Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to Mehdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood about its ideology and the apprehensions that surround the movement, its strategy, and its positions on the Egyptian and Arab policies.
Q) What is your assessment of the electoral process?
A) The process witnessed a number of positive aspects with which we are pleased and encouraged. These positive aspects include in particular the presence of the judiciary who bestowed a measure of seriousness upon the process. As for the negative aspects, the most evident was the National Democratic Party””s (NDP) interference in changing the results for its own benefit. I do not hold the security forces responsible for altering the results of the elections, because the security forces are one of the tools of the regime, and they do not act independently. This has harmed Egypt a great deal. Also, there is the detention of the Muslim Brotherhood members.
Q) In your opinion, what is the secret behind the huge domestic and foreign commotion created by the Muslim Brotherhood winning such a large number of parliamentary seats?
A) Those raised according to the culture of tyranny were disturbed by the Muslim Brotherhood””s victory because they are used to manufacturing the ballot boxes to suit their own interests. This is despite the fact that President Hosni Mubarak””s program is based on democracy and freedom. It is time that this culture of tyranny is wiped out.
Q) Do you think that the Muslim Brotherhood has been victorious in these elections, or has it lost a number of seats?
A) We were not aiming to win a hundred seats. We were working to win an acceptable number of seats in parliament. This is because at the end of the day parliament is not our sole mission, or our entire aim. Our mission is immense, at the forefront of which, is educating the lost youths on the streets and confronting the corruption that comes to us from the west to destroy our families and values. The aim of entering parliament is restricted to the implementation of the Egyptian Constitution. We expected a repetition of the detentions that took place during the elections of 2000, when some 5,000 people were detained; therefore, our announcements were made in light of our previous experience.
Q) After winning such a large number of seats, could the Muslim Brotherhood participate with the ruling NDP in the same government?
A) No one has asked us to do so. If we receive such an offer, we will present it to the Muslim Brotherhood institutions, and we will implement any decision approved by these institutions. However, we are not thinking about this, the offer has not been made, and we have not pursued it.
Q) What are the Muslim Brotherhood institutions that are authorized to adopt such a decision?
A) They are the Guidance Bureau, the Brotherhood””s Shura Council, the Political Committee, and the administrative bureaus. When we wanted to make a decision regarding the presidential elections, I presented the situation to them and I issued a statement that included the agreed decision. The greatness of the Muslim Brotherhood lies in its institutions; I do not make any decisions single-handedly.
Q) In your opinion, why have the election results frightened some parties and political powers?
A) Our results have not frightened anyone, because all observers know and understand the nature of the regime, and they know that it is difficult for the regime to accept a strong competitor. The reality confirmed that the NDP failed (in the elections). This failure is due to many reasons, which do not interest me. The people did not choose the NDP, and they chose the Muslim Brotherhood approach. Many people have noticed that we nominated individuals from the third rank, and did not nominate the symbols; this confirms that the people chose an approach, and not individuals; this is proof that the people are aware. We thank the Egyptian people for choosing us.
Q) Do you think that there is an opportunity to topple the ruling party?
A) My thoughts are not occupied by this issue. I am occupied with the ways in which to achieve development in Egypt. Whoever wants the development of Egypt has to cooperate with everyone. When we engage in dialogue with any party or front, and we reach something positive, then we stand with this party.
Q) What is the position of the Muslim Brotherhood among the political powers in light of the results of the other parties?
A) We are in the same position as the other political powers. When people come to congratulate me, I tell them to congratulate Egypt and the opposition. This is because together with the opposition parties we constitute one front (the United National Front for Change), whose general coordinator is Dr. Aziz Sidqi, the former prime minister of Egypt, and whose spokesman is Dr. Noman Gomaa, the leader of the Wafd Party. We are a part of this.
Q) Why was the coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition parties concerning the elections delayed?
