Muslim Brotherhood Spokesman Detained in Cairo
September 17, 2013, 1:17 pm ET
One year ago, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi was elected as Egypt’s first civilian president. Then, the military overthrew him, backed by millions of cheering Egyptians. In tonight’s film, Egypt in Crisis, we examine how the Brotherhood came to power after years of persecution — and why and how they so quickly lost it.
In the past month, hundreds of Muslim Brothers have been arrested, and it’s estimated that more than 2,000 are currently imprisoned.
Among the latest arrests is Gehad El-Haddad, the Muslim Brotherhood’s main spokesman and senior adviser to the group’s Freedom and Justice political party.
This morning, Haddad was arrested on suspicion of inciting violence and murder, according to al-Ahram, Egypt’s state-run newspaper. He was taken to Tora prison outside Cairo, a detention facility known for housing high-profile prisoners and for torture. Tora was used by the CIA as a proxy detention center under former President Hosni Mubarak. One former prisoner compared it to “a grave.”
FRONTLINE’s Martin Smith interviewed Haddad two months ago, on July 18, in Cairo. “Can we reverse the coup?” he asked then. “We’re going to do our best to, or they’re going to kill us. Every other day they kill a few of us.”
This is the edited transcript of that conversation.
I want to start with Jan. 25, , your participation in the revolution. Were you there?
I was there before the spark of the events. The Muslim Brotherhood caught the movement early on and decided to fuel it by membership and by logistical support, but without having any labels of the Brotherhood appearing so that the police would not retaliate on the Brotherhood level [and] would deal with this much more as a street movement.
And normally the police would think that they’d be able to contain it. Of course once the police realized the level of support that this was getting, things escalated severely after that.
So during the revolution, you were trying to hide your presence from the police?
Significantly. … For us it was very new that common Egyptians, apolitical Egyptians, would literally take [to] a protest against the regime. And we needed to safeguard that ability and to make sure that the police did not retaliate strongly and disperse the citizens. So we needed to make our presence unknown.
But you were very present. You were running the checkpoints; you were running the clinic on Tahrir Square; you were putting up and printing posters. [It was] no secret that you were there.
It was no secret that we were there. But that only happened after the first two days, because by the 28th, the police force had realized the level of Brotherhood logistical support involved in the revolution, and they started cracking down on the leadership.
That’s one thing that the Brotherhood is famous for, is that it’s a very decentralized organization. The arrest of the leadership hardly disables the functionality of the organization, but in fact it fueled its logistical mobility even more.
What is the Muslim Brotherhood?
… It’s the most misunderstood organization in the world from my point of view. It’s not a religious organization, and it’s not a political one. It’s a social-change movement that looks at Islam as a religion, as a reference point that carries values, that literally can create a sustainable lifestyle. We look at it as the manual for a human being by the creator of human beings. …
Initially the Muslim Brotherhood promised not to field candidates for the presidency. Then it reversed course.
Yes. We thought that the Muslim Brotherhood is too demonized to be accepted both locally and internationally as a candidate for presidency. Our argument was that it is safer to have someone else do the job and we support him through it.
But [of] the candidates that went through the filtration system when we screened them, we believed, at least from our judgment, that none of them were logistically capable of standing up to the old regime and to the “deep state,” which was very strong at the time. It was only [Hosni] Mubarak at the top layer that was removed.
And thus the decision that was in discussion at the Muslim Brotherhood [was], do we stick to our promise and not field a candidate but risk losing Egypt through a very dangerous transitional period, or do we reverse our promise, lose our credibility to a large extent, but perhaps have a chance at safeguarding Egypt’s transition?
“[The Brotherhood] is the most misunderstood organization in the world from my point of view. It’s not a religious organization, and it’s not a political one. It’s a social change movement.”
And it was a very close vote. It was only on two votes that overturned the decision. …
So you broke that promise.
Yes, we did. …
Now, there were a number of figures that have been [or] are known as leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood here — [Khairat] el-Shater, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. [Mohamed] Morsi was not so well known. Where did he come from?
