Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Muslim Brotherhood did not strike a deal with the government to release one if its prominent leaders on Sunday, after five months detention without charges, a newly freed Essam al Erian indicated.
In his first interview with Asharq al Awsat after leaving jail, al Erian said on Monday, “this talk [of a deal] is laughable and untrue”, stressing that Brotherhood members never negotiate with the authorities and do not fear incarceration.
Al Erian indicated his recent arrest was not the first and said, “We have become accustomed to jail under the current political climate in Egypt, ongoing for fifty years. It is a standard punishment against Islamic or political activists.” Detention, he said, “is no longer extraordinary. This is not heroism but to get ourselves used to the tough conditions once inside.”
A medical doctor, al Erian was arrested with several other Brotherhood members in May 2005 during a street demonstration. Asked about the group’s decision to halt public protests in the wake of his detention, he said, “The Muslim Brotherhood will never give up demonstrating. It is important everyone realizes it is one of many tools but not everything of itself. Every action has its own special setting. We have a number of alternatives and protesting will remain an option if needed.”
On his fear of being re-arrested, the Brotherhood figure said, “As long as jails are used against politicians and opinion makers, no one is immune from being prosecuted.” He added, “We will not give up calling for civil liberties, the respect of the constitution and an end to tyranny”. Referring to the recent flurry of political activity in Egypt in the last few months, the newly freed medical doctor said it had created a sense of optimism despite the continuing threat of detention and that winds of change needed time to make themselves felt.
Asked whether he wanted to stand in Egypt’s upcoming legislative elections, al Erian reveal he was still considering the matter and that it would depend on an ongoing case against a number of Brotherhood members tried for military matters. Ultimately, his candidature would not be based on personal decision but one by the organization. Elections, he pointed out, were a tool to advance the interests of the nation and to prove that the organization did not revolved around certain figures but had a large number of members that can work in any domain. Politics, he added, was not exclusive to Parliament, as political parties needed to instigate real changes if they are to achieve the sweeping reforms they are aiming for.
Commenting on reports the Muslim Brotherhood planned to double its seats in Parliament, al Erian issued a denial and revealed that, in fact, the group was seeking to get a third of the seats, as in the 1995 elections. A clean sweep was not a goal. If half the candidates succeed (achieving a total of 70 seats), that would be considered a great success.
Basing himself on a number of indicators, al Erian predicated that the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties will feature strongly in the next parliament but their effectiveness would depend on whether they occupy more that 30% of all the seats. The elections represent, he said, a golden opportunity to change the face of the next parliament and achieve constitutional and legislative amendments.
The Muslim Brotherhood, al Erian indicated, did not believe that Egypt needed international observers to oversee its elections, if the judiciary was independent, but “whether we like it or not, international supervision is a reality and was present during the last elections, through the media and other organizations.”
“I believe that electing representatives without the possibility of fraud will be the biggest test for these elections as it will be appositive step in dangerous times. Taking part in the elections is a religious and civic duty out of concern for the general interest”, al Erian added.
He refused to drawn into a discussion of reports the organization had deserted him whilst he was in prison as “Muslim Brothers have their principles and moral virtues. They will never abandon me as the most precious thing for members is their belief in God and their closeness.” He attacked those who were spreading such rumors “as not knowing anything bout the Brothers and their relations to each other.”
Despite his time in jail, al Erian expressed optimism in the future and said some had realized that certain actions should not be used against intellectuals and opinion makers and that it was possible for more changes to occur whereby all detainees would be freed. He urged the promises during the presidential campaign to become reality regarding the issues of prisoners, especially since young men have spent many years in jail without charge or trial.