London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A number of Egyptian experts and intellectuals have been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s program. However, there are other experts who have another view of the program; for instance, they say that while it has some negative points, it is not devoid of positive ones.
These reactions come at a time as news about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt selecting new members of the Guidance Bureau to fill up three recent vacancies. Asharq al-Awsat talks to Sheikh Dr Kamal al-Hilbawi, former spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and founding member of the Muslim Association of Britain.
Al-Hilbawi describes these elections as “pumping new blood in the veins of the Guidance Bureau.” He says, “It is good for the Muslim Brotherhood to renew their Shura councils by introducing young members known for their wisdom and extensive experience.”
The Guidance Bureau is considered to be the supreme administrative and leading body of the Muslim Brotherhood Group; the bureau supervises the progress of the Islamic call, directs its policy and administration, and is responsible for all its affairs, and the organization of its departments and formations. The Guidance Bureau consists of 16 members in addition to the general guide.
Al-Hilbawi, who also is an adviser to the Global Civilization Study Center in London and chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism, talks about his viewpoint of the program of the Muslim Brotherhood Party, especially with regard to the non-Muslims’ accession to the presidency of the state, women’s accession to the presidency of the state, and the stance toward international treaties, specifically with Israel. He says that he supports the opinion of Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, God have mercy on his soul, “A strong scholarly Muslim woman, such as Mrs. Thatcher, is better than dozens of weak rulers.” He also talks about the pillars of allegiance, and the characteristics of the active Muslim Brother.
The interview with Asharq Al-Awsat is as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What type of state system is the party’s program based on; is it presidential or parliamentary?
[Al-Hilbawi] The state is a separate entity from the ruling political system in it. Part 2 of the program explains this issue in detail in three chapters; Chapter 1: The State; Chapter 2: The Political System; and Chapter 3: National Security and Foreign Policy. The state in Islam is established on pillars and political foundations related to the principles of choice, responsibility, accountability, and litigation; it is a constitutional state based on the principle of citizenship, and it has legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. As for the political system in this state, it is above all these nomenclatures, and it focuses on the establishment and securing of freedom, dignity, equality, justice, equal opportunity, prevention of oppression, separation of authorities, and facilitating the establishment of the civil society institutions, their independence, and their consolidation. It is a system that is subject to questioning and accountability. This is achieved through political pluralism and free and impartial elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the Muslim Brotherhood program, especially with regard to the non-Muslims’ accession to the presidency of the state, women’s accession to the presidency of the state, and the stance toward international treaties, specifically with Israel?
[Al-Hilbawi] The program is detailed and strong. It is a reformist program that represents a transformation in the way of the political life in Egypt, and the future work of the Muslim Brotherhood and the other parties on the political arena. It is a program that has distinctive characteristics, and clear and declared foundations. It is based on Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution that specifies that the official religion of the state is Islam, and that the principles of the Islamic Shariaa are the main source of legislation. Islamic Shariaa recognizes the right of non-Muslims to appeal to their religion for decisions on the issues of creed, religious rites, and personal status affairs related to the family. The state is responsible for protecting and guarding religion. The religious posts are represented by the head of state, and a non-Muslim head of state cannot perform these duties or the duty of leading a Muslim country according to Islamic Shariaa; therefore non-Muslims are excused from undertaking Shariaa duties that might contradict their creed and religious practices, including taking decisions related to the pillars of Islam or jihad, including the declaration of war and pursuing the unity of the Muslim nation. This is specified in the constitutions of some (Christian) democratic states, including the United States, Britain, Greece, Sweden, Spain, and others. As for the assumption of the presidency of state by a woman as stated in the program, it has been exposed to strong criticism even from within the Muslim Brotherhood, and some leaders and intellectuals of the group, such as Dr Jamal Hishmat, Dr. Abdul-Munim Abu-al-Futuh, and Dr. Essam al-Iryan. I support the opinion of Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, God have mercy on his soul: “A strong scholarly Muslim woman, such as Mrs. Thatcher, is better than dozens of weak rulers.” As for the international treaties, including those related to the Palestinian issue, some of them are unjust; we accept the just treaties, and pursue the amendment and change of what is unjust through international legitimacy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was the idea of proposing the political program of the party a hasty reply by the group to the escalating security campaign against it, whose peak was represented by the detention of Engineer Khayrat al-Shatir, the second deputy of the general guide?
[Al-Hilbawi] I do not think that the idea of proposing the political program of the party was a hasty reply by the group to the escalation of the security campaign against it, whose peak was represented by the detention of Engineer Khayrat al-Shatir, the second deputy of the general guide. The group has its political thinking, and established foundations in the messages of Imam [Hassan] al-Banna. However, the complications of public life, the corruption of political life, the restrictions on public work including political action, the need for peaceful reform through the existing laws, the people’s desire for change, the weakness of the secular parties, the need to explain the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood such as the slogan Islam is the solution, and the demand by many Muslim Brotherhood intellectuals to have their political viewpoint and reform program, especially after they now have 88 deputies in parliament despite the election rigging for the benefit of the ruling party, all these were behind the presentation of the political program of the Muslim Brotherhood.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a specific date for declaring the program of the party in its final form?
