What is your assessment of two important periods in Egypt’s modern history: one, the transitional period in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was in power and, two, the past six months in which Egypt has had a civilian president?
We all saw what happened in the first period, and we all have our comments. Of course SCAF was able to protect the revolution and safeguard the lives of the demonstrators. It managed to somehow pressure Hosni Mubarak and his regime into leaving. It organised free and fair parliamentary elections for the first time in decades. And it was able to end the transitional period and transfer power to a civilian president.
After Mohamed Morsi took power we sensed that there were attempts to undermine [presidential] authority and push it aside and also to banish the People’s Assembly, an institution that was elected by 33 million Egyptians. There were attempts to disband the Shura Council [parliament's upper house] and the [ongoing] Constituent Assembly [that was tasked with drafting the new constitution]. We were about to find ourselves in a constitutional vacuum, with Morsi left alone and set to fail. Many people joined forces, including businessmen who got rich under the old regime and who got involved in politics.
What do you think of the opposition’s reaction to the measures taken so far, especially with regard to the referendum?
The opposition made a serious mistake when it resorted to lying and disinformation and when it used undemocratic methods to change things. We have seen street action that wasn’t peaceful, and an attempt to storm Al-Ittihadiya Palace [the presidential palace]. People were prevented from entering Tahrir Square and violence was committed when Brotherhood offices were set on fire and thugs were sent to Al-Qaed Ibrahim Square.
None of this was democratic and yet no [opposition] politicians denounced these actions. Indeed, they were pleased with what happened. Perhaps investigations will show they were implicated in what happened.
But there are many controversial articles, important ones, nearly 15 of them, in the constitution. Why didn’t you take that into consideration when civil groups pulled out of the Constituent Assembly?
The points of controversy were less than clear. When the vice president sat down with members of the Constituent Assembly the discussion was not specific and no alternatives were put forward, only general remarks. Besides, we don’t believe that the constitution encroaches on the rights of Copts or the judiciary. What was interesting is how the politicians came up with fabricated articles and attributed them to the constitution. Nowhere in the world do you find politicians fabricating provisions and presenting them as if they were part of the constitution.
So the Muslim Brotherhood is satisfied with the constitution?
The constitution doesn’t cover everything it should. But at the end of the day it is a human effort, so this is natural. We endorse and support the main body of the constitution which comprises 236 articles, some of which were subject to disputes over phrasing or form. But at the end of the day there is a mechanism in place to amend the constitution. The 100 members [of the Constituent Assembly] did a great job. We believe that in terms of general framework, public policy and freedoms this constitution is excellent.
The National Salvation Front rejected the constitution and Hamdeen Sabbahi vowed to struggle to bring it down. What is your comment?
This is a punishable offence. How can a politician stand in public and say that he wishes to bring down the constitution? Should society view him as a politician or a thug? This remark is perhaps linked to polling irregularities during the referendum.
The constitution was presented in a referendum monitored by all civil society organisations and aired on various television channels. We didn’t see one person saying that he was forced to vote yes or no. And then they claim it was forged. There is an Elections Committee and it is in charge of receiving such complaints and deciding on them.
But to say that you want to bring down a constitution that was approved by the people; this is a remark that befits a thug, not a politician. No offence.
How do you see the National Salvation Front?
If it acts as a strong opposition, this would be good for political life. Strong opposition means coming up with alternatives and discussing them with the people. Doesn’t the opposition wish to become the majority? This can only happen through speaking to the people, so that they may be convinced and offer their support.
I don’t see this happening. The opposition adopted non-democratic and non-political means, and I believe that it has lost a lot. If the referendum were to be held today the opposition would get fewer votes. It is losing in the streets because it resorts to lying and disinformation.
As for the crisis surrounding the prosecutor-general and other events, these look connected but they are not. Hasn’t the entire nation been calling for his resignation since 25 January? Is not he the one who investigated all those cases and failed to get one conviction? Hasn’t he received many reports accusing people of financial corruption but failed to bring any to justice?
What is the nature of the relationship between the presidency and the Brotherhood?
We have said repeatedly that the presidency is independent in its decision-making and that it acts in the manner it finds most suitable, either through advisers or the secretariat. Political parties and other groups also act independent of the presidency.
