Al-Masry Al-Youm: What is the true relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the United States? Are there any channels of communication between the two sides? Did the U.S. help the Brotherhood get in power to protect its interests in the region?
– Dr. Mahmoud Hussein: All these are totally unfounded rumors, claims and speculation. The Muslim Brotherhood announced more than once, even before the revolution, that it will not have any contact with foreign parties except with full knowledge of the Egyptian government.
After the revolution, the US had contact with all political forces in Egypt. But, as far as we’re concerned, these contacts did not involve any deals, special or otherwise. I do not think any reasonable person can say that Washington cares or even seeks to install the Brotherhood in power.
Needless to say, the US is determined to pursue its interests in the region. However, it is the Egyptian people who put the Brotherhood in power, through free and fair elections that impressed all at home and abroad.
Some say that President Mohamed Morsi could not have taken the decision to retire Field Marshal Tantawi and Major-General Sami Annan without US blessing. Any truth in that?
– The US being happy with the bold step taken by the President is completely different from the US being the decision-maker.
The US had absolutely nothing to do with the President making this decision. Indeed, President Morsi made this decision entirely on his own. We were all surprised to hear about it.
What is the position of the Brotherhood if President Morsi receives or meets with the Prime Minister or any representative of Israel, among his various international meetings?
– We support the rights of the Palestinian people. So, until full Palestinian rights are restored, any receptions or meetings with the Israelis are nothing but reprehensible intellectual luxury. We will not welcome any Israeli representatives before Israel does its duties toward the Palestinians. We do not have to meet with anyone.
Even if the Israeli side formally requests that?
– They may ask whatever they want. Before the visit, it is imperative that Israel stop the abuses practiced daily against the Palestinians, the violent assaults on Gaza, and the illegal settlements.
What if the Israeli side requested a meeting to negotiate an amendment to the Security Annex or the peace agreement itself?
– Such issues will not be resolved in isolation from the core cause of Palestine. We are not looking for partial solutions.
But isn’t this in the interest of Egypt, especially with the Sinai in danger?
– Sinai security will only be possible when the neighboring and surrounding areas in Sinai are secured.
What do you think of Hazem Abu-Ismail’s comments about a landslide victory for him and his party in the upcoming parliamentary elections and also the next presidential elections, against the Muslim Brotherhood.
– The Egyptian arena welcomes all. The ballot box will determine the weight and popularity of each party in the street.
Can the ‘Popular Current’ and the ‘Coalition of the Egyptian Nation’ have any impact on the number of seats the Brotherhood will win in the parliamentary elections?
– All alliances enrich political life, provided they serve the public interest. It is wrong to perceive those as a force created to stand for or against a specific group, movement or party. In any case, the decision, in the end, is up to popular will. As for the elections, I do not believe those will have any effect. They will get the same seats they had in the last elections, mostly.
Do you think these alliances will persist and succeed?
– If they abandon internal conflicts and search for common denominators, common interests among them, they may well survive. However, if they insist on integration, on turning their multitude of ideas or ideologies into one, they will find this very difficult on the ground.
What is the position of the Brotherhood regarding the latest Supreme Administrative Court ruling on the People’s Assembly (Egypt’s lower house of parliament)?
– We respect court rulings and do not comment on them.
Was the verdict shocking to you?
– The verdict is surrounded by many question marks. The main case was postponed; and the secondary one, about which no-one knew anything, and no-one was summoned to its session, had a ruling ready nonetheless.
In any case, legal experts are considering this matter. Because, in our view, the Constitutional Court exceeded its functions and powers as defined in the constitution. It decided that the abolition of one-third of the People’s Assembly seats should be extended to the remaining two-thirds, which is not entirely right. How can this be sensible or logically acceptable? But ultimately we respect court rulings.
Will the Brotherhood win the same previous percentage of seats in the forthcoming parliamentary elections?
– Quite possible. Perhaps even more. I think the unjust campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, in the recent past, turned to its favor, because of the political awareness of the Egyptian people.
Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood is present in all constituencies. The Brothers have not cut down their activities; and the numbers of citizens joining us are great.
