Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Ibrahim El Zafarani, a former Muslim Brotherhood [MB] leader in Alexandria, has revealed that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] still receives its orders from the group’s Guidance Bureau.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Zaafarani, one of the symbols of the Islamist movement in the 1970s, believes that the MB’s involvement in politics has taken it away from its religious advocacy work, creating a vacuum for the Salafi movement to exploit.
El Zafarani, who resigned from the MB’s Shura Council in April 2011, is presently the vice president of the Islah [Reform] and Renaissance Party (moderate Islamist], believes that Egypt should not be governed by “men of religion” like Iran, and that there are disputes within the Brotherhood regarding the formalization of its legal status as promised by President Muhammad Mursi.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You’ve stated that the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] is not independent of the Brotherhood. How do you see that?
[El Zafarani] Until now there are no indications that the FJP (the political arm of the MB) is taking its decisions from within itself. The decisions are taken by the Brotherhood and the Guidance Bureau. This naturally is a major problem because it is a big party and it groups many cadres. Its independence will be in the interest of both the Party and the grouping because the Party must be competitive at the political level and not at the level of advocacy. Political action requires adaptations and accords that might not be in line with the advocacy work that is unshakably based on the Islamic principles. Separation between the Party and the Brotherhood will counter arguments that the Brotherhood compromised on principles or was a burden on the Party in depriving it of the ability to reach accord with the other forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You resigned from the Brotherhood after the fall of the Mubarak regime, so would you say the tyranny of the Mubarak regime is what unified the different currents within the brotherhood?
[El Zafarani] Injustice and the feeling of being persecuted make any grouping rally, get together, and close its ranks. Now the Mubarak regime has gone but the danger still exists. If we disperse, it is possible that for example SCAF would pounce on the Presidency. At present, the grouping is in the stage of reaping the fruit, but the fruit is still in peril. This idea will spread to the people and become magnified.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After spending 45 years with the Brotherhood, what prompted you to break away?
[El Zafarani] For several reasons the most important being the lack of separation between advocacy work and politics. In its origins, the MB is an advocacy grouping that strengthens values in individuals then leaves them to face their lives, whether in public work or in joining a political party. Excess involvement in politics was at the expense of advocacy work within the group and allowed the Salafi advocacy to control the religious scene in the mosques, especially with the State moving to paralyze the activity of the Holy Al-Azhar. There are other regulatory reasons such as elected bodies supervising the executive bodies. Supervision of the Guidance Bureau by the Shura Council of the Brotherhood was not supported by any powers or accountability. Likewise the justice system within the Brotherhood was not balanced, for there are no specific regulations on penalties, in addition to the existence of rejection within the grouping of institutionalization of its legal status.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are rumours that the Brotherhood want to adopt the Turkish or the Iranian model in Egypt?
[El Zafarani] Egypt is more advanced than the Turkish model. Erdogan had to make his way in a strongly secular state but it was democratic. The situation in Egypt is different. We have a high stock of religious assets, and religion is a basic component in the life of the Egyptians, Muslims and Christians. Egypt cannot become like Iran, for control of the men of religion over the State will not happen, but Egypt will create an Islamic model that is distinctively its own.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Various political currents, the Christian community and female-rights supporters all fear the MB. How can these fears be alleviated?
[El Zafarani] The Christian fears are not justified, for the Brotherhood or any other group will not be able to take away anything from them. On the contrary, I expect that their status will be better in the future from that under the former regime that worked to stir up sectarian problems. As to the issue of the women, that may involve some problems, for there is no complete conviction in the class that leads the grouping in a leadership role for women, with the proof being that the women’s membership in the grouping is deficient and she has no right to vote, hold leadership posts, or to membership in the Shura Council or Guidance Bureau. The excuse from the group’s leadership is that women are being spared this so that they do not face risks like those under the Mubarak regime. I do not see this to be logical now, for the women are fortified and protected by a society that will not accept any assault on them in any way.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What State system do you prefer for Egypt’s Constitution?
[El Zafarani] I see that the system should be a mixed one in which the President does not enjoy full powers. This is because our situation does not permit a parliamentary system viewing the absence of strong parties. Existence of a majority government and a prime minister who commands full powers is a difficult matter now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were of the 70’s generation which re-established the MB. Do you believe the philosophies of that era are still applicable today?
[El Zafarani] These ideas are of no use when it comes to partisan activity. They could have some role in advocacy work. I expect that the Brotherhood grouping will change against its will, because its entry into the world of politics and its work with others requires a review of some matters, as the Salafis have done. I hope this takes place at the right time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Considering that you are a former leader of the Brotherhood, how do you evaluate the performance of the group since the revolution and until now?
[El Zafarani] Naturally they have positive and negative points. They are a large, strong and organized group in various parts of the country. It was the only group ready to act. Since the first days of the revolution it had a role that cannot be denied, especially in specific situations such as ‘The Battle of the Camel’. But there were wrong decisions, such as letting down the revolutionaries during the events of the streets of Muhammad Mahmud and the Cabinet of Ministers (central Cairo) and splitting the general national ranks and the Islamic current when the Brotherhood should have embraced all forces at that moment since it is the bigger entity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect a clash between the President and SCAF in future?
[El Zafarani] I wish that such a clash would take place and that Dr Muhammad Mursi would adopt revolutionary decisions and wrest his powers by annulling the supplementary declaration and calling the people to a referendum on this. He should adopt a strong stand in facing the situation. The people will be with the President because they realize well that his powers have been reduced. The alternative to this is failure.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You joined the Islah [Reform] and Renaissance Party (centrist). What is the difference between it and parties with an Islamist reference such as the Al-Wasat Party?
[El Zafarani] There isn’t much difference in the thoughts of the Islamist parties which have a centrist leaning. But plurality creates a state of rivalry that enriches the political life that has been flat for long decades. Cooperation or forming strategic alliances are also possible among them.