London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sheikh Kamal Helbawy, founder of the Muslim League in Britain, secretary-general of the Islamic Unity Forum in Europe, and the advisor to the Egyptian Salvation Front, which was dissolved after the January revolution, carries much clout amongst Islamists in the West and in Egypt. He was raised in a Muslim Brotherhood community and eventually became one of its leading figures.
A former spokesman for Muslim Brotherhood in the West, Sheikh Helbawy has openly criticized the Brotherhood for its actions at home and abroad. Following a 23-year long exile from Egypt, he returned to his homeland after the January revolution. He loosed his arrows on those in the Brotherhood whom he says seek to control everything in Egypt, and when the Office of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood refused to hear his position, he announced his resignation on live television.
After returning from Cairo on Monday to attend the Islamic Unity Forum iftar meal in central London, which was attended by leaders of the Sunni and Sh’ite communities of Europe, Sheikh Helbawy told Asharq Al-Awsat that President Mohamed Mursi is isolated and that he will not return to power. He strongly denied that a military coup had taken place, pointing out that the army responded to the appeals of more than 30 million Egyptian citizens who took to the streets on June 30.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Did you expect the army to intervene after the opposition refused to hold meetings with former president Mohamed Mursi? What possible scenarios lie ahead?
Sheikh Kamal Helbawy: I expected that the army would intervene in March and that it would be worse than it is now, similar to what is transpiring in Sinai. The army is the only institution capable of maintaining law and order in Egypt. I warned of the chaotic scenarios that could lead to American intervention; they have already done so in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is embattled while Syria lies in shambles, leaving the Egyptian army as the only entity capable of fulfilling its duties in the Arab region.
If the Americans come they will have their justifications, saying that Egypt is incapable of repelling terrorism, particularly in the Sinai, and that minority rights are not being protected, evidenced by the attacks on Coptic Christians and their churches or the attack on Shi’ites and their property, as happened in village of Abu Nomros. Of course, the statements by some leaders from Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, such as Assem Abdel Majid, are enough to create another Afghanistan in Egypt. His statements would be cited as evidence of terrorism, paving the way for US intervention in Egypt.
Q: What ought Egyptians do as a whole?
We must become as one nation, reaffirm our unity, and eschew this reprehensible tribalism for the sake of our country in the light of the Qu’ran and Sunna. Unfortunately, some of the leaders of the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies act contrary to the teachings of the Qu’ran, despite having memorized it word for word.
God Almighty says: “You shall hold fast to the covenant of God, all of you, and do not be divided.” However, they do the opposite and incite division, for God said in His revelations: “Do not quarrel, lest ye fail.” They promote failure in their rhetoric. They speak against what they have memorized by heart.
I was amazed by what one Salafist preacher said when he was seated near the now-ousted president at the Victory for Syria Conference: he raised his hands and proceeded to condemn all Egyptians and their children who do not undertake jihad in Syria. I am forced to ask myself, ‘From where did he learn this narrow version of religion?’ In any case, our country is under attack and stands to be torn asunder, but through leadership and the unity of the nation, we can avoid these pitfalls and emerge victorious, God willing.
Regarding what happened and the rumors that there was a coup against a legitimate leader by the Armed Forces, I would like to say that I personally do not like the rule of the Armed Forces. However, if the country is in peril, there is no institution that could remedy the situation better than the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces did not come from out of nowhere, but rather in response to the appeals of more than 30 million people who took to the streets on June 30.
On the other hand, legitimacy, as I understand it and as is it understood in Western democracy, consists of two parts: first is the ballot box, and most of us as Islamists voted in favor of Mursi and the Brotherhood. However, there is the second part, which is the social contract between the ruler and the ruled, and his promises went unfulfilled, and it is this that detracted from his legitimacy. This was compounded by Mursi’s inability to administer justice, eradicate violence, ensure the unity of the nation and eliminate extremism. This did not happen. I hope it will be achieved in the future.
A just ruler must understand well what Farouk Omar Bin Khattab said regarding correcting a ruler who has gone astray, and therefore I call upon the sons of the Islamist movement to exercise restraint.
Q: What is your opinion towards the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, condemning what happened in Egypt, especially regarding the overthrow of President Mursi?
I do not suspect it will affect or change much on the ground. It would have been better if Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had preserved Turkey’s relations with Egypt, approaching it as a nation and not pandering to a single faction therein. It is their right to take any stance, but it is not their right to intervene in a negative way in Egyptian issues.
It would have been best if they had preserved their wonderful relationship with the people of Egypt and recognized the revolution of June 30, because it was even larger than the January 25 revolution. They have to understand that the army in Egypt is not like the army in Turkey, because the Egyptian army is not secular like the Turkish army. When the Egyptian army took to the streets it was to protect the will of the people, just as was done on January 25. There is a big difference, and Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have not studied the situation in Egypt well.
Q: In your opinion, what was the most grievous mistake Mursi made during his year in office?