Is Ikhwanization (Brotherhoodization) of the State a reality or just a political illusion?
– Each issue has its manifestations. When we talk about Ikhwanization of the State, we must look for its manifestations. To start with, ministers who belong to the group do not exceed 20%. We have only 4 governors of provinces out of the total 28.
Further, we do not have any senior officials in the new Cabinet anywhere across the whole country. Nevertheless, there are those who exploit some names, numbers and data deliberately to vilify and tarnish the image of the Brotherhood, with complete disregard to the professional pursuit of presenting the truth to the public.
Those have filled the world with loud screams and vibrant uproar claiming that we have chairmen and editors-in-chief of many newspapers, although in fact we do not have a single chairman or editor-in-chief who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Furthermore, it is indeed the Shura Council (the upper house of Egyptian Parliament) that appointed those chairmen and editors-in-chief, according to fully-declared and well-known standards and criteria.
Matter of fact is: this task was undertaken by a Shura Council committee comprising highly-regarded prominent personalities specialized in this area. So, all these loud voices are simply trying to tarnish the image of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood does not stipulate explicit affiliation to them. This is why Dr. Hisham Qandil was chosen for Prime Minister, because he is known to be an Islamist. Even more, the group sometimes chooses those who will listen to its rules or authority, does it not?
– Dr. Hisham Qandil is known to have no political leaning or affiliation. He is classified as a technocrat. Some newspapers even reported that he is a liberal. In any case, the Cabinet was appointed by the President and Dr. Hisham Qandil, without any interference or pressure from the Brotherhood.
The group does not accept or use stooges or confederates, because this would mean that those who hold important positions – governors of provinces, newspaper chief-editors and appointed ministers – are nothing but figure-heads.
The Brotherhood itself, as an organization, does not accept that its own Chairman would force it into any direction of his choice. Dr. Mohamed Badie (Brotherhood Chairman) cannot tell any of us to go this way or that way, because the group’s own Shura Council is its decision-maker authority.
How, then, would you explain the banning of articles by Abla Ruwaini, Youssef Qaeed and Tharwat Kherbawi that contained criticism of the Brotherhood, immediately after the new editors-in-chief took charge?
– If true, this is something that the editors-in-chief should be asked about. Also, do not forget that many newspapers publish numerous false and fabricated ‘news’ about the Muslim Brotherhood.
We do send these lying newspapers the real news, in response. But more often than not, they never publish those. We then publish such responses on our website. Meanwhile, Tharwat Kherbawi and others appear on all TV channels and say whatever they want, and no-one of us stops them.
You say you’re under a media siege, but doesn’t the Minister of Information belong to the Muslim Brotherhood?
– Hitherto, Egyptian media is waging war on the group and its leaders. Meanwhile, you remember the recent TV program that showed “Prime Minister” Shafiq talking, with the presidential residence behind him, as if celebrating Shafiq who actually lost the elections – carefully avoiding anything like “former” to the caption at the bottom of the screen.
In a statement of yours, you said: "The practices of the former regime caused an increase in Brotherhood strength. If the Brotherhood adopts the same approach, it will be ousted from the scene, in time". Do you think the Brotherhood is taking the same approach?
– That cannot happen, because the Brotherhood’s precepts and teachings prevent it from excluding anyone. The Brothers work for the benefit of Egypt, to serve its people and their interests.
Is it true that the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau rules Egypt?
– The Bureau does not rule, nor does it dictate to the President any decisions.
How do you explain visits by the U.S. Ambassador, former Prime Minister of the Sudan and John McCain to the Brotherhood’s Chairman, if Arab and foreign states were not aware of the extent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence over the President?
– Contemplating partial images only gives this impression. You clearly realize that those visits were made before Dr. Mohamed Morsi assumed the presidency. Further, those leaders also met with liberal and secularist figures.
Certainly, these Arab and foreign states are always keen to meet with all political stakeholders. The Muslim Brotherhood is surely a significant political force that enjoys undeniable weight and popularity in the Egyptian street.
