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Interview with Khairat El-Shater

The Brotherhood's candidate talked about the rights of Christians under sharia, the Brotherhood's role in selecting the constituent assembly, and the group's willingness to take to the streets if necessary

Al-Ahram Daily, Saturday 7 Apr 2012
Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat El-Shater (Photo: AP)
Views: 1474
Views: 1474

Ahram Daily (AD): Some people accuse the Islamic current of turning its back on the revolution and making deals with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). They say that what is going on between the Islamists and the SCAF is a charade.

Khairat El-Shater (KS): A large section of the Islamists were part of the revolution from day one and they are to this moment part of the revolution. The strategic mission of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is clearly defined in two points. One is to contribute to the revival of Egypt and the other is to preserve the revolution’s vitality and maximise its outcome, so that we may have a new political system.

There are pressure groups which have made their money under Mubarak, and which are using their media to slander the revolution and obstruct the process of democratic transition. Omar Suleiman has run for office in an attempt to reproduce the old regime, and he is not the only one.

Therefore, we are facing real impediments to democratic transition, both internal and external. And our greatest asset, second only to the blessing of God, is to keep up our ability for mobilisation and revolution.

The other thing that is being said is that the revolution hasn’t achieved all its goals and is failing, and that all it did was to bring down Mubarak and form the People’s Assembly and Shura Council.

It is very hard for a party or a major group or a big current to follow the whims of 50 or 100 people who want to take to the streets to achieve a certain idea. We are committed to the revolution and to its vitality and we are willing to go on to the streets at any time if the revolution runs into real dangers or is unable to achieve its goals.

We have not decided against the street [protests] as some imagine. At the same time, we have not decided to take to the streets every day. It all depends on objective criteria, on whether the goals are being reached or not.

We can assure you beyond any doubt that we are the protectors of the revolution. What is being said about deals or secret agreements is false.

AD: Your running for president contradicts earlier Brotherhood decisions. What do you have to say about it?

KS: Decisions can change according to circumstances and according to factors that prompt someone to make a decision.

The Muslim Brotherhood has sought through its political wing to achieve its main objectives at this stage, which is to continue to implement the goals for which the revolution took place, through the creation of a democratic political system and through launching an economic project for the revival of modern Egypt, and through achieving an appropriate measure of freedom, dignity, and justice for all Egyptians, like the rest of the world, so that we do not remain in the bottom ranking of nations, which is where Mubarak put us because of his utter tyranny and unprecedented corruption.

AD: Why haven’t the Islamists agreed on one candidate to unify their ranks?

KS: I believe that the greatest tribute to the Egyptian people is to give them many options and alternatives. To go for one candidate to ensure his victory would be to put pressure on the Egyptian people, to push them in one direction, which I do not wish to see happening. We are at the beginning of a true democratic experiment - the more diversity the better.

AD: You are running for president and yet you are a businessman. Don’t you agree that this brings back unpleasant memories about the alliance of money and political power?

KS: I haven’t been running my business personally for long. In the span of Mubarak’s 19 years of rule, I was in prison for 12 years in total. Therefore, if I still retain shares in some companies, these are being run without my involvement because I was in prison for so long. I have been thinking of matters of public interest for 20 years and the image that the media portrays of the size of my business is greatly exaggerated. It is the outcome of the image that Mubarak’s media portrayed before the revolution.

AD: What is the size of the Brotherhood’s funding?

KS: I have nothing to do with the size of the Brotherhood funding or with the process of finance within the Brotherhood.

AD: How much is the capital of the Brotherhood?

KS: The Brotherhood has no capital. The Muslim Brotherhood depends on the subscriptions and donations of its members. What the Brotherhood receives is always less than what it spends. The Brotherhood has no deposit or reserve that can be called capital.

AD: How about the capital of your companies?

KS: The capital of my companies is mentioned in my declaration of financial assets (iqrar al-dhimma al-maliya).

AD: What did you write in your declaration of financial assets?

KS: That is a private matter.

AD: Will you disclose it if you win the elections?

KS: I will disclose it; there is no problem in that. But I can tell you right now that it is not even one per cent of what the newspapers say.

AD: How do you see your relation with the West in general and the US in particular?

KS: What matters most is the interest of Egypt versus all countries of the world and not just versus the West and America, which need Egypt too. There are mutual interests involved, as always.

There are some basic matters, one of which is to benefit from the experience of countries which have made considerable progress, so that we may benefit from this experience in rebuilding modern Egypt.

We are dealing with major countries in Asia, Europe, and America. We have discussed with those countries their development experiences in workshops held by the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) months ago. This is a project that is unrelated to my running for president, because we are dealing first and foremost with the rebuilding of Egypt.

We look into the experiences of each country. India for example has great expertise in organising micro-projects to confront the state of poverty which is widespread there. Brazil, Vietnam, and Singapore all have an exceptional experience in fighting corruption. South Africa has a remarkable experience with regard to coexistence and the diffusion of societal tensions, when government was transferred from the white minority to the black majority.

