Dr. Mohamed El-Sayed Habib, First Deputy of the Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, affirmed that the artificial uproar over the feared establishment of a so-called religious state and the related allegations concerning a resulting threat to Copts’ rights and to arts and creativity, following the big Brotherhood electoral victory in the latest legislative elections in Egypt, is no more than an artificial, unfounded controversy.
He talked about the Brotherhood’s vision of the political and economic reform, how to bring about development in its broadest sense, the Brotherhood’s relations with the U.S. administration and other topics that we discussed with him in this interview.
Q: The latest period has witnessed a clear ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood on the political scene as a result of which it garnered 88 seats in the People’s Assembly -Egypt’s parliament. What are the issues that the Brotherhood will be interested in raising in the People’s Assembly?
A: I would like first to confirm that the presence in the People’s Assembly of 88 Muslim Brothers will not substantially affect the form or composition of the assembly where the ruling party enjoys, in its own words, a more than comfortable majority. The difference there is that the debate will be serious, the discussions will be fruitful and constructive and the oversight and law-making roles will be more distinguished. This could have a favorable effect on the decisions of the People’s Assembly, enhancing its effectiveness and restoring citizens’ confidence in it.
Regarding the main issues that preoccupy the Brotherhood deputies, they revolve around three major questions:
First, the question of political reform and constitutional amendment, bearing in mind that it represents the true and natural point of departure for all other kinds of reforms;
Second, the question of education, scientific research and native development of technology since this constitutes the mainstay of resurgence and the basis for progress and advance.
Third, the question of comprehensive development in all its dimensions: human, economic, social, cultural, etc.
In this regard, we cannot fail to emphasize the societal problems from which the Egyptian citizenry suffers, i.e. unemployment, inflation and increasing prices, housing crisis, health problems, environmental pollution, etc.
Q: There are some people who accuse Muslim Brothers of being against arts and creativity and are concerned that your deputies in parliament will take an attitude against everything implying culture and creativity. What do you think?
A: In principle, we are not against culture, arts and creativity. On the contrary, Islam strongly encourages refining the public taste and confirms the need to shape one’s mind, heart and conscience in such a way as to bring forth man’s potentialities and prompt him to invent and innovate in all fields of life. There is no doubt that the atmosphere of freedom is conducive to a creative culture and creative arts, particularly if the latter express the daily concerns of the citizen and the challenges he faces and if they reflect the values of society and the public morality observed by people of good nature and sound minds.
On the other hand, the atmosphere of dictatorship and despotism produces a kind of culture and art that is more inclined towards abject trivialities, indecencies, depreciation of people’s minds and deepening their ignorance. A nation that is capable of innovation and creativity is necessarily capable of bringing about resurgence, advance and progress. Some people consider that creativity is born from the womb of suffering. Every society has peculiar cultural identity and has its values, traditions and customs. I think it is the right of the people’s deputies, or rather their duty, to maintain that peculiarity and to play their role in bringing to accountability those bodies or institutions that promote pornography, homosexuality or moral perversion under the guise of creativity. It is essential to subject those so-called creative works to examination and review by specialized and expert people in various fields. Ultimately, it is the judiciary that has the final say as to whether or not those works should be allowed.
Q: Do you have an integral program for the uplifting of the political and economic situation of Egypt?
A: We believe that the political reform is the true and natural gateway for all other kinds of reform. We have announced our acceptance of democracy that acknowledges political pluralism, the peaceful rotation of power and the fact that the nation is the source of all powers. As we see it, political reform includes the termination of the state of emergency, restoring public freedoms, including the right to establish political parties, whatever their tendencies may be, and the freedom of the press, freedom of criticism and thought, freedom of peaceful demonstrations, freedom of assembly, etc. It also includes the dismantling of all exceptional courts and the annulment of all exceptional laws, establishing the independence of the judiciary, enabling the judiciary to fully and truly supervise general elections so as to ensure that they authentically express people’s will, removing all obstacles that restrict the functioning of civil society organizations, etc.
