Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Between sanctification and vilification

Nageh Ibrahim, a leader of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, talks to Mohamed Abdel-Baky about his take on 30 June

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya has sided with President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as Egypt heads towards mass demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on 30 June. Several weeks ago, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, a leading Gamaa figure, initiated the Tagarod (Impartiality) campaign to gather millions of signatures in support of the president. The campaign is intended to counter the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign which was set in motion many weeks earlier with the aim of collecting 15 million signatories in a petition to withdraw confidence from the president and hold early presidential elections.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Nageh Ibrahim, Al-Gamaa Islamiya’s theorist and one of its senior leaders, explained why his group decided to back the president and the Muslim Brotherhood in contrast to a significant segment of Salafis who have chosen to remain on the sidelines.

Ibrahim agrees with many that the president and the Muslim Brotherhood’s bid to monopolise power and exclude the opposition was a major reason for the mounting polarisation that has led to the current political impasse. He said that his group had cautioned the Muslim Brothers that they would lose power and destroy themselves if they persisted in their drive for self-empowerment and the Brotherhoodisation of the state. But he simultaneously cautioned against the overthrow of Morsi by force which he feared would precipitate a spiral of violence in the country.

 

As a follower of the Islamist movement, what in your opinion has brought the country to the point in which a clash between the Islamists and the opposition appears inevitable?

The Muslim Brotherhood regime’s failure to establish a broad-based national partnership drove the country to a disastrous political situation that is about to explode. The Muslim Brothers should have emulated South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who understood that his country would not be able to progress without national reconciliation and partnership. In fact, Mandela had a much tougher task, as South Africa had four racial classes and a dozen religions. Still, he brought all segments of society on board in the government and welded them into a single bouquet, in spite of the heavy legacy of hatred between whites and blacks. Unfortunately, the Muslim Brothers did not go this route. Instead, they sought to monopolise power and engaged in numerous and needless battles — with the media, the judiciary, intellectuals and artists, and the Coptic Church — in order to fulfil their intense desire to control all facets of government. They forgot that the Quran itself has cautioned against this. The surah of the Prophet Joseph relates that when Joseph monopolised the love of his father, his brothers decided to kill him, in spite of the fact that their father was a prophet.

On the social level, the government has completely failed to reach the average Egyptian citizen. It made no attempt to achieve significant progress in alleviating the daily strains that weigh so heavily on the people. Instead, it remained preoccupied with its quest for power and placating the Islamist movements. Therefore, opposition is no longer limited to political elites. The call for Morsi to leave has been taken up by most of the poor and marginalised segments of the Egyptian people. An example of this is to be found with truck drivers who are forced to wait for long hours in petrol station queues in order to fill up on solar diesel.

In sum, the Muslim Brotherhood regime has proven itself expert in creating adversaries due to its disregard for the concerns of the Egyptian people and its focus on the power conflict with other political forces. The Muslim Brothers should realise that their real adversaries which have eroded Morsi’s political stock are the shortage in diesel, electricity outages, unemployment, lack of security and, of course, rising prices.

The current political climate is sharply polarised. It is a climate of violence and political conflict. Egypt is caught between sanctification and vilification, between rival camps that are exchanging accusations of various types of political and religious heresies. It is a formula for a very destructive type of power struggle. In short, the situation is very bad for both the opposition and the government.

 

What do you expect will happen in the event that Morsi is forced out of power as a result of the 30 June demonstrations?

I believe that if President Morsi is ousted by force, political violence will escalate and many takfiri groups will enter the fray to burn the state in order to protect themselves. Let us not forget that this has become easy in view of the security breakdown over the past three years, during which many illegitimate arms shipments have entered the country. In addition, takfiri groups have come to exert an increasing influence on the young who are frustrated in their attempts to find jobs and opportunities for a dignified life and who, therefore, find a kind of refuge in joining takfiri groups that practise violence.

The belief on the part of both peaceful and non-peaceful Islamist movements that Morsi represents their last chance in power will lead them to defy death in order to keep him in power. I also believe that the Muslim Brothers will pay any price in order to stay in power, and this brings the country to the brink of the chasm.

On the other hand, I believe that the army offers the only solution to the current political crisis, especially in the event of a flare-up in widespread violence. The army is the only player that can bring the situation under control and stabilise things for a while. But I am not sure whether the army would go so far as to assume power again, as it learned a bitter lesson in the year when it ruled in the capacity of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

 

The opposition is totally opposed to the return of the military to power?

I think that the opposition knows very well that, as much as it opposes military rule, the army is the only solution. If Morsi is forced from power, there will be a massive outbreak of political violence. The opposition does not have the means to control this and will therefore call for the return of the army to power in a temporary capacity. While the opposition has proposed steps in order to begin another transitional phase, the interim political process will come to a complete halt if violence persists and escalates.

 

You have suggested that the opposition has also contributed to the mounting political polarisation. How so?

The problem with the opposition is that it always thinks in terms of radical change at the top. That is the easy solution in a complicated and fraught political situation. The opposition has committed the same basic mistake as President Morsi and his group, which is to ignore the needs and concerns of the people. What it should have done is to work among the public in order to build up its bases of popular support so as to contest the Muslim Brothers in the polls. We have not seen the opposition building a hospital in a village or a school to help the poor.

