Interview With Author of the Economic Section in the Muslim Brotherhood Program

Interview With Author of the Economic Section in the Muslim Brotherhood Program

About Dr. Abdul Hamid al-Ghazali


Dr. Abdul Hamid al-Ghazali is the author of the economic section of the MB draft program which received a lot of criticism including that which described the program as liberal consisting of no Islamic features that distinguish it from other programs.


This interview was an opportunity to discuss these criticisms in addition to the economic performance of MB representatives in the Egyptian Parliament, the absence of social issues on the movement”s agenda, and the future impact of the recent military trials on the movement”s economic and political conditions as well as on the Egyptian economy in general.


Dr. Abdul Hamid is an Economics and Islamic Economics Professor in the Department of Economics and Political Science in Cairo University as well as the political advisor for the MB Chairman.  He has written several books about economics, the most recently released being “The Economic Ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.”


Since childhood, he had been climbing the ladders of the MB to secure a position as member of the MB Shura Council and head of the MB political department for about eight years.  He was arrested three times because of his affiliation with the MB, the most recent being with whom were called “The Group of the Wasat Party Case,” which also included the current MB Chairman Mahdi Akef in which they were both sentenced to jail for three years.


Critique of the Economic Program


You were responsible for preparing the economic section of the MB draft program.  The economic dimension actually received a lot of criticism with regards to its view towards privatization which resembles that of the ruling regime, in addition to the program”s lack of features that distinguish it as an Islamic one.  What is your response to that?


Dr. al-Ghazali: This draft is the first of its kind which no other party or political trend have presented up to now in that it is the first integrative program to be presented by the MB to the powerful elite in order to investigate their different views regarding the details of the movement”s work.  The program consists of an introduction in addition to political, economic, cultural, social, and media sections. 


The economic section comprised a large portion of the program as it offered a complete integrative prescription based on the foundations of the Islamic economic system for confronting Egypt“s economic problems.


The program”s first few pages affirmed the primary characteristics of the Islamic economic system.  From there, it was broken down into the over-all goals that contributed to the aim of sustainable development followed by the functional goals of the public and private as well as the public and cooperative sectors.  At this point, the program went on to explain the privatization process as one which aims at strengthening the national private sector through an approach which integrates the public and private sectors. It then discussed the development basis of the productive sectors, including the agricultural and industrial as well as the constructive and building, followed by the service sector, primarily the tourist industry.


The program finally concluded with an outward dimension stressing the necessity of adopting an approach of economic cooperation with primary strategic circles (the Arab and Islamic circles followed by developing countries) starting out with common projects and coordinating plans and development triangles, then moving on to the application of advanced forms of economic cooperation, not only the establishment of a free trade area, but also a common market, all the way until economic integration and unity based on the interests of the member countries are attained.


Some argue that this program overlaps with others, such as the ruling National Party”s program.  Indeed, we may share a common approach in terms of technicalities, since we are attempting to solve the same problems and share the common aim of achieving sustainable development for the Egyptian economy.  But there”s also a social or developmental dimension to economics, which is what distinguishes this program from others.  For example, there is the role of the zakah (mandatory alms-giving or proportion of wealth (2.5%) paid annually by Muslims for the benefit of the needy in the Muslim community) and endowment institutions as sources of financial support for general debt recovery. Large-scale projects also play a role in reducing unemployment, and so on. Thus, the draft program should have been taken more seriously by the politicians and the media, instead of grabbing it by its first few pages and criticizing the general issues mentioned therein such as the “Great Scholars Authority” or interference of religious councils in governance, women”s right to rule, and Copts.


MB Representatives and Parliamentary Performance


With regards to the economic performance of the MB representatives during the current parliamentary term, their economic proposal and approach were, on the whole, liberal and noticeably similar to those of the other political powers including the Egyptian government”s approach throughout the past years.


Dr. al-Ghazali: From the 1948 Parliament all the way through 1987, and from the 2000 parliamentary term up to the year 2005, the economic performance of MB representatives had been characterized by objectivity and professionalism in solving the serious problems that the Egyptian society”s economy had been facing.  You can see for yourself their parliamentary investigations of these economic issues such as those regarding unemployment and overcoming poverty, the rise of prices, monopoly, the case of the al-Salam “98 ferry sinking, the burnt trains, and the Bani Swef Theatre burning, in addition to the educational, health, and corruption issues.


