After approximately three years abroad, Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Dr. S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim returned on August 4, 2010 for a two-week visit to his homeland, where a number of lawsuits against him are pending. In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, for which he writes a weekly column, Ibrahim, who is founder and director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies and a board member of the Arab Democracy Foundation, said that he considers the Muslim Brotherhood a sound alternative to the Egyptian regime. He also called on Egypt to support former International Atomic Energy Agency secretary-general Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei as a candidate for the Egyptian presidency.
These statements enraged Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, Shura Council member and editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhouriyya, and a full-blown press war between the two resulted, played out in articles in Al-Masri Al-Yawm and Al-Gumhouriyya. Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim claimed that S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim's support of the Muslim Brotherhood and of ElBaradei attests to his detachment from the politics of the Egyptian street. He also raised the possibility that S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim is acting on the orders of the U.S., which he claimed is planning to turn Egypt into a religious state modeled after Iran or Turkey, and to allow a Palestinian state to be established in the Sinai.
In response, S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim said that he would be willing to provide the Al-Gumhouriyya editor with a scoop if the latter would arrange for him to meet with ElBaradei and with Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Dr. Muhammad Badi'.
Strangely, shortly after giving this interview S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim signed a petition by the Popular Coalition Supporting Gamal Mubarak for President, and said that if Gamal is elected through fair elections, this would not constitute inheriting the presidency. He explained that he supports the right of any citizen to submit his candidacy, and that consequently he also signed ElBaredei's petition. His goal, he clarified, is to breach the barrier of fear and promote democratic activity.
Following are excerpts of the exchange between S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim and Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim:
S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim: Most of the Lawsuits Against Me Have Been Settled in My Favor
Upon his return to Egypt, S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim was interviewed by the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm:
Q: "Why did you return to Egypt?"
A: "To visit family and friends. It is my natural right."
Q: "Did you coordinate your trip, or the timing of your trip, with any government element?"
A: "I did not, nor will I, coordinate with anyone, as I [merely] exercised my right as a citizen who is fully entitled to return to my homeland and visit my family. There are no rulings against me preventing me from doing so."
Q: "You have not been to Egypt for three years. Why [did you return] specifically at this time and not sooner?"
A: "Over the past three years, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against me. Under [Egypt's] Emergency Law, the government can detain me for investigation in any of them. But at this point, most of these cases have either been decided in my favor or rejected by the court, so I decided that the time had come to visit my family and friends. The timing is right because I have no [other] commitments. [Before this,] I had commitments in Europe and after that in Turkey."
Q: "Complaints filed with the attorney-general are still pending against you. Aren't you afraid they might be revived and you will find yourself under arrest, as one of your attorneys has said?"
A: "There are eight complaints with the attorney-general are still pending against me. [My] attorneys filed several requests for a ruling in them, whether with a trial or by stopping the legal proceedings, but no such decision has been reached. Apparently the regime wishes to keep [the cases open], to keep knives against my throat. Despite my recent efforts to avoid such a situation, and despite my assessment that they were waiting for me to return in order to revive these complaints, my love and yearning for my homeland and for my family made me throw my previous caution to the winds. I decided to visit Egypt come what may, even arrest. Overall, nothing has happened so far. I entered [the country] quite easily. According to my wife, it took no more than three seconds."
Q: "What is the nature of the accusations against you in these complaints?"
A: "Defaming Egypt's image, receiving foreign funds to finance the Ibn Khaldun Center, [and spreading] the false claim that the elections in Egypt were rigged – this accusation recurs in almost all the complaints."
Q: "As someone who is among those demanding reform and change, how do you view see the current political landscape in Egypt?"
A: "I see some of the fruits of what we have been demanding for three decades; we demanded free and fair elections; constitutional amendments; competitive elections at all levels, including for the presidency; and monitoring of the elections [by] civil [society organizations] and by international [organizations]. Once we were the only ones to demand this; then the parties and all the political streams and youth began demanding it [as well]. Former IAEA secretary-general Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei is also demanding it, and that makes me happy..."
ElBaradei – Our Presidential Candidate
Q: "In light of these calls, do you think there is hope for reform and change?"
A: "Certainly there is hope. Had there been no hope to begin with, I would not have bothered, gone to prison, or lived in exile for three years. But there is always hope. I am optimistic and believe that change is near at hand. It's enough that, as we speak, we have a popular candidate for the presidency."
Q: "Whom do you mean?"
A: "ElBaradei, [though] he is a rigid candidate; he'll have to reach out to the people for them [to be able] to rally around him."
Q: "But under the constitution he can't run as an independent candidate."
A: "True, but his [very] presence has caused a sort of political shift, and demands for change are beginning to be heard."
Q: "Do you think that ElBaradei is capable of forcing and persuading the regime into change, and to do so by means of the seven demands [he has presented as a condition for his running for president]?"
A: "ElBaradei can't [do this] on his own, but if forces are combined, there could be consent to change."
