A talk with the Muslim Brotherhood's Ibrahim Munir
|Wednesday, January 12,2011 12:38|
|By Mohammed Al Shafey|
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- In November 2010, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood achieved a ‘zero result’ in the country’s parliamentary elections, having previously held 88 national seats. As a result, the Brotherhood boycotted the subsequent electoral rounds, citing voting irregularities. Nevertheless, the shock of this ‘mass exodus’ from parliament has caused disputes within the ranks of the organization, and has raised the question as to who is responsible, and what direction the Brotherhood will take in the future. These questions are especially pertinent considering that the organization’s new Guidance Bureau took office in early 2010.
Ibrahim Munir is the Secretary General of the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and also the official spokesperson for the organization in the West. Now 73 years old, he has lived in Britain for the past thirty years, and has not visited his native Egypt since the 1987 elections. He was recently accused by the Egyptian Public Prosecution, along with 4 other Brotherhood members, of charges relating to money laundering and raising funds abroad. However, Munir maintains that he is not “on the run” from Egypt, as no sentence has been issued against him, and his “slate is clean”.
In an interview with ‘Asharq al-Awsat’, Ibrahim Munir elaborated on the Brotherhood’s performance in the parliamentary elections, and revealed his predictions for the future of the organization, and the future of the ruling Egyptian government. He also commented on the recent events in Egypt and the increasing sectarian hostility, as well as the accusations that have been lodged against him by the Egyptian Director of Public Prosecution. The following is the text from the interview.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement condemning the blast which targeted the al-Qiddissin (The Saints) Church in Alexandria. Who do you think is behind the bombing? Could it be the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as suggested by a statement issued by the organization in Iraq? Is the statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood sufficient to wash its hands of the whole affair?
[Munir] The Brotherhood issued a statement denouncing the incident, describing it as "outside of God’s law", because this was an obligation on our part. It was a testimony that no God fearing man could refrain from. To kill someone who has committed no offence, regardless of their faith or doctrine, constitutes an extreme act of aggression and injustice. Terrorizing others is also a crime, and no one can argue with that. Throughout history, our nation has suffered from incidents such as these.
We still don't know, up until this moment, who was actually behind this heinous crime. The official state apparatus has been entrusted with the task of conducting a fair, unbiased investigation. We hope the perpetrator, or perpetrators, will turn out to be non-Muslim and non-Egyptian. Our nation has grievously endured the impact of various invalid fatwas, which have not been based on proper Islamic jurisdiction, and have only produced bloodshed and destruction. In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood is one of Egypt's political and national factions. It can only comment on such incidents, then draw people's attention to the illegitimacy of such acts, first and foremost, and the threat to the nation as a whole, and the future cohesion of Egypt's population. The state is entrusted with taking all measures to ensure the security of the national population.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your own opinion, what is the reason for this sectarian crisis which has suddenly emerged in Egypt, in an unprecedented manner?
[Munir] Indeed, Egypt has never witnessed a crisis such as this throughout its entire history. However, we are living in a strange era, which began during the rule of former Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. [During Sadat’s rule] Pope Shenouda III was exiled to a Coptic monastery, following a political crisis which affected the whole of Egyptian society. Subsequently, nearly all opposition figures were arrested. With the beginning of the Mubarak era, the relationship between the Church and the state resembled a tense tug of war and although never officially declared, everyone was aware of it. This period was predominated by a sense of uncertainty that brought no comfort to Copts or Muslims. What intensified this uncertainty even further was the lack of a clear political vision to deal with the changing mobility of society, and the total monopoly of information outlets by the ruling elite. This left people with contrasting interpretations of what was happening. There were those that argued that the state’s position was contrary to the orientations of the Church, as it had not enacted the rulings which the Church proposed. Meanwhile, others believed that the state had complied fully with Church’s opinions, and its proposals, by building more churches during the era of President Mubarak than had been built over the past 100 years. Now we can add to this the crisis of the two young Coptic women who allegedly converted to Islam, before being handed over to the Coptic Church.