Morsi was the political element in the Muslim Brotherhood. He was the one that sparked Muslim Brotherhood’s political engagement in the 1980s and 1990s. He headed its internal political office, and he was one of the most prominent MPs, the members of Parliament, that Muslim Brotherhood pushed repeatedly into different parliamentary elections.
[He was] well known in his grassroots areas and in his city and connected to the people. He comes from a rural family of farmers. And he had the intellectual wit that allowed him to argue in the Parliament itself. He later on became the president of the Freedom and Justice Party when it was first created. So that’s his emergence. …
There’s some even within the Muslim Brotherhood that refer to him as “the good employee” or “the spare tire.” You’ve heard these.
Of course. I mean, many people have quoted these. But at the end of the day, the Muslim Brotherhood takes its decisions in a very democratic system, by votes. Even with the decision to field the presidential candidate took place a second round of discussion, [which] was who these candidates were.
Basically, every member of the Shura Council and of the high board of the Freedom and Justice Party would vote names in, and depending on the number of votes the person got, he would be listed on the list.
The highest number of votes were for Khairat el-Shater; the second [highest] were for Mohamed Morsi. Khairet el-Shater was of course later removed by the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] from the presidential race on a technicality, and Mohamed Morsi became the fielded candidate. …
The world saw this revolution on Tahrir Square and then lost its attention, and the military, SCAF, took over for the next 18 months.
That’s true. It was easy for us when we all agreed as different partners in one nation that we wanted Mubarak out of the picture. But we never realized what Mubarak [was] standing in front of, and that was the military.
The military was the real face of Egypt and its deep state. It controlled the society and the economy, 60 percent or 40 percent of the economy, as well as the deep state itself. And we had to confront that reality afterward and deal with it. Then the more we did so, the more we realized the level of control that the military’s tentacles had on the deep state itself.
This is after you gained the presidency.
No, that was after we ousted [President Hosni] Mubarak.
But you were shoulder to shoulder with the military when Mubarak was taken out, and you became partners with the military in that 18-month period.
Some did describe it as such. Many didn’t. The reality of the situation is we understood early on that the deep state was the military’s control, and that although we all agreed as political parties and even national movements that we didn’t want Mubarak, once we started discussing who we did want, instead we quarreled.
We had different choices, and that was very dangerous for us. So we needed to make sure that the military would not orchestrate a coup, which in essence they did. If you recall the actual presidential address that had Mubarak leaving office, it basically stated that President Mubarak leaves office, rescinds his office and delegates his power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
So it wasn’t really a revolutionary push. It was more that the military realized that this is going too far and they decided to sacrifice Mubarak to regain control of the state. And they did throughout the 18 months.
And then you became partners with them.
No. We discussed with the military and with different political parties what options of roadmap did we have. And the military locked the country, through the constitutional referendum in March, into the roadmap of one of two options: either a constitution and parliamentary action, a constitution and presidential election or something else.
They left that other thing as unknown, basically the military’s choice. We basically picked up on the roadmap and lobbied for it for to vote yes on the constitutional amendment referendum. And they did vote yes, with a substantial margin. It was 70 percent to 30 percent. And we ended up following that roadmap that was set forth by SCAF.
I don’t think it was about [being] shoulder to shoulder. It was about being pragmatic and knowing that the military has literally taken hold of the state after the Jan. 25 revolution. We needed to make sure that the military generals would hand this over to civilian control through democratic means, so that was the best roadmap available at the time.
But during this period of time, it’s the Brotherhood that’s emerging as the principal player among the opposition that toppled Mubarak. The other groups had packed up and left the square, and your organization was left standing, more organized, more well financed, and you became principal players.
We were always principal players. At the end of the day, the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood allowed it to become the opposition of Mubarak. There was only two players on that playground, the old NDP [National Democratic Party], the old state, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The rest literally chose a camp on where they want to play, because to build an organization as big and as connected to the grassroots can’t happen in a couple of months.
Yet it wasn’t your revolution. In essence, you came to it a little bit late. You were hiding your involvement early, and it was the April 6 [Youth] Movement and secularists who really sparked that revolution.