We cannot forget in this regard the need to make constitutional amendments, including modifying the text of article 76 of the Constitution with a view to ensuring equal opportunities and free and true competition among all citizens, through the annulment of all impossible conditions that were arbitrarily inserted in the latest amendment of that article - conditions which have emptied that amendment from its substance. The reform should also include changing the wording of article 77 of the Constitution so as to limit the tenure of the presidency to just one four-year term, extendable only by one more term; changing the articles which grant the president of the republic absolute and unlimited powers and establishing his accountability before the legislative council in view of the fact that he heads the executive branch of government.
As to our program for reviving the economy, it comprises several basic mainstays:
1. Reviewing the role of the public sector and the privatization process;
2. Providing social welfare through the subsidies scheme and the restoration of the institution of Zakat (poor dues in Islam);
3. Reforming the State’s public finance (public expenditures, fiscal policy, public borrowing, deficit financing);
4. Correcting the monetary policy track;
5. Balanced opening up to the world economy (liberalization of foreign trade, promoting exports and foreign investments);
7. Intensifying popular participation, through providing support to local councils and reinstating the rights of Islamic Wakfs (religious endowments);
8. Seeking urgent solutions to the unemployment problem till grow becomes self-propelled;
9. Supporting the private sector as a spearhead for the realization of development objectives;
10. Confronting corruption decisively; and
11. Catching up with scientific and technological progress.
Q: The political reform program put forth by Muslim Brothers does not differ from those of other political parties, what is then the advantage of your program?
A: Muslim Brotherhood shares most elements of political reform with other political and national forces. This is due to the joint efforts that political parties and forces have deployed during the past decades, which had culminated in the adoption in 1997 of a common document for political reform called “Political Reform and Democracy”.
Certainly, there are differences among political formations as to the priority to be assigned to those elements, as well as the mechanisms to be employed. There is also a semi-agreement among all political forces on the need to introduce some constitutional amendments- as was mentioned earlier- although some secularists want to change the Constitution in a comprehensive and drastic way, including article 2 of the current Constitution which states that Islam is the official religion of the State and that the principles of Islamic sharia (law) are the main source of legislation. Such a change would be in complete conflict with the desire of the entire people, who are characterized by their strong religious attachment and their willingness to be governed by the provisions of Islam. We must not, however, forget the belief and morality dimension which the Muslim Brotherhood insists on observing in their practice of politics as well as its compliance with Islamic legal rules and precepts such as the discipline of jurisprudence dealing with priorities and balances, etc.
Q: Some segments of the elite in Egypt and abroad are worried that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to establish a theocracy. How would you react to that?
A:This concern stems from a wrong understanding of the nature of Islam. To those who speak about a religious state, in the same ecclesiastical meaning given to it in Europe in the middle ages, when the church had hegemony over a State’s authorities, we wish to say that the issue here is completely different.
The Muslim Brotherhood has gone through the latest legislative elections on the basis of a clear-cut program under the slogan “Islam is the Solution”, given the fact that Islam, as Imam el-Banna said, is a comprehensive program that encompasses all aspects of life: it is a state and a country, a government and people, ethics and power, mercy and justice, culture and law, science and justice, resources and wealth, defense and advocacy, an army and an idea, a true belief and correct acts of worship (Imam el-Banna’s Teachings Message). In fact, this conforms fully to the Constitution which states, in its second article, that the State’s religion is Islam and that principles of Islamic sharia (law) are the main source of legislation. We say that the State that we want is a civic state, i.e. a state of institutions, based on the principles of constitutional government.
Imam el-Banna states: “the principles of constitutional government consist of: maintaining all kinds of personal freedom, consultation and deriving authority from the people, responsibility of the government before the people and its accountability for its actions, and the clear demarcation of power of each branch of government. When a scholar considers those principles, he would clearly find out that they are all in full agreement with the teachings, disciplines and norms of Islam concerning the system of government. Consequently, Muslim Brothers think that the constitutional system of government is the closest system of government in the world to Islam. They prefer it to any other system of government.” (Message to the 5th Conference).
