|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Flat tires but no regretsBy Khaled Dawoud
Adel Hussein, secretary-general of the now-frozen Labour Party, denies responsibility for leading the Islamist-oriented group to a final showdown with the government. The former Marxist's heated articles in the party's mouthpiece, Al-Shaab, and an alliance forged with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, are considered to have been the final draw. Hussein claims that the real cause was that the government does not want to see any strong political party posing a threat to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
Now, four months after the freezing of Labour Party activities and the suspension of the publication of its mouthpiece, Al-Shaab, do you regret your confrontation with the Ministry of Culture over the reprinting of the novel A Banquet for Seaweed, by Syrian writer Haydar Haydar? Do you think you were made to pay a heavy price?
I regret nothing at all. On the contrary, we would wage a similar campaign if the same thing happened again. What many people do not understand is that this novel was unprecedented. The issue is not the publication of a book that contains views that differ from ours; the problem is that the author insulted the Holy Qu'ran and our prophet. How can I remain silent after that?
Moreover, the publication of the novel was financed with government money. For these reasons, we were not alone in this battle. Al-Azhar -- despite our disagreement with some of its positions, which we consider too conciliatory -- supported us, and so did all the Muslim scholars in this country. I think our campaign was successful, and the Ministry of Culture will certainly think more than twice before printing similar books now.
But why did you go to the extreme of running headlines that many intellectuals saw as inciting extremists to physically attack those responsible for publishing the novel?
Because this was a grave matter. The government would not have acted if we had published a nicely-worded article expressing our disagreement with what the Ministry of Culture did. When the government felt that what happened was a near disaster and angered everybody, it had to retreat -- even if it did not admit that openly.
Shortly before the Political Parties Committee decided to freeze the Labour Party's activities, you warned that such a move would lead to a revolution "if not in one week, in a month; and if not in a month, in a year." Yet there are no signs of a revolution, a revolt or even minor protests. How do you plead?
Of course, it is unrealistic to assume that a revolution will erupt if Labour is shut down. But what I meant at the time was that Labour represented a key force in society, whose removal would create a state of imbalance and deliver a blow to political pluralism in Egypt.
You are talking about Labour as a representative of the Islamist trend in Egypt?
Indeed, I am talking about Labour as a representative of the Islamic trend, but also as a party that has a modern understanding of Islam. The government does not mind Islamic groups who limit their activities to talking about moral values and evoking stories from early Islamic history. But for us, we want to make use of these historic events and relate them to our current realities.
For example, when the Qu'ran speaks of the trickery of Jews throughout history, we want to use this to shed light on the current conflict between Arabs and Zionists. We use a mixture of our adherence to our Islamic roots and a scientific understanding of modern realities to determine our action and political programme.
For this reason, we have radically opposed the government on a wide range of issues, starting with moral values and the education system, and ending up with political, social and economic questions.
What is the difference between the Labour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Brotherhood is part of the Islamic movement, but we are different from them with regard to what I just mentioned, about mixing Islam with the requirements of modern living. However, I would like to confirm here that there has been significant progress in the positions taken by the Brotherhood in recent years that are similar in approach to ours.
But can we say that the two of you now make up one force?
No. We have not reached that point yet, and I don't think that it is required. Pluralism within the Islamic movement is needed and is actually useful. This Islamic pluralism already exists in several countries such as Iran, Sudan, Algeria and Morocco. The existing differences are not over general principles, but on ways of implementing these principles.
You are accused of orchestrating a coup within the Labour Party, forcing many figures to resign for opposing your alliance with the Brotherhood.
The shift that took place in the Labour Party concerned organisation, not ideology. By this I mean that since the party was established in 1978, it was stated in its programme that Islam should be the main source of legislation ... The members you are referring to represented a variety of trends at a time when the party's ideology was not exactly clear.
When we agreed to form an alliance with the Brotherhood in 1987, that was mainly for political reasons, and because the Brotherhood could not run separately according to the election system at that time. The Brotherhood was not recognised as a political party and it could not run alone. In 1984, they ran with the Wafd Party, on the grounds that they were both opposed to the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the 1952 revolution. In 1987, the Wafd Party shunted an earlier decision to field a united opposition list and decided to run alone.
After I joined the party in 1986, we tried to be in greater harmony with the slogans we originally raised. So when we decided to put into effect our call for implementation of Shari'a, we could not continue to have in the party's leadership people who are known, for example, for their drinking habits or others, who are corrupt.
But those who split from Labour after its alliance with the Brotherhood were not all corrupt or had drinking habits. They protested what they described as a plan to transform Labour into an Islamist party.
Those who left did not do so because of the Brotherhood. The split had to do with our own plan to restructure the party and make it consistent with the line that we intended to represent. Those who did not approve of this change left the party.
Yet, Labour leader Ibrahim Shukri was accused in recent investigations of forging an alliance with an outlawed group -- the Brotherhood -- and allowing it to control the party.
These are the claims made by state security authorities, but they are not true. Look at Labour's politburo. We only have one member who has a Brotherhood background. The rest are either former Marxists like myself, former Nasserists or others who have had a place in Egypt's nationalist movement and now agree with our trend.
What we were hoping to achieve was a party that could represent the entire nation. We wanted to form a broad national front and overcome the traditional differences between Arab nationalism and Islam, or socialism and Islam. This means recognising a new generation that was not involved in the historic disputes between members of these camps.
But the only people we can see in the politburo are Brotherhood figures; no Nasserists, no socialists. You even reportedly changed the name from politburo to Shura Council, taking the cue from other Islamist groups.
This did not happen, and even if it did, it is not exactly a crime. Why should we have foreign names for everything, and what is the problem in seeking to spread the use of Islamic terms? Even shops selling falafel these days have foreign names. But we did not shift from politburo to Shura Council, and we challenge anybody to prove otherwise.
The Labour Party's leadership issued a statement last week announcing a boycott of elections. Why did you take this decision?
We did not choose to boycott elections; we were forced to do so. When you flatten the tires of a car, empty its gas tank and shoot the driver, how can you ask it afterward to compete in a race?
Our newspaper was closed, we are not allowed to hold meetings in our offices throughout the country, and we face a series of legal measures. How can we take part in elections after that?
Those who blame you for the latest confrontation with the government believe the crisis would be resolved if you were removed from the post of secretary-general. What do you think of that?
When Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt in 1956, they said they had no problem with Egypt, and that the only problem was Nasser. I am not comparing myself to Nasser, but what I am saying is that my removal won't solve anything.
Besides, as an elected party official, I cannot be removed except by a collective decision from the leadership.
The problem, as I said, is that the government does not want to see a strong party that could challenge its dominance. The government opposes us for what we do and what we represent and not because of Adel Hussein.
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