Mahfouz: I wasn’t surprised with the MB showing in the elections

A defective democracy
Salmawi: A foreign critic wrote that you predicted over half a century ago that the religious trend would emerge as the dominant force on the political arena. This is because you made the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) character in The Cairo Trilogy have children, whereas the leftist character was left childless. In Children of the Alley, the one who wins at the end is Arafah, who critics interpreted as a symbol of knowledge, in the sense that science rather than mysticism wins at the end. Where do you stand exactly between these two opposing views?

Mahfouz: These are the views of the critics. By its very nature, an artistic work can be interpreted in more than one way. Here lies its value, but none of these interpretations holds the ultimate truth. Critics are still writing interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays and pre- Islamic poetry, although such works were written centuries ago. I believe that interpretation, as opposed to analysis, often tells us more about the critic than the work in question. Often the critic would view the work through his own concepts, and not grasp, necessarily, what it’s really about.

Salmawi: What do you think of the MB’s success in the recent elections, and the fears this success stirred in intellectual circles?

Mahfouz: I wasn’t surprised with the MB showing in the elections. But let me add that it is a totally new development in our political life. Throughout the elections we had before the July Revolution — that is from 1919 to 1952 — we had one majority party, the Wafd. This party was only excluded from power when the British or the palace interfered. Right now, we have a majority party that is, for the first time ever, rivalled by a strong opponent. I believe that democracy cannot blossom unless we have two major parties that compete for office, as is the case in the US, UK, France, and Israel.

Salmawi: Does this mean that you still believe the MB should have a party?

Mahfouz: I always said that the participation of the religious current in political life would force that current to deal with reality and interact with other political currents. So long as we speak of democracy, every political current should be allowed to form its own party. I hope that the phenomenon of the independents would disappear, for everyone who contests the elections should do so through a party and every party should have a programme. This would allow the voter to choose among various programmes. But for the public to choose an independent candidate with no official affiliation only to see this candidate joining the ruling party or any other party after he’s won, this is political deceit and a departure from democracy. The phenomenon of the independent candidates is a backward phenomenon and symbolic of our flawed implementation of democracy. It is time we do something about it.

Salmawi: This phenomenon is a reaction to another situation that’s no less backward, which is that no one is allowed to form a political party without an official permission from the Parties Committee.

Mahfouz: This is true. Therefore, I believe that true democracy cannot materialise unless people are free to form parties. This is true for the Islamic current as well as all other political currents in the country.

Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.