Each side constructs its own vision of events based on its own sources, and what it hears regarding the influence of domestic or foreign pressure groups. Now, and after 40 years of persistent uncertainty, this tension has started to escalate. I hold the regime responsible for this, and not the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a solution or cure for this?
[Munir] The solution and the cure are close at hand and easy to apply, if that the state fully shoulders its responsibilities. Everyone must be made aware of the facts; the custodians of the regime must give up their monopoly over opinions and solutions; they must stop considering the interests of foreign powers at the expense of Egypt's national interests, and its Muslim and Coptic population. Furthermore, existing laws must be applied to everyone, and matters requiring change or improvement must be put forward before a fairly-elected parliament. This will provide these laws with popular legitimacy, and mandatory force.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From your point of view, having received a ‘zero’ result in both the parliamentary and Shura Council elections, does this mean the end of the world for the Muslim Brotherhood? Will this affect their progress in 2011?
[Munir] The truth is that the word ‘zero’, with regards to the results of the recent parliamentary and Shura Council elections, could be very misleading to those who do not know the reality of the situation in Egypt. This number was a foregone conclusion, predetermined by those who administered and planned the election process. The final results were already on their desks before the Election Day came around, before ballot boxes had been distributed, along with nomination forms among electoral constituencies. The full list of the new Members of Parliament (MPs) was already in their hands, probably along with that of the ten MPs appointed by Presidential Decree.
This means that the figure ‘zero’ does not represent the actual popular basis of the Muslim Brotherhood across Egypt. It also does not represent the actual level of support for the National Democratic Party, which was not legally established, and has no legal reference within party formation laws that would allow it to operate. Therefore, this round of elections is not the end of the world for the Brotherhood. I rather believe it is the beginning of the end for the National Democratic Party. This is my prediction, and many Egyptians from all political persuasions share this belief.
The ‘zero’ result will definitely have an impact on the progression of the Brotherhood in 2011, but it will be a positive one, God willing. All the blows the Brotherhood has been dealt over its long history have failed, by the Grace of God, to uproot it. Thus, as the saying goes: "What does not kill you makes you stronger."
Once more, I would stress that a correct interpretation of anticipated events in 2011 would propel the Brotherhood to the forefront of political action and advocacy in Egypt. The coming period shall, God willing, witness the decline of some of the personalities who hatched the ‘zero result’ plot, and who now come to rely on it. The ‘zero result’ fabrication launched them into a bottomless abyss, the moment it was announced. This year in particular, we may witness the dissolution of the newly elected parliament. It will not be able to stand fortified behind its infamous cliché "master of its own decisions", while facing a deluge of invalidity charges relating to its members, from the Supreme Courts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a state of dispute within the ranks of the Brotherhood, and among observers of Islamic movements in general, because of those results? Did you expect such an outcome before the elections?
[Munir] Indeed, there is currently an ongoing debate within the Brotherhood. What happened in the elections exceeded the worst of what was suspected by local and international observers. To use an Egyptian phrase, experts have appeared in some media outlets, describing the latest parliamentary election as "dinner which has gone bad". They argued that the dish was burnt, and as such was no longer edible. As a result it should be consigned to the dustbin, no matter how much it had been garnished with empty, hollow words.
The truth is nobody expected these results, although all elections held in Egypt have been fraudulent to some degree. However, these parliamentary elections have proved to be the worst ever, throughout the history of modern Egypt. The debate taking place within the Brotherhood does not revolve around the decision to participate in the elections or not, but rather around what policy should be adopted during the coming stage, given that no-one expected such an outcome. Add to this debate the image of the ruling regime, following the Alexandria church attack.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Now that the Muslim Brotherhood has been deprived of its chief platform on the Egyptian political scene, what will its position be in the coming period? Will the Brotherhood resort to avoiding this state of political stagnation, by making further coordination with other national forces, and supporting opposition figures?