That is why these leading personalities visit us, not because the President hails from the Brotherhood.
Does this mean there have not been any meetings with you after Dr. Morsi assumed power?
– There have been many meetings. In fact, we have many daily meetings with popular and official delegations as well as ambassadors of foreign countries. However, only Brotherhood meetings get singled out, scrutinized, put under the microscope, then cast in a dark light, although these delegations also meet politicians from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Nour Party, liberal and other parties and movements.
In what capacity does Al-Shater visit Turkey and Qatar to sign agreements bringing investments into Egypt?
– This claim is totally unfounded. Where are those investments he agreed or brought in?
What’s the reason for these tours, then?
– I do not know. But for a businessman who has many financial dealings around the world, those may well be business visits to open new horizons for trade and commerce. In any case, if any of us visited any country and found the opportunity to bring investments for his country, should he reject or accept it?
Al-Shater is a patriotic national figure, keen to open commercial links with other countries. Also his visit to Qatar may be to see his daughter who resides there. Generally, there is no reason why any businessman should not travel abroad. The fact that he hails from the Muslim Brotherhood should not necessarily invite everyone to interpret his every move to their own whims and desires.
So, how do you explain Hassan Malik’s chairmanship of the Egyptian Businessmen Development Association (EBDA) that accompanied the President to China?
– EBDA was formed by a number of Egyptian businessmen. Hassan Malik is indeed the association’s chairman. He requested to travel with the delegation. This was approved. So, he traveled along, just like any other businessman.
Incidentally, EBDA was attacked and criticized for comprising businessmen who were former regime officials or loyalists, which goes to show that the association has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Do you mean that there is no relationship between Brothers’ personal activities and EBDA’s investments in the Brotherhood?
– We do not have any relationship with EBDA or its activities, nor with personal activities of individuals belonging to the group.
Until now, the President cannot tell you to ‘legalize’ your status as a group or organization?
– The Muslim Brotherhood is not an association, but a group – in the widest and most comprehensive definition of the word. It is an Islamic advocacy body, a political movement and an economic entity. It has international relations and members all over the world.
This cannot be regulated by the laws which control small, limited-activity NGOs, even if we assume the group’s position was never legalized. The truth of the matter is that we are a legal group, founded back in 1928.
Hitherto, the state cannot dissolve the Brotherhood. I challenge anyone to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood was held guilty in any case at all. Indeed, the group was always found innocent. Those who allege we are an illegal or banned organization should come forth with evidence to prove their claims.
If you are a legal group, it is only natural, then, that you would be subject to monitoring and accountability?
– We are not subject to oversight and accountability, because we do not take money from anyone, not the State, the government, or from any kind of organization, association, etc. We do not receive any aid or donations from any country whatsoever.
All the group’s funds come from the pockets of its own members. These funds are spent in a law-abiding manner for lawful pursuits. However, we are certainly not above the law.
Does the fact that money comes from the pockets of group members give you the right to organize political activities capable of putting a president in power and winning a majority in parliament?
– The real question is: did we join the elections in accordance with or in violation of the law? Also: was the President nominated in accordance with the law? We did commit ourselves to all political and legal rules and laws.
Are membership fees and donations enough to cover spending on Ramadan gift packs, busses and coaches for elections, numerous social activities, and advertising campaigns for the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate?
– All those who join us as members of the Brotherhood are ready and willing to spend their money on the group.
Furthermore, you’re making it sound like a whole load of money we spend. This is not the case at all, because we rely on our members in all work, activities and services.
Every member contributes whatever he or she can. Therefore, we do not actually pay money for everything as others do.
Some members donate bus and coach services. Others contribute stage-setting services, for example. And yet other members donate foods and water and juice bottles, and so on.
If laws are passed to regulate institutions and groups that operate in all areas and fields, we will certainly establish our legal status. This does not mean our organization is not legal as it stands today, but because a law is available for the type of establishment that we are, the type of work we’re doing.
A tailor-made law?
– That is not what I’ve just said. It is your attempt to vilify us.
