank, he founded the largest poultry farm in the Middle East. The credit of activating the organic farming experiment in the Kingdom mainly goes to him through launching a number of farming projects, including Al-Laith shrimp farming. He also established real estate and other investment projects.


Sheikh Suleiman, have you become a poor man again?

Yes. Now I own only my dresses. I distributed my wealth among my children and set aside a portion for endowment to run charity projects. As far as I am concerned, this situation was not a strange one. My financial condition reached zero point two times in my life, and therefore I have had the feeling and understanding (about poverty) well. But now the feeling is accompanied by happiness, relaxation and the peace of mind. The zero phase in life this time is purely because of my own decision and choice.

Why did you choose this path?

All wealth belongs to Allah, and we are only those who are entrusted (by God) to take care of them. There were several reasons that prompted me to distribute the wealth and that resulted in performing this virtue. Most important among them is to foster brotherhood and love among my children and safeguard their harmonious relationship. This is more significant than any wealth in this life. I was also keen not to be instrumental in wasting the precious time of courts in case of any differences of opinion among them with regard to partition of inheritance. There are several examples that everybody could see when children entered in dispute over wealth and that led to the collapse of companies.

Nation has lost many large companies and their wealth that we could have been saved if we tackled the matter in a right manner. Apart from this, every Muslim should work on some endowments that could benefit him in the life after death. Likewise, I prefer my children to work on developing wealth, which they inherit after my death, during my lifetime itself rather than I continue working to increase them.

Are you getting enough free time after the distribution of wealth?

As earlier I am still working on developing endowments. I will donate and give alms from it until Allah takes over this trusted deposit. I have worked out a meticulous scheme for this endowment and developed it with the support of specialist consultants and agencies. This idea struck me long before.

Usually people in the Islamic world set aside one-third or one-fourth of their wealth for endowment and that will be effective only after their death. But in my case, I decided to implement this decision in my lifetime itself. So I invited my children to Makkah during the end of Ramadan and presented the idea in front of them. They readily agreed it and then I distributed my wealth among my children in addition to setting aside a part of it for endowment. I sought the help of consultants to facilitate the procedures for the distribution of all my assets including properties, real estates and stocks, and that was completed in a cordial atmosphere. All my children are now fully satisfied with my initiative and they are now working on these properties in my lifetime.

How much wealth you distributed among children and set aside for endowment?

He laughed without giving an answer.

How do you feel now about your projects?

I would like to point out that there were some factors that prompted me to make investments in certain specific areas. My experiment in money exchange was the temptation to set up a bank. The absence of any Islamic banking was also another factor in establishing Al-Rajhi Bank, which is now the world’s biggest Islamic lender by market value.

I began the experiment with opening an office in Britain where we introduced Islamic banking system at a greater level. The experiment was a success and it had received total backing of the Saudi Islamic scholars at that time. I still recall the application made for getting license for the bank was turned down in the beginning. This was because the concerned British officials did not have any idea about Islamic banking.

Therefore, I went to London and met with the manager of the Bank of England and two of his deputies. I told them that Muslims and Christians see interest as forbidden (haram), and the Muslim and Christian religious people are unwilling to make transactions with banks based on interest and instead prefer to keep their cash and other valuables in boxes at their homes. I tried to convince them that (if we establish Islamic banks) this money would be helpful to strengthen the world economy. These talks were helpful in convincing them and they agreed to open Islamic banks. Then I traveled widely throughout the world in the West and East, and met with the chiefs of central banks in various countries and explained to them about the salient features of the Islamic economy. We started working and achieved success through launching it in the Kingdom and implementing it in London.

When I returned to the Kingdom from London, I met the late Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Sheikh Abdullah bin Humaid, and informed them about the plan saying: ‘We would reach, by the grace of Allah, the Islamic banking within a stipulated period of time.’ They praised me for the initiative. We started aggressively implementing the project and that is in the form of Al-Rajhi Bank as you see now.

