Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The Brotherhood and Salafis

Amany Maged reviews the latest bout of backbiting between the Brotherhood and Salafis

Al-Ahram Weekly

A new round of squabbling has erupted in the long simmering animosity between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Egypt. The row this time was triggered by an interview Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan gave to Al-Watan newspaper in which he claimed the government had been willing to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and Brotherhood’s leadership was ready to relinquish its support for Morsi and to see his prerogatives transferred to the prime minister.

Muslim Brotherhood sources deny Hassaan’s claims, though other Salafi leaders back the testimony which Hassaan says he gave “for the sake of God and history”.

Hassaan related how he met President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi when he was still minister of defence. According to Hassaan he was received very cordially: “I asked him not to break up the sit-ins [in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda Squares] by force because the bloodshed would create a generation that would sanction bearing arms against the Egyptian army. He responded, ‘I won’t break up the sit-ins by force, but does it not bother you that they have blocked all traffic around Rabaa and Nahda? If only they’d let us get the traffic moving in those areas.’ I then said, ‘Secondly, the media is going to set the country on fire.’ He answered, ‘Do you approve of the rhetoric from the podium in Rabaa?’ I said, ‘No, by God, I do not. If I did, I would have been the first to speak from there even at the risk of my own life.’ [Al-Sisi] asked me to try to change the rhetoric from the podium and he, in exchange, would try to change the rhetoric of the media. Lastly, I asked him to release the detainees. ‘It doesn’t fall under my jurisdiction. It’s not in my hands,’ he answered. ‘It is,’ I said. ‘No it’s not,’ he countered. Then when I pressed for a third time, he smiled and said, “Alright. But give me a chance to see how they react to your mediation.’”

The Salafi sheikh went on to describe the shock he received when the Muslim Brothers turned down all the results of his efforts with Al-Sisi. “They told me, ‘We will not compromise and we will not reconcile.’ I almost fainted that day. I soon learned the cause. EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton was in Egypt at the time. I told one of them, ‘Your hopes are still pinned on Catherine Ashton. I swear by my Lord that is the road to defeat.’ Amr Darrag later told me that Ashton had actually tried to convince them to accept realities.”

Following the publication of the interview with Hassaan, another well-known preacher, Gamal Al-Marakbi, issued a statement regarding his own attempts to mediate before the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins.

“Acting on the advice of Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan, the Ulema Shura Council undertook an initiative before the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in in order to forestall bloodshed. On 22 Ramadan (30 July 2013), we met with representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL). Present at that meeting, in addition to myself, were Abdallah Shaker, Mohamed Hassaan, Mahmoud Hassaan and Mohamed Abdel-Salam from the Ulema Shura Council and Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr, Atteya Adlan, Salah Sultan, Safwat Abdel-Ghani, Ayman Abdel-Ghani and Ehab Shiha from the Muslim Brothers and NASL.”

Al-Marakbi says the Muslim Brotherhood had asked that the meeting take place at Rabaa but Hassaan refused, saying, “We came with a peace-making not a partisan vision. We did not come to make common cause with or to judge anyone but to spare the shedding of Muslim blood, and Egyptian blood in general.”

 Al-Marakbi also recounts an exchange between the two sides. “Salah Sultan insisted that we join them at Rabaa. ‘If you want to serve the cause, come sit with us in Rabaa,’ he said. Sheikh Hassaan reacted somewhat heatedly, saying ‘If I had known that one had to be at Rabaa or on the podium there in order to serve the religion of God I would have been there long before you.”

The Brotherhood and NASL then told the representatives from the Ulema Shura Council that they were unable to leave Rabaa for fear of random arrests. They also said they wanted to reduce the intensity of the incendiary media discourse. After considerable efforts the council members persuaded the Brotherhood and NASL members to agree to a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during which their demands could be presented.

“A meeting was arranged through General Mohamed Al-Assar from SCAF. It was held on Thursday 24 Ramadan [1 August 2013]. Those present in the meeting with Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi were Sheikh Hassaan, Abdallah Shaker, Mohamed Moukhtar Al-Mahdi, Mohamed Abdel-Salam, Mohamed Hassan, a member of the Islamic Research Council, and Mahmoud Hassaan. We told him that if blood were shed the whole nation would pay a heavy price. ‘We fear for you, for our people and for the whole of Egypt if it slides into such an abyss,’ we said. Al-Sisi agreed to the demands and said, “The sit-in will not be broken up by force even if they sit there for a year. But it can’t block the road leading to Cairo Airport.’”

