After the first two of three rounds of elections, Egypt’s first since former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last February, the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood has taken 40 percent of seats in Parliament. It is poised to become the main political player on the scene. But anyone who tries to predict exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood — whose primary focus has long been religious and social work — will do with its newfound clout is simply fooling himself. No one knows, not even the Brotherhood itself. The only thing we know is that the Brotherhood’s conservative values aren’t much out of sync with mainstream thinking in Egypt. Not all Egyptians like the group or want to see it in charge, but few argue with its main tenet: “Islam is the solution.” Islamist parties secured about two-thirds of the vote in the first two rounds — a sure indication that Egyptians aren’t interested in a secular state. Amr Darrag, the secretary general of the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political arm, understands this well. But he’d also like the rest of us to understand that you don’t need a secular state to promote liberal values like women’s equality.

When I visited him last week in his ornate living room in Dokki, a middle-class neighbourhood in Cairo, Darrag pointed to framed photographs of his three daughters. Each one has a graduate degree and works fulltime, he said. So does his wife. And he mentioned that they wear fashionable headscarves, too.

Then Darrag tells me that women should take at least four or five years off work to raise children, saying that’s their fundamental purpose on earth. I’m far from convinced, but I have to admit that his view isn’t much different from what I hear on the Egyptian street.

Darrag means to be comforting about freedom of religion. “Our position on this issue is very clear: We are completely with personal freedom.” he says. “You cannot force anybody to do anything against his personal will. This is the stand of Islam.” I bring up the subject of national identity cards, pointing out that the IDs label Egyptians as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, leaving minorities like the Bahais out in the cold (the religion space can be left blank on the card but cannot be filled with another religion). Darrag is unapologetic: Bahais can do whatever they want at home, but they are not a recognised religion in the eyes of Islam, and Islam forms the basis of the state. Conversation over.

Darrag admits the FJP is still trying to figure out how to be a political party. The learning curve is steep: contradictory statements by various high-ranking party members on issues like the consumption of alcohol have splashed across the local papers recently.

When it comes to the media, Darrag thinks there’s a bias against the Brotherhood; he asks me what I think it’s all about. And I tell him: I think the Brotherhood is in politics for a chance to execute its broader goal of Islamising Egypt. It is already preaching its values in professional organisations, colleges, private schools and charities. If I were you, I volunteer, I would leverage the group’s recent election wins to secure control of social ministries such as those for housing, education and telecommunications. Forget the foreign ministry: that’s just too much of a headache; no one wants to risk losing roughly two billion dollars in US aid and having to answer to the Egyptian public on the deeply unpopular Camp David Accords. Now is the time to concentrate on proving the Brotherhood’s stated goal of raising living standards and imbuing piety through new school curricula, television advertising — anything that influences the basic fabric of society. Darrag smiles and jokes that I should become their spokeswoman. That’s when I add that the Brotherhood’s strategy is the scariest of all: if the group succeeds in altering an entire society, there will be no one left to challenge it. That’s the point, Darrag says. “There’s nothing scary about an Islamic society.”

Sarah A. Topol is a journalist based in Cairo.. –New York Times