Regarding Al-Watania Poultry, the idea of establishing such a venture struck me after my visit to a poultry project abroad. I saw that the way of slaughtering chicken was not proper. Then I decided to make investments in the field of poultry after considering it as a duty to my religion and nation. I started the project even though making investments in poultry involved high risks in those days. Now Al-Watania has become a mega Saudi project that is instrumental in achieving food security in many respects. The company enjoys a 40 percent market share in the Kingdom, and Al-Watania chickens are naturally fed and halal slaughtered in accordance with the Shariah principles.

What about your insistence on introducing organic farming through Al-Watania agricultural projects?

As you see, now I am 85 and still enjoy good health. If we pursue organic farming as our healthy food style, we can bring down cost of treatment to a great extent. We made several experiments in the field of organic farming. Our numerous experiments met with setbacks in the beginning. This prompted many engineers and workers to reach a conclusion that it is impossible to have organic farming and profit together. In the beginning, they were firm in their view that this would not at all be successful. But I insisted that it would work and continued compelling them to proceed with the venture. At one time, I took a firm position and told them either to do organic farming or quit.

Now we are reaping the fruits of this lucrative business in line with my vision to provide only the healthiest, safest and most trustworthy food to consumers. Al-Watania Agricultural Company stopped using chemicals and artificial fertilizers and focused exclusively on organic methods such as the use of pest insect repellants and animal manure.

Your austerity and thriftiness on spending are well known. Please comment?

I am not a miser. But I am always vigilant against extravagance. I always try to impart this lesson to all those working with me whether it is in banking or poultry or other projects, and I am more concerned about it when it is coming to the case of my children.

In the past, I never gave money to my children when they were young in return for nothing. When any one of them approached me to give them cash, I asked them to do some work in exchange for it. In our life, we practice some extravagance without being aware of it. But it affects our whole life, exhausting us and putting a burden on our country. For example, there is no logic in putting heavy curtain on our windows and then lighting lamps in daytime when we get sunlight free of cost while electric lamps are costly.

Despite all your wealth, why don’t you still have a private aircraft?

Let me tell you that I have many planes but they belong to various airlines. I have ownership in all of them to the tune of the ticket fare that I pay for each travel. I always travel in economy class with the conviction that Allah bestowed us wealth not for showing arrogance or spend extravagantly but to deal with wealth as a trusted property.

What about the recreation and hobbies of Sheikh Al-Rajhi? How do you spend free time?

I have not any special recreations. However, I find happiness and enjoyment while making a trip to the desert. I never went out of the Kingdom on a tourism trip.

What about your will? What are its salient features?

Regarding my will related with wealth, I have already implemented it in my lifetime. As for the remaining aspect of my will, it is a public matter and also involves certain private matters, besides encouraging my children to maintain their kinship and always reminding them about the life after death.

How do you see your children’s private investments? Are there any directives to them?

A number of them are doing an excellent work in accordance with their knowledge and experience. Most often, I try to guide them when I noticed anything undesirable even if it is in their private investments. Regarding my younger children, I always guide them, especially in the case of their investments. This is purely out of my keenness that they should be honest in their work as well as in spending wealth given by God as a trusted property. I am also eager to hear about my children that they are interacting with the society in the best possible manner, and that they are serving their religion and nation.

In what way you like to spend your time? What are the places that you like most?

I used to travel between Riyadh, Qassim, Al-Jouf, and Al-Laith to oversee my projects there. I always prefer to visit the farms in Qassim and Al-Jouf.

How could you preserve many old and precious things and antiques at Suleiman Al-Rajhi Museum?

A long time ago when I was in Jeddah, I was keen on preserving heritage pieces and gathered them together, especially those related with money exchange. There would be a history with every human being. The museum tells the story of money exchange. I particularly kept registers and cash boxes that were used when I started the money exchange business.