[Al-Hilbawi] I do not know about this. The program still is subject to discussion, dialog, and amendment. This has been announced by Muslim Brotherhood First Deputy Guide Dr Muhammad Habib.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has outside expertise been utilized in drawing up the program of the Muslim Brotherhood Party? What is this expertise?
[Al-Hilbawi] I do not think so. However, it is possible, logical, and legitimate for the Muslim Brotherhood to benefit from the previous efforts, expertise, and studies related to this issue. This expertise includes what happened in Jordan (the Islamic Action Front), Morocco, Algeria, and other previous experiments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the expected reflections of the latest confrontations with the regime over the program?
[Al-Hilbawi] The regime has never licensed any party with a serious program, especially if the program is based on Islam. I do not think that it will do so voluntarily. There are parties that have been under construction for more than ten years; they have clear programs, but the regime has not given them license. They might remain under construction until this regime ceases to exist, and all the perils of society, ranging between oppression and corruption, cease to exist. The Muslim Brotherhood does not expect this regime to license their party to operate either before or after the confrontations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what is the most prominent criticism addressed to the program of the Muslim Brotherhood Party?
[Al-Hilbawi] The most prominent criticism addressed to the proposed political program of the Muslim Brotherhood is represented by: A- The council of scholars is considered by some critics to be similar to the Expediency Council in Iran. B- The nomination for the post of president is restricted to Muslim men, and women and non-Muslims are excluded.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How effective is the program in confronting the current economic conditions?
[Al-Hilbawi] The proposed economic program, if applied, would confront the existing economic conditions, and would put an end to corruption, or most of it; however it has to be implemented within the framework of the complete political system. This system cannot be applied except by those who believe in it, work for it, prepare the necessary cadres for it, remove the corruption, and restore society to productivity, rationalization of consumption, improvement of labor situation, and confrontation of the increasing prices.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people have been critical of the idea of the senior scholars’ council claiming that it is another translation of the principle of Wilayat al-Faqih that is adopted in Iran, which brings us back to the religious state?
[Al-Hilbawi] We have said that the Islamic state is a civilian state and not a religious one by any means. The concept of the religious state the west offers is linked to the church and the position of the church in the west, and is not linked to the Islamic concepts and values, neither to the mosque. Second, this issue has aroused wide controversy within and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. The program, as we said, is still under discussion and subject to dialog, and has not been issued in its final form. I think that the concept to which the Muslim Brothers who drew up this program subscribe is that this council is very close to the concept of the Islamic affairs committee, or the fatwa committees, which the society needs whether they are attached to the Consultative council or the People’s Assembly, or they remain independent the same as Al-Azhar.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the difference between “Hassan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood” and “Mahdi Akif’s Muslim Brotherhood?”
[Al-Hilbawi] The formal difference is that those who are contemporaries of the founder have seen him, have seen his way of thinking, and perhaps have seen some of his action whether through accompanying him or through the discussions. The difference in content might lie in understanding the Islamic call and practice, and in the conditions during the times of Martyr Hassan al-Banna, and during the times of the current guide, Imam Muhammad Mahdi Akif. However, generally speaking, the march continues in the same direction with differences in the qualifications and abilities. It is well known that the Muslim Brotherhood after Imam Al-Banna has developed a program and methods suitable for the era, and have not stopped at being mere imitators to what was during the days of Imam Al-Banna, God have mercy on his soul.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on what is circulating attributed to sources close to the Muslim Brotherhood Group in Egypt that new faces have joined the Guidance Bureau to occupy the positions of Khayrat al-Shatir and Muhammad Bishr, members of the Bureau, who have been sentenced to imprisonment by military courts last April? What about the elections of the Guidance Bureau? Why are they not public?
[Al-Hilbawi] It is good for the Muslim Brotherhood to renew its Shura councils, especially through young members who are known for their wisdom and wide experience, and who satisfy the conditions of allegiance and fulfill the qualities of the active Muslim Brother to which Imam Al-Banna referred in his messages. As for the conditions of allegiance, they are understanding, loyalty, hard work, jihad, sacrifice, steadfastness, objectivity, fraternity, and trust. As for the qualities of the active Muslim Brother, they include correctness of creed, correctness of worship, solid morals, strong body, culture, organization in public affairs, usefulness for others, and ability to gain and save time. As for the elections, because of the severe pressure, either the elections take place in a private environment, or the people of sound opinion and responsibility agree to choose the most suitable members.