One of the most glaring errors committed by Mursi and the Brotherhood, as his former advisor Dr. Mohamed Fouad Gad Allah has attested, was their failure to propose a vision for the country. Moreover, he deepened the society’s divisions, increased polarization, relied solely on his constituency, neglected to use those with expertise and experience here in Egypt, ignored requests to amend the constitution and change the government and the attorney general, issued the Pharaoh-esque constitutional declaration in November 2012, and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Tamarod campaign and the June 30 revolution. Following the ouster of President Mursi, its mistakes include cutting off main thoroughfares for traffic, wantonly leveling accusations of apostasy, turning political competition into political conflict by using religion, and valuing the return of Mursi over national reconciliation.
Q: Were you surprised to see the Nour Party and the Salafists join the president’s ranks?
Everything is fair game in politics. It is the Nour Party’s and the Salafists’ right to take the political position they feel best serves their political interests. Sometimes this means joining the supporters of the president, sometimes the opposite. This is acceptable political behavior in a democratic system, unlike the arguments regarding legitimacy, which require a sound theoretical basis. The same can be said regarding matters of religion, which has no place in the political sphere, especially under the Western democratic system and in a nation that houses various minorities, religions and doctrines.
Q: The Brotherhood has amassed in Rabaa Al-Adaweia Square and elsewhere. Will this solve the crisis?
I believe that the crowds and sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adaweia and elsewhere are within their democratic rights, as long as it is peaceful. However, these gatherings have stoked violence, brandished weapons, cut off roads and bridges, and put strain on the nearby residents. Regardless of whether or not it is politically acceptable or unacceptable, it will affect the future of the Brotherhood’s spread not only in Egypt, but across the world. It may also impact other countries of the Arab Spring in which Islamists took power.
Q: Now more than ever, I feel it is very important that the youth and leadership of the Brotherhood listen to reason. What advice would you give them?
Reason fades where feuding thrives. I believe that the youth members should abandon their current leadership, which has caused them to endure much violence, chaos and suffering while inciting hatred and arrogance. It is incumbent upon these young people who love their religion that they not dirty their hands and tarnish their reputations with violence, regardless of what happens or what the clerics command. They must look to the common good more than partisan interests. They must hold their leadership accountable, the way the Egyptian people hold their rulers accountable.
Q: Will Mursi ever be reinstated?
I do not think that Mursi can return to power—not because of the June 30 revolution and the subsequent military intervention, or what some have dubbed a military coup, which I think is not the case since it intervened to protect the revolution as was done on January 25. No, Mursi cannot return again to power because he could not win a popular election due to his poor performance while in office.
Q: What do you think of Al-Azhar’s intervention and subsequent withdrawal from the fray, with the sheikhs of Al-Azhar now leaning towards Mursi?
No one can deny that Al-Azhar has joined the political fray. Following the January revolutiom, both the SCAF and Mursi called on Al-Azhar to propose initiatives and take positions. Recently, the head of Al-Azhar proposed a beautiful initiative to which I hope the others will respond positively, just as it had proposed initiatives during the Essam Sharaf’s time in office.
There are scholars and sheikhs in Al-Azhar who back Mursi entirely, and there are those who oppose him entirely; some of them joined the rebellion and revolution of June 30. Everything that exists is in Al-Azhar. The political landscape is complicated, and has become increasingly violent. Resorting to violence as a means to resolve political issues is unacceptable, in my view, and I hope competition, not conflict, becomes the rule by which politics operates. What we are witnessing now is conflict over politics, between faith and apostasy, between right and wrong, and this is not tenable.
Q: Many of today’s secularists feel that the Brotherhood as founded by Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna has been undone at the hands of the current supreme guide. How do you view this?
I do not think we are witnessing the end of the Brotherhood at the hands of its current supreme guide, Dr. Mohammed Badie. However, we are seeing a deviation by the Brotherhood leadership of today from Sheikh Banna’s vision. If a new, corrective leadership arises that embraces moderation, inclusiveness, understanding and God’s word in a peaceful framework, then Banna’s message can be restored to its proper place and overcome the current crisis to which the current has led them. They can forgo violence, fighting over the seat of power, and unconditionally standing with the Islamist or liberal rulers. However, the message must take a clear position against misguided rule, regardless of their intellectual and political affiliations. They must offer peaceful alternatives so that we may overcome this impasse.
Q: What effect is this having on the global Brotherhood network in the West?
This will certainly affect the Brotherhood as an international organization. The June 30 revolution would not have had any effect on the international character of the organization if it had not resisted the will of the people. The resistance on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies from other Islamist movements was evidenced by their chants of “Fight to the death,” “Victory or martyrdom,” “Our dead are in heaven while their dead are in hell,” and “Whoever sprays Mursi with water, we will spray with blood,” which could be heard emanating from the stages at Brotherhood rallies. Islamist or otherwise, all of these chants are unacceptable.
It is an undeniable fact that the role the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt plays is an integral part of the worldwide organization, and the travel ban and surveillance that has been put in place will impact their level of influence. The organization’s global leaders had suffered clampdowns such as this during the reign of former president Hosni Mubarak, and this will undoubtedly affect the global reach of the organization and of other Islamist movements. As for the decision-making center moving away from Egypt, that decision belongs to them, and only God knows what they will decide.