The Egyptian daily Al-Ahrar published a lengthy interview with Dr. Mohamed Habib, first deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, in which he tackled several issues, including day-to-day problems, the Palestinian cause, the stance towards Hamas, the Egyptian society’s reaction in case the Muslim Brotherhood reaches power, the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, and latest crackdown against it.
The interview also tackled the international organization and its relation with the umbrella group in Egypt, and the group’s bylaws, the validity of reports about rifts inside the group, why vacant seats in the group’s Executive Bureau are not filled, the future of the relation between the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling system and the US administration, separating between missionary and political aspects, and the Brotherhood’s party platform. Dr. Habib replies to all these issues below.
Al-Ahrar: At the beginning the group was defending general interests, but nowadays it’s isolated and focuses on its own interests.
Dr. Habib: This isn’t true because we call for constitutional and political reform. We are concerned with general problems facing Egyptian citizens like unemployment, price hikes, the bread crisis, transportations, housing, education, health and others, in addition to foreign and domestic policies. We are also concerned with major national issues, like the crimes committed by Israeli Occupation forces (IOF) and US troops in Palestine and Iraq, what takes place in Afghanistan and Somalia and others. No private issue has ever sidelined a general issue. While we fight corruption and tyranny, we focus on social and economic crises and try to concentrate on challenges facing the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Al-Ahrar: Regarding the Palestinian cause, some see what Hamas did in Palestine and confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood will do the same in case it assumes office in Egypt.
Dr. Habib: Everything said in this regard is fully divorced from reality. Since Hamas democratically and transparently won the legislative elections held on Jan., 25th, 2006 in a manner that has never happened all over the Arab or Islamic world, the international community turned its back on Hamas and on the elected government. Since then, Gaza and the West Bank faced an international blockade led by the United States and the European Union, and even some Arab regimes and governments have unfortunately endorsed such a blockade. Thus, the problem is not in Hamas, the problem lies in the international community, the US schemes and the Israeli occupation that wanted to punish the Palestinian people because they voted for the resistance option through free and fair elections. How can we say that Hamas is to be blamed?!
Al-Ahrar: If the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt, what do you think will be the reaction of the international community?
Dr. Habib: The matter is not in the Muslim Brotherhood’s assuming office. We respect the people’s freedom of choice and their right to self determination. Nevertheless, the international community, particularly the US administration, doesn’t want Arab and Muslim peoples to attain full freedom and independence or elect their rulers and representatives who voice their ambitions.
Al-Ahrar: That Islamists might reach power always triggers concerns of many analysts and governments, like what happened in Algeria when the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) was on the verge of reaching power, or in Palestine when Hamas reached power. Why all these fears?
Dr. Habib: The US-led international community has its own agenda and interests. It claims to be promoting democratization and good governance. But we have seen their double-standards. To prove this, see what happened in the Palestinian experience and the Algerian experience. The US administration wants to control the world, dominate, fragment and remap our region to achieve its own interests. It also supports dictatorial and repressive regimes against moderate Islamic movements.
Al-Ahrar: How do you see the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt given that the Egyptian society is leaning more and more towards the conservative side?
Dr. Habib: I am optimistic and see that the more the attacks against the Muslim Brotherhood, the more its ranks come closer, unite and get more resolute on facing the challenge. On the public level, we see how people sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood. This actually foils campaigns that attempt to distort the image of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Our method is based on reaching out to the masses and forming a free and strong public opinion that may face tyranny and corruption, and may participate in formulating life and reaching self-determination, I think that this is the right way.
Al-Ahrar: In spite of the detentions and harassments against the Muslim Brotherhood, you are optimistic, isn"t this strange?
Dr. Habib: These campaigns are not out of a spur of the moment. Similar campaigns were launched in the 20th century, in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s and in the 1990s. Every decade was full of harassments campaigns to distort its image in front of the public opinion. Thanks God, the Muslim Brotherhood got out a winner in such battles.
Al-Ahrar: But what about the view that the Muslim Brotherhood will perish in the coming twenty years?
Dr. Habib: On the contrary, I see that the future is ours, and we will reach our aspirations. The group is gaining every day more territories and a depth in the consciousness of the Egyptian people. Add to this, the group is not confined to Egypt, it has offshoots in various countries all over the world, it continuously grows, achieves more successes at all levels.
Al-Ahrar: What about the international Muslim Brotherhood?
Dr. Habib: There are entities that exist in many countries all over the world. These entities have the same ideology, principle and objectives but they work in different circumstances and different contexts. So, it is reasonable to have decentralization in action so that every entity works according to its circumstances and according to the problems it is facing and in their framework.
This actually achieves two objectives: First: It adds flexibility to movement. Second: It focuses on action. Every entity in its own country can issue its own decision because it is more aware of the problems, circumstances and context in which they are working. However, there is some centralization in some issues. These entities can have dialogue when there is a common cause that faces Arabs or Muslims over their central issues like the Palestinian cause. At that time, all of them must cooperate for it. I want to confirm that while some see that Palestine caused rifts among the Arabs, we see that this cause is the one for which all Arabs unite.