The Brotherhood makes its decisions independently and has nothing to do with the presidency; the presidency’s decision-making is independent and has nothing to do with the Brotherhood.
Likewise, the decisions of the [Freedom and Justice] Party have nothing to do with the Brotherhood or the presidency. If we want to convey an opinion or advice, or we are asked to do so, we relay our views to the presidency in the normal way. We do not interfere in the decisions of the presidency. Nor does the presidency interfere in our decisions.
Let’s discuss the clashes took place on 'bloody Wednesday'. Before the clashes took place Brotherhood leaders made statements which were threatening in nature.
The clashes didn’t happen because of the protesters. Between 3pm and 6.30pm nothing happened. Those who started the clashes came from behind, with a new group that was not from the [anti-MB] protesters. They were people who wanted to start trouble and had planned it all out. They brought in weapons and moved in from the back. This wasn’t something that was taken into account when the decision was made.
Who were these people?
Ask the prosecution. It is the prosecution that set them free. They also had... [doesn’t finish sentence]. And yet they were set free.
If the events were as you portray them why did the prosecution set these attackers free?
They were not exonerated. They are still under investigation. But ask the prosecution. The prosecution released them. Evidence exists. People died. The people who came from behind are the ones who killed the demonstrators. Are they thugs? Is this what they were? Or are they something else?
But what about the video evidence? What about the detention and torture of anti-Morsi protesters caught on film?
I question these videos. If they are proven to be true, then what happened was wrong. But it can be explained. The [Brotherhood supporters] arrested some of those who were involved in the killing of pro-Morsi protesters and handed them to the police. Some of them they handed to the Republican Guard, but they let them go.
You’re saying that the police collaborated with the opposition?
What do you do when the police and the Republican Guard let those [captured by the Brotherhood] go? What action do you take when those who are captured are set free? In the videos you see actions that no one should take. The use of violence to extract confessions or inflict punishment is impermissible.
Is there any chance of having real dialogue with the opposition?
We believe in dialogue with everyone, with opponents, with dissidents, and even with enemies, with a few exceptions regarding the Israeli occupiers.
Our doors are wide open. We have never been asked to come to a dialogue and refused, never.
When the army asked you to come to a dialogue it was said that you turned down the invitation because it came from the army and not the president.
No, we agreed to go. They [the military] are the ones who hesitated and cancelled [the invitation]. Dr Mahmoud Ezzat and myself went and we waited there.
We didn’t object. The invitation was not for dialogue. And the president’s position [on the invitation] had nothing to do with us. We kept getting conflicting messages. We had already decided who was going to attend even though we didn’t receive an official invitation. No one called us. When the whole thing was cancelled we only knew about it from television.
What about the different schools of thinking within the Brotherhood, and the relation between preaching and politics? According to recent studies there are three schools of thought within the Brotherhood - that of Hassan Al-Banna, of Sayyed Qutb, and of the jihadists. In his book The Secret of the Temple Tharwat El-Kherbawi speaks of an alliance between the Brotherhood and (jihadist leader) Shukri Mustafa.
We do not accept any accusations directed at the Brotherhood by outsiders. These are unfair and totally groundless.
But (authors) like Hossam Tammam and Tharwat El-Kherbawi were Brotherhood members.
They were. But why did they leave the Muslim Brotherhood, out of love or rancour?
Because of differences, perhaps?
So the right person to assess the Brotherhood is the one who differs with it? What were the differences? Did he disagree, as he claims, about ideas? Did he leave because of a certain issue, or because of other reasons? These [accounts by Tammam and El-Kherbawi] are utter lies.
The Brotherhood has no militia. It has no military training. It has no secret outfit. It had none of these things under the deposed regime or the one preceding it. The Muslim Brotherhood’s structure is well known. State Security (SS) knew the names of the heads of the Brotherhood’s administrative offices nationwide. It knew the Brotherhood organisational chart across the country.
It used this knowledge to arrest them. How can you say that there is a secret outfit? The names of the members of the Guidance Bureau are public. We meet every Saturday and Wednesday in front of the media. The Brotherhood Consultative Assembly meets in broad daylight.
So the Ten-Member Outfit, or tanzim al-asharat, that is said to have changed the course of the Brotherhood is an illusion, and reformists were never dismissed from the Brotherhood?
