The Muslim Brotherhood is extremely busy these days. Undoubtedly run out of its new headquarters in Moqattam, a district overlooking central Cairo, its new Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is preparing its political portfolio for the coming phase. Qualitatively, the Islamist group, after nearly eight decades of political experience, is well positioned to play a key role in Egypt’s political future in the post-January 25 Revolution era.
But many have questions about what precisely this role will be, and what is the relation between the Islamist movement and ruling military council. Have the two struck a covert deal? And is the JDP but a front for the Brotherhood; a religious party in civil garb?
In an exclusive interview, FJP Secretary General Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni recently addressed many such questions about the group, most particularly the fine line between the party and the Brotherhood movement.
“From a political and procedural perspective, the party is entirely responsible for the elections, but we are drawing on the expertise and efforts of the group’s history in elections, since this experience precedes the creation of the party and it is natural that we learn from it and consult with the group on this matter even if the party is currently the primary actor on this issue. The group will certainly play a role in choosing candidates for parliamentary elections because of its experience,” said Katatni.
The presidential elections are not an ambiguous issue for the Brotherhood, even if Abdel-Moneim Abul Futouh (a former leading figure of the Brotherhood Guidance Office who resigned) is believed to be the group’s undeclared candidate. According the group’s General Guide, Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood will not field a candidate for the presidency, stating that Abul Futouh was his "finger which he bore to cut off”.
But will the FJP take a more pragmatic position?
“The Muslim Brotherhood established the (FJP) and in order to maintain its credibility. The group will maintain its position of not fielding a presidential candidate,” responds Katatni.
“Abul Futouh went against the Muslim Brotherhood, and anyone who contradicts the group does not belong with it; it is a decision as well as a political position. As for Abul Futouh’s possible success in the elections, and the party’s political position, I believe we would discuss the matter then. It is still too early … and it has nothing to do with Abul Futouh, Mohamed ElBaradie or Amr Moussa.”
Some believe that even if the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cedes power it will keep a firm grip on the strings of the political game, and that the next president will be nothing more than a front for the SCAF. Katatni acknowledged that this is one reason why the Brotherhood declined to nominate a candidate for the presidential elections, adding that the group will remain committed to the percentage of parliamentary seats it declared it would contest, and that it will not take more. The group is calculating its every move, he added.
Meanwhile, political problems persist between the SCAF and Egypt's nascent spectrum of political forces, with diverging views surfacing on several issues, most recently rumours about a set of supra-constitutional articles and the possibility of SCAF making another constitutional declaration.
There are also question marks over whether SCAF will hand off power in a timely manner, or may seek to remain at the helm beyond the previously determined deadline of one year. “We reject extending SCAF’s tenure,” asserted Katatni. “It must complete its promised mission and return to its barracks.”
Katatni strongly denied any deal between the Brotherhood and SCAF. Perhaps the Brotherhood's non-participation in protests and activities in Tahrir Square gave that impression, he suggested, but underlined: “We are partners in an alliance of 28 parties, movements and trends. We coordinate with them on this issue and others, even on the elections.”
On foreign policy, reportedly there are ongoing contacts between the Brotherhood and the US State Department, and that the group is sending reassuring messages to the outside world about its role and the political future of Egypt. Katatni, a former MP was mentioned — albeit referred to as "X" — in WikiLeaks cables detailing meetings with former US Ambassador in Cairo Margaret Scobey.
Katatni responds that there is no problem in talking to any country in the world, but not in the same manner as the former regime did, by throwing itself in the arms of the US and implementing Washington’s agenda. This policy caused Egypt to lose much of its support base in the region.
On the contrary, the next regime will uphold the country’s sovereignty, safeguard Egyptian interests, reconsider the US’s regional policies, as well as Egypt’s standing and political role, in order to maintain the country’s regional and international influence, Katatni said. “We reject severing ties with the US, but they should be built on respect and benefits,” he added.
“A US official said that $40 million was spent on civil society in Egypt, some through unofficial channels, and the US says it will continue providing support, whether official or unofficial,” stated Katatni. “But we reject receiving this money in return for diktats."
"I cannot imagine any Egyptian who loves his country would accept this. In the end, the funds being pumped in by the millions are suspect; we don’t mind assistance, but this should be done through legitimate and recognised official channels, and spent on funding precise projects in a transparent manner instead of civil society becoming a source of information gathering. What is the reward for these institutions; is it financial and if so is that enough? This is unacceptable," Katatni added.
The Muslim Brotherhood has extensive experience in handling regional issues and adopts clear policies towards the Palestinian cause and the conflict with Israel, and has no objections to relations with any country in the region, Katatni asserted. However, since the FJP was born from the womb of the Egyptian revolution, it encourages and supports revolutions in Yemen and Syria, entailing the overthrow of the regimes there.
“Even on Iran,” noted Katatni, “we don’t understand what is the reason for animosity with Tehran, and Cairo’s continued apprehensions that have come under criticism.”
On the domestic front, the Brotherhood will not take part in political action or million-man protests unless there are specific demands being made of the SCAF, asserted Katatni. The goal is to put pressure on the council if it procrastinates in responding to the demands of the revolution, in order for the Brotherhood to safeguard the freedom ushered in by the revolution.
“We reject any obstruction of the right of Egyptians to draft a new constitution using transparent legal means,” stated Katatni. “A committee must be elected to handle this matter, a referendum should be held and approved by the Egyptian people.” He added: “There is no deal between us and SCAF about the constitution, the elections and Egypt’s political future. Egypt’s interests are above all else; my conscience and patriotism dictate that people must not prevented from exercising their free will, and that any political process is based on known regulations.”
Katatni stated that the MB and FJP have been very focused on parliamentary elections since the first months after the revolution and the aftermath of the referendum on constitutional amendments.