(The Sphinx at the great pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, February 25, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Few things better sum up Egypt’s uncharted future than the vague policy platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, a long-repressed Islamist movement poised to become a decisive force in mainstream politics. With the country’s military rulers reluctant to push through major reforms without a popular mandate, all eyes are on the emerging political class set free by the overthrow in February of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

None is likely to mobilise as much grassroots support as the Brotherhood, which has won the sympathy of millions of poor Egyptians by railing against venal politicians and campaigning for an Islamic state free of corruption. But with parliamentary elections looming, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party has sketched only the broadest outline of a manifesto. A pledge to do nothing that might harm Egypt’s floundering economy has barely reassured nervous investors.

“The Brotherhood has always been unclear on all its policies … It makes people wonder what is its real goal, and what to believe,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a researcher in the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

The Brotherhood’s secular liberal enemies say the policy vacuum is understandable because telling the truth would betray an extremism that would make it unelectable. They say it would quickly ban alcohol consumption, sending an already troubled tourism sector into a tailspin, reverse women’s rights and deepen tension with Egypt’s Christian minority by enforcing a strict Islamic code, the first step towards a Muslim theocracy.