A) The coordination was not delayed. From the first day, when Dr. Aziz Sidqi came to us, we said, "We are with you in the reform front." As for the elections, we concluded everything, whether the candidates”” list, or our electoral program. On this issue, it is not allowed at all to have an agreement, because every party, or political tendency, has its program and viewpoint. My viewpoint is Islamic, the (National Progressive Unionist) Grouping Party””s viewpoint is communist, and the Wafd Party””s viewpoint is liberal. However, we said that there was no objection to coordination in some constituencies, and we carried out what we promised. Anyway, we are in agreement with the front about the general reform that is based on the abolition of the emergency laws, the establishment of freedoms, and the abolition of the military courts and the entire arsenal of the freedom-restricting laws. The program that we agreed on with the parties is not new but has existed since 1989, during the days of Mostafa Mashhour, the former Muslim Brotherhood general guide.
Q) But you entered the elections against Khalid Muhyi-al-Din, the leader of the National Unionist Grouping Party (NUGP), and its candidate in the Kafr Shukr Constituency in Al-Qalyubiyah governorate?
A) With regards to Khalid Muhyi-al-Din, there is a story. We intended to vacate the constituency for him, in the same way that we vacated the constituency of Diaa-el-Dinn Dawoud in Faraskur in the Damietta Governorate, and the constituency of Majdi Ahmad Husayn in Al-Manyal in Cairo. However, we received news that Khalid Muhyi-al-Din””s health had greatly deteriorated, and that he would be incapable of performing the parliamentary role; therefore, we told brother Taymur Abd-al-Ghani, the candidate in his constituency, to support Khalid Muhyi-al-Din and to wait until we see the realities of the situation. We became certain that Khalid would not be able to perform the role, and then we pushed brother Taymur to handle the situation. Let us not forget the hideous attacks on us by the front of Rifat al-Said (leader of the NUGP) and Rose al-Yusuf magazine. After that, many people came to me, but I told them that the matter was settled.
Q) Some Coptic figures have said that if the Muslim Brotherhood were to accede to government in Egypt, then the Copts would leave. It seems that the Muslim Brotherhood””s victory in winning this amount of seats has frightened some people; what is your view on this? What is your real stance toward the Copts?
A) Are you referring to Milad Hanna? If you are then there are many senior Copts and priests who have said otherwise. There are more Muslims who attack us than Copts. This is a matter to which we pay no attention, and I do not reply to it, because this is trivia. Read the writings of Dr. Muna Makram Ubayd, and Munir Fakhri Abd-al-Nur, and the writings of the reasonable and wise Copts. They say that the Muslim Brotherhood members are honorable people who believe in God, His Messengers, and His books. The Muslim Brotherhood members know that the Quran says, "Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God hath revealed therein." This is the Muslim Brotherhood program. We hold freedom, our faith, and the faith of others sacred, and we believe in God””s books and messengers; therefore, how could we be unjust to others? How could we act in such a way?
Q) At the beginning of the elections, there were rumors about the possibility of the country being exposed to sectarian sedition in more than one place. Were there any justifications for such apprehensions?
A) These rumors are unfounded and are not true. Sectarian sedition has never happened in Egypt at any time. Sectarian sedition exists and is embedded only in the minds of the ignorant among the Muslims and Copts, because the reality is that people in general in Egypt, Copts and Muslims, like each other, cooperate with each other, and work with each other very well. They live with me, they live opposite me, and I buy my fruit from a Christian merchant in front of my house. Neither I, nor any Muslim Brotherhood members discriminate between a Muslim and a Christian; they all are equal. Therefore, I do not respect anyone who wants to discriminate between a Muslim and a Christian. We are Egyptians, and anyone who says that the number of Copts is this, and the number of Muslims is that is an ignorant person. I repeat, only an ignorant person utters such words, because we all are Egyptians living together.
Q) But some people say that the Muslim Brotherhood does not differ much from the ruling NDP, especially concerning economic aspects, i.e. the adoption of the market economy?
A) What is the objection to agreeing with the NDP on a specific issue, or to the NDP agreeing with me on one of the views? As long as the view agrees with the interests of Egypt, and helps in its advancement, then I am for this view regardless of the party from which it stemmed. I am not against everything the NDP says. The Muslim Brotherhood is for the interests of Egypt wherever they could be found, whether at the NDP, or even at the Communist Party. Rest assured that the sincere minds from any tendency will gather over something important, which is the interest of the country.
Q) Many people accuse you of presenting a general and loose slogan, namely, "Islam is the solution," without presenting a real explanation for this slogan concerning specific political, economic, and social programs.
