Over the course of her work with the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Dina Zakaria has secured herself a leading role in the Islamist group, in particular working on women's issues. She is a key presidential campaign worker, and a co-founding member of the FJP’s foreign relations committee, work that has given her insight into President Mohamed Morsi.
Ahram Online: When did you join the Muslim Brotherhood?
Dina Zakaria: I informally joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1993, and after four years of carefully observing the organization and attending various events, I finally took the decision to become an official member in 1997.
AO: When did you start supporting Morsi and why did you choose to support him in particular?
DZ: I supported Dr. Morsi from the start. In general I prefer to work with an institution, not an individual, so when the Brotherhood selected Dr. Morsi it meant he had the backing and support of this great institution.
I took time to observe and analyse Dr. Morsi before I was convinced that he was the most suitable person to take the presidency. I examined his CV and character, frequently attending his meetings. Although [the Brotherhood's initial choice] Khairat El-Shater appeared like the more suitable candidate given his popularity, within around three months I became convinced of Morsi. I soon realized Dr. Morsi’s flexibility and character would make him better able to deal with current the instability, institutional bureaucracy and corruption.
President Morsi is a very strong man, despite people's incorrect impression of him as weak. On the contrary, although he is kind, he is very astute and persuasive; he studies all those working with him, including myself. Before seeking counsel he ensures that he knows exactly who he is dealing with in order to have confidence in the advice impacting his decisions.
AO: What was it about the campaign and Morsi’s character that attracted you?
DZ: President Morsi's kind and pious nature were very endearing qualities which appealed to myself and a wide category of Egyptians. He is inclusive and takes all people's opinions into account; from the less-educated farming community to the business community for instance.
AO: How long did you work on the campaign? Can you describe the campaign experience?
DZ: I was part of the Brotherhood presidential campaign from the very beginning, so when El-Shater left the presidential race I was automatically transferred to the Morsi campaign. Dr. Essam Haddad, the former president of the foreign relations committee, carefully selected the perfect group to work on the presidential campaign.
AO: What have you been doing since Morsi became president? Have you been involved in the presidency at all?
DZ: Since Morsi became president I have worn a few hats. Primarily I have been working as a co-founding member of the foreign relations committee which was led by Haddad.
When Morsi became president, Dr. Haddad became the head of the president’s office; he took with him some of the members of the committee. Dr. Amr Darrag, the newly appointed minister of international cooperation, is now my boss as the president of the foreign relations committee. I am still, however, an unofficial part of Dr. Haddad’s group, which seeks to support and advise the president; I try to assist in any way necessary and attend most presidential events.
Another part of my role involves working on various initiatives tailored to return stability to Egypt. For instance, I worked on the advocacy campaign for the new constitution, which was recently passed. I also contribute to projects which focus on women and children’s rights led by Dr. Omaima Kamel, a member of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the new Constitution.
AO: Has your opinion changed about him now that Morsi has been in power for a year?
DZ: No, my opinion has remained steadfast; bear in mind that I studied the president thoroughly prior to giving him my vote. I knew who I was voting for. Initially President Morsi was finding his new position of power overwhelming and problematic. Today, however, he has evidently developed as a president and person.
AO: What do you think are his successes?
DZ: First, he successfully installed a civilian-led government, freeing Egypt of army rule. This was both the hardest and greatest achievement, given that the army has been in a power for the last 60 years. He managed to achieve this without civil war and limited bloodshed.
The passing of the Constitution is another major success in my opinion: 16 million people voted during the referendum in December 2012, 10 million of whom supported it.
Thirdly, the president’s work thus far towards building a free and democratic Egypt is commendable. His insistence on holding parliamentary elections soon to ensure the transfer of power between parties, and his focus on rebuilding state institutions, exemplify this.
Furthermore, Dr. Morsi successfully abolished policies related to [late president Gamal Abdel] Nasser’s electoral legislation. His insistence on institutional recognition and respect for electoral results is a great triumph, as is his ability to gather and hold talks with diverse political factions in the presidential palace.
President Morsi’s readiness to call upon all political players, including his opponents’, is admirable. When creating the constitution he tried to involve all currents, and until today he is calling upon the opposition to negotiate. Dr. Morsi is working on behalf of all Egyptians; he supports the notion of an institutional, not individual, decision-making system.
AO: What about his failures?
DZ: Regarding his five main promises related to Egypt’s most pressing issues - security, traffic, fuel, bread and sanitation - he has failed to fulfill all of these. Although he has explained clearly why, he has failed to convince people. However, people need to be fair to the president: He did not need to take on this tremendous responsibility in an unstable country like Egypt.
Furthermore, he was not able to depend on his advisors, who failed to advise him correctly. Dr. Morsi is trying to respond to the demands of the masses, and although he is ruling, he does not have the majority in government, and is unfairly being judged for everything.
AO: Why have reports of human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch (HRW) increased under Morsi?
DZ: During the Mubarak-era torture was widespread, where were the reports published by organisations like HRW then? Why couldn’t we hear their voice back then?
Women were also suffering under Mubarak; but now the thugs that were released from prison by the old guard during the revolution are committing atrocities. Dr. Morsi is addressing matters but needs time; no one can attribute responsibility to him; though it is his responsibility to eradicate such criminality.
AO: Morsi ran on the ‘Renaissance’ (Nahda) programme, which has since been axed. As a campaigner this must have been one of the projects you promoted; what do you think about it now?
DZ: The Nahda project has not vanished, it is on pause. The Suez Canal project has already commenced, as well as various other small related initiatives, such as some factory openings. However, due to the difficult socio-economic predicament facing Egyptians - and the unreasonable media reaction - such initiatives are unknown to the public.
In my opinion, due to the transition period, in order for President Morsi to be able to properly initiate the Nahda project and overcome the counter-revolutionary forces, he requires time and needs to be reelected for another four-year term. The state institutions should be rebuilt, which necessitates time. President Morsi is still facing a lot of obstacles, and it is not fair to judge him at this premature stage.
A campaign is scheduled to take place in the near future to remind people about the importance of the Nahda project.
AO: Do you think he will complete his four-year term in office?
DZ: I think President Morsi will not only complete his four-year term in office, he will be reelected for another four years, to serve a total of eight years.