Thus, MB representatives have fulfilled their responsibilities. But, unfortunately, their efforts do not seem to reflect through the decisions of the People”s Assembly, and as a result, do not affect reality.  This goes back to the role played well by the hindering majority of the People”s Assembly which was, in fact, the outcome of forging the Egyptian electorate”s will during the elections of the current parliamentary term in which the ruling party “won” 33% of the seats, 145 actual legitimate seats and 148 others gained through the enticement of independent representatives to join the NDP on the grounds that they share common principles.  By this, the ruling party was able to guarantee a hindering majority and the power to pass laws that constrain freedom, primarily the Emergency Law.  As a result, MB influence was weakened.  In spite of that, the MB parliamentary bloc have made efforts in exerting pressure on the government, and in making the Egyptian citizen aware of the right views regarding the economic issues in hand.     


An Economic War against the Muslim Brotherhood


Dr. Abd el-Hamid, is it true that we are facing an economic war waged by the regime against the MB and that the recent military trials were its beginning?  What are your expectations regarding this war, and when do you think it may end?  What do you expect its future impacts on the economic conditions of the movement and Egypt, in general, to be?


Dr. al-Ghazali: Of course, military trials are rejected as a concept because the normal situation for any citizen who has violated the law or constitution is to be tried in front of his natural judge.  However, I can assure that these sentences do not affect the economic structure of the movement because these members had not been managing investments on behalf of the movement.  Rather, they had been managing their own projects which they had initiated based on their own efforts and capital and which have no link with the movement”s financial aspect.


Neither will these sentences affect the discourse of socio-political reform within the movement, for it has withstood many such blows from the regime which have only increased its strength and motivation towards sacrifice and persistence on the path of reform no matter what the consequences may be.


On the other hand, these sentences have a direct negative and destructive effect on Egypt and its economic performance as the Egyptian economy is going through a serious crisis manifested in the mismanagement of available capabilities which is mirrored by destitute poverty, increasing unemployment, soaring prices, and the culture of corruption in the various productive sectors, in addition to the serious internal and external debt problems.  Thus, the Egyptian economy is in pressing need of a climate that will encourage direct Arab, Islamic, and international foreign investments in order to recover from its debts.


Further, these sentences have raised more doubts over Egypt”s investment climate as they brought around 200 productive projects to a halt at a time when the Egyptian economy was in a pressing need for successful projects, especially following the aftermath of the privatization process which represented a major blow to the Egyptian economy in a period during which it had already been suffering from several painful blows.


At the human level, these sentences led to the Egyptian economy”s deprivation of hardworking and successful businessmen, internally and externally, who had gained the trust of the business world and whose projects had opened thousands of homes, such as Hassan Malek.  Now thousands of families” lives are threatened as most of them have joined the lines of unemployment. Thus, these sentences have had a negative impact on the Egyptian economy.





The Wealth of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Economy


Some see that one of the biggest problems of MB capital is that it wasn”t invested in large-scale national projects, instead of profit and consumption-based investments that served the interests of individuals rather than society.  What do you think?


Dr. al-Ghazali: This is a wrong statement because there is no such thing as MB capital. There is, however, a group of businessmen from various economic sectors of Egypt who are affiliated with the MB.  But their affiliation does not make their projects the MB”s.  On the other hand, these members represent an important part of the business society in Egypt as they work hard and sincerely to contribute to the development process of the Egyptian economy, according to the priorities of sustainable economic development, through either simple consumption and production-based projects or capitalist projects as it would be insane for a successful businessman in the private sector to carry out a project that has neither high developmental priority nor economic returns.


And if the regime has claimed its adoption of the philosophy of market economy, hence its support for national private sector growth, it has actually contradicted itself by its arrest of these sincere and successful businessmen who were sentenced, according to military trials, to prison from3 to 10 years.  In fact, it is a clear attempt to kill any legitimate initiative and constrain the national private sector.


Since its establishment, the MB had carried out several economic projects ranging from activities in the fields of metal, stone, spinning, and fabrics, to Islamic financing, printing, publishing and media.  Most of these companies took the form of a contribution following the footsteps of the national economy.  However, this MB growth came to a halt during its initial phase as a result of the decision of its dissolution.  The value lost as a result of the dissolution and confiscation of these valuable economic sources in 1948, reached about 60 million Egyptian pounds at that time.  This loss is equivalent to about a billion Egyptian pounds today.


