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In conversation with Libyan Brotherhood's Muhammad Suwan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Muhammad Suwan, leader of Libya's Justice and Construction Party (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Muhammad Suwan, leader of Libya’s Justice and Construction Party (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The deposition and death of Muammar Gaddafi opened something of a Pandora’s Box for Libya. No longer forced to live in fear of an unpredictable dictator, its citizens are now struggling through a difficult transitional period, attempting, with little experience of democratic politics, to reconstitute their state in the absence of the centralized machinery of oppression and corruption that held it together.

On top of that, some political parties in Libya’s parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), face more than pressure from demonstrations by protestors weary of the government’s well-publicized failure to exert control over the armed militias that have lingered on after Gaddafi’s ouster.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Muhammad Suwan, president of the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya’s parliament, about his party’s response to the toppling on Mohamed Mursi in neighboring Egypt, as well as his party’s threat to withdraw from the government of prime minister Ali Zeidan.

Asharq Al-Awsat: In your opinion, would the General National Congress collapse after the resignation or disengagement by a large number of its members?

Muhammad Suwan: From our perspective, our members are staying in the congress. We have only launched an initiative. This is a proviso for assessment on behalf of the supreme body of the party, which stipulates that members shall remain as individuals, not withdraw. As for the Alliance bloc, they are staying—they have simply stopped attending meetings that do not discuss the constitution until this objective is achieved. I think this task has been completely accomplished by the congress, with the possible exception of the suspension or resignation of four Amazigh members, in relation to certain demands for constitutional rights for the Amazigh. There are communications and consultations taking place with them to reverse this position.

Q: I understand that your party might withdraw from Ali Zeidan’s government. Is this true?

Like I said, there is a considerable obstruction in Libya, and the parties have made many mistakes. This is due to the culture of the previous decades and the absence of the former parties within Libya. This is what has created obstacles, and as such, we have presented an initiative to withdraw as the Justice and Construction Party—in the sense that the bloc will stay on as individuals, away from the dominating programs and the methods of the party. This is a preliminary initiative that we will be discussing soon.

Q: You mean that this is just a temporary absence?

This is an initiative to calm the situation and spread stability, because there is a big campaign on the Libyan streets [calling] for the participation of political parties, and that members [of parliament] become independents. This step is an attempt to retain the party’s influence over the decisions of congress . . . members may approve or reject this initiative.

Q: So are you working towards a withdrawal?

Yes, we are looking at this initiative—to withdraw from government—but have not settled the matter once and for all; there are discussions about it.

Q: Is the trend in favor of a withdrawal?

The executive office took the plan and handed it to the supreme body of the party, but a specific decision has not been made. Our view is that we will withdraw from government and parliament, but we are waiting for the party meeting, since the decision to withdraw lies with the authority of the supreme body. That is the highest power within the party, and it is entitled to amend, approve or reject [the proposal].

Q: Is the decision related to what has been taking place in Egypt?

Yes. [In] the Arab world, and especially the Arab Spring countries, there are interconnected influences.

Q: Do you feel that the Brotherhood is being ambushed after everything that has happened in Egypt?

Unquestionably. There is no doubt that [this is] the same forces in Egypt, which seek to restore the former regime, and are backed by the revolutionary youth—these are their honest intentions, and they are without an agenda. But they saw the errors with the government of the Freedom and Justice party—the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Q: And what was your opinion of the events of June 30 in Egypt?

We hope for the Egyptian people to lead the Arab Spring revolutions, and we hope they succeed. But unfortunately, we were shocked by the Egyptian people, who, we would wager, had [previously] given a message to the world that democracy is suitable for the third world. The US president Barack Obama won by 52 percent. This means that 48 percent are in opposition to him. If one hundred million people went into the streets, would Obama fall? Of course not.

Q: But Obama does not lead an organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

I do not want to enter into this debate, but for me this is absolute and conclusive. All minds, biased or unbiased—even Europeans—can see this is a coup. I may disagree with the policies of the Freedom and Justice Party, and it certainly did make mistakes, but what happened was a military coup, and, in this way, there cannot be a proper democracy in the Arab world: what is built on lies is a lie. My discussions about the errors of the government, or on any matter, have become a trap. It may not be possible for this to have happened in Egypt if the president had not been exposed to financial or ethical scandals.

Q: But most Egyptians say that the ousted president was failing for a full year?

Was it a failure for a full year? Does this take the first three months into consideration?

Q: Honestly . . . Are you trying to help Mursi return to power again?

The truth is that, first of all, we are not in power, so we [cannot] help them. Honestly, we are helping them in matters relating to a democratic path, which is necessary anywhere, even in Africa, not only in Egypt, which is close to and loved by us. It is a matter of principle. As I mentioned, we are not involved in this position, and we are not part of the government. This is an internal Egyptian affair.

But we do say that, in general, our opinion is to respect the ballot box, and what we have seen in Egypt is a military coup . . . We will not get involved in it. In my capacity as chairman of the Justice and Construction Party, I will tell you that the party consists of a broad cross-section of thousands of Libyans, not of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our experience here is not comparable to the experience of the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. It is different.

Q: So the Muslim Brotherhood party in Libya is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood?

It is not called the Muslim Brotherhood party, it is the Justice and Construction Party and it does not have a regulatory or administrative relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood inside or outside of Libya.

This interview was conducted in Arabic and can be read here