Well, tell me this: Do Brotherhood members who own supermarkets bear the cost of the oil and sugar you freely distribute in provinces across Egypt? Is this not a kind of bribe? Would you not suspect this to be Haram (unlawful)?
– The Brotherhood does not distribute the gift packs in election times or on similar occasions. All claims to this effect are simply malicious campaigns against us.
So, who do we sometimes spot distributing these gift packs in your name?
– Competitors’ campaigns are quite capable of doing that in our name to smear our image.
Does this mean that the Muslim Brotherhood does not offer electoral bribes?
But we did see flour and sugar bags in cartons marked with the slogan of the FJP, and inscribed "Morsi President of Egypt".
– All these are fabricated incidents meant to vilify or even incriminate us. We certainly do not give anyone anything at election times, etc. Putting our motto on such packs is clearly meant to be evidence against us.
We do not need to bribe people to get their votes. I challenge anyone who says that he or she had received anything from the Muslim Brotherhood or the FJP.
Some say that ‘the revolution of the hungry’ is at the doors, and that the president’s decisions are good but slow and not conclusive – so much so that even the president’s adviser Ayman Sayyad said “the revolution has never been”. How does that sound?
– This is not at all true. It’s no secret that the former regime is the culprit who corrupted all aspects of life. We inherited the dubious fruit of that corrupt regime. Hence, it would be totally illogical to blame the current government, which has been in office for only a couple of months, for failures and aspects of corruption that prevailed for more than thirty years.
The Egyptian people are conscious, enlightened and aware. They will not hold us accountable for past decades of mistakes.
The military council (SCAF) and old regime officials disappeared from the political scene. Isn’t that why the Egyptian street is plagued with all kinds of crises, such as gasoline and butane gas shortages, strikes all over the country… etc?
– Symbols of corruption have not disappeared. They still plague and control key instruments of the state, operating with the same mentality and the same personalities. These ex-regime officials are trying to thwart or derail the democratic transformation process by fabricating these crises.
Why did you stand against Sharaf and Ganzouri governments when they sought the World Bank loan, and yet you negotiate to secure that loan, now?
– We opposed the loan, initially, because it was going to the Ganzouri government to spend, leaving to the next government the burden of paying it off. This would be injustice. So, we asked for the loan to be postponed, until the new government is in office. We also did stipulate that a loan would have to be the last resort, only taken if there are no alternative solutions.
Would the Brotherhood take to the street to protest and demonstrate against the president’s decisions, policies or government?
– We will address any wrong decisions and policies with appropriate means. Taking to the street is not the only way to do so. Other ways are: giving advice, engaging officials in positive dialogue, and offering alternatives… etc.
What is the truth in claims that you are dissatisfied with the current government, and that you are asking to change some of its members?
– This is not at all true. As I’ve already mentioned, the current government is still new in office. It needs more time for anyone to assess its performance. We never asked for any changes in this government. Indeed, we never even discussed the matter.
What do you think of the debate on Article II of the Constitution? Which text do you deem appropriate?
– We believe that the text should be maintained as is, which is also the view agreed by Egyptian political stakeholders, with the addition of just a phrase to state that Al-Azhar should be referred to for explanation of principles of Islamic Sharia.
What do you think of stories claiming the Muslim Brotherhood were behind the killing of Omar Suleiman, because he threatened to open the black box of secrets and scandals?
– Accusing the Brotherhood without proof just never stops. Omar Suleiman certainly held nothing against the Brotherhood. On the contrary, the former regime’s practices against the Muslim Brotherhood are all crimes by toppled Mubarak’s men and scandals for the defunct regime.
What do you think about the issue of safe exit for SCAF?
– There is a difference between acts of murder and crimes against the Egyptian people. Crimes must be accounted for.
However, I personally do not believe that anyone from SCAF was involved in these crimes.
Nevertheless, SCAF made mistakes as it tried to govern the country. Those should be forgiven, taking into account the SCAF’s general goodwill and its honorable performance during the revolution when SCAF leaders protected the uprising and opposed the Mubarak regime. So, I think that honoring SCAF members was the right decision. Because no-one is without errors.