Al-Ahrar: We always hear reports about introducing an amendment on the bylaw of the international organization or an amendment in bylaw of the Muslim Brotherhood’s system. Is this bylaw actually applied in all countries? Is there any amendment that will be introduced to it?
Dr. Habib: we can say that every Islamist organization has its own bylaw. There is a private and a general one. The private bylaw has its territory and the general bylaw has its other territory. Due to this decades-old experience, a kind of assessment is carried out to see whether an amendment, omission or addition is needed.
Al-Ahrar: Has any amendment been recently introduced to the general bylaw?
Dr. Habib: No amendment has been introduced to the bylaw. It is still as it is.
Al-Ahrar: Are there any plans to amend it in the future? And what are reasons for these potential amendments? Is it the change of circumstances or that you see that the group has become wider and that it must cope with challenges coming from abroad?
Dr. Habib: Certainly there are plans to amend the bylaw because the group faces many developments. For example, there were two powers all over the world but there is only one power nowadays. There were hot spots in some places and these hot spots moved to other places. Past issues and problems were replaced by others. This creative chaos caused by the US administration in some countries is one of these new developments. Briefly, we support amending the bylaw in a way that enables it and enables the Muslim Brotherhood to face challenges that face and face our countries and nation.
Al-Ahrar: Some accuse Dr. Mohamed Habib of attempting to militarize the Muslim Brotherhood, "turning the group from a civil organization into a military organization." How would you respond to this?
Dr. Habib: Neither my character, my background nor my psychological and mental composition allow this. I am a university professor, I was a chairman of the teaching staff members club for twelve years, I am still a member in Syndicate of Science Professions and I was member of the People"s Assembly (lower chamber of parliament). So, it is impossible for a person of such a background to militarize the organization. All my life was devoted to elections and reaching out to people, how can I do this?
I think that the idea of a secret organization hurts more than it benefits the group because the defects or problems that may arise in a secret organization can’t be recognized and can’t consequently be treated. While working in public, the one can easily spot disorders and troubles. Also, we want to show our platform to people to elect us and we can’t do this in a secret organization. The issue of the secret organization and militarizing the group is practically rejected because it causes more damage than its benefits. We are an open group, we practice our missionary work openly and care in the first place for reaching out to the masses everywhere and we can’t do this in a secret organization. I dismiss this accusation.
Al-Ahrar: You are also accused of being a potential cause of outlawing the group in the future.
Dr. Habib: This is an unfair analysis. We undoubtedly seek to keep the pure idea, clean methods, clean objectives, unity and abide by the religion of Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and moral entity that aims to help society improve and advance. It also maintains its security and stability. In spite of all blows against the group, it still gains territory and become even firmer.
Al-Ahrar: Citing defections that broke out in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last years, some confirm that the current Executive Office harmed the Muslim Brotherhood.
Dr. Habib: That two, three or five persons leave the group for any reason is normal. This is because as the group is an idea, a method and an objective, it is also an administration. If someone differs with the group’s leadership over the executive method, it is up to him. If he wants to leave the group, it is his right, but no multi-administrations. Any company or organization agrees on a specific administration system to eventually have one single decision. It is true that we may disagree inside the system, and our viewpoints are different but consultation comes to end it. It is totally rejected that someone dictates or imposes a specific method of administration on the group.
Al-Ahrar: But they see that consultation inside the group is frozen and cite examples for freezing the group"s Advisory Council
Dr. Habib: This is totally untrue.
Al-Ahrar: Why do reports and analyses confirm by the end of every year that Dr. Mohamed Habib is the de facto chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Dr. Habib: This is untrue. Mr. Mohamed Mahdi Akef is the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood and he is the one around whom we gather. He is also doing his job well. Also, we work in an institutional method. The Chairman has his own powers, the first deputy chairman has his own powers, the second deputy chairman has his own powers and the Executive Office has its own powers. We have no conflict because the group works for the sake of Allah, and all its members do their utmost efforts for the sake of Allah Glory be to Him and to serve their homeland and religion.
Al-Ahrar: Does this mean that there is no greed for positions inside the group?
Dr. Habib: There is no greed, especially that positions spawn troubles. The more the one takes a position, the more burdens and responsibilities he is shouldered with. In the Executive Office, if the Muslim Brotherhood’s chairman is absent for any reason, the first deputy chairman heads the session, according to the bylaw. If not the first deputy chairman is also absent, the second deputy chairman heads it. Otherwise, the oldest member of the Executive Office heads sessions. In all cases, no one issues a decision alone as decisions inside the group are consensus decisions which are issued by the entire Executive Office.
Al-Ahrar: Regarding the second deputy chairman, you are accused of disrupting holding by-elections on vacant seats in the MB Executive Bureau. Why?