In addition, the opposition has legitimised violence and vandalism. It has given the revolutionary the right to use violence as a means to protest the policies of the government and Muslim Brotherhood. During the past year, we have seen demonstrators burning police vehicles and besieging government buildings and sovereign agencies, claiming that this is their revolutionary right. This is due to the fact that from the outset of the revolution we, as Egyptians, approved the law of burning. We burned the premises of the National Democratic Party and we burned police stations. Ultimately, the police stations had to be repaired at the expense of the Egyptian people. The burning of the NDP headquarters also harmed the national income because it could have been turned into a museum that contributed millions of pounds to the national treasury or the premises could have been rented out to serve some other beneficial purpose.

 

What is your opinion of the way President Morsi has run the country since he assumed power last year?

President Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood and the basic problem is that this group has been ruling Egypt since he came to power, using the same decision-making processes that it uses to run its own internal affairs. But the task of governing a country is much bigger and more complicated than that. You cannot run a country in the same way that you run a group like the Muslim Brotherhood. Any Islamist group or movement consists solely of the Muslims who pledge allegiance to that group or movement. The country is made up of diverse shades of political, religious and ideological affiliations. Also, a group like the Muslim Brotherhood can ban a member who disputes its basic rules and ideas. The state cannot eliminate a citizen merely because he opposes government policies. Rather, the state should try to embrace him and accommodate to his demands, if they are legitimate and crucial to his daily life. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood’s mode of government is founded on total loyalty and allegiance to the commander of the group, whereas government in a state should be founded on a form of political partnership between the different groups of citizens that make up society and in which individuals are appointed to government posts on the basis of competence, rather than on the basis of their degree of loyalty to the emir or supreme guide of the group.

Egypt is much bigger than the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brothers, in turn, should realise that as rulers they are responsible for the protection and welfare of all Egyptians, whether they are Sunni Muslims or Shia Muslims or Christians or even Jews. However, the Muslim Brothers have failed to appreciate the difference between running their own organisation and running a nation, and this is the chief reason why the country has reached this stage of political tension.

I warn the Muslim Brothers that if they continue to lead the country with the mentality and in the manner in which they rule their group, the government will fall and their group will as well, just as did the Taliban who tried to govern their country with the mentality of their group and excluded all others. It is little wonder that when the US began its war against Afghanistan, all other factions in that society supported the US against the Taliban who lost the state and their own group.

 

Am I correct in understanding from what you said that you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood mode of government has generated a general opposition to the rise of any Islamist movement to power?

The Muslim Brothers weren’t ready to govern Egypt. They thought that they could run the country easily, in the manner of Hosni Mubarak. But they discovered that it is much harder than they had imagined, and they became embroiled in Brotherhoodising the state and advancing the criterion of loyalty over competence in order to promote appointments of fellow members and supporters to posts throughout the country. They tried to govern the country with the same logic they use in their own group, in which trust is conferred only on fellow members and all others are excluded. As a result, I believe that the opportunities of Islamists to come to power again, even through the polls, are very slim, and they are aware of this.

 

Many are curious as to why Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya has recently drawn so close to the Muslim Brotherhood and espoused staunch stances against the opposition.

There are three reasons that led our group to this position. First, it believes that if Morsi is overthrown no other Islamist president will reach power again. It also fears that a secularist president will once again move to put the Gamaa leaders and members in prison again and to restrict the freedom to proselytise, which is a cornerstone of the Islamist movements. Our group was led to this conviction by hostile comments issued by opposition leaders and politicians aligned with the opposition, referring to some Gamaa leaders as terrorists and takfiris.

At the same time, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged in particular, committed a grave mistake recently in their attempt to transform the political conflict between the Tamarod campaign and the regime into a full-scale religious/ideological conflict. This occurred when Abdel-Maged issued statements speaking of the role of the Church in supporting the Tamarod movement and warning it not to get involved. The escalation of the political conflict into a religious one will propel the country to a wave of sectarian violence in the manner of what occurred in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Egypt cannot sustain such a conflict, which would be difficult to stop once it started.

 

How would you compare the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties and movements before and after Morsi came to power?

I believe that most Islamist movements have distanced themselves from the Muslim Brothers due to their exclusivist policies. The exception is Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya which has sustained its alliance with the president and the Muslim Brotherhood. Our decision to do so is based on the conviction that this is the best of all available options because, as I mentioned, we believe that if the opposition reaches power it will threaten our continued existence in the political process and throw us back in prison, which would not stand to reason, in my opinion.

 

What is your advice to the Muslim Brotherhood at this time?

The Muslim Brotherhood must put an end to their project of self-empowerment and the Brotherhoodisation of the state. It must also strive to regain the confidence of the people, towards which end it should begin to ensure that all positions of government, large and small, are allocated on the basis of appropriate qualifications rather than loyalty to the Brotherhood. I also think that the president should heed the lesson from the experience of Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Abdel-Hakim Amer. It was a very painful experience. Nasser advanced Amer over other more competent officers in the army in having him appointed as brigadier general and then field marshal. The result of promoting loyalty over competence was the defeats in 1956 and 1967.

In order to regain and build the confidence of the people, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood must begin to fight their real adversaries which are economic and social collapse, and not the opposition that ultimately seeks to advance the national welfare.

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