The first cash box was made of wood, and there was a huge treasure box in which we kept our gold and silver. The artifacts kept at the museum tells the evolution of currency in the Kingdom through issuance of bank notes, as well as some currencies and coins that were in circulation among the Haj pilgrims. A major factor that prompted me to set up the museum was the visits made by a large number of officials from various countries to know more about these old coins and currencies.

We have had to exhibit these rare collections in front of them to explain about our history and heritage, especially those related with money. I was keen to furnish the museum with historic and heritage pieces, especially with the same materials used for construction in the past. Hence, the roof of the museum was made of palm branches, and that was the case with the seating arrangements at the museum.

Al-Rajhi’s punctuality

The interview also sheds light on many qualities of Al-Rajhi, including his punctuality. “In the beginning of my business career, I had appointments with several top European company executives and officials. I still remember that I reached late for such an appointment due to an unavoidable reason. My delay was only a few minutes but the official excused himself for the interview. Later, after expansion of the projects, the same official came late for an interview with me so I excused myself for the interview. I always carry a paper to note down the schedule of meetings and stick to the schedule at any cost.”

Al-Rajhi continued: I am always keen to strictly adhere to the Islamic principles throughout my life. Once I received an invitation from an Arab government to attend an investment conference there. On the sidelines of the conference, I was invited to take part in a dinner reception. When I reached there, I found a recreational program, which is contrary to our religious customs and traditions, taking place. So I quit the place immediately and, Abdul Aziz Al-Ghorair from the UAE also joined me. Soon minister plenipotentiary rushed to us, and we explained to him that the function is against our Islamic tradition. So he informed us that the recreational party would be cancelled. When they canceled that party, we participated in the dinner.

Tackling crises

Al-Rajhi said: There was a huge fire that gutted down one of my factories managed by my son. When he came to inform me about it, I told him: Say praise be to God. I asked him not to submit any report about the losses to the authorities seeking compensation.

In fact, the compensation is from Allah and it is essential for us to be satisfied with What Allah destined for us. Assam Al-Hodaithy, financial director of Al-Watania Poultry, said: “When the fire broke out at the factory, we decided not to hurt Sheikh Al-Rajhi by informing about it at that moment. Later, when we met him next morning, he told us to shift the factory to another place and remove the debris until completion of reconstruction.”

There was a similar fire at Al-Watania Poultry project in Egypt. The company incurred losses worth SR 10 million Egyptian pounds. When the concerned factory official contacted Al-Rajhi to inform about the fire, he was surprised to hear an instant reply from him: “AlHamdulillah.”

Time For ASEAN to stand together

July 31, 2012

Karim Raslan: Time For ASEAN to stand together

China is claiming more of the South China Sea as its own. Unfortunately, China’s territorial pretensions clash with separate claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

SANSHA City is China’s newest municipality. Extending over two square kilometres and with 613 residents, Sansha City has its own mayor, sea and airport, supermarket, as well as a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison.

Established on the Yongxing or “Woody” Island in the Paracel Islands of the South China Sea, the municipality represents a bold assertion of Chinese control.

Sadly in the face of such brute determination, ASEAN has merely whimpered. Indeed, earlier this month at the normally-staid ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, the grouping revealed its ineffectiveness and lack of unity in the face of high-level lobbying from Chinese and American officials when the association failed to produce a joint communique at the conclusion of the meeting.

In short, we are in danger of becoming passive participants in the new “Great Game” – the geopolitical face-off between China and the United States.

Unsurprisingly, the main point of contention was the South China Sea, with its overlapping territorial claims, historical grudges and energy politics all jumbled up. China claims most of the South China Sea as its own. Unfortunately, China’s territorial pretensions clash with separate claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The contest is heightened because of two factors – the importance of the trading routes and the vast natural resources under the sea itself – estimated to be as much as 213 billion barrels of oil and two quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas.

China, unsurprisingly, has always been quick to assert its rights.It clashed with Vietnam in 1974 over the Paracel Islands and came dangerously close to repeating the experience with the Philippines earlier this year when their navies engaged in a tense stand-off near the Scarborough Shoal.

