When Hoyer Met Katatni

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary delegation has this interview with www.ikhwanonline.net (the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood) describing his meeting(s) last week with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The interview is in Arabic, so I took the liberty of translating it for my many many readers. (That last bit about many many readers was a joke.) Anyways, the interview is fascinating. What’s even more fascinating is that the English website of the society (www.ikhwanweb.net) gives much more attention to the Hoyer-Katatni exchange than the Arabic one. At the English site, the meeting with Hoyer dominates the page, while at the Arabic site, this interview got a tiny link near the bottom, amidst the rest of the day’s news. Also, the coverage at the English site tilts toward the positive, with an “editorial message” declaring the meeting a step in the right direction. The coverage at the Arabic site–i.e. the interview below–is less rosy. But read for yourselves. A more detailed analysis to follow.

Dr. Katatni Uncovers the Details of his Meeting with the American Congressional Delegation.

There are those who describe Katatni’s meeting wit the American delegation as the beginning of a dialogue between the Society of Muslim Brothers and the American administration, while others think that the National Democratic Party, represented by Dr. Fathi Surour, deliberately put the Brothers in this awkward position by inviting Dr. Katatni to the joint meeting, and as usual with any issue to which the Brothers are a party, the scene is dominated by misapprehensions and lies.

Ikhwan Online uncovers the truth of what happened with the American delegation through this interview with Dr. Muhammad Saad al-Katatni, and the reactions inside the society to this meeting, and what issues were discussed by the two sides, and was there really special emphasis on Dr. Katatni? And what were the points of agreement between the two sides, or was the encounter confrontational throughout? And here are the details:

To start… who invited you to attend this party? Was it through the People’s Assembly?

First, there were two invitations. The first came to me last Wednesday (4/4/2007) from the American ambassador in Cairo to attend a reception organized by the embassy in the Ambassador’s residence next to the embassy the next day in honor of the American congressional delegation, and on Thursday an invitation was extended to me by Dr. Fathi Surour, speaker of the people’s assembly to participate in a delegation of the people’s assembly that would meet with the American delegation that would visit the assembly on Thursday also, and in fact the meeting between the two delegations happened in Dr. Surour’s office, and among the participants in the Egyptian delegation was Dr. Abd al-Ahad Gamal al-Din the majority leader, and Mahmoud Abaza leader of the Wafd Party and its parliamentary group, and Dr. Mustapha Fiqqi, chairman of the foreign relations committee, and General Saad al-Gammal chair of the Arab affairs committee, and Dr. Mustapha al-Saeed, chairman of the economic committee, and Kamal Ahmed, representative of the independents in the general secretariat of the assembly, and with this the Egyptian delegation represented all of the political trends present in the people’s assembly, while the American delegation was comprised of 7 democrats and 4 republicans.

Chair of the Bloc

By what description did Dr. Surour introduce you to the American delegation?

He said exactly, “Dr. Muhammad Saad al-Katatni in reality is chairman of the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brothers, but from the legal standpoint we consider the members of the Brothers as independents because they don’t have a political party.”

And what happened in this meeting?!

Dr. Surour started by welcoming the American delegation, then he introduced the members of the Egyptian delegation, then he emphasized the importance the people’s assembly places on communicating with the American congress about different issues in the religion, and he steered the discussion to American policies in the region, especially in Palestine and Iraq, emphasizing that we oppose these unbalances policies and oppose the occupation of Iraq, and he said also that if the American occupation of Iraq and been like its occupation of Germany after the second world war, when it brought stability to Germany and helped it develop and rebuild, the situation would have been much different, and Iraqis would look at the American forces in a very different way from the way they do now.

Then Dr. Surour shifted the conversation to the constitutional amendments, and said they fulfill the electoral program of the president, and that these amendments are in the interests of the nation and constitute a leap in political reform, and that they will lead to real changes for the better in Egyptian society.

