Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Rashad al-Bayoumi is the deputy head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. His organization could be set to play a significant role in Egypt’s latest political chapter, having recently declared the intention to form a political party. This move has been met with concern in Western circles, with fears that Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies could dramatically shift, if it were governed by an Islamist trend.
Dr. Al-Bayoumi, 74, is a long-serving member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and also works as a professor of geology at Cairo University. He has spent a total of 18 years in prison, during the era of the former regime, when the Muslim Brotherhood was a banned organization. His most recent arrest came in 2006, when he along with other Brotherhood members were detained for holding an organized meeting.
Asharq al-Awsat recently spoke with Dr. al-Bayoumi to learn about the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans for the coming phase in Egypt. During the interview, he elaborated on his organization’s political motives, as well as discussing several controversial aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood manifesto. Dr al-Bayoumi also reflected on the success of the Egyptian revolution, and what needs to be done to build on this. The following is the text from the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was the Muslim Brotherhood organization waiting for one of its leaders to be chosen [by the Supreme Military Council] as part of the interim Egyptian government, which is now incorporating some political opposition figures?
[Al-Bayoumi] Not in the current government, or in any other. We are not asking to be placed in a position of authority, and we do not aim to be in a position of power or have a parliamentary majority, whether in the current phase or in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people have expressed their skepticism about a political group making such concessions, why has the Muslim Brotherhood agreed to these political concessions?
[Al-Bayoumi] This is because we feel that there are those who want to play the card of warning against the Muslim Brotherhood, and some people have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of wanting to hijack the revolution of the youth, despite the fact that we have lived this revolution from its first day and we have our martyrs. However we only want to be partners of the people, and we have announced that we are of the people and that we do not want to come to power, or form a government, or even put forward [parliamentary] candidates to achieve a parliamentary majority. Our goal is reform.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However on Egypt’s Friday of Victory [18 February 2011] we saw some Muslim Brotherhood figures attempt to promote the role they played in the Egyptian revolution…and Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Friday sermon at Tahrir Square also gave the proceedings a Muslim Brotherhood flavor. What is your response to this?
[Al-Bayoumi] Firstly, al-Qaradawi is too great a figure to be included in any single category or group, he is the head of the International Union of Islamic Scholars, which means that he enjoys a consensus [of support] from all Muslim scholars, and his presence in Tahrir Square was an expression of his general mantle [as head of the International Union of Islamic Scholars], rather than his personal mantle. It is unreasonable to imagine that everybody in Tahrir Square on the Friday of Victory was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who were present were attended as Egyptian nationalists, so these accusations have no basis. The Copts have embraced al-Qaradawi, his Friday sermon was addressed to all Egyptians, and the revolution belongs to all Egyptians. We are an effective component of [Egyptian] society, and we are keen to engage with members of all faiths, and we do not have any ambition for leadership or rule.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the Muslim Brotherhood has no ambitions for power, why isn’t this simply an Islamic Dawa [missionary] organization?
[Al-Bayoumi] Political work is an integral part of Islamic work, for Islam is a comprehensive religion and politics is part of general Islamic work. It is our duty, with regards to what was happening in the country, to put forward ideas, participate, and offer sacrifices. Those who do not want to understand this perhaps failed to understand what was happening in Egypt, and our experiences are the best evidence [of this]; for at the parliamentary elections our slogan was “participation not combat.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Now your demands have been met and former President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down from power. What’s next for the Muslim Brotherhood?
[Al-Bayoumi] This is not accurate, for this was not just our demand, but the demand of the entire Egyptian people. Everybody must [also] be aware that there are hands belonging to the remnants of the former regime playing in the shadows, and some figures [of the former regime] are still taking action or trying to regain control, trying to hijack the revolution and overturn it. There are figures of the former regime who still remain on the scene, figures such as former State Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Mufid Shahab, and he – along with former parliamentary speaker Ahmed Fathi Sarour – was a fundamental partner in the destruction of the constitution and laws. Their presence, with others, raises large question marks. In addition to this, questions remain over other demands issued by the Egyptian revolution which have yet to be met, including the state of emergency that we have been living under for more than 30 years, as well as the state security apparatus continuing their operations, particularly as it was this octopus-like organization which devastated the country. In addition to this, [questions marks remain over] detainees in prison, defendants convicted by exceptional courts. However above all else, there is the current government that was formed by the former president and sworn in by him. All of these issues require detailed attention, and the realization that we have a lot of work in front of us in order to preserve the popular revolution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the Muslim Brotherhood content with Mubarak stepping down from power, or will you seek to bring him to trial, whether this is regarding the sources of his wealth in particular, or the policies of the former regime, in general?
[Al-Bayoumi] The trial of the regime is inevitable, the trial of all members of the regime and its policies, and it is enough to recall that there are 365 martyrs [who died in the Egyptian uprising] and we do not know who is responsible for their death by live ammunition. The public demand now is for the officials who are responsible for what happened in the country – from corruption and more – to be handed over [to the courts], and the priority, of course, is for the crime of murder which occurred against the people of this nation. What is strange is that we are trying former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly for corruption, before we bring him to trial for ordering the killing of people in the streets.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the Muslim Brotherhood satisfied with the decisions taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, since it took over running the country?