A more Asia-focused United States has weighed in to support its former Philippine colony.Troop deployments in Australia and improved relations with Myanmar and Vietnam have created a potentially explosive mix.

Meanwhile, ASEAN is little more than the proverbial (and increasingly scared) mouse deer caught between two feuding elephants. In many ways, though, ASEAN’s indecisiveness is perhaps unsurprising.It’s further proof that there’s little holding us together – besides the overly confident boosterism of the business community seeking to establish a unified market of over 600 million consumers.

For decades, we’ve paid lip-service to the grouping whilst pulling our separate ways.Now, when we really need to fend off Great Power interference, we’re confronted by our lack of cohesiveness and disunity.

In short, all the golf and durian diplomacy has floundered and we’re stuck in a veritable “bunker”.On the one hand, Cambodia’s refusal to endorse a joint communiqué at the meeting reflected its near-total economic reliance on China.

According to news reports, the Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong’s manner didn’t help matters either.Meanwhile, Vietnam and the Philippines have been forced to balance their historical antipathy towards China with the reality of the Middle Kingdom’s proximity and sheer might.

Indonesia (mindful of its own size) appears to view the deadlock as an opportunity to demonstrate its regional leadership credentials. As a consequence, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono directed his Foreign Minister, Marty Natelgawa to tour ASEAN in search of a fresh consensus on the issue.

For Malaysia and Singapore, the South China Sea impasse requires extreme delicacy. As multiracial trading nations, both must assert their sovereignty and ASEAN credentials without alienating China.

Still, ASEAN must deal with contemporary realities.Whilst we’ve been a diplomatic backwater for decades, the economically resilient grouping is no longer under the radar screen.

As one of the few economically robust regions, we’re now front and centre – besides which, with China on the rise, we’re geopolitically important.

This is all very dramatic and fun to read about but in reality it’s a painful headache as China and the United States stalk one another warily.

Let’s face it: the “Asian Century” is going to be fraught with danger and insecurity and I haven’t even begun to discuss the increasingly erratic and dysfunctional Chinese foreign policy and military apparatus.

The core issue is – do we “hang” together or go our separate ways? We in ASEAN need to resolve this fundamental challenge. Do we promote and implement “regional integration” as well as the “ASEAN community” or do we cut deals with China one-on-one?

The South China Sea is crunch time for ASEAN, and Malaysia. We can either continue dithering and be reduced to pawns on a chessboard, or band together to show the world that we intend to live up to our geopolitical promise as well.

The choice is ours – but I guess it’ll have to wait until after the General Election. Sigh…

Confiscation of Zunar’s Books and Artwork unwarranted

July 31, 2012

Confiscation of ZUNAR’s  Books and Artwork unwarranted, says KL High Court Judge

by Koh Jun Lin@

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has held that the arrest and detention of political cartoonist Zunar in 2011 was lawful, but that the continued confiscation of his books and artwork is unwarranted.

As such, Justice Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera today ordered that the cartoonist’s works be returned. He also ordered the court registrar to determine the quantum of damages payable to Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque. No order was made as to costs.

The zunar new comic cartoon-o-phobiajudge said arresting officer Arikrishna Apparau and investigating officer Marina Hashim had the power to arrest Zunar under Section 20 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and to seize his works under Section 11 of the Sedition Act.

He said the officers had shown that they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the contents of the book ‘Cartoon-o-phobia’ were seditious. Therefore, the two laws allowed the Police to effect the arrest and seizure of the materials without a warrant.

The judge took note of the fact some the cartoons imply that the Judiciary is under the control of the Executive. “(The cartoons) may be considered as political satire by some, but others might regard them as being seditious. (Arikrishna) belongs to the second category – a reasonable conclusion by a reasonable man,” he said.

cartoon-o-phobia 20100924 drawingHowever, he also said it would have only required a “simple determination” to arrive at a decision on whether the confiscated materials are seditious or not. Hence, continued retention of the materials is unwarranted.