That’s not correct.
You hid behind their skirts, in a way.
That’s not correct as well. We actually safeguarded the first part of the revolution in the first three days from the retaliation of the police force by hiding our involvement. In fact, we were logistically preparing for it even two days before it started.
But also it’s important to note that that even when the National [Association for] Change, led by [Mohamed] ElBaradei, happened a couple of years before the revolution, they started to gather petitions. They got I think about 9,000 until they enlisted the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, and we literally jumped that number to 900,000.
Even when [the movement of] April 6 [was] created, [and] they would have a protest on the street, about 50 people would show up. They would call on the Muslim Brotherhood to send more members so that it could boost the protest and have it stand up in the media and be noted and newsworthy. We were always that fuel within the society that allowed everyone else to literally piggyback on our electoral and mobilization ability. …
But there were seeds of trouble that were sown at the very beginning in that many of those groups that had been active in the revolution felt that you hijacked the revolution from them. And you have to admit that many of those groups with their Twitter campaigns, with the Facebook campaigns, much of the revolution was fueled by groups that were left standing outside.
That’s true. And there are two sides to consider in this issue, the first of which is that revolutionary movements, specifically the ones fueled by youth, and the Jan. 25 revolution, many of whom we were very interconnected, they failed to bridge the gap in transforming themselves into parties or politically constructive actors.
Revolutions take down. They destroy; they don’t build. And that’s why we tried to lobby them to actually go into that mode, and many of them failed to do so. They weren’t able to transfer to that paradigm.
OK, they failed. But wasn’t this also the beginning of your failure to bring them along with you?
Indeed. The second point is that the 30 years of Mubarak, the rule of the game was divide and conquer. There were enough deep issues of mistrust between all the different factions on the ground. They didn’t know each other. They didn’t interact with one another. Each one of them had questionable intentions regarding the others on the scene.
That allowed it to be very difficult for them to connect on one platform or one program or even one offering versus the old regime. So it scattered the forces of almost all revolutionary actors. When the forces scatter, you can’t compare an organization of a million or even more strong with 100 or so youth members that have created a revolutionary group, because they would both be competing for the same vote on the table.
But one would weigh considerably harder. And that was the wit of the old regime, because it allowed the scene to be very fragmented. We didn’t win election because we were the best or the most performing. We won election because the rest of the scene was very fragmented, and we had organizational capacity that was built under 86 years of oppressive regimes.
So you inherited the revolution.
I wouldn’t say so. … You asked me before we started recording, “When did you first join the revolution?” And I told you on the 23rd, two days before it actually started, on the record book at least.
… It gave us an advantage on everyone else. And we offered that advantage which was the organizational ability and the electoral grassroots connectedness. We offered it as a platform for everyone. We told them: “It’s open lists. Come with your parties. We will electorally support you into Parliament. Let’s talk together. Let’s discuss a unifying presidential candidate.”
But under no circumstances can we accept smaller groups trying to rule over our opinion because they think they have a higher say or a higher legitimacy. What we said is, “Let’s have it as a consensus.” And many failed. Some had the right to do so. …
Morsi becomes president in [June 2012]. He announces the retirement of Gen. [Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi. Why?
I think that early on we realized how the army’s controlling the state when you look at it from ministers, deputy ministers, undersecretaries, heads of authorities, governors, deputy governors, heads of municipalities. They were all ex-military generals. The army was the state.
“It was a state in rebellion against its new political leadership.”
So to disconnect both was never going to be a one-time issue, was not going to be one cycle of presidency or of governors. It needed to be a process. So we started identifying what principle do we need to set as a rule of the game so that afterward consecutive powers can start dismantling this connectedness. And the principle was civilian oversight, that we needed to make sure that everyone agreed that the civilian leadership, the elected civilian leadership of government had oversight over everything else.
So you brought in [Abdul-Fattah] el-Sisi.
No, we literally we pushed the SCAF council out, and el-Sisi was brought in as a middle-aged individual from within the army ranks, still with black hair, acceptable to the ranks of the military itself. He was head of the military intelligence previously. The president gave him trust to take the military back into the barracks. That was his role, basically, to have the military do the military function.