A) Those who say this do not read, and if they read, then they do not understand, and they are being pushed to insult us.
Akef presented to Asharq al-Awsat two booklets. The first booklet explains the meaning of the slogan, ””Islam is the solution,”” written by Dr. Mahmud Ghuzlan of the Muslim Brotherhood. The book consists of 32 pages, small format, and it includes a two-page introduction, followed by an 11-page explanation of the slogan and 13 questions about the meaning of ””Islam is the solution””. The second booklet includes the Muslim Brotherhood electoral program. The program consists of 96 pages, and is divided into a two-page introduction, and 12 chapters. It discusses political, economic, and judicial reform, scientific research, unemployment and housing problems, and various aspects of life."
Q) Many observers and researchers at home and abroad have been, and still are asking one question: does the Muslim Brotherhood really believe in democracy, and will it continue to believe in freedom and democracy if it accedes to power, or will it turn against these concepts?
A) This is questioning people””s intentions. I do not accept doubts of our intentions from anyone. Our intentions are known and open. We demand full democracy, and peaceful transition of power. We do not pay any attention to any person whomsoever who doubts this.
Q) Some people say that the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood members in parliament during the previous term was restricted to objections to a book or film, and other insignificant matters. What is your response to this?
A) I advise whoever says this to go back to the People””s Assembly report about the previous term. The report said that 15 members of the Muslim Brotherhood carried out 35 percent of the activities of the People””s Assembly. Therefore, we do not pay any attention to the ignorant people that propagate such talk.
Q) Those involved in Egyptian politics want to know about the critical position with regard to becoming into a political party.
A) The position is not critical at all; on the contrary, the position is very simple. We are an all-inclusive Islamic organization, whose program and mission is to serve the society from the Muslim individual and family to the Muslim society. Our activities cover all aspects of life, because Islam is a religion of life, and it came to save the human race. We have a program for education, another for teaching, a third for economics, a fourth for culture, and even a sports program. Naturally, we have a political program; if politics required a party, then we would form a party that covers the political aspects. However, we say no to forming a party, and asking permission from a Party Affairs Committee whose constitutional status and legality are suspicious. I am for the Egyptian constitution that says that any Egyptian has the right to form a party or establish a society and inform the state. The arbiter is the judiciary, i.e. the judiciary decides whether my program contradicts the constitution, the law, and the basic constituents of the society. Therefore, I do not ask the Party Affairs Committee for its permission to form a party.
Q) Does this mean that you will submit an application to form a political party as soon as the Party Affairs Committee is abolished?
A) Yes, immediately. Rest assured that in this case there would be a party for the Muslim Brotherhood that would shoulder the responsibility of political and parliamentary work, and of cooperating with the parties. In this case, I will dedicate myself to the rest of the activities, such as education, teaching, economic, social, and sports work, etc. I wish that we would soon have a party and headquarters in which there will be clubs and various activities.
Q) Then, do you have a comprehensive vision or a new viewpoint regarding the organization of political life?
A) Naturally, our vision is based on the abolition of the parties and emergency laws, and military courts. All these things need precise revision by legal and constitutional scholars. We have these scholars in the Muslim Brotherhood and they are ready to sit down with their counterparts, and to cooperate with them in order to bring down these inhibitors that cause us regression rather than progress.
Q) Some people warn against a repetition of the Iranian model, or the Turkish experience. Also there are fears of the situations of Algeria, and Sudan. What is your comment?
A) These are ignorant people who have not read the approach of the Muslim Brotherhood and have not lived in Egypt. If they lived in Egypt, then they would have discovered otherwise. We are neither Iran, nor Turkey, and we are not Sudan, or Algeria; the programs are different, and the situations are very different. Whoever says this is being paid or is under the influence of some sort of intoxicant.
Q) There is an international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and this international organization?
A) As I said, the Muslim Brotherhood is an all-inclusive Islamic organization that calls for this great religion sent by God as a mercy for the human race. We are present in the international arena, calling for God according to the Muslim Brotherhood approach. All the brothers in the international arena are working according to a written approach.
Q) Is it the same approach?