Does this mean that Dr. Surour was the only one who spoke at the meeting?

Absolutely not. Because immediately after this, he opened the door to discussion, and I spoke and said that I agree with the first part of what Dr. Surour said, which was the issue of Iraq, while I disagree with him entirely in the second part, about the constitutional amendments, because these amendments were intended to remove the Society of Muslim Brothers from political life after amending article 5 of the constitution, and adding a passage that forbids political or party activity that has religious foundations or a religious frame of reference, and that these amendments take us back to the days of election fraud through the amendment of article 88 that diminishes the role of the judges in supervising the electoral process, and that the amendments are aimed at reinforcing the police state through article 179 that deals with the terrorism law, and after that I directed my remarks to the American delegation, saying: There is a clear schizophrenia in standards regarding issues of human rights; for when America claims to care about human rights, we find it defending with all of its strength the case of Dr. Ayman Nur, despite the fact that he is in jail by order of the court, regardless of the cause of that court case, while it turns a blind eye and we don’t hear one word about its rejection of the detentions of the leaders of the Muslim Brothers or the freezing of their assets, and their referral to military tribunals, and this is what confirms that there is a clear schizophrenia in all issues.

And what was the response of the American delegation?

They did not present any response. And they shifted the discussion to Darfur, and said that they visited it and described the situation from their point of view that it was a tragedy, and that they have reports that confirm that more than 2000 families in Darfur die every week, and that Egypt is not taking its proper role in this issue. So General Saad al-Gammal responded that he was in a civilian visit to Darfur, and that in this region there are 6 million Muslims, and that it is difficult for bloodshed to emerge among them, but that the problem is international intervention, especially from the United States that desires the resources of this region, and if it instead focused its efforts on presenting humanitarian assistance to the families of Darfur and helped in developing the region the present situation would have been very different and the tragedy would have ended.

Then the American delegation spoke about the Palestinian unity government and accused Hamas of being a terrorist group that exports terrorism throughout the region, and to this responded MP Kamal Ahmed, confirming that terrorism is an American product, and that America is the one that created terrorism in Afghanistan then exported it to the Arab world and is not able to get rid of it.

And why didn’t you respond to this accusation against Hamas?

I did in fact respond and said: What is happening with the unity government in Palestine is the best evidence of the schizophrenia of American standards, for at a time when the United States talks about supporting democracy it refuses, nay, fights, the Palestinian people in their authentic democratic choice, and that Hamas is a resistance movement defending its rights, while the terrorism is from the side of the Zionist entity that kills children and innocents and destroys homes and violates rights.

Then there wasn’t a special conversation with you specifically or was there any discussion of the Brothers’ position in Egypt?

This did not happen at all. All that happened is that one of the members of the delegation asked be after I spoke about the constitutional amendments about the degree to which the rest of the parliamentarians were receptive to what we said, so I told him that in private, unofficial meetings we find a great receptivity from most of the representatives of the ruling party, and that they support our steps toward reform, but that this support is different during the general sessions in which the representatives of the majority must abide by the opinions of their party, and therefore they vote in favor of what the party puts forward.

And I want to point out here that I was not the only one speaking in this meeting, and as I said, the speaker of the parliament spoke, and General Saad al-Gammal, and Kamal Ahmed, and others, and the discussion did not move toward the Muslim brothers at all, and the American delegation was keen on listening more than speaking.


So the issue of the Brothers was put forth during the reception in the evening?

This didn’t happen either. Receptions are open, and most of the talk tends toward flattery, and they invited a large number of politicians and media personalities, such that also in attendance were Dr. Kamal Abu al-Magd and Munir Fakhry Abdel Nour and Dr. Hala Mustapha and Dr. Mona Makram Ebeid and Dr. Muhammad Kamal from the NDP and the broadcaster Hafiz al-Mirazi, former bureau chief of al-Jazira channel in Washington, and the journalist writer Iqbal Baraka and a number of other Egyptian personalities. And the party began with a word from the American ambassador in which he presented the leader of the congressional delegation who introduced the members of the delegation according to their roles inside the congress and the districts they represent, and afterward everyone was standing together, in pairs or in groups, and I was standing with Dr. Ahmed Kamal Abu al-Magd, until one of the embassy employees came to me and told me that the chairman of the American delegation wants to talk to me, and we went aside and had a discussion about the Hamas movement.