What assurances did el-Sisi give to Morsi that he was going to do exactly that, put the military in the barracks and let civilians run the country?
I don’t know, unfortunately. I wish I did. Seeing what has transpired now, it seems that it was a very wrong choice, el-Sisi.
But this was an attempt by Morsi to put the army back into the barracks.
Yes. Even when we started discussing a constitutional assembly, the idea of the army budget, the army budget is twofold. It’s the military budget component and the economic machine component, and we decided to split them. We said that economic machine component would be fully reviewed bit by bit in the Parliament while the army budget, the military part, would be reviewed by the council of national security, which was 50 percent plus one civilian.
Just before Morsi takes office, SCAF is moving aggressively to secure its power.
That’s correct. They destroyed Parliament two days before the announcement of the presidential election by us. They knew that if a president comes from within that stream that emerged after the Jan. 25 revolution, with a Parliament that’s represented over the people that’s been electorally voted in, these two institutions can help balance the system of democracy that can literally start dismantling the old dictatorship bit by bit.
They had to dysfunction one element of that. The strongest element was the party, was the Parliament, because then afterward we were left for the entire Morsi year with a president acting on his own, as the head of the executive branch with no Parliament, the centerpiece of any democratic system in the world, to provide checks and balances, to provide oversight, to even course-correct the president or the cabinets and the ministers themselves if they did something wrong.
So it was a flawed movement. And the first executive office the president tried to do when he took office was to restore Parliament, and what stood against him was the [Supreme] Constitutional Court, the Mubarak-appointed and still aligned Constitutional Court.
So Morsi comes into office. He’s at war with the military; he’s at war with the Constitutional Court.
He’s at war with the military, at war with the Constitutional Court, at war with the bureaucracy itself. The presidential office staff were shredding his faxes in the first week. He’s at war with the main law enforcement agencies in the state.
You had police officers being called, the equivalent of 911 here in Egypt — it’s 123 — and the police would answer the phone and say, “I’m sorry, I’m on vacation for four years,” and he would shut the phone. It was a state in rebellion against its new political leadership.
It did not accept him because for most of that state, one of its recruitment factors was the fact that you can’t be Islamic; you can’t belong to an Islamic party. And the idea that someone from an Islamic party became the political leader, from a psychiatric point of view, was very disturbing to it.
Well, but Morsi then proceeds not to reassure many people that he’s not going to be an Islamic president.
Yes, unfortunately he did do that. I think that the president was in battle between two constituencies: that of the bureaucracy, the arms of the state that he’s trying to win over so that he can function as a president, because at the end of the day if you bring a Formula 1 professional racer into a car with four flat tires, no engine, no steering wheel, it’s not going to drive. He brings in the vision, but the execution is that of the bureaucracy. And that was his main constituency.
The second constituency is the public opinion and the revolutionary opinion that demanded revolutionary reform. The president early on took a choice to go through the slow-paced reform of accepting the legal and constitutional inheritance, corrupted inheritance of the Mubarak regime, which we are now seeing that it might have been a mistake, because then he lost the revolutionary side by not executing revolutionary reforms that can correct the state functionality. And he didn’t win the state. He didn’t win the bureaucracy itself. He in fact implanted himself and his party and the Muslim Brotherhood as a shield that was taking on the blame of the state’s inability to function.
But things began to go very wrong not long after that when the president grants himself unlimited powers to pass legislation without judicial oversight.
Well, we have to look deeply at that, and I’d hope in your program you would pull up the actual text of that, because that has been propagated across the world that he granted himself [extralegal] powers when in reality he did not even add a single power to his powers.
In fact, what he did was he shielded the three elected bodies of the state from the appointed judicial bodies of the state that literally bent the law into the hands of my interpretation, including that of the Constitutional Court. The three elected bodies are the presidency itself, the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly that was elected by Parliament. They are the ones that have the representative authorities by the people themselves.
