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Interview with Dr. Issam el-Arian
Interview with Dr. Issam el-Arian
"The US administration has worked out a package deal with our government," key Muslim Brotherhood (MB) spokesperson Dr. Issam el-Arian told me recently.  "The regime works for US interests in the region, and the US remains silent on its abuses.  That deal  worked for many years.  But it can’t work now in an era of transparency.
Sunday, February 18,2007 00:00
by Helena Cobban, justworldnews.org Just World News
"The US administration has worked out a package deal with our government," key Muslim Brotherhood (MB) spokesperson Dr. Issam el-Arian told me recently.  "The regime works for US interests in the region, and the US remains silent on its abuses.  That deal  worked for many years.  But it can’t work now in an era of transparency."

I met Dr. Arian in his office in the gracious-- and bustling-- 1930s villa in downtown Cairo that is the headquarters of the Egyptian Medical Society.  Arian is the organization’s treasurer, having been released just this past fall at the end of a five-year stint in jail.  (He had earlier served two shorter prison terms.) I asked him about the kind of treatment he had received in jail this time round.  "It was more terrible under President Nasser," he said.  But he said that regime agents had been following him throughout the preceding week, and there was a risk he might be re-arrested.  "And they’ve prevented me from traveling," he said.

We talked February 11.  Four days later, the Egyptian police arrested an additional 73 MB members, including some individuals who had run as candidates in the parliamentary elections held in November 2005.  But not Arian. This brought to around 300 the total number of imprisoned MB members, with the majority of them having been arrested within the past 12 months.  (Human Rights Watch has a list of the 226 MB members detained as of February 13, 2007.)

Arian is a friendly, well organized man in his early fifties, with a slightly receding hairline and the same kind of neatly trimmed beard that the Hamas people wear. "I feel we are in a border stage between two eras," he told me.  "Our president is 79 and ill.  There are many rumors about the possible succession of his son, Gamal.  This is a big problem in Egypt because the army has always been the main power here.  It still is, though now the "State Security" is much stronger than it was.  Still, the army has taken to the streets twice here, in 1977 and 1986.  And that has to be a big concern."

He said that in his view, the constitutional changes now being discussed in Egypt "are aimed at preventing the ermergence of all indpendent political parties, not just the Brotherhood."  He explained that though there are some 23 or 24 "official" opposition parties in the country, "they only have seven or eight seats between all of them."  (The parliament contains 444 elected seats-- and ten seats allocated by the President.)  Some of the changes currently being discussed for the country’s Constitution concern Articles 76 and 77, which define strict conditions for which parties  should be allowed to field candidates in the presidential election.  Though Article 76 stipulates that the president should be elected in a multi-party election it is in fact true that, under the current rules and most currently presented changes to them, none of the "official" opposition parties would qualify!

For its part, the MB now has 88 members of parliament who are loyal to it, though they ran as independents in the November 2005 election.  In addition, Arian said that six of the country’s two-member constituencies still have not had their election results certified.  "And they would give us probably another seven members."

Despite the fact he felt he was being closely watched and followed, Arian seemed relaxed, and he even projected a certain amount of confidence.  One of the topics I was eager to discuss with him was the complex relationship between Egypt and Palestine-- and between the MB and the organization that had grown out of the MB’s Palestinian affiliate, Hamas.

"The main obstacle to the development of strong relations between Gaza and Egypt comes from Egypt," he said.  "And the main reason for that obstacle is the government’s fear of the relationship between the Brotherhood and Hamas."  He recalled a news account of the degree to which Hamas’s victory had distrubed the Egyptian government.

"The fact that Fateh and Hamas reached their recent agreement in Mecca, not here, was significant, because the negotiations were actually going well here in Egypt until the Americans intervened," he said.  "The Egyptians have no room to navigate with the Americans.  Saudi Arabia has more...  As for Hamas, it continues to work with the regime here regardless of what the regime does to the Brotherhood."  He indicated that he understood why Hamas made that choice, and he could live with it.

Later, he said, "If you consider what Hamas was able to do-- to survive for a whole year under those terrible siege conditions-- it was really remarkable."  He also said that the Egyptian Medical Society had been making aid shipments to the Palestinians for the past 20 years, and that the society and the Arab Medical Union with which it is affiliated now have plans to raise $1 billion of aid to send to Palestine.

