A few metres away from Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam, Cairo, ex-Brotherhood leader, Tharwat El-Kharabawy spoke to an eager crowd on his long experience as a dedicated member of the Islamist group. His book Sirr Al Maabad (Secret of the Temple), published by Nahdet Masr, has become a sensational, national best-seller.
The crowd at discussion in the Shababeek Cultural Centre on Friday was overwhelmingly Egyptian, mostly women, who seemed on the conservative side.
El-Kharabawy's entry point into the Islamic group was the empathy he shared with the stories of persecution of Brotherhood leaders by ex-president Nasser. At that time Brotherhood preachers roamed Egyptian universities spreading Islam.
Things changed, though: "When poets watch the moon, they see this beautiful body of light, but once you're on the moon, you realise it's a lifeless surface full of holes that emits no light," he said metaphorically. While inside the Brotherhood he says he still saw them as a source of light, but later on he saw many holes.
"I couldn't see this while inside the Brotherhood because I was in love with the organisation. I was lucky enough that my early years didn't witness those rigid 'listen and obey' rules that later on destroyed the minds of the youth," El-Kharabawy confesses.
"I invented excuses for their behaviour, but later on when I decided to leave it was such a liberating experience that I kneeled in prayer, thankful for the freedom gained."
Revenge, he made clear, was not on his mind: "It took me eight years after resigning to be able to clear my emotions and write with objective perception about what I lived through. My first book was published in 2009 and this is my new reflection following the revolution."
El-Kharabawy told stories surrounding his discovery of the contradictions within the Brotherhood, in particular when he was court martialed of disobeying orders, while the judge in the court was a witness that he never disobeyed.
Two critical principals guide Brotherhood actions, El-Kharabawy explains: the first is that "necessities permit prohibitions," meaning that a greater aim of ruling the country in the name of Islam would excuse lying and corruption as long as the bigger aim is the target.
The second rule is called maa'reed and it's a form of twisting meanings of words in a way that it holds both a truth and a lie – and, he claims, it's used openly among the Brothers.
"I saw once a statement that the current Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was 'chosen among the best 100 pathologists of the 20th century,' according to the Egyptian Information Organisation. As it turned out, while Badie was imprisoned, the Brothers met in the prison cell, gave him that title and decided to credit themselves with the name of the Organisation for Information," and thus the story holds a twisted shade of truth, as El-Kharabawy describes.
Many questions from the audience came about whether the Brotherhood are capable and have the expertise to lead the country. His answer was clearly no.
"They first said they're not ready to rule the country, but then submitted a candidate for presidency. They claimed to have a "Renaissance Project" that turned out to be fiction. Imagine a soldier of the Central Security Forces: they have no imagination or creativity whatsoever, and they totally submit their minds. The Brotherhood, in fact, look down on creativity and you won't find one of them who's excelling in arts or sciences. They have no capability for such roles."
The biggest risk El-Kharabawy saw from having Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, as president and the Brotherhood in power is that they don't prioritise Egypt, but rather see the country as but a means to an end –Islamisation. This won't work to Egypt's favour. "In Egypt today, you're either a Muslim or opposition: the Brotherhood would like to shape it."
"If I were the Supreme Guide I would pull the Brotherhood back as a preaching entity, with nothing to do with power and politics," El-Kharabawy said bluntly.
In reply to a question on how the Brotherhood went astray, he replies that the Brotherhood took the path described by Sayed Kotb and Shokry Mostafa, even to the extent of supporting Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan during the 1980s and using the language of "re-opening Egypt," i.e. calling Egypt to return to Islam again.
For El-Kharabawy, the way out of this dilemma is to offer clear alternatives, "All opposition powers should come together and establish a 'shadow' or 'parallel' cabinet with respectable names that represent the expertise required to get over this hurdle."
"God, I have submitted the message. Be my witness," El-Kharabawy concluded his exciting stories, stressing again that he is not seeking revenge, but rather that people be aware of what they are up against.