[Al-Bayoumi] Until now, we can consider what has happened to be a beginning, but this has not quenched the thirst of the people, for this is not the hope of the people, the issue was not toppling Mubarak, but rather toppling the entire regime; all of its members, pillars, and policies. The issue is not one of figures, but rather of policies pursued by the Mubarak regime devastated Egypt on different levels throughout the decades of his reign.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it intends to form a political party, but has yet to clarify what the relationship will be between the political party and the [international] Muslim Brotherhood organization. Can you clarify this relationship?
[Al-Bayoumi] The thinking is of a political party that has been present for a long period of time, and there is a decision from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council to this effect, for political work is part of the Muslim Brotherhood organization’s work, as we said before, and the political party’s will have a role at a specific level. However the fundamental for us, with regards to political work, is binding this with the moral framework and what unites the Muslim Brotherhood organization with the political party is the ideological framework. As for the political party structure, this will certainly be separate from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, and we are not – within the Muslim Brotherhood’s institutions – studying the existing [political] models for this in the neighboring countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Muslim Brotherhood’s political manifesto for 2008 was the subject of severe criticism, particularly with regards to your organization being against Copts or women standing for the presidency. This raised a lot of concerns, both internally and externally, can you tell us if the Muslim Brotherhood remains committed to this proviso?
[Al-Bayoumi] We consider our position with regards to who can potentially assume the presidency [of Egypt] to be part of the freedom of choose an Islamic jurisprudential opinion, and a Muslim has this choice, and we have chosen this [jurisprudential] opinion as it is the opinion of the majority of Islamist scholars and we do not impose this upon anybody, but rather we, for our part, will not put forward a Coptic or woman candidate for the presidency, however other parties will have the right to do so or not.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If another party chose a woman or a Copt as a presidential candidate, and this candidate won the elections to become president, what would the Muslim Brotherhood’s position be?
[Al-Bayoumi] So long as it is the [Egyptian] people who chose this figure and voted, we do not mind, however we are facing a world that is open to us [as Muslims], but can a Muslim become president in the US, or France, or Italy? Of course there are no provisions preventing this, however the majority decides, in Egypt the majority is Muslim, therefore why should the Muslim Brotherhood be subject to all of these attacks when we speak about this? The Muslim Brotherhood is looking at this issue due to its responsibilities and tasks, including leading the Muslims. Can a non-Muslim or woman undertake these responsibilities? However even if a woman should win the elections we will not stand against this, and we will accept this choice, however our own position within our party regarding [presidential] nominations is clear, we will not nominate a Copt or woman.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Muslim Brotherhood continually acknowledges following the creed “whenever you must choose between two things, it is better to choose the easier” which is based upon a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad. Why do you therefore stick to this hard-line position with regards to the electoral nomination of a Copt or a woman, particularly when Islamic scholars such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sheikh Mohamed Salim al-Awa, have said that there is nothing religiously impermissible about a Copt or woman leading a Muslim country?
[Al-Bayoumi] We have not taken a hard-line position, this is the opinion of the majority, and there is a prohibition about shifting between one jurisprudential view and another to choose the easiest. However, God said “and the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion.” [Surat al-Baqara, Verse 120]. This is clear, whatever we say or do. This issue is being studied and perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood will decide to take a different position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people fear Egypt’s foreign relations will be affected by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly international agreements that your group may be against. How do you respond to this?
[Al-Bayoumi] We respect international agreements and major political issues, whatever they may be, however with regards to an objective and academic look [at this issue], it is the right of either side, or any one side, to review and discuss according to the circumstances and requirements. The Camp David Accords were never put to the people or even to the parliament in the proper manner, but rather these were enforced from above. One of the most important articles of this agreement was the establishment of a Palestinian State, very well, but let us ask: where is this [Palestinian] state? Secondly, where is this comprehensive peace in light of the daily massacres and brutal attacks that the Palestinians are subject to? Who has destroyed this agreement, in light of the genocidal plans against the Palestinian people, and the systematic move to Judaize Jerusalem and destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque? There is also the issue of the secret articles included in this accord, from selling Egyptian natural gas to Israel at a fifteenth of its real price. All of this must be put to the people, and it is the people’s right to reconsider thee conventions. Of course, we do not accept the Camp David Accords at all, but re-evaluating and dealing with this must be done according to the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people believe Egypt could be subject to international or even regional isolation should the Muslim Brotherhood come to power, as occurred when Hamas came to power in Palestine. What is your opinion of this?
[Al-Bayoumi] We [the Muslim Brotherhood] are the keenest of all Egyptians for Egypt to return to the Arab and Muslim body, for Egypt’s isolation from the Arab and Islamic world only occurred due to the signing of the Camp David Accords, and we want to return to the Arab world, and return it to its status and prestige internationally. We are also calling the most strongly for connecting with the Arab and Islamic societies, and we want to restore Egypt to its place at the fore-front of the Arab world, for Egypt to always lead the way.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The success of the Egyptian revolution has resulted in lifting the ban on the Muslim Brotherhood organization and institutions. How will this effect the organization?
[Al-Bayoumi] We ask God this, and we hope to meet and consult with one another in public, and for everybody to know what we say, and what we want for our people and countries, because what we are saying is no secret, for what we want is to raise up the Muslim ummah, and we do not want anybody to think that we are working in the shadows or against anybody’s interests.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don’t you think this will anger the West?
[Al-Bayoumi] What’s this got to do with them? Why should we care about what they say in the outside world?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Muslim Brotherhood was previously interested in communicating with opposition parties; will you remain committed to this policy after the success of the revolution?
[Al-Bayoumi] Certainly…we remain keen to communicate with everybody, as long as this is in the interests of society.