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Al-Banna's Daughter: Brotherhood's Success Was 'Delight Mixed with Fear' - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Dr. Istishhad Al-Banna, daughter of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna. (AAA)

Dr. Istishhad Al-Banna, daughter of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Bana. (AAA)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Another anniversary of the death of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna, passed last month. After decades of oppression and setbacks, the organization he founded has come fully out into the open, and now plays a key role in Egypt’s new political scene, making his legacy and his role in the organization more important than ever.

Shortly before the anniversary, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to his daughter, Dr. Istishhad Al-Banna, about her feelings on the victory of the Freedom and Justice Party, the performance of Mohamed Mursi as Egypt’s president, and the problems facing the organization and the rest of Egypt.

Asharq Al-Awsat: As the 64th anniversary of your father’s death approaches, what are you struck by, particularly in light of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood—which he founded—are finally in power?

Dr. Istishhad Al-Banna: There can be no doubt that this anniversary of my father’s death holds special significance, particularly after President Mohamed Mursi took office. I read something that my father said many years ago at a conference held in Port Said in 1934—six years after the foundation of the group—on the occasion of the Muslim Brotherhood succeeding in spreading its branches across Egypt. I recall that he said something during this conference that has never been far from my mind during this current period. He said: “You are rejoicing but I am afraid.” And this is precisely how I felt at the moment of Dr. Mursi’s [electoral] success, namely delight mixed with fear.

Q: What are the sources of your concern? Surely you should be overjoyed at the Muslim Brotherhood finally reaching power in Egypt?

Of course, there is joy at the Islamist trend reaching power, for this represents a victory for the ideology of Imam Al-Banna. However this joy is accompanied by fear and concern because of the weight of responsibility and guardianship [on the Brotherhood] and fears of failure or negligence in this regard. I had hoped that all Islamist movements would join together because I am anxious about this huge weight of responsibility that we must bear. The situation today is an opportunity, and this is an opportunity that we may never see again. The future is unknown and I fear for them [the Muslim Brotherhood], particularly from domestic or foreign conspiracies. To be honest, this feeling has haunted me since the moment they announced that Dr. Mursi had won the presidential elections.

Q: Do you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood today is the same Brotherhood founded by Hassan Al-Banna or have they deviated from what he would have wanted?

It is difficult to compare between the two, for we must take into account the different circumstances and times, not to mention the huge number of Muslim Brotherhood members who have been detained and imprisoned for long periods of time. Yes, it is true that some mistakes have been made in the Muslim Brotherhood’s current practices, but these will be fixed as the environment of freedom becomes more entrenched. I don’t think that anybody has gone beyond Hassan Al- Banna’s approach; even those who defected from the organization remain true to Imam Al-Banna’s approach. There are no problems in this regard, and this is something that reassures me greatly, particularly as they remain committed to the principles of Imam Al-Banna regarding Islamic fiqh [jurisprudence], and God willing they will return [to the Muslim Brotherhood].

Q: Isn’t it striking that these same defectors are now criticizing the Brotherhood and its approach, in addition to revealing dangerous secrets about the organization’s inner workings?

I do not agree with the measures that are being taken by some of the defectors, because we are taught not to refer to organizations or individuals in an abusive manner. The Brotherhood is used to resolving such problems behind closed doors. However because the organization is so big today, I believe that such practices will change and I hope that the situation improves, God willing, and that we see many changes and reform, but this requires some time.

Q: What’s your view of those who say that they left the Muslim Brotherhood because the organization has abandoned Hassan Al-Banna’s approach by seeking power, and that they are the only ones remaining true to the Brotherhood’s founding principles?

The Muslim Brotherhood did not seek power; rather it was power that sought the Brotherhood. They had no choice but to accept this in light of the circumstances at the time. To be frank, I had hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood would remain, for a period, out of government, granting an opportunity to spread the principles of the Brotherhood. This would have allowed the people to learn about the Brotherhood, as well as how the common good impacts on private interests. This is what my father, may he rest in peace, advocated, for he would say that the Muslim Brotherhood is too wise and rational to put themselves forward to take up governance, and this is precisely where we found ourselves today.

Q: In this case, how would you evaluate the Muslim Brotherhood’s performance two years on from the revolution?

At this moment we cannot evaluate anything, particularly as the circumstances in Egypt do not allow this. Society has not calmed down and so any evaluation of the Freedom and Justice Party or Dr. Mursi will be invalid at this point in light of the current turmoil. This evaluation can take place after the state’s institutions, including parliament and cabinet, are stable. At this point we can evaluate, appraise, and judge.

Q: What’s your view of the escalating attack against the Muslim Brotherhood?

There are a number of reasons for this attack against the Brotherhood, most prominently partisan rivalry. In addition to this, the Muslim Brotherhood has made a number of mistakes, and this includes some statements that should never have been made, in addition to failures on certain issues. There are also many people who reject the sovereignty of an Islamist movement, not to mention the presence of people at home and abroad who are confronting the Brotherhood in order to serve their own interests.

Q: Are you personally satisfied with President Mursi’s performance since taking office?

It would not be right for me to evaluate anybody at this time, particularly as this evaluation would not be objective or accurate. We must wait until the situation has stabilized.

Q: Doesn’t this indicate that Egypt is in the midst of a vicious circle, for all of these protests and demonstrations are criticizing Mursi, while the situation will never stabilize so long as these continue?

Despite this, the situation will calm down, as will the problem’s facing President Mursi, particularly as we know that many of these troubles are planned and orchestrated. All of these problems cannot occur at the same in this manner without some level of planning.

Q: Do you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity in the Egyptian street remains as strong as it was prior to the revolution?

No, of course these events will impact on the Brotherhood’s popularity. However if the situation calms down, a parliament is elected, economic projects are initiated, and people return to work, then the situation in the country will certainly change.

Q: How do you view the behavior of the Salafists, turning against President Mursi, particularly after they had been his allies?

Criticism, if it is objective and justified, is welcome. In fact, the stronger the opposition the more this serves the people’s interests and even Dr. Mursi’s interests. This is because the opposition reveals the negatives and allows him to avoid these.

Q: Speaking as an ordinary Egyptian citizen, and as not the daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, what is the most negative aspect of Mursi’s rule?

Of course, there are a lot of negatives, such as the current cabinet, particularly as we did not expect this performance from it, but I excuse it in light of the turmoil raging in the country. There are a number of things that have been unsuccessful, although we must acknowledge that anybody who came to power at this stage would have experienced the same thing as Dr. Mursi. This is because we have suffered for more than 60 years, not to mention the huge level of corruption that nobody expected, along with the stagnation that the country has experienced over the past years.