He noted, regarding the demonstrations that had taken place the previous Friday to protest Israel’s launching of some excavation work in occupied East Jerusalem, at an entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, that



The police response to the demonstrators here in Al-Azhar was even worse than the Israeli police’s response in Al-Aqsa!  It is really a bad position for the regimje to be in-- when it is seen as punishing those who only want to defend Al Aqsa.  It would be different if the [ruling] National Democratic Party itself were doing anything serious on the issue, but they are not doing anything to protest.

And then, Olmert says he has a ’green light’ from the Arab regimes to proceed.  Which three do you think are most involved in the issue of Al Aqsa?  Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia... But you know, this issue might cause the people to explode.

I was also interested to ask this spokesperson for a large Sunni Muslim organization for his views on the possibility fo a serious split developing within the Middle East along primarily sectarian, Sunni-Shiite lines.  "Recently, our Murshed (Supreme Guide) made an address about this issue, warning about the risk of breakdown between the Sunnis and the Shiites.  The MB has worked on this since 1940... But why are we seeing this issue re-emerging now?  Because of the rise of Islamic trends, from Morocco to Indonesia. So the Americans have been planning how to try to stop this."

He said he thought the issue was most problematic for Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.  "In Iraq, many Sunnis and Shiites had intermarried.  They were all oppressed under Saddam Hussein.  He was not a Sunni ruler, but a dictator."

I asked what he thought the reaction of Egyptians would be to any prospective US military attack on Iran.  "At the official level, the government will probably be quietly supportive," he said. 



And at the popular level, I imagine they are hoping the reaction will be weak?  This is why they hitting the Muslim Bortherhood now, precisely to weaken our ability to organize a response! This crackdown here is because of the critical situation in the region.

But the Americans are facing many problems for their schemes.  For example, if the Palestinians make an agreement, and the Lebanese can also, this would block some of the Americans’ plans.  Yes, the Bush administration looks quite blind to what is going on in the region.

He also noted the apparent disregard of  US officials to the troubling rights situation in Egypt.
 


Even ambassador [Frank] Ricciardone!  I have known him for 18 years, since he was here as a young diplomat.  But he didn’t say a word while I was in jail, or congratulate me on my freedom since.  Now, he’s not even saying anything about the continued imprisonment of [secular reformist politician] Ayman Nour.  And they never said anything about all the Brotherhood people detained.

The administration has worked out a package deal with our government.  The regime works for US interests in the region, and the US remains silent on its abuses. That worked for many years.  But it can’t work now in an era of transparency.

There is a lot more that can be said, certainly, about the political prospects in its birth-country of this veteran organization, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 and now has affiliates in many other parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds.  Egypt is now-- as I noted here-- entering a decidedly fin de régime period, in which great uncertainties abound.  It is doing so, moreover, at a time when the region of which it is a part is in huge turmoil, the future course of which is hard to predict.

The regime that is approaching its fin-- at at the very least, approaching a crucial turning point as the powers of the president continue to decline-- is one in which there are many different trends and currents, including the representatives of the different security forces, the power of NDP officials and bureaucracies, the eroded power of officials in the public sector, and the "lobby" of the big  business interests that have emerged under the past three decades of economic infitah (opening) of what was previously a tightly state-controlled economy.  And yes, there are some really huge business interests in Egypt today.  Some of those trends push towards liberalism and open-ness; others are much more conservative. 

And the Brotherhood itself is, by all accounts, not monolithic.  Indeed, one look at the relative radicalism of its rhetoric and the conservatism of its actual political practice will quickly indicate that there must be many younger members or supporters of the organization who, fired up by its rhetoric, may not yet have fully understood the nuances or practices of its political conservatism.  And the Brotherhood, too, has some big business interests behind it...  There are, indeed, many ways in which it might seem to line up naturally with portions of the conservative trend that is under the regime’s umbrella, and others in which it benefits from the (relative) political open-ness that is encouraged by the liberalizing trend within the regime.

One thing seems certain, though.  That is that the opening of the Egyptian public space-- principally, its media-- that has occurred over the past decade will prove almost impossible to roll back.  And in this new atmosphere of the proliferation of media sources and the general democratization of the information order both locally here in Egypt, and internationally, it will be impossible for the regime to keep all its opponents bottled up and excluded from political power for very much longer. 
tags: US administration / Package / el-Arian / MB / Silent / Transparency
Posted in MB and West , Interviews , MB and West , Interviews , MB and West , Interviews , MB and West , Interviews  
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