Q: Although the Brotherhood refuses to submit an application for the establishment of a political party under the pretext that the Political Party Committee is unconstitutional, some people submitted similar applications which were approved, what do you think about that?
A: Along with other political and national forces, we seek to amend or change the Political Parties Law. Consequently, the so-called Political Party Committee is unconstitutional and acts as both adversary and judge. It creates more problems than it solves and interferes in the internal affairs of parties in such a way as to paralyze their movement and curb their effectiveness. This is one of the reasons why those parties are weak and fragile. Furthermore, we don’t want to set up a political party to face the same destiny as existing parties. The problem lies in the general political atmosphere and unless that atmosphere is changed things will remain what they are now. Briefly, we want the party to be established when people want to have it established, just through notification.
Q: Your discourse sometimes mixes between religion and politics which means that you are neither purely religious people nor purely professional politicians. What is the nature of that dichotomy?
A:Politics is part of religion. I remember in this regard Imam al-Banna’s statement that “If Islam is something different than politics, sociology, economics and culture, what is it then?” He also says “A Muslim is not fully Muslim unless he engages in politics, thinks over the state of affairs of his Umma and concerns himself with it.”
Q: Some Copts in Egypt were so alarmed by the recent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood that some of them declared that they would leave Egypt as a result! What is the nature of the Brotherhood’s relations with Copts?
A: We consider our Coptic brothers as citizens enjoying all rights associated with citizenship and as part of the fabric of the Egyptian society. We consider them as partners in the country, in decision-making and in determining our future. Consequently, the basis for filling public posts shall be efficiency, ability and experience, not religion or beliefs.
On that basis, we see no justification or logic for the concern of some Copts over the rise of Muslim Brothers. But this is due to the bad political atmosphere in which the Egyptian people live and which has led to a general state of apprehension and tension. It has been aggravated by the self-imposed isolation of our Coptic brothers and their failure to integrate in public life.
From our side, we are conducting dialogues with them and are trying to take them out of their isolation, by encouraging some individuals among them to take part in the activities of syndicates, conferences and symposiums dealing with public affairs. In addition, we support some of them in legislative and syndicate elections.
Q: From time to time, the question of your relations with the U.S. surfaces. Do you have any relation with them? Have you contacted them through direct or indirect channels?
A:There is no relation whatsoever between us the U.S. There is no contact of any kind with them. We have repeated that several times before. We are not a state within a state and we are very much interested in reinforcing the independence and prestige of our State and in respecting its institutions. We cannot permit anyone to compromise that prestige nor can we allow ourselves to be a reason for that. If the U.S. administration wants to enter into a dialogue with us, they first would have to get the approval of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. And then what are we going to discuss with them?
Q: Your attitude with regard to Jews is not clear: at times you declare that you are not going to cancel treaties concluded with them if you take power, and at times you say that the holocaust is a myth, what is exactly your attitude?
A: The Zionist entity (Israel) has usurped the land ofPalestine, the land of Arabs and Muslims. No proud people can accept to stay put when their land is occupied and their sacred places are assaulted. Resisting occupation is required by Islam and sanctioned by international law, agreements and customs. As to the Camp David Accord and the peace treaty that were concluded by Egypt with the Zionist entity (Israel) in the late 1970s, they are presumed to be thoroughly reviewed periodically by international lawyers, strategists and national security experts, taking into account the local, regional and international dimensions of the question. The outcome of their review should be submitted to the democratic institutions of the Sate for decision.
As to the reported statement describing the holocaust as a myth, it was not intended as a denial of the event but only a rejection of exaggerations put forward by Jews. This does not mean that we are not against the holocaust. Anyway, that event should not have led to the loss of the rights of the Palestinian people, the occupation of their land and the violation and assault of their sacred places and sanctities.