Even the act itself of the constitutional declaration, it was badly worded, and it was not inclusive in discussions before it went out. That’s a bit of an amateurish attempt in terms of no experience in politics on that level before.
But the context of it was shielding these bodies from the deep state’s apparatus, and primarily from the Constitutional Court that managed to destroy the Parliament not out of constitutional legality but out of sheer power of holding the constitution in its hand and interpreting it as they see fit.
And meanwhile you’re losing the support of the people, because things are going very wrong in the country. The economy is going into the toilet; rights are being abused; investigations into abuses go nowhere. It looks very clumsy and very badly managed at that point.
That’s true, because it was still the same actors, unfortunately. It was still the same police officers; it was still the same investigators; it was still the same judiciary that’s supposed to bring justice. I mean, the whole institution was still the same. It’s the same institution that was under Mubarak.
The change of leadership did not propagate because the state refused its new leadership. And the president did not have presidential staff and even the new ministers as well as the stick and carrot they needed to drive their bureaucracy toward reform.
But what about the November declaration? That was to protect the presidency, the Shura Council and the Parliament from the intrusion of the deep state.
And it did, but it didn’t grant them the powers necessary to reform the deep state. That was perhaps the missing part, because what the president thought he should do is not interact with the judiciary directly, to respect the separation of powers.
So he shielded the elected officers from the judiciary, from the corrupt Mubarak-aligned and the appointed judiciary. And by doing so, he protected the elected officers of the state, but he did not affect the conduct or the performance of the judiciary.
That, too, throughout Morsi’s administration, failed to indict any one of the criminals that killed revolutionary groups and youth since the Jan. 25 revolution and throughout all three years of the transitional period. All of these officers, all of these criminals went free on account of insufficient evidence that was supposed to be handed over by the police force that didn’t because they would indicted themselves.
And then he’s very rushed to get a new constitution in place.
Again, another misinformation, unfortunately. In reality, the roadmap to the constitution was set by the referendum of 2011 that was executed by SCAF. Even the timeline of six months to write it was set by that referendum. The president didn’t even have the power to change that. It was set by the people’s referendum itself. He could only change it by pushing it to another referendum, and there was no time to do that.
So the elected Constituent Assembly started working. The first assembly was dissolved because the first assembly represented the ratios of parties and Parliament, and the ratios of party was 70 percent Islamic, 30 percent everyone else. The second assembly the Islamic parties by choice gave up 20 percent of their representation to the other streams to balance it out, because there was a lot of heat and polarization involved.
The second Constituent Assembly was agreed on name by name, literally down to each name, by full 100 percent consensus by each party in Parliament, and then it was put into action. It went operating for five and a half months with no problems, and the last two weeks people started pulling out.
The last two weeks they had already finished two drafts of the constitution. They had consulted almost all factions inside and outside of Egypt. They had literally gone through every article more than once. So it was written, ratified twice. And the third session the third draft was the one that everyone is saying has been gone through the 24-hour session.
That’s because a lot of the constitutional articles were acceptable to a large majority of that group.
Not quite, actually.
But there were many of those articles that were vague, that were suggesting a tightening of Islamic control over the society. … They were clearly getting people’s attention and concerns.
This is a nation that was trying to build a constitution for itself while it’s identifying with itself at the same time. The Muslim Brotherhood may have been the most organized electoral party in it, and that allowed us that mobilization within the Constituent Assembly.
“I would argue that the reason [Morsi failed] the test is the unbelievable amount of undermining that was happening both from outside Egypt and inside Egypt.”
But we had to mediate between a Salafi right that’s basically ultraorthodox and a secular left and everyone in between. A mediation between them just made sure that we had to create benchmarks that they can both agree to. …
Article 2 came in for a lot of criticism.
Article 2 was never changed in Egypt across four constitutions. The change we added to it for the first time ever was recognition of the Christian and Jewish minorities in Egypt and recognition that they can resort back to their own faith-based laws in their intermarital affairs and their personal affairs. …
The complaint about it was that it states that principles of Islamic Shariah are the principal source of legislation.
People wanted to [know] what kind of principles you’re talking about, and it was too vague.
