Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has met with a number of ex-Muslim Brotherhood figures to discuss ways of confronting Islamic extremism in the North African country.
Cairo designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization in December 2013, less than six months after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
Sisi met with a number of former Muslim Brotherhood officials, who have become outspoken critics of the group, at the presidential palace earlier this week, including Tharwat Al-Kherbawy, Kamal El-Helbawy and Mokhtar Nouh.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, lawyer Kherbawy who has written a number of books about his time in the Brotherhood, said: “President Sisi met with us because we have firsthand experience of the Islamist and extremist project.”
“We have carried out a number of studies and a lot of research on confronting extremist and terrorist ideologies, and this is what we put forward to the president,” he added.
However Kherbawy denied that the meeting was to discuss future policies aimed specifically against his former group. “The concept of terrorism is broader than the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
The meeting comes as part of Egyptian efforts to clamp down on Islamic extremism in the country. Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf [Religious Endowments] issued a decision last year to impose more stringent controls on the country’s mosques, including banning clerics who have not graduated from Al-Azhar. Al-Azhar University, the highest religious authority in Egypt, has also played a more prominent role in recent days in combating extremist discourse and promoting religious tolerance.
In a speech earlier this year, Sisi called for a “revolution” in religious discourse to confront extremist ideology. “This renewal [of religious discourse] must be conscious and preserve the values of true Islam, eliminating sectarian polarization and addressing extremism and militancy,” the president said.
Sisi’s meeting with the breakaway Brotherhood figures comes as part of official attempts to produce a comprehensive anti-extremism policy in the country.
“President Sisi held dialogue with us on a number of important issues. We talked for three hours and I can say that this was an uncommon meeting with an uncommon leader. We can be reassured about the future of Egypt under Sisi,” Kherbawy told Asharq Al-Awsat.