Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat –Coptic political activists on Thursday announced the formation of a secular group called the “Christian Brotherhood” in Egypt as a parallel to the Muslim Brotherhood. This idea was first put forward in 2005 by Coptic lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla, director of the Cairo-based World Centre for Human Rights. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Nakhla talks about the formation of the Christian Brotherhood, the reasons behind this, and his hopes for the political organization’s future.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where did you get the idea to form the Christian Brotherhood?
[Nakhla] We got this idea after the Muslim Brotherhood successfully came to power in Egypt; therefore we decided to establish an equivalent group, named the Christian Brotherhood. This is a political organization whose objective is to reach power [in Egypt].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What steps have you taken to turn this idea into a reality?
[Nakhla] After we reached an agreement on this, idea, and presented it to the public, we received thousands of membership requests to join this organization. After we complete the membership procedures, we will register the group at the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs, so that this organization has legal status. We will avoid the dilemma faced by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose operations are illegal, because it is an unofficial organization that is not registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, which is responsible for the activity of all non-governmental organizations. Following the registration process, we will form a [political] party which will serve as the political wing of the Christian Brotherhood, and we intend to call this party the “Justice and Freedom Party”, in the manner of the political group of the Muslim Brotherhood [the Freedom and Justice party].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So the formation of the Christian Brotherhood is tied to Freedom and Justice party candidate Dr. Mohamed Mursi’s election as president?
[Nakhla] Of course, for although the Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928, they successfully came to power despite the fact that for a long period of this time they were considered an illegal group and were pursued by state authorities. If the Muslim Brotherhood model was an unsuccessful one, they would not have been able to reach power. This is the most important thing, namely for our idea to be successful, even if this takes 20 or 30 years, particularly as our group is going to be legal, registered and subject to state monitoring.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will membership to the Christian Brotherhood be limited to Christians?
[Nakhla] No, membership to the organization will be open to anybody who wants to join…although this does not deny the fact that the main body will be made-up of Christians. However, if any Muslim agrees with the objectives of the Christian Brotherhood and wants to join, then they are most welcome. Dr. Rafiq Habib, for example, is the deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he is a Christian. He believes in the objectives and ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has therefore joined this group and is promoting their views; in fact sometimes he is even more unwavering in this than the members of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau themselves!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What political approach will the Christian Brotherhood organization follow?
[Nakhla] The new group will follow a completely liberal and secular approach; we will not be a religious group in any way, shape or form. In Germany, for example, there is the Christian Democratic Union, and this is a political secular party where the term “Christian” is just part of the organization’s name, nothing more. This is what we intend, and our new organization will not be based on religion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the leader of the Christian Brotherhood occupy a position similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide?
[Nakhla] Yes, there will be an equivalent position, and this position may even have the same name [as General Guide]. To put it simply, we have been convinced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in coming to power, particularly as this group is still officially illegal. This is why we intend to implement this same idea, utilizing even the same hierarchy and positions, which may even have the same names [as their Muslim Brotherhood counterparts], but in a legal manner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect any objections from the Muslim Brotherhood regarding your replication of their idea?
[Nakhla] They cannot object to this idea, for if they object, then this means that they must dissolve their own organization. The new Egyptian president, Dr. Mohamed Mursi, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he does not deny this; so if the president will not resign from this organization or prohibit its activities, how can he ban another organization that is precisely the same, but which is also legally registered, simply because it is called the Christian Brotherhood? If he did this, we would accuse him of racism; whilst if he took the decision to dissolve our Brotherhood, then this means that they must dissolve their own Brotherhood as well
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the Christian Brotherhood’s major political demands? Are these limited to the demands of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, or will this extend to all of the Egyptian people?
[Nakhla] We will focus on the demands of Egypt’s minorities and the demands of the Christians in particular. However we will also defend any oppressed class in general, we will defend all the social and political demands of the Egyptian people. Our operations will not solely focus on the Christians, because we are not a racist organization, and if the Muslim Brotherhood were no longer in power and found themselves being persecuted, then we would defend them as well!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you envision the Christian Brotherhood’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood?
[Nakhla] We have no problem whatsoever in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, in fact we are prepared to politically ally with them and take part in elections with them on a joint list, which could be called the “Egyptian Brotherhood” list. We may support their presidential candidate in any future elections, on the condition that presidential and ministerial posts are shared between us. Therefore, if they were to win the presidency then the vice president would be a member of the Christian Brotherhood, whilst if they form a government, ministerial portfolios would be shared between us, each according to their [parliamentary] proportion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Wouldn’t such an alliance face difficult challenges, most importantly the Muslim Brotherhood’s implied support for the idea of a religious state?
[Nakhla] This would be a secular political alliance; it would not possess any religious context whatsoever. Our principle is that Egypt is a civil state that encompasses everybody. Egypt does not belong to any single segment of society or group; it belongs to all of the Egyptian people, regardless of their religion or political views.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not believe that dividing political posts in this manner, based on sectarian or religious considerations, will lead Egypt to the Lebanese quota model and the accompanying national disunity and chaos?
[Nakhla] On the contrary, I believe this will strengthen national unity, because such divisions are already present. There are Muslims and Christians, whilst within the Muslim community there are Sunnis, Shiites, Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates. As for the Christians, there are Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelists.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Salafists, do you truly expect the Salafists to welcome the establishment of a Christian Brotherhood?
[Nakhla] So far, the Salafist front in Egypt has welcomed this idea. Dr. Khalid Said, official spokesman of the Salafi Youth Front, said that so long as the Christian Brotherhood operates within the law and works in the national interest, then there is nothing wrong with its formation. We also have no problem with allying with the Salafi Youth Front, as long as they support us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria? Are they supporting the Christian Brotherhood in any way?
[Nakhla] The Church has stayed on the sidelines so far. It is no secret that before the revolution, it opposed us [Coptic political activists] out of courtesy to the former regime, however today the Church is sitting on the fence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As a Coptic political activist, how do you view the new phenomenon of some hardline Islamists attempting to impose their ideology on Egyptian society?
[Nakhla] We have warned of this practice for some time, and a number of sides expressed their doubts over this, however today our warnings have been confirmed following the most recent incidents. These incidents include the killing of a youth in the Suez last week; simply for working in the street with his fiancé…therefore the situation is very dangerous.