Abu al-Magd as Witness

But some of the media outlets said that the discussion happened in a side room next to the reception room and that it covered a lot of issues?

This did not happen, because the place was open and there were not side rooms or things like that. And as I recall, the chair of the American delegation and I stood in the middle of the attendees, and the place was the library of the American ambassador as I recall, and standing next to me was Dr. Hala Mustapha and others, and as I said receptions are held in an open place and people stand together in pairs for the most part. And mostly it is just chatting, and at the end of my talk wit the chair of the American delegation Dr. Kamal Abu al-Magd came near, and who also spoke with the chair of the American delegation, and I withdrew and left and I was the first one to leave the party because I was committed to travel to my town al-Minya after the end of assembly sessions on Wednesday.

And what went on between you and the chair of the American congressional delegation in this encounter?

He wanted to continue the issue of Hamas that we discussed in the people’s assembly that morning, and he asked me of my reasons for supporting the Hamas movement despite the fact that it is a “terrorist organization” from his point of view. So I said to him that Hamas is a resistance movement defending itself from the terrorism of “Israel” that kills children and innocents, and that the ball is now in the United States’ court, especially after the flexibility the movement showed in the Mecca agreement and its acceptance of the principle of two states along the 1967 borders on the condition of the return of refugees. And the chair of the American delegation responded that the return of refugees means the disappearance of “Israel” from existence, so I said to him that is their problem. So he asked me, what is the solution? So I said to him: The solution is that the Jews should return to their original countries, return to the countries from which they came after the occupation of Palestine. And the argument continued between us around this issue, he defending the Zionist entity and me defending Hamas, until Dr. Kamal Abu al-Magd approached so I left, and we didn’t discuss anything other than this issue.

The Position of the Society

Discussion with the United States is a complex issue for the Brothers. Did you tell the Guidance Office or any of the Society’s leaders about this invitation?

No, this did not happen, because I went in my parliamentary capacity, and I have privileges as the president of the bloc to meet with other parliamentary delegations whether on the regional or international level, in addition I also have privileges to meet with civil society organizations and other institutions, as long as the invitation is directed to me as a parliamentarian, for this is a part of our parliamentary activity, and it is known that they Society of Muslim Brothers is cautious about any dialogue with the Americans because of their shameful history in the region, and that the Society always males known that there will not be any dialogue between us and any one of their leaders without the knowledge of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

But, Dr. Saad, you are the chair of the Brothers’ parliamentary bloc, and you say that the Brothers reject dialogue without knowledge of the Foreign Ministry, don’t you see a contradiction in this?

Yes, the bloc is part of the Society, but as I said I have privileges as the chair of the parliamentary bloc to meet with my parliamentary counterparts from different countries to exchange view points, and on this basis we in the bloc participate in foreign visits, and meet with local and international civil society organizations, for this is a longstanding parliamentary tradition, and moreover I was part of an official delegation of the peoples assembly in the meetings of the international parliamentary union in Kenya last May and I met there with parliamentarians from all countries and had meetings with all delegations except the delegation of the Knesset, because we don’t deal with it at all.

After your participation in the reception, and after this argument in the media, did the Society criticize you for your attendance at the reception and your meeting with the congressional delegation?

This did not happen, and would not happen, because as I said I have privileges as a member of parliament who represents the Egyptian people and chair of the largest opposition bloc in parliament, and all that happened is that the leaders of the Society asked me as you asked me about what happened in the discussion, and I told them what I told you.


Part 1

Part 2