The camera angle showed seven or eight Salafi MPs with beards hanging down in front of their seats, and distinguishable dark prayer marks on their foreheads. Three of them appeared to be asleep while a fourth was distracted with his mobile phone.
It is not a surprise that this image from Egypt's new People's Assembly topped the media coverage of the first session of the Egyptian parliament in the post-revolution era. In this session, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists laid down the foundations for their coming reign.
The picture was widely circulated via social networking sites, being the object of ridicule on the one hand and a source of concern on the other.
The truth is that there were many examples of the Brotherhood and Salafi Islamic stamp in the historic session of Egypt's new People's Assembly. Islamists, who prevail over the political scene in Egypt today, were keen on exhibiting such aspects in front of the media outlets. Perhaps this stemmed from an underestimation of the extent of damage such scenes and their reflections would have on the Brotherhood and Salafists first and foremost.
We saw disputes over the Islamists’ insistence to insert the phrase "provided that it does contradict Allah's Decree" when swearing their parliamentary oaths directly on air. We also saw some members of parliament deliberately reciting the holy Koran in an ostentatious manner, not to mention their requests to suspend the parliamentary session to perform prayers. And in order for the picture to be complete, cameras then panned round in search of female MPs, lingering for a moment on a handful wearing long loose garments, who had gathered together in a row of seats in a gesture indicating their hesitance to mix with their male colleagues. One of these female MPs was the Brotherhood member Azza al-Jarf.
It is true that the revolution toppled a corrupt, despotic regime and that free and fair elections brought the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis to the new parliament. But darkness has begun to stick out its head from the windows of the People’s Assembly. The scene showing the Islamist MPs at their inauguration does not give the impression that we are standing before an enlightened school of Islam. What those MPs seem keen to display through their conduct does not suggest that efforts will be made to link religious identity to the secular content of modern times, especially as the first session witnessed considerable attempts from Islamist MPs to prioritize religious rituals the expense of the modern state they have supposedly been elected to work for.
The first impression of the opening session is further compounded by going into the details. Consider the press conference given by the female Brotherhood MP Azza al-Jarf, in which she highlighted the positive points of the Islamists' rise to power. Among those points, for example, was the lack of need to amend divorce laws in Egypt, because according to her words, the Muslim Brotherhood state wouldn't acknowledge cases of divorce. If she indeed said that, then al-Jarf must have been unaware that her words could further condemn the group she was representing.
According to statistics, when a society does not recognize divorce laws, it is also likely that women will experience poor levels of employment, education and freedom. No principle of divorce means that any disputes between husband and wife will be solved by resorting to polygamy. Such a stance by the Brotherhood resembles the authority of an abusive regime, interfering everywhere from the street to the household, and could likely lead to a situation similar to the reigns of Saddam Hussein, al-Assad and Gaddafi.
The image of our female representatives in the newly-elected Egyptian parliament, together with the image of our male representatives with their Salafist beards, forms part of the gloomy near future in Egypt. But this certainly won’t be part of the medium and long term future.
The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat on Jan 30, 2012