A) Yes, naturally. They have to serve the country in which they live through this approach, and according to the constitution and law within whose framework they live. They say the Muslim Brotherhood is an international organization; yes, we have the largest organization in the world and anyone in the international arena who believes in the Muslim Brotherhood approach is one of us, and we one of them. They consider that it is a crime for me to meet anyone from abroad; the backward law of the Arab countries considers this a crime! Would they tell us how a party should deal with another party? The socialist parties of the world meet, and the communist parties meet. Is the Masonic movement not an international movement? The Rotary, is it not an international movement?
Q) What exactly is your stance towards Israel?
A) Our stance toward Israel is very clear. The Muslim Brotherhood does not recognize Israel. However, at the same time we know its abilities, status, and how to make the Israelis leave Palestine. They are five million people implanted by the United States. We are 70 million in Egypt, the Arabs are 300 million, and the Muslims in the world are 1,500 million, and all these people do not recognize Israel. We believe that Israel consists of a group of Zionists implanted here by the United States, the east, and the west so that they get rid of evil in their countries. Many of the rational Jews say that Israel has no future in this region, and ought to depart; I say the same thing. The Jews are welcome among us; it is very simple to live with us the same way anyone lives among us. However, if they wanted to have a state to oppress us, and to usurp the rights of others, then to that, we would say no, and we reject this completely. I will not fight them using their methods, but I will fight them by my own means. When the 70 million Egyptians reach a high standard of economic, cultural, and technological development, what will Israel do? Nothing. When the 300 million Arabs and the 1,500 million Muslims reach the same scientific, cultural, economic, and technological level, then neither Israel nor the United States will be able to do anything. Therefore, they are keen to keep the Arab world backward so that Israel remains the standard-bearer. This is the way to confront Israel. There is no doubt that confronting Israel is the first cause for Muslims; therefore, how do we plan, and how do we fight them? Bear in mind that they are destroying themselves from within, "You would think that they were united, but their hearts are divided (Quranic verse)." This issue, which preoccupies the entire world, also preoccupies me, but in the way that I explained. Whether the Israelis and the Palestinians fight each other, or recognize each other, this is not my concern. My concern is that this sacred land belongs to the Arabs and Muslims, and no one should usurp it; whoever wants to live there in peace can do so, but if he wanted to live there in order to humiliate and exploit others, then we would not accept this under any circumstances.
Q) What is your stance towards the United States, especially considering the rumors that you have permanent channels of communications with Washington, and some people observe in your political address messages to the US Administration?
A) This is a very clear issue. There is no dispute between the US administration and us. In Islam, we have values that are better than many of the western ones. We are in favor of all the correct values, such as democracy, work, and so on. We deal with all institutions and organizations without mediators; however, if the US Administration, or any European Administration from any government were to come to talk to us, then in this case the only way to reach us would be through the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. There are no conditions for such meetings other than they ought to be through the Foreign Ministry.
Q) Does this mean that if any diplomat from the United States, or any other country, asked to meet you, you would decline?
A) He could visit through the Foreign Ministry. I was asked for a meeting and I informed the foreign minister. Also, a US citizen tried to come here with the US ambassador, but I told them to bring the foreign minister with them. Anyone who objects to this, or disagrees with it should tell me.
Q) Has any diplomat visited you through the Foreign Ministry?
Q) A number of the resistance operations in Iraq affect the lives of the Iraqis. What is the view of the Muslim Brotherhood on this matter?
A) I do not have anything to do with this. However, I know that the genuine resistance that has genuine aims does not resort to any approaches except genuine ones. I know that anything other than this is created by the occupier, and committed by the hirelings, the immoral people, and those with distorted minds. We have nothing to do with such people, because they do not fight the occupier, but they fight the people of the country.
Q) When some researchers examine the US role in the region, and Washington””s achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its tension with Syria, they say that now it is Egypt””s turn. What is your comment?
A) Everything is possible. They do such things. The United States is trying to humiliate Egypt, and to implement sedition. As you saw when the religious freedoms committee came from the United States to Egypt, it did not come to investigate the freedom, but to provoke trouble. The same as when they convened the conference of the Copts abroad. Its mission was not to investigate the problems and issues of the Copts, but its first aim was to humiliate the Egyptian regime, and to destabilize it in order to bring it to its knees, so that if they asked for anything, then the regime would obey. The Muslim Brotherhood is not influenced by such obvious maneuvers.