“The arrest and seizure was for a reason. That reason was to carry out investigations to ascertain whether the plaintiff (Zunar) had committed an offence under the Sedition Act, or the Printing Presses and Publications Act… Surely it would not take two years to make that determination,” said the judge.

The prolonged retention of the works without further action is tantamount to infringement of Zunar’s right’s to life under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, as selling the cartoons contributes to his livelihood. The items seized include 66 copies of the book and a A2-size collage featuring the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Justice Vazeer Alam also ruled that it was sufficient for the police officer to have informed Zunar of the grounds of arrest in layperson’s language, instead of citing the specific legislation used.

‘False democrat’

Speaking to reporters later, Zunar’s lawyer N Surendran hailed the decision as a partial victory, but said he would consider appealing the legality of his client’s detention.

NONEZunar urged the government to return 408 copies of his book ‘Gedung Kartoon’ seized in 2009, and to lift the ban on his other books ‘1Funny Malaysia’, ‘Perak Darul Kartoon’ and three editions of ‘Isu Dalam Kartoon’.

“These books are all banned under the PPPA. The prime minister said some time ago that he would revamp or reform the PPPA. So I would like to say to Najib, please ‘tepati janji’ (deliver your promise) and don’t be a false democrat,” he said.

He pointed out that, under Najib’s Administration, cartoonists have been subjected to the most pressure from the government.

“I was detained. This never happened under the previous Prime Ministers,” he said.

Zunar was arrested on September 24, 2010 during a raid at his office in Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur, just hours before he was supposed to launch ‘Cartoon-o-phobia’.

He was taken to six Police stations before being held overnight at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Police lock-up, and was released on the following day. Zunar then sued Arikrishna, Marina, Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar, the Home Ministry and the government for unlawful detention.

In Power, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Deals with Reality

July 31,

In Power, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Deals with Reality

Written by Reuters Monday, 30 July 2012 09:51

In decades of furtive meetings in tea houses, mosques and universities, members of Egypt’s underground Muslim Brotherhood spoke ardently of a country governed by Islamic law. Now that their debates take place in parliament and the presidential palace, they must decide how far to go in bringing it about.

Elections held since the fall of Hosni Mubarak have turned the once-banned Brotherhood and its allies into the dominant political force in the Arab world’s most populous country.

That success has left the Brotherhood facing competing pressures – on the one hand, to satisfy the conservative Islamists who supported them at the polling station, while on the other hand to avoid conflict with secular-minded Egyptians and a potent military establishment that opposes radical change, Reuters reports.

For now, the outcome appears to be a compromise, satisfying neither side entirely but avoiding major confrontation, with the aim of giving the Brotherhood the leeway to meet the needs of running a modern state.

“Everything is a subject of compromise and negotiation for the Brotherhood,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements based at Durham University in England.

“It realizes that limiting personal freedoms will endanger their political gains,” he said. “At the same time, they will have to satisfy conservative sections of society.”

The Brotherhood’s move into public life frightens secular-minded Egyptians, who fear Islamist curbs could lead to dress codes, kill off music and cinema or force men and women to segregate in public. Christians, a tenth of Egyptians, are particularly worried, despite Mursi’s attempts at outreach.

Businesses fear for the impact on a tourism industry that creates one in eight jobs. A call put out on Facebook for a march in defense of beer – first produced in Egypt in pharaonic times – captured a mood of defiance among some after the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi won the presidency.

While Mursi has promised to protect freedoms, his campaign was also peppered with promises to implement sharia, the Islamic law code.”The fear is of destroying the civil state in which citizens are equal… The reassurance message is valueless, because we are seeing what they are doing in reality,” said Refaat el-Saeed, head of Tagammu leftist Party.

Some Egyptians worry that even without direction from the state, zealots emboldened by the Islamists’ ballot box success could seek to impose their will in the street. Those fears appeared to be manifested in the days following Mursi’s election, when a group of three men stabbed a young man to death for going out with his fiancée in the city of Suez.