Dr. Habib: What prevents holding the by-elections is known to everyone, that members of the group’s Executive Bureau are alternately thrown behind bars. Thus, we are waiting for a breakthrough in the general political atmosphere. At that time, we will hold by-elections to elect more members. Also, the obligatory absence of any member of the office due to detention or any other reason doesn’t strip him of the membership in the office. However, we cooperate to do duties of those detained and can’t do them. In case of death or retirement for any reason, I support holding by-elections to replace him.
Al-Ahrar: How do you see the future of the relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling regime during the coming ten years?
Dr. Habib: The nature of the relation depends on domestic, regional and international circumstances. Two and a half years ago, there were international and regional circumstances that allowed holding huge seminars, demonstrations, marches and conferences. Also, what happened in the legislative elections in 2005, specially the first and second phases, reflect the huge breakthrough enjoyed at that time. Since then, matters move from bad to worse, and the constitutional amendments were introduced to add fuel to fire. This was reflected in the general harassments on the group, the referrals to military tribunals, continuous detentions, and the complete vote fraud to midterm elections of the Shurah Council (upper chamber of parliament), and the latest municipal elections.
Al-Ahrar: The new US ambassador to Egypt reportedly aims to talk with the Muslim Brotherhood?
Dr. Habib: The current US administration is not a charity or a reformist institution. It has its own plans and interests. It proved to be non-committed to promotion of democracy, freedom or human rights. We are against hegemony and domination and we are against fragmenting the region and we are against humiliating the nation and stealing its wealth; and we are against the occupation of Iraq and against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Al-Ahrar: But some members of Parliament affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood have held talks with Congressmen.
Dr. Habib: Yes, because there are protocol rules applied in this regard, that a president addresses a president, the administration meets the administration, and the congressmen address members of the People’s Assembly, and civil society organizations address civil society organizations. In general, these meetings take place in public and with the other movements and the People’s Assembly is notified of them.
Al-Ahrar: Some see that this is your way to negotiate with the US administration.
Dr. Habib: This is not a negotiation. It is a dialogue with civil society organizations, researchers and academics.
Al-Ahrar: But these researchers give their reports to the US administration.
Dr. Habib: This is none of our affair. We deal with them as researchers and academics. What we care for is to present the Muslim Brotherhood’s thought and method. If there are those who work for distorting our image and instigate the public opinion domestically and internationally, we have the right to explain our ideas, values and principles to all people.
Al-Ahrar: Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s members of parliament, some confirm that there are sharp rows between the Executive Office and the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc.
Dr. Habib: This is not true. This is because the members of parliament are Muslim Brotherhood members before they are MPs. They have sufficient discipline, appreciation and respect to the group, its leadership and bodies. Add to this, they work in special headquarters. The group is- in terms of its activities and work- is much more general.
Al-Ahrar: Did some of them demand increasing financial allowances that they get from the Executive Office?
Dr. Habib: There are no financial allowances because they already get respectable salaries and good incentives from parliament.
Al-Ahrar: Some report that Dr. Hamdi Hassan is paid 5 thousands and Al Katatni is paid seven thousands from the Executive Office.
Dr. Habib: The Executive Office is not a bank, and all these reports are not right, and are bizarre.
Al-Ahrar: why do you insist on getting rid of some leaders and curbing their role?
Dr. Habib: The members of the group aren’t cloned from each other. We seek a diversity of thought among members of the group members because this enriches the means and instruments adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood. We search and seek talented people and those who have special powers to serve the group’s method and idea. If someone saw that he should run work in a method which is different from ours, we say to him this is not right. If he chose to take another path, it is up to him.
Al-Ahrar: Some demand the Muslim Brotherhood to necessarily separate missionary work from the political work. What do you think?
Dr. Habib: Islam is a comprehensive system that covers all aspects of life. It has politics and economy, sociology and culture. But we believe that there should be specialization, someone works in the political field, another in the economic field, and another in the educational field. But the common aspect among these is the moral values system.
Al-Ahrar: However, the group has exclusively focused on the political work, and abandoned the missionary work, and that several other societies which are less in the number of members than the MB overdid the group in the missionary work.
Dr. Habib: The missionary work moves correctly and smoothly in all levels through individuals and the entire group. It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood faces harassments in mosques and in issues such as launching a satellite channel or issuing its own newspaper while these rights are granted to others. However, the group is reaching out to the masses in missionary, educational and political aspects.
Al-Ahrar: Do you really have a presence in the street?
Dr. Habib: We have a presence all over the Egyptian arena, unaffected by any harassment which on the contrary makes us more persistent on what we do and even increases people’s sympathy with us.
Al-Ahrar: Where is the group"s party program?
Dr. Habib: As I have mentioned above, while we are concerned about the verdicts of the military trials and fighting corruption, we also take steps in preparing the program so that it reaches its ideal image. We are still holding dialogues with the elite about it.