Does the fact that some MB leaders work in the economic and commercial fields lead, in the long run, to the mixing between da”wah (propagation of Islam) and economic activities which could, in turn, harm da”wah and distort it?


Dr. al-Ghazali: I do not think economic activity is harmful to da”wah.  This statement resembles that which separates religion from state.  Religion is a way of life for the Muslim citizen and civil Islamic state and economics is an important domain of life that goes side by side with da”wah, political, social, as well as cultural activities.  In spite of that, the MB is keen on separating between da”wah which is done sincerely for the sake of Allah and economic activity due to its belief in Imam Hasan el-Banna”s view which stressed the importance of the economic aspect in social development as it helps transfer society from a state of economic and political weakness and dependence to that of independence demonstrated through the decisions and choices made by the state. 


El-Banna recommended the separation between da”wah and economic activities in terms of their form and content giving the example of a trade company or economic project that hangs the sign or slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood, because, although da”wah requires financial support, its system and nature differs from that of money.


Hasan el-Banna and Economics


El-Banna viewed the MB as a company


Speaking of el-Banna, what was his vision of the movement”s economy?  And what were the visions of the movement”s chairmen following him regarding the economy and investments?  Did they complement or contradict with el-Banna”s? 


Dr. al-Ghazali: Imam Hasan el-Banna introduced a comprehensive and modern economic ideology in terms of concepts, principles, and terminology, in addition to an analysis of Egypt“s economic problem.  He also introduced an effective integrative mechanism for dealing with this problem all the way until sustainable development is achieved starting by reconciling politics and economics, activating them, and focusing on the importance of political reform, then moving on to financing development projects through Islamic banks that are based on the system of sharing profit or loss rather than loans and interests, followed by urging the activation and management of zakah as a source of financial support in addition to the other financial categories, and allocating it to its legitimate owners, especially the poor and needy.


El-Banna had also urged the establishment of a true and integrative industrial movement cautioning against the dominance of foreign monopoly over the Egyptian economy, and stressed the importance of struggle for the purpose of eradicating this dominance.  He further discussed the issue of unemployment, its negative socio- economic impacts, and offered as a solution the encouragement of free trade through agricultural reform and small craft and home-based businesses.  Moreover, he considered Arab and Islamic economic cooperation as necessary for confronting world coalitions, and essential to the creation of economic unity between Islamic countries.


The economic thought of MB chairmen, officials, and leaders have been consistent with el-Banna”s, and, in fact, identical to it in terms of its Islamic reference and affirmation that revival and development are an essential aspect of political economy that can only be achieved through the political route.  This is because political reform leads to economic reform by its creation of a civil state that follows a parliamentary republic system demonstrated through true party pluralism and abidance by the principle of power rotation based on free general elections. This idea was also presented as an explanation to the MB slogan, “Islam is the solution,” through practical programs in the political, economic, social, cultural, and foreign affairs fields.




Social Issues and the MB Agenda


Follow-ups on the movement”s activities have revealed the absence of social issues on their agenda.  They neither appeared in protests held against the soaring of prices or those requesting the increase of work opportunities for youth, etc, as opposed to their exaggerated concern for issues such as political reform?


Dr. al-Ghazali: The movement does not neglect the social aspect in its vision or plans.  In fact, socio-economic issues receive a great deal of attention on the part of the movement as evident in their literature, whether in the MB chairman”s statements and weekly message or writings by other MB leaders.


The movement”s actions spring from the concept that Islam is a comprehensive religion and system of life that views society as a whole and thus aims at improving citizens” overall quality of life.  Therefore, all domains of life receive equal attention.  Moreover, the movement has created departments that are solely dedicated to supporting the poor, needy, and students.  The department of charity carries out its duties, especially in certain seasons such as Ramadan where they distribute “Ramadan Packages” to the poor.  Therefore, we do care about the issues of the poor.  The political issues may just appear to sound louder.


In the most part, though, we are concerned with proposing action plans, schedules, and alternative solutions.  We present our points of view in conferences, seminars, meetings, and through the recent MB draft program for state planners and executives to put them into effect.  On the other hand, protests do not offer solutions to problems like these nor will they reduce prices, especially as long as the political system continues to suppress and attack protests and arrest its participants.


 *The interview first appeared in Arabic in, and was translated by Ikhwanweb.