Ahmed Eid was killed by three young men who have been charged with forming an illegal vigilante group to “fight vice and promote virtue”.

The Brotherhood denies that it is behind such attacks and has accused agents loyal to Mubarak’s old order of trying to tar it with the same brush by sending youths masquerading as Brotherhood members to threaten hair salons.

There are limits to how far the Brotherhood can go in transforming Egyptian society.

Founded in 1928 by urban intellectuals and run by engineers, teachers and doctors, the Brotherhood says it does not want a theocracy – something which in any case the military council has signaled it will not allow to come about.

“I don’t think anyone, even if he has a 40-year term rather than a four-year term, will have the ability to change society, such that the sharia is implemented with all its comprehensive aspects,” said Ahmad Ahmad, an associate professor of religious studies at Harvard University in the United States.

Judged on ECONOMY

The Brotherhood is keenly aware that Egyptians will judge it first and foremost by its ability to resolve their deep economic problems and alleviate poverty. That provides a strong incentive to avoid measures that frighten off tourists or hurt commerce.

Rather than emphasize the ancient proscriptions of Islamic law, Brotherhood members describe sharia as a pragmatic moral code that can be used by a modern society to promote reform.

“Wherever you find benefit for society, then that is God’s law,” said Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a cleric who sits on the Brotherhood’s executive board.

He said Mursi would be applying sharia by ending corruption and cronyism in government, ending police abuses such as torture and eavesdropping, and enforcing traffic laws.

There would be no imposition of dress codes, he said, pointing to the growth in the numbers of Egyptian women voluntarily wearing headscarves as proof that coercion was unnecessary. Tourists need not fear for their beach wear, as resorts would be treated as places with a “special context”.

The Brotherhood has been similarly pragmatic on the imposition of bank interest, which many scholars say is forbidden in Islam but will not be abolished in Egypt.

Even the more hardline Islamist groups, or Salafi movements, that have moved into public life in the last year have started to strike a similarly pragmatic tone.

Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a Salafi group that took up arms against the state as recently as the 1990s, now speaks of a sharia that brings justice, fights corruption and prevents torture and unlawful detention.

“These are the priorities of the sharia as I see them today,” said Tareq El-Zumor, who spent 30 years in jail for involvement in the killing of former president Anwar Sadat.

Issues of “Pride”

Kamal Habib, a former al-Gama’a al-Islamiya member and an expert on Islamist groups, said Salafi views had evolved as they moved into mainstream politics during parliamentary elections that began in November last year.

“When the Salafis were campaigning in the election, they spoke of sharia as an immediate step, but as they came closer to power they modified their position as they found a lot of serious complications in society.”

Still, Islamists are trying to make substantial changes, especially in areas that are seen as a matter of pride for their conservative followers.

In the first few months of the parliament’s work, newly-elected Salafi lawmakers pressed for an end to a woman’s right to seek divorce, to adjust custody laws in favor of men and to toughen the punishment for insulting religion.

All of those proposals were raised independently of any party and none made it into law.

Barr, the Brotherhood cleric, forecast legislation that would eventually ban Muslims from trading or producing alcohol, while permitting its production and sale to non-Muslims.

The role of Islamic law in Egypt’s new constitution has become a defining issue. “I am afraid of leaving the constitution in the hands of people who think in this way,” said Shahata Mohamed Shahata, a lawyer fiercely opposed to Brotherhood rule who filed a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of the body writing the document.

One proposal would add language making God the source of sovereignty. Another would give Al-Azhar, a religious school founded in Cairo more than 1,000 years ago, an official role as the body that would interpret Islamic law.

“It’s a big step – to put Al-Azhar in the constitution that is supposed to last for generations,” said Anani of Durham University. “What if Al-Azhar’s interpretation is regressive and not in favour of democracy?”

But he forecast more compromise ahead by the Brotherhood: “The Brotherhood will do everything for the sake of power. So they might cross the ideological red lines for political gains.”