Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

‘The Brotherhood’s madness’

Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Kamal Al-Halbawi talks with Ahmed Eleiba about the post-Morsi transition

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Kamal Al-Halbawi was a leader of the International Muslim Brotherhood (IMB) until 1997 when he resigned as IMB’s official spokesman. He remained a member of the mother organisation in Egypt for another 15 years, eventually resigning in March 2012 after the Muslim Brotherhood backtracked on its promise not to field a candidate for president. Subsequently Al-Halbawi became an outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and president Mohamed Morsi.

Born in Menoufiya in 1939, Al-Halbawi graduated from the Faculty of Letters, Cairo University, in 1960. He went on to study business administration at the American University in Cairo, from which he graduated in 1971. He then moved to London where he lived for 32 years. He founded and headed the Islamic League in Britain, served as chairman of the board of directors of the Islamic Investment Foundation, and served as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Islamic Council. He returned to Egypt immediately after the 25 January Revolution erupted.

In his interview with the Al-Ahram Weekly Al-Halbawi introduced himself as “a Muslim Egyptian citizen who loves Islam with a passion and who strives to ensure that Islam prevails in its spirit of benevolence, comprehensiveness and compassion”. He stressed that this approach differs from that of societies that establish themselves as proselytising organisations only to veer into violence and terrorism. “The Islamic calling,” he says, “is renowned for its moderateness which once characterised the Muslim Brotherhood in the days when it was remote from extremism.”

Unfortunately the Muslim Brotherhood deviated from its original aims and purposes. “The scenes that we have seen that include covert activities and the incitement to violence and exhortation to martyrdom at Rabaa Al-Adaweya for the sake of a political objective rather than for the cause of a war to defend the nation confirmed a very grave mistake. The Muslim Brotherhood now tends to ally itself with those who had participated in acts of terrorist violence for many years. I refer, in particular, to such individuals as Assem Abdel-Maged.”

While many observers maintain that the Muslim Brotherhood has inducted members of extremist groups such as Al-Jihad and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya into its own ranks Al-Halbawi sees the relationship as more of an alliance. “The Alliance for Legitimacy contains many elements from such groups. In the marches they staged after the fall of Morsi we saw Al-Qaeda banners and people carrying rifles which they used from the top of bridges and in the streets. No rational person can condone such acts.”

Returning to the time when he had just returned from London following the January Revolution, he observes, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s focus on politics overshadowed its religious calling. In politics there are often excesses and the lines between what is right and wrong differ from those in the calling.”

“The educational system on which the Muslim Brotherhood member is raised is beautiful, moderate and does not deviate from the original calling. However, as I have both heard and observed for myself recent leaders, who had spent time in jails and prisons, began to tend more towards the Qutbist approach rather than to that of Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. True, some of them mixed the two approaches but in the end they deviated from framework of the original calling.”

When I mention that MB Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, in an earlier interview with the Weekly, dismissed the Qutbist-Banna division as “pure theory”, Al-Halbawi responds: “It’s amazing that a person such as Mahmoud Hussein would see eye-to-eye with, firstly, Mahmoud Ezzat [described as the Muslim Brotherhood’s black box and currently in hiding] and, secondly, Khairat Al-Shater. He was educated in the West and experienced the development there so one would have expected him to support the peaceful approach. But the opposite is the case as exemplified by the strange views we have heard from him with regard to the ‘peacefulness’ of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in.”

A Muslim Brotherhood youth, on his Facebook page, lashed out at Al-Halbawi for describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group during remarks he made following the fall of the Morsi government. But Al-Halbawi insists “I have never described the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

“My criticisms, whether strong or not, were not against them but against the mistakes into which they had fallen. When I returned to work with the blessed 25 January Revolution, by the grace of God, I realised that the Muslim Brotherhood had abandoned the revolution, deviated from its demands, set themselves above all others, and were working towards advancing their own narrow interests. True, they organised large celebrations in my honour in Menoufiya and Beheira upon my return. But that does not mean I can approve their deviations. This is the first time I say this: after I resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood I met with supreme guide Mohamed Badie several times as well as with his deputy Khairat Al-Shater in order to advise them to turn back from the path they were taking. Sometimes it was me who had asked for these meetings; sometimes it was them. They did not heed my advice.”

 So has Al-Halbawi completely disassociated himself from the Muslim Brotherhood or is he just adopting a critical distance?

“You should understand from what I’ve been saying that I disassociated myself from the group when I resigned from it as it stood, with its current leadership and organisational structures. I found that this leadership had committed mistakes that are inconsistent with the Islamic calling and set it on a path that has made this leadership indifferent to others and led it to behaviour and attitudes that distort the image of the calling. I could not possibly continue with them. They are responsible for what happened. I am not speaking only of a person or a group of people but all of them. They are all to blame. They continued their mode of behaviour up to and beyond 30 June. A week 30 June they acted as though what was happening was just a storm in a teacup and their strange behaviour in Rabaa and Nahda squares was proof that they were a group that had no sense of reality. They were guilty of gross, disastrous mistakes. No good could be expected to come from them. I had said this from the outset. After Morsi’s first 100 days in office I said that he had lost his legitimacy and that he would be facing prosecution sometime in the not too distant future.”

The dissident Muslim Brotherhood member advises Egyptians not to spend too much time researching Muslim Brotherhood documents and history. Their time would be better invested in studying what needs to be done to secure their country’s future. Egyptians should look forward, rather than backwards.

“The transformation that Egypt is currently undergoing is thoroughly positive. This is not the product the 30 June revolution alone. It was born during the 25 January Revolution. The people awoke in that revolution and changed. They brought down two presidents and, in between, they opposed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. That all this took place in a short period of time reflects the growth in the awareness of this people.”

Al-Halbawi was chosen as a member on the Committee of Fifty charged with reformulating the constitution produced under Muslim Brotherhood rule, one of the stages of the roadmap agreed upon by the revolutionary forces and the military. On the controversy over the ordering of priorities in that roadmap, he states, “I am with the roadmap in its current order. What matters is that Egypt emerges from the crisis. The country had been plunged into a dark tunnel because of the catastrophic mistakes committed by the Morsi presidency, the FJP and the MB. The roadmap protects the country from falling into the hands of terrorists and aborts schemes that speak of the use of violence. The actions that were taken were necessary in order to avert foreign intervention in our domestic affairs.”

Al-Halbawi believes that there is a good balance among the political forces currently active in the political process. These forces support the roadmap and are reflected in the committee charged with reformulating the constitution. “The committee of 50 is representative of the whole of the Egyptian people, unlike the previous constitutional drafting committees,” he says. “In this transitional phase it is not sufficient to take up a pencil and straightedge and draw. We want Egypt to stand strong after having emerged from the grip of corruption and narrow political horizons. We are on the right path now and there will be positive results for Egypt.”

Asked whether he shared the concern voiced by some that the military establishment may come to exercise a stronger role in government in spite of the people’s demands for greater involvement in political life, Al-Halbawi answers: “I am with the people and the people demand a role for the armed forces. The people only had the armed forces to stand by them in the face of the madness of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the moment, there is no other political party to fill the gap left by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“Even if we are working in a context of attaining a democratic system imported from the West the democratic system depends on electoral processes. However, in countries that follow this system, there are two, three or at most four parties that rotate power between them. This does not exist in Egypt at present. There is no force but the military establishment that could steer the country after the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure.”

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