[Munir] This question concerns all political forces in Egypt, and not just the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood is keen to coordinate with other powers, to overcome the [outcome of the] rigged parliamentary elections. This country has entered a state of political vacuum, after 40 years of power monopoly by the National Democratic Party. This has led to a marked deterioration in all domestic and foreign domains, and it shall represent a burdensome legacy in the future, which we hope that everyone will be sincere in eliminating.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the role of the Brotherhood’s Global Shura Council, and the International Organization, in the recent elections. Was there any coordination with the Brotherhood abroad?
[Munir] Any Brotherhood gathering in any country in the world manages its affairs in accordance with the interests of its homeland and people, and in light of our established interpretation of the Holy Quran and the Sunna. Both of these constitute our trusted pillars, and we ask Almighty God that everyone adheres to them, for it is the only way to achieve the nation's aspirations and objectives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who should be held responsible for the "mass exodus" [of Muslim Brotherhood MPs from parliament], and what can be expected from the relationship between the Brotherhood and the regime during the coming period? Will the relationship go sour over the coming phase, because the Brotherhood is now without a single MP, bearing in mind that the former 88 Muslim Brotherhood MPs had functioned as a liaison between the government and the Brotherhood, and had reduced areas of conflict?
[Munir] The regime and its party are the ones responsible for this exodus. I assume that the regime, which was surprised by the list of names that had been elected to the People’s Assembly, and are supposed to be worthwhile candidates for the Presidency, felt highly embarrassed if not shocked. One of the newly elected MPs holds a criminal record. It would be humiliating for the Egyptian people to have such a person compete for the presidency, alongside a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This would cause great damage and moral harm to this grand post.
Because of this specific reason, along with the local and international reaction to what happened in the elections, the presence of some rational voices in certain decision-making centres, and the extremely negative performance of the National Democratic Party, which claims to enjoy widespread popularity, regarding the Alexandria church blast, I expect that the regime will endeavour, even by taking slow steps in that direction, to preserve its dignity and image by fixing what its followers had spoiled.
The idea of clashing with the regime is neither an option in the Brotherhood's culture, nor its plans. I believe the regime will try and avoid entering into such a collision too. I just hope, in the absence of real justice, that the incidents of indiscriminate and unjust arrests, whereby more than six thousand Brotherhood members were held last year without a charge or offence, will not recur.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you blame the Muslim Brotherhood’s new Guidance Bureau, in connection to the election results?
[Munir] Not at all, the Bureau has carried out consultations, and asked God for righteous guidance. Its decisions reflected the sincere desire of the Brotherhood, as evidenced by the figures and ratios it published, especially the decision to take part in the first round of elections, and the decision to withdraw afterwards.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do perceive Muslim Brotherhood activity on the Egyptian street in the coming years, given that the organization no longer holds any Members of Parliament? As an organized group, will it dedicate its efforts to spreading religious education and propagation, without any clamour or uproar?
[Munir] The MB, God willing, shall remain in close contact with the Egyptian street in towns and villages. The Brotherhood will continue to share people's concerns and their activities. The group shall make considerable contributions to the work of trade unions, which have finally been liberated, by a decisive court judgment, from the control of committees imposed by the National Democratic Party. Those committees squandered union savings and wasted their earnings, which had served as a means of support for union members. Perhaps the coming years will witness a greater effort in terms of national work compared to previous ones. The MB shall never forget religious education and Dawah, as they are the essence of its existence. Throughout its history, the Brotherhood has never sought to create clamour or uproar, and if this occurred in the past, then it wasn’t the fault of the organization.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Before the ‘zero result’, how many seats were you expecting the Brotherhood to gain in the elections? Was the loss a surprise to Muslim Brotherhood members in the Western world?