Indeed. Islam as a religion, the development of its Shariah legislation, happens by scholarly work. And there’s no clergy in Islam. It’s the different agreements between scholarly circles. …
So when we speak about the principles, it’s very different when we speak about Islamic legislation. Islamic legislation is the inherited legislation of scholars that did that work hundreds of years ago in different times and different countries, perhaps even different nations.
What was sensitive then may not be sensitive now. What was acceptable then may not be acceptable now. What’s acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another. There are two variables to Islamic legislation that have not yet been embedded into the new legislation, which is time and place, and that’s why we resorted to the word “principles.”
Principles are justice, fairness, democracy. These are principles. The legislation itself is the system designed to safeguard that principle. The principles don’t change. They’re the same principles in almost every religion.
Another article that got a lot of attention was regarding the role of women, saying that they can have all the rights that men can have as long as [those rights] don’t interfere with their home duties.
It didn’t state that. It stated that women have the right to choose not to be contesting to men on equal footing in society; that they should be identified that they have a different role in their lives, and they should be given the space to execute that role, the family role.
Men will never get pregnant and will never be the ones to carry the sons and daughters around. So the work environment, the laws, all of that need to put into context that women had a secondary role in their lives, or even a primary role for some, and they have to have the right to choose that role.
Why isn’t it simply enough to give them freedom?
That’s it. The whole point of the article is to make sure that, for example, in a company they are not equally treated like men. If the men get that many days of vacation, the women are entitled for more because of their other duties. That’s exactly it. It’s giving them the freedom of choice that they can choose this or that. But it’s their choice, not forcing them to contest with men on the same equal footing. It’s equality versus equity.
Why is it so hard for you to communicate with the rest of Egypt? All of these things that I’ve brought up are interpreted entirely differently by your opponents.
That’s absolutely right. Unfortunately, we have a very bad communication strategy.
You’re the spokesperson.
I’m a new spokesperson, and I’m hoping that I’m doing a better job at communicating and explaining that. But we are facing something in Egypt, because the origin of information and the reception of the information are only connected by the media channels, and the media channels in Egypt are primarily owned by the old regime, which from a de facto position is demonizing and creating rumors about almost every position of the Brotherhood. Unfortunately some international news agencies and international media channels also pick up on that with not enough scrutiny and due diligence.
The message we carry to the world is: “Listen to our own explanation. Listen to our intentions, and then judge for yourselves.” …
It’s not just the media that has gotten you wrong. Human Rights Watch, you would also agree, has criticized you heavily. … According to one human rights lawyer, there have been more than four times as many lawsuits from insulting the president during Morsi’s first 200 days in office than during the entire 30 years that Mubarak ruled.
Absolutely. Why do you think that was? I’ll tell you why. The laws that govern Egypt were still the same. The laws designed by the Mubarak lawmakers allowed insulting the president to be a crime, so anyone can literally file that suit, and [the judiciary] would use it and roll it through.
But the problem that we tried to utilize here, or actually fix, was the fact that we needed laws to regulate the protection and the guidelines of media performance. Once we basically said that word, fire opened up on us from everywhere.
What we are saying was we needed to make sure that this cannot happen, that lawyers or anyone disgruntled from the fact that their religious symbol or their president or their candidate is being scrutinized or abused on public television would go to the law and would actually use it to his benefit. …
When we wanted to change the law, the rest of the country stood against us. So we had to work with the inheritance that was left by the Mubarak regime. …
But that doesn’t explain four times as many lawsuits for insulting the president in Morsi’s [term].
No, that’s just because four times [the] abuse happened. Before it was a police state. If you actually said Mubarak’s name in a bad context, you, your family, the ones you belong to, your neighbors would probably be arrested and prospected and arbitrarily dealt with.
But in a free society, almost everyone is mocking the president openly. In a society under Morsi, where basically every media channel had talk shows demonizing the president to the point of actually abuse, even abuse of his family, of his parents, of his wife, and it bordered on hate speech — it actually not bordered. It actually crossed into hate mongering, into bigotry against the Muslim Brotherhood. And I think the evidence is everywhere now. We can’t accept the fact that free speech is an open space, because otherwise in our society, with different value systems and different symbols, once they start attacking each other’s symbols, there is context here for clashes.
