Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat— As violent clashes erupted between Muslim Brotherhood students and police at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University on Saturday, leaving at least three students killed, Brotherhood youth activists who have defected from the recently outlawed Islamist group announced the establishment of a new organization.
The new group, which will call itself the “Egyptian Brotherhood”, elected Mohamed Abdulwahab as its leader. Abdulwahab previously served as secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood organization which Cairo designated a “terrorist group” earlier this week after a car bombing at a police compound in the northern city of Mansoura left at least 14 people killed. The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, denied responsibility for the attack.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Egyptian Brotherhood group general coordinator Amr Amara said: “We are trying to find an alternative to the Brotherhood in order to calm the inflamed Egyptian street. Choosing the new General Guide was the decision of the youth.” Amara denied any “pressures from the Brotherhood’s more prominent defectors whose role is solely confined to providing us with advice.”
According to Amara, the new group’s choice of Abdulwahab, a “reformer” who “has not taken part in bloodshed,” came in a bid to “send a message to the Egyptian authorities that we are with, not against them.”
“We call ourselves the Egyptian Brotherhood instead of the Muslim Brotherhood, and our role is to help society … within the law,” he added.
Amara said that the newly founded group “respects the sovereignty of Egypt and will be under the supervision of the government.”
The new group’s ideology is based on Islamic Shari’a law and will be fully supervised by the Al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading Sunni Muslim authority, Amara told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He also called on the military-backed interim government to seek an alternative to the recently banned group by establishing a religious society or a political party for its members who want to continue to proselytize or practice politics.
Early this week the interim government designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and the Central Bank of Egypt froze the assets of a number of private associations linked to it.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Egyptian presidential adviser Mostafa Hegazi justified the ban on the Brotherhood by accusing the Islamist group of “engaging in violence in a highly systematic way as a means to convey its views.”
He described the ban as “realistic,” and “legal,” and denied suggestions it was politically motivated. He said: “We are facing an organization that is in effect engaging acts of terrorism or, in the most euphemistic terms, acts of systematic violence.”
He added that Brotherhood members who “have not engaged in systematic violence … are welcome if they want to return to society and ask for forgiveness.”
For his part, Amara described the Muslim Brotherhood supporters and youth activists who have taken to the street as “extremists,” and said: “They have been deluded by a false Caliphate project.” However, he added: “There must be a real alternative, even if it is a temporary one, in the form of a society that attracts them.”
Muslim Brotherhood students clashed with police in Cairo at the Al-Azhar University campus on Saturday on the first day of exams. This is the latest clash in an ongoing battle between security forces and Muslim Brotherhood students at Egypt’s oldest university following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. Local media reported that at least five people were killed on Friday as pro-Mursi protesters took to the street across the country in defiance of the interim government’s denouncement of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Egypt’s Interior Ministry had previously announced that anybody found guilty of membership of the Brotherhood, anyone who promoted the group verbally or in writing, as well as those caught carrying publications or recordings of the group, would also face a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
As for the Egyptian Brotherhood’s stance towards the chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, standing for the presidential elections, Amara said: “If Sisi stands for the presidency, we will strongly support him,” and he insisted that choosing an Islamist nominee was an “unacceptable idea which we will not repeat.”