Turkey has a strong experience in multiplying national income fourfold in 10 years. In Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad succeeded in rallying people behind a strategic vision and made true progress on the state level.

We look into the experience of each country and benefit from it as much as we can, without denying that every country has its own circumstances and that it is hard to copy one experience from one place into another.

AD: There are the legal challenges facing the committee writing the constitution and the law for the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council. The Brotherhood doesn’t see eye to eye with the opposition on such matters.

KS: What we have here is a legal problem that must be decided by the judiciary. We in the Brotherhood and the FJP believe in consensus. But everyone must know that complete consensus is impossible. What if 90 per cent of the Egyptian people wanted the political system to be presidential or parliamentary and only 10 per cent wanted a mixed system? What if everyone insisted on their opinion? We have to go with what the majority of the people want, not with what the majority of the Brotherhood or the FJP want.

At the end of the day, the constitution will have to be submitted for public approval through a referendum. The idea of complete consensus is impossible; it cannot get us anywhere. We seek the maximum consensus possible.

And the FJP has more than a 50 per cent majority in the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council, and therefore if it was about forming an electoral list, the Brotherhood could select 100 members overnight and no one would be able to do anything about, not in terms of voting and electing.

Nevertheless the FJP is the one that chose a lot of liberals and leftists for the lists, including Wahid Abdel Maguid, Amr El-Shobaki, and Amr Hamzawy.

Had the FJP acted otherwise, those people wouldn’t have made it into the constituent assembly, not through voting and not if we were just thinking of ourselves. The existence of those figures [in the constituent assembly] proves that the FJP believes in involving the largest possible range of views.

AD: How will you relate to the Brotherhood and the FJP if you win the presidency?

KS: First of all, the president of Egypt has to be president for all Egyptians. Then again I represent the Brotherhood and the FJP and they both have a programme for Egypt’s revival. The Brotherhood and the FJP are working to promote and build this programme.

We are talking today about rallying the largest possible number of currents, groups, and factions behind the cause of building Egypt. And the Brotherhood and the FJP are a substantial part of this effort. They have put together a main framework, and anyone who joins in this effort will be working for the benefit of Egypt.

To put it briefly, the Brotherhood has a vision for the rebuilding of Egypt, and the FJP is the political arm of the Brotherhood, and there is no contraction between the two.

AO: But many people are afraid of the repetition of the old scenario of Mubarak and the National Democratic Party (NDP), with Al-Shater and the FJP taking their place.

KS: The NDP usurped power, and Mubarak was in office because of random circumstances. No one had chosen him. And he used the NDP as window dressing for political life. This is a fact. The state apparatus was used to forge elections in more than one way.

Now, we have a new reality. The people have a say, and this is the nature of the democratic process in any country. The political system is going to be determined by the constitution.

AD: Are you going to appoint a vice president?

KS: Our vision is to have an institutional set-up, through the presence of one or more vice presidents or one or more assistants or a consultative group with powers. We have to have strong coordination in the light of what the new constitution says about the nature of the political system: will it be parliamentarian, or presidential, or mixed?

There has to be a relationship and mechanisms allowing for strong coordination between the institution of the government and the institution of the parliament, so we may ensure the best possible results. In principle, the matter of institutionalism is crucial. So it makes sense to have one vice president or more.

AD: How do you view the position of the Copts in Egypt and would you approve of a proposed Article 3, one that states that Christianity is an official point of reference for Christians?

KS: The Copts are a part of the fabric of Egyptian society. The occupiers tried to use the Coptic issue, as did Sadat and Mubarak, the latter acting as if the stability of his rule depended on causing as much tension and sedition between the major components of society as possible.

Mubarak was afraid of any change in the status of the Copts, the army, the Brotherhood or the businessmen. This is why he tried to turn them against one another.

I believe that there has been injustice done to the Copts and the Muslims. Therefore we need coexistence and we need to maintain the beautiful image that existed 14 centuries ago.

What is more important than the decisions, the administrative measures, and the laws is to promote a spirit of coexistence and boost it through joint activities and cultural and educational change in the coming period so that we may once again restore the beautiful image of the past.

As for [Christianity being] a point of reference, we have two possibilities. One is for Article 2 [the article in the Egyptian constitution that says that Islam is the religion of the state and sharia is a principal source of legislation] to mention that Islamic sharia is the point of reference to legislation, which by implication makes Christianity a point of reference for Christians, because the Quran states that: “The people of the Book (Christians and Jews) should be governed by its rules,” (Al-Maeda: 47).

Everything having to do with the Copts and the Christians has to be based on their own religious laws. If this needs to be spelled out more clearly, this is not a problem. When the problem of civil marriage came up two years ago and the Supreme Administrative Court passed a ruling in this respect, Pope Shenouda said: “Apply the Islamic sharia, for it says that the Copts must use their own laws.”

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