You just said you can’t accept free speech? … Why not?
Because there has to be guidelines to allow a society to function and respect each other’s anchors in it. We’ve seen it happen in different societies before. Media needs either a self-regulating committee or someone has to step in to regulate. …
Human Rights Watch says that during Morsi’s first 100 days in office, police tortured 88, killed 34, and eight activists were arrested, detained and tortured without trial.
The police was upping its clashes with the people and with the activities primarily. They were upping it with the rhetoric that that’s what you get for electing Morsi; that’s what you get for having a revolution. That was the retaliation. …
We inherited the criminal police force. What can we do? We’ve suggested reform measures. We can’t get them implemented because there’s no champions within the bureaucracy itself that can handle the leadership of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. We didn’t get much help.
There was an increase in sectarian fighting under Morsi.
Because more sectarian channels were created, because when the media scene was opened up freely, more extreme actors on both sides of the aisle arose, and they started chanting very sectarian rhetoric. And you can’t close either of them because the media pressure both locally and internationally would not allow you to do so.
Even the one time that such an attempt happened, and it happened on the legality that the fact that the channel was not registered even as a channel to operate — but it didn’t. When it was closed down, it was across the world and inside Egypt reported as an oppression from Morsi on the media.
There has to be a benchmark. It’s either a completely open space that may result in, like what you said, sectarian tension and violence, or we install safeguards that put brackets on where does freedom of speech carry, and then where does it tip over into hate speech or hate mongering? That benchmark is different from one society to the other because of their level of tolerance and the cultural specificity of each society.
Human rights organizations say that Morsi’s positions were to embolden the police, to continue Mubarak-era detentions, torture, even murder. You’re saying that Morsi couldn’t control the police.
Yes, Morsi couldn’t control, but also his strategy, his approach was that he needed to win the patriotic few within the police that can accept his leadership.
So he was allowing them to continue to apply the kind of methods of torture that Mubarak used?
No, he changed the Ministry of Interior twice trying to get someone who can command enough investigative power and clout within the police force.
But what about cleaning up the interior minister by going after some of the officers who were accused of killing protesters and others?
He tried to initiate such a committee from the judiciary. The committee failed to deliver evidence to the courts. Many of the officers were released.
Not a single officer was accused.
He restarted the process by creating a parliamentary committee that is not affiliated with the old regime. The parliamentary committee submitted the evidence in full to the judiciary, but the judiciary, yet again, acquitted them.
At the end of the day, there are two functions here involved in delivering transitional justice. There’s the investigative authority that needs to dig up the evidence and present it, and then there’s the judiciary that’s supposed just enough to induct the criminal police force and put them into jail. Both of them were apparatuses of the old regime. Both of them were complicit in releasing all the old actors and imprisoning the activists themselves.
In every turn, what you’re saying is the president didn’t have the power or was blocked effectively from taking on reforms.
Yes, and unfortunately, so he needed a legislative authority that can give exceptional above-judicial powers that allowed him to reform that structure of the state.
He needed that push in that direction, because his choice was to actually find the genuine actors in each one of these institutions and try to win them over, which didn’t work, because almost in a fraction when the military coup happened, as if it was a magic button, everything else, all the problems of the state were erased — no fuel shortages, no water shortages, no electricity cuts. And the police force is back on the ground with more brutality, killing protesters in plain sight with their own police uniforms and state-issued weapons and not scared because no one’s going to hunt them down.
What we had here is that most of the international scene was questioning Morsi’s intentions rather than supporting his genuine intentions of reform by providing him with solutions.
Four Egyptian Shia were murdered in June. The Muslim Brotherhood remained largely silent. Investigations were promised, never completed.
We released a statement almost two hours afterward.
Fine. But what good does that do if an investigation doesn’t follow on?
… The Ministry of Interior Affairs sent an investigative unit to investigate. What happens when the president, the head of the state, gives the order for the investigation unit to take place? They go, they come back with unsubstantiated evidence and a loose story that is not surmountable for a judge to indict someone.