[Munir] Personally, I was expecting the election administrators to be smarter, as they could have placed the Brotherhood in an awkward position by allowing it a maximum of 10 members, on the basis that this number had been decided by the President in previous elections, as the allocation for Muslim Brotherhood representation in parliament. If this had happened, the regime could have argued that this was the true size of the Muslim Brotherhood’s support in Egypt, and this could have caused real confusion, both within the Brotherhood and outside of it. As for the issue of whether or not it was a shock, indeed it was, and not because the Brotherhood had to leave parliament with (zero) seats. Rather, the shock was the sheer mismanagement of the electoral process, in which state official authorities were implicated, and by doing so, they did great harm to the state. Nevertheless, people are still expecting a lot from these authorities, and pinning much hope on them, as they expected them to abide by the constitution and the law, which they have sworn by God to uphold and defend.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is responsible for the lack of Muslim Brotherhood development, with regards to its discourse or program? Is it the Guidance Bureau or the General Guide? There has been criticism that a major reason behind the failure of the Brotherhood is that it has failed to update its discourse, and that its tendency for religious discourse does not meet the requirements of a civil state?
[Munir] Personally, I do not know the meaning of development in this context. If anyone can enlighten me regarding its meaning, it will be easier to respond and evaluate. In the past, (for instance, but not exclusively), they said that the Muslim Brotherhood condemned participation in parliamentary elections, and that members were taken aback by the eventual participation of Imam Hassan al-Banna, may God rest his soul, in such elections. However, al-Banna in fact had a clear Shariaa-guided view in this regard. They also said that the Brotherhood was against the idea of political parties – basing this on what Hassan al-Banna had previously said – but they seemed to ignore the fact that al-Banna was speaking [at a time] when political parties had proved a total failure, and everyone agreed upon this failure after the army took action in 1952. It was also said that the Brotherhood was against the participation of women in pubic life. However, this assertion overlooked the fact that such participation, as determined by the Muslim Brotherhood, is permissible if it is governed by God's Shariaa, and does not infringe upon it, and if it is concordant with the customs of the society and the people, who seek only to please God. The Muslim Brotherhood's history is a testimony of women's participation in public work, according to such conditions. It has also been said that the Brotherhood prioritizes the maintenance of its interests as an organization, over its principles, which is incorrect. How can we address people in this modern life, and in light of present-day political parties, associations, and organizations, without having an organization to convey our ideology to the people, under a specific name? We emphasize that the Muslim Brotherhood does not claim to monopolize the representation of Islam and its ideology, nor do we prevent others from acting for the sake of Islam under any name whatsoever, as long as they abide by the clear ordinances and limitations of God and his Shariaa, and refrain from fabrication.
The correlation that has been made between the ambiguous meaning of ‘development’, and the Muslim Brotherhood's failure in the recent election, is in fact incorrect, because there were no elections at all, and everyone knows this. Regarding the assertion that a tendency for religious discourse is not commensurate with a civil state, this needs to be dissected and classified. Some of those, who criticized the Brotherhood's performance in the past, did so on the basis that the MB had become absorbed in politics at the expense of the religious trend.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your viewpoint, what are the priorities of the upcoming period?
[Munir] I believe that there are parallel priorities for action in the coming period, because of the presence of a new General Guide and a new Guidance Bureau, and also because of the pressure of events and their developments. Completing what the Muslim Brotherhood began sometime ago, with regards to internal regulations, focussing attention on school curricula, and the internal structure, must run in parallel with national action that incorporates coordination with national powers. This, for instance, involves reviving the role of trade unions, in order to pump fresh blood back into the Egyptian middle class, which has almost disappeared. On the external level, we should continue to focus our attention on Arab and Islamic causes, as well as humanitarian and international causes that take place on this earth in which we all live, and share its future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From you point of view, do contacts exist for coordination between Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and opposition parties, especially al-Wafd party, which also boycotted the elections?