We don’t know anything about these things. We don’t have Al-Banna people and Qutb people and reformists, none of that. We are one group. We disagree on some topics and agree on others.
In the Guidance Bureau we adhere to the opinion of the majority. The supreme guide and his deputies may have an opinion but if the majority is against it, then the supreme guide and his deputies have to go by the views of the majority. We are unique in that way.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the army have a history. The fact that you were sentenced by military courts, does it make you bitter or vengeful?
No. This wasn’t the army’s fault. We blame the regime which wanted to drive a wedge between the army and us.
Some accuse the Brotherhood of trying to infiltrate the army, and say the latter needs to be protected from ideological infiltration by any group. How do you react to this? And is it true that you requested a quota [for your members] in military colleges?
Not true. The Brotherhood is part of the fabric of this country. When Copts join the army do they do so as Copts or Egyptians? We haven’t requested a quota. To this day, two years after the revolution, our members are still banned from admission to military colleges on grounds of their (political) affiliation.
Now that you are in power what is the nature of your relations with the US? Washington has been accused of taking your side even at the expense of the country and of the army.
We have no relations with the US, or not in the way official institutions have with a country. We have made it clear that we cannot have relations with the US except through the Foreign Ministry. But delegations from Congress or US institutions do meet some parliamentarians. Also, the US ambassador met the supreme guide.
All of this is permissible and fully publicised. We do not take funding from anyone. We dare any institution, country, society, or group anywhere in the world to claim that they gave the Brotherhood a single penny.
How about political support?
We dare anyone, with a sense of fairness, to claim that the US and Europe offer support to the Islamists to be in power.
The US ambassador called SCAF hours before Morsi was declared president, something that triggered controversy.
The US wants to protect its interests. The US was of the view that if the deposed regime came to power once again through forgery a second revolution would break out. Its intercession was not out of bias to Mohamed Morsi but for the election results to be declared without forgery. SCAF and the Elections Committee had knowledge that Morsi was ahead. In this case America stood by legitimacy to avoid a revolution that may turn the country against it.
Under Brotherhood rule an agreement was signed with Hamas, one clause of which mentions the “halting of hostilities”, a reference to resistance operations. How could you accept this?
I believe this was a historic achievement for the Palestinians and for Egypt. America and Israel had to accept that Egypt play this role. Wordplay aside, Israel agreed to break the blockade and guarantee the life of resistance leaders. Regardless of what words were written on paper, was it not an achievement for Khaled Meshaal to visit Gaza?
What of scenarios suggesting part of the Sinai be an alternative homeland for the Palestinians?
This is a figment of imagination that is unacceptable to Egyptians and Palestinians. The Palestinians went to Rafah and Arish under Mubarak — in 2006 — and stayed there for days. And they broke down the wall.
Isn’t there a Palestinian camp in Sinai now?
It is a camp that belongs to Mohamed Dahlan, and the deposed regime is the one to ask about it.
But the camp is still there, under President Mohamed Morsi.
Ask the General Intelligence about it. The Palestinian people refused to stay for one day [in Sinai] and went back [to Gaza] of their own free will, without anyone asking them to do so. The Egyptians do not allow anyone to stay on their land, not even for one day.
You have no worries about the situation in Sinai?
Right, no worries.
You also have no worries about Camp David. The peace treaty was something you used to raise hell about, demanding its abrogation?
The peace treaty is unfair to Egypt, but I am not worried. The Brotherhood rejects Camp David and is entitled to do so. But the presidency has its own views. It may discuss the treaty, amend it, or bring it to the People’s Assembly for review. This is [the presidency’s] business. No need to confuse the Brotherhood with the presidency.
The Renaissance Project, or mashrou al-nahda, which was the main item in the Brotherhood’s presidential campaign, is now being described as vague.
There are unjust accusations. We presented the project in writing. Those who claim that this project is an illusion, or vague, must understand that it cannot be accomplished overnight.
This project has nothing to do with the presidency. It cannot be linked to a presidential term. We will lead the Renaissance Project for 20 to 30 years. It is a project that must be discussed widely in society and be amended or altered by experts until it becomes a project for all Egypt and not just for the Brotherhood. But the political and social climate is not conducive to such discussions. The presidency is going to bring it to public discussion soon because it has been working on a part of it.