Al-Marakbi says the mediating delegation also asked Al-Sisi to release detainees, including Morsi. Al-Sisi’s response was that this was a matter for the judiciary. Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan replied, according to Al-Marakbi, that “the legal aspect is clear and we will not intervene in it. But we are talking about the detentions and arbitrary arrests. Does it stand to reason that Saad Al-Katatni, a respectable and intelligent university professor and a former People’s Assembly speaker should be arrested and charged with breaking and entering an apartment? If he were here now he would have a role to play in this crisis instead of the impetuous zealots.” Al-Sisi responded that he would look into the matter.

The final demand conveyed by the delegation was for negotiations to begin. Al-Sisi agreed and said, “The Muslim Brotherhood will sit at the negotiating table with all other political forces, in its capacity as the largest political party in Egypt.” However, according to Al-Marakbi’s account, the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the offer.

“On 26 Ramadan [3 August 2013], they refused and apologised to the sheikhs, and especially to Sheikh Hassaan. The sheikhs said that they would reveal everything that took place to resolve the crisis and the position of the Muslim Brotherhood. This meeting took place in Al-Hossari Mosque after dawn prayers. But then the Muslim Brothers took to the platform at Rabaa and denied that they ever sent the sheikhs to mediate, claiming the sheikhs took the step at their own initiative and without consulting anyone.”

As to why he and his colleagues had not made this information public before now Al-Marakbi said they had not wanted to take sides or aggravate the strife and bloodshed among all sides, including the army and police. “Our sole purpose was to promote reconciliation, out of our fear of God and fear for this safe nation. I would not have said anything now were it not necessary to defend myself, my brothers and Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan who is being maligned day and night on social networking media.”

The backlash stirred by these revelations, and the mudslinging campaign against Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan, compelled his son, Ahmed Hassaan, to defend his father. On his Facebook page he wrote: “I, Ahmed Mohamed Hassaan, swear to God and for history that everything that my venerable father, Sheikh Dr Mohamed Hassaan, may God protect him, said regarding meetings about negotiations or reconciliation with the representatives from NASL accounts for only ten per cent of the outrages and verbal, ideological and political abuses that were perpetrated. Many are aware of this.”

He added: “What prevented him from speaking out fully was his faith, his dedication and his nobility, which spirit he is determined to instil more deeply in our souls every day. He has never verbally abused, acted out of spite or attempted to provoke any of those who are insulting him today….  I was present and a witness to what happened then and, today, I swear by God that the sheikh felt compelled to say what he said in order to clear up some of the misunderstanding that has been caused due to the accusations that have been wrongfully levelled against him.”

Contradictory statements and reactions have emerged from the Brotherhood and NASL camps. Mohamed Mahsoub, a member of NASL, confirmed that the Brotherhood was ready to relinquish its support for Morsi and transfer his powers to the prime minister and that they made this known in their meeting with Catherine Ashton. On his Facebook page Mahsoub wrote, “I was present in the meeting with her on 29 July 2013 as a member of a delegation that included former prime minister Hisham Qandil, Amr Darrag, Mohamed Ali Bishr and others. Ashton had come to Egypt at the request of the government, she said, and not NASL. She stressed this in the meeting and in her subsequent statements to the press.”

Mahsoub continued: “Ashton never promised Morsi’s return. Her position was clear and, in brief, she wanted [us] to close the page of events prior to 3 July 2013 and open a new page. The only solution was for Morsi to delegate his powers to the prime minister who, in accordance with the constitution, would oversee an interim period in which elections could be held while the constitution was safeguarded. Ashton asked how the Brotherhood stood on this. Mohamed Ali Bishr said he represented the Brotherhood at the meeting and that he agreed. The proposal included a point calling for the release of the prisoners and Brotherhood leaders so that they could be partners in the solution. It also called for an end to the media campaigns.”

Amr Darrag, director of the Brotherhood’s political bureau, denies their demands for Morsi’s reinstatement during the meeting with Ashton or on any other occasion. In his account of the talks with Ashton, Darrag claims “there was no political negotiation... It was clear Ashton wanted the Muslim Brothers to accept current realities.”

Salafi preacher Nasser Radwan accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of systematically spreading lies about anyone who criticises the group or exposes its duplicity. This, he says, is what happened in the case of Mohamed Hassaan. He adds that Salafi sheikhs formed the Council of Ulema of the Revolution in order to respond to the Brotherhood’s slur campaigns. In remarks to the press, Sheikh Radwan said, “Among the lies they spread is that Sheikh Al-Marakbi told Field Marshal Al-Sisi at the time, ‘Watch out, the demonstrators at Rabaa are Kharijites.’ The purpose of this lie was to cast aspersions on the credibility of Sheikh Al-Marakbi and suggest that he had urged the breakup of the sit-in.”

Radwan stressed that the Alexandria-based Salafist Calling and all sheikhs from the Salafist trend supported a peaceful solution to the Rabaa sit-in.

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