Q: "Some are denouncing ElBaradei for condensing [all] demands for reform and change down to [a mere] seven."
A: "This is a step in the direction of reform. If they are enacted, more will follow... I hope we achieve them."
Q: "Did you sign [the petition] for these demands?"
A: "Of course. I was one of the first to sign, when I was in the U.S."
Q: "Do you think the regime will accept the political shift that is underway, and allow smaller movements to grow?"
A: "The government should be asked this question first. What interests me as a man of social [science] is human behavior. I see thousands of youths who are no longer afraid. The wall of fear has been breached; although it still stands, it has cracked. Through these cracks, the [electorate's] voices might penetrate. That is what happened in Eastern Europe, where change began with a protest or a strike."
Q: "As a man of social science, why aren't the Egyptians rebelling...?"
A: "That is a misreading of history... The Egyptian people are rebelling, but aren't professional rebels. No one in the world starts rebellions as a profession. The Egyptian people rebel when they have a real reason to do so."
Turkey's Political Party Experiment Should be an Example for Us
Q: "How do you regard Egypt's situation in terms of party [pluralism]?"
A: "While Egypt's situation, in terms of party [pluralism], is certainly still suppressed, it is better than the situation in many other countries in the Arab world. No situation is better than that of Egypt – except for that of Morocco and Iraq, despite the hardships in these [countries].
"In the Middle East, Iran is in excellent condition [in terms of party pluralism], but Turkey's situation is definitely even better. I always say that this is the path that Egypt needs to take... because Turkey has become a civil state, while at the same time fearlessly opening a door to the Islamists. Third, it is the leading country in Europe in terms of economic development. I am pleased with the experiment of the Justice and Development party [i.e. the ruling AKP] there, and I call on the [Muslim] Brotherhood to learn from them.
"I once attempted to arrange a meeting between the Justice and Development party leaders and several [Muslim] Brotherhood reformist leaders, headed by [Muslim Brotherhood General Guide's Office and movement spokesman] Dr. 'Assam Al-'Arian. [The reformist leaders] welcomed [my initiative] and a date was set, but they were removed from the airplane [on which they were travelling] before it left for Turkey. I witnessed the event because I was involved in it. The regime does not want cooperation or coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and any foreign element."
The Muslim Brotherhood – A Sound Alternative, If They Establish a Civil State
Q: "At this opportunity, while we are discussing the Muslim Brotherhood, how do you evaluate the Brotherhood's performance in Egypt, and do you think it could be an alternative to the regime?"
A: "Of course. The Muslim Brotherhood is a good and solid alternative, providing they implement a complete and unconditional civil state and change some of the views they hold that stir up civil society – such as [starting to allow] Copts and women [to run for president]."
Q: "If there is no judicial oversight of the elections, what are your thoughts regarding the upcoming elections?"
A: "They will be more competitive, since there is international oversight whether the regime likes it or not; in addition to oversight by the civil society. I [take this opportunity] to announce that we at the Ibn Khaldun Center will publicly oversee elections, and we have the funding to do so."
"Overall, the Obama Administration Treats Despotic Governments Rather Delicately and Fondly"
Q: "Where did you get funding?"
A: "From an international body."
Q: "But [receiving foreign funds without governmental consent] is one of the accusations against the center."
A: "I'm not denying this accusation. I confirm that the Ibn Khaldun Center receives foreign funds. Anyone [in Egypt] who wants to fund me – be my guest. In that case, I would not accept foreign funds. But smothering me within [Egypt], while at the same time not wanting me to reach out to outside the country – that's illogical. The regime itself receives foreign aid. This is part of [its] immorality – it allows itself to receive billions in foreign aid, while punishing someone who receives $100,000. There is a double standard here. When they stop taking foreign funds, so will we."
Q: "Why did the U.S. recently cut back its support of democracy?"
A: "No reason was specified, but the Obama administration has a general tendency to cut back, without focusing on anyone specific. Overall, the Obama administration treats despotic governments rather delicately and fondly, in the hopes of bringing peace to the Middle East and resolving the Palestinian issue. But [eventually] it will understand that it will achieve neither democracy nor peace [in the Middle East], because these governments want only to hang on to their thrones. They don't want peace, or anything else."
Rally around the Leaders of the Liberal Democratic Movement
Q: "A last word to the public?"
A: "We have a promising democratic movement. I am asking the people to rally around the leaders of this movement – whether that leader is ElBaradei, Al-Wafd Party leader Al-Sayyed Al-Badawi, Al-Ghad Party founder Dr. Ayman Nour, or [Democratic] Front Party leader Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb. They are all new faces in the arena, real democratic liberal faces, and they are worthy of a following. If we don't grab this golden opportunity, it will be missed, and we will regret it for the next 10 years."
Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim: Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim Is Pushing a Regime Paradigm Like Iran's
In response, Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, Egyptian Shura Council member and editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhouriyya, wrote: "The Ibn Khaldun Center director, which receives $10 million from the Qatari emir to spend on supporting democracy in Egypt, has turned to the [Muslim] Brotherhood after quarrelling with Doha and severing his ties with it. This followed the era of George Bush, Jr., who would use Sa'd Al-Din for issuing anti-Mubarak declarations – while at the same time the Ibn Khaldun Center director would use this American administration for cutting back aid to Egypt and making it conditional upon [the establishment] of democracy [in Egypt].
"Sa'd Al-Din's statements that were published yesterday [i.e. August 8, 2010] prove that the man moves only in the environs of his own interests, and is not [acting] for the sake of Egypt's interests...
"Now he stresses that the Muslim Brotherhood is an alternative to the regime, and demands rallying around ElBaradei as a presidential candidate, and electing [Al-Wafd opposition party leader Al-Sayyed] Al-Badawi, [Al-Ghad opposition party founder Dr. Ayman] Nour, and [opposition Democratic Front party leader Osama Al-Ghazali] Harb to form the government and the parliament.
"Sa'd Al-Din has made a complete about-face, from one extreme to the other. Now he has begun to propagandize for a [regime] paradigm like that of Iran, in which the Muslim Brotherhood general guide will be the source of authority...
"Thus, [Muslim Brotherhood General Guide] Muhammad Badi' will be like [Iranian Supreme Leader] 'Ali Khamenei, while ElBaradei will be the Egyptian [counterpart of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-]Nejad, because he cannot defy Badi'. Then, parliament will comprise the Al-Wafd [party], the [Democratic] Front, and Al-Ghad, [all of which will] serve as a strong reformist stream, to counter the conservative or traditional stream [in the parliament].
"It may be that these statements [by Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim] were aimed at taking the pulse [of Egyptian politics] or at following the instructions of Sa'd Al-Din's friends in the [U.S.] Congress, who want to turn Egypt into some other entity the stability of whose people is not guaranteed – even if this entity wears Islamic garb or is a copy of the Islamic Revolution in Iran...
"Sa'd Al-Din [Ibrahim] is acting to implement his own theory or program for regime change. He wants [Egypt's] regime to be Islamic, with a president who has no authority, like in Iran and Turkey. In such a situation, the Egyptians face two paths: the Iranian model, which [entails] economic sanctions and provoking Israel and the U.S. – but this is implausible, as S'ad Al-Din [Ibrahim] has [pro-]American tendencies and is friendly rather than hostile toward Israel. [The other path is that of] the Turkish model, in which the president is also powerless – [meaning that] we would become a parliamentary republic, in which the Muslim Brotherhood has a majority and the opposition comprises Al-Wafd and the rest of the parties.
"S'ad Al-Din [Ibrahim] understands that Egypt will never be [like] Turkey, for the simple reason that we will not agree to becoming a NATO member. Likewise, we will not agree to be like Turkey that opens its airspace to Israeli and American planes. We will not accept a democracy that would bring down economic sanctions on us, as well as international blockade, the freezing of our accounts and fund transfers, and perhaps even war. We will also not accept a democracy that entails dependence on Washington, such that we would become an open book to it and to its allies in the region.
"Egypt will continue to be stable, and will continue to be the one to decide, and will not give in to attempts by adventurers, agents, and mercenaries [serving foreign interests] and those who draw their power from without..."
The U.S. Has Decided to Turn Egypt into a Religious State
In another article in Al-Gumhouriyya, Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim wrote: "I never imagined that the opposition parties would fall into the [Muslim] Brotherhood's snare. That Al-Wafd, the [Democratic] Front, ElBaradei, and even S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim have turned to this movement, which is banned [in Egypt], can only mean one thing – that their long-standing involvement in the political arena has been in vain... With the first real test of the strength of the parties, they immediately threw themselves into the arms of the outlawed [movement], and gave it a blank check to do with them as it wished. Suddenly, the politicians were filled with love for the serpents of politics...
"ElBaradei and S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim have proven that even if they win endless support from Washington, they also have the blessing of the [Muslim] Brotherhood. It would seem that Washington has made up its mind to turn Egypt into a religious state. The U.S. learned nothing from [what happened with] the shah of Iran [when] it supported Khomeini in exile and helped [him] to bring down Mohammad Reza Pahlavi...
"It appears that this time Washington is planning a different fate for Egypt – a religious state with a president who would follow [the U.S.] and obey its every word. Then a crisis would break out. Israel would again fall upon the Sinai, would give it to the Palestinians, and would annex Gaza. This would be the independent Palestinian state that Bush and Obama promised the Arabs.
"Then the [Muslim] Brotherhood would be praised in Egypt for the establishment of two Islamic states on Egyptian soil. And then Egypt would launch a different kind of war – a war like that going on in Lebanon, between the Muslim Brotherhood militias and Hamas, on the one hand, and the armed national forces on the other. But this will not happen, because everyone knows that serpents cannot shed their skin more than once, and the Muslim Brotherhood has already used up this [opportunity]..."