[Munir] Yes, there are contacts to coordinate between the Brotherhood and opposition parties, especially al-Wafd party. The recent bombings in Alexandria, the regime's negligence of trade unions, and also the recent legislative election disaster, may all prompt the success of such coordination. The Brotherhood's approach to national action has always been participation, rather than competition. The current conditions in Egypt can by no means be administered by one faction only, following years during which a small minority held power. They administered the government’s affairs without real partnership or legitimate supervision, causing Egypt to suffer a relapse, and deteriorate more than half a century back.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the Muslim Brotherhood's current position towards al-Tajam'a party?
[Munir] It would more appropriate to ask al-Tajam'a party about its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood. This party went beyond the limits of permissible disagreement over opinions and ideas, and reached the extent of insults. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood's attitude towards al-Tajamo'a party centres upon two main issues: The first relates to some of its members with whom we differ in opinion, but we hold them in high regard, for they have a clear vision and a scientific discipline that can benefit the country. The second issue concerns our attitude towards the party itself, which is suffering from a condition that has plagued it for years, namely that its leadership has sought to eliminate the party's best talent. It was these ousted members, not us, who accused the party of adhering to the ruling National Democratic Party. The party was also accused of receiving finance from Egyptian political pressure groups abroad, and coordinating with them when framing policies, as expressed by a prominent figure who left the party recently, Jamal As'ad Abdul-Malak.
Despite this, the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to offer its hand to cooperate and coordinate, for the sake of Egypt. It will rise above the insults that it receives from some of al-Tajam'a’s affiliates. Personally, I hope that those in the party who feel sincerely about this country, and there are many of them, will put al-Tajam'a back on the right track, as a force that opposes corruption, rather than one which adheres and acts in coordination with it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the future movement and Dr. al-Baradei? Would you personally join the National Association for Movement? Or is there some kind of coordination?
[Munir] It is Dr. Mohamed Baradei himself who should answer this question. The man promised to lessen his external commitments, to participate effectively as a symbol of change in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood is coordinating with Dr. al-Baradei, as well as with the National Association for Change. My personal attitude as an MB member relates to the MB's policies, and if I’m requested in person to participate, I would not hesitate, God wiling.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the alternate (parallel) parliament idea? Will it be of any use? Will it remain steadfast after the Muslim Brotherhood joins it? Can action be taken against the current parliament by using, for example, lawsuits?
[Munir] The lawsuits, of which there are over a thousand, are capable of dissolving the current parliament. God willing, the parliament will lose any legitimacy it has, and a constitutional gap will emerge. The parallel parliament idea already exists in some countries, and thus it is not political heresy. Of course, it will not be able to enact new legislations or laws, but it will monitor current parliament. As some people say: A ghost of the murdered keeps perusing the killer until he eventually takes revenge from him; and the parallel parliament will behave in a similar manner with the current ‘false’ parliament.
It is God will alone that will determine whether or not the parliament shall remain steadfast after the MB joins it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been noticed that the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the West have decreased significantly. Will there be coordination between the international and Egyptian Brotherhoods in the upcoming period?
[Munir] For every incident there is analysis, and every period has its policies, and everyone knows that we are moving in broad daylight. We are aware that all eyes and ears are monitoring our steps. We do not take any action that contradicts the Islamic Shariaa, nor do we take any action that infringes upon national laws, or threatens the security of the country in which we live. We refuse to cheat or lie to anyone, nor do we say with our mouths what is not in our hearts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there any news about the charge against the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued by the [Egyptian] Director of Public Prosecution, in which your name was included in absentia, with accusations of money laundering and raising funds abroad? How will you ward off such accusations?
[Munir] The hearing for this lawsuit has been postponed for the fifth time, and a session has been scheduled for the 10th January 2011. Only one defendant will be present; namely Dr Osama Suleiman, proprietor of a bureau-de-change company. This session has been arranged to hear witness testimonies, yet to my knowledge, there are no witnesses except a State Security officer. Furthermore, the law prohibits the trial of a defendant, as long as he remains absent.