You’re saying he couldn’t have done better with a presidential investigation?
No, I’m saying that if I would put a flaw on the president, a major flaw I would put on him personally is that he chose to go through this by accepting the inheritance and reforming through slow pace, constitutional legal reform, rather than embodying and carrying the revolutionary spirit of the Jan. 25 revolution. That would have made a huge difference.
I think that the president came to that realization at his end-of-year address when he stated that one year of trying to do it that way was enough; we have to shift to the new way.
Those seem like significant failures on his part.
They do. But he is the elected president, and you don’t take out the president midterm because of his inability to govern except through democratic means. Our choice of how to course-correct the presidential performance was to have parliamentary elections.
Yes, but you describe a state that is badly broken.
I describe a state that’s a complete failure, not just badly broken. It’s a completely failed, messed-up state.
And you expect that state to carry forward with democratic transition?
Of course not. I expect a more supervising power to integrate with that state and then take on some of the main functionalities of reform in a revolutionary, exceptional platform, and then steamroll that reform through.
What we ended up doing — and we might even say it’s questionable now — is that the Muslim Brotherhood became the scaffolding of the failing states. We ended up carrying responsibilities that were not ours. We ended up digging wells and delivering water to all the villages on our own budget and by our own effort. We ended up cleaning up the hospitals and the schools and rebuilding them by our own money and our own effort because the state was not doing that.
So we ended up carrying the burden ourselves and carrying the blame of an inefficient bureaucracy — 7 million strong, the biggest and oldest bureaucracy in the world.
But Gehad, you lost the support of the people.
Yes, we did. …
On June 30 you had how many people in the streets?
Three million at most. Some would say 17; some would say 30; some would say 50. But none of them are accountable to anything.
Neither is three million accountable to anything.
Three million was the mathematical calculation. What we’re saying is that numbers are irrelevant. Why? Because if it was a numbers game, it would have been over in the first week after the revolution, because everyone knew that the signs of the Islamic mobilization power in Egypt was almost 100 times that of any other group.
That’s why we committed ourselves to the democratic process. Yet someone else has the audacity to say it’s a numbers game. It was never a numbers game, because on June 30, there was a lot of working together, the military … shooting the different protests, even shooting pro-Morsi protests as anti-Morsi protests. It was an orchestrated coup on the pretense of street mobilization.
“Can we reverse the coup? We’re going to do our best to, or they’re going to kill us. Every other day they kill a few of us.”
The military has no right to take a side. It was a divided country then, some for the president, some against him. The only way this can be solved is through the ballot box. And through the ballot box we would have had MPs that by design had the right to speak for the people, not leaders of different factions that never went into any election, never faced any electoral judgments and ended up having a lot of TV shows and influential Western friends sided with the military, brushed up to it and allowed it to have a coup to force them on the nation with no electoral legitimacy.
You’re saying that President Morsi wasn’t deeply unpopular by late June of 2013?
I was saying that he has a certain unpopular stream against him. … No one can measure except through the ballot box. Anything else other than that is judgments of that individual from his context or his point of view.
Morsi was unwilling to make that decision [to resign].
But it’s his right to be willing or not to be willing, is it not?
I suppose it’s his right. But what was good for the country?
It was his decision that would have been good for the country.
So he made the decision not to resign and —
Because he knew that what was happening on the street was not opposition. What was happening on the street, the masses that mobilized on the street were four sects. The first largest sect were disgruntled citizens that feel like the government’s performance was way below their expectations. That wasn’t the blame of the president; that was primarily the undermining of the old regime. And he knew about it. And that was the change of strategy that was going to happen.
The second block was genuine opposition streams, seculars, leftists that did not have a say in the political equation and felt left out because their leaders were not showing up for policy discussions. This is a president elected from the Islamic camp. I don’t expect him to carry a secular ideology anytime soon. I expect a secular MP to carry that ideology onto the discussion table. They failed to do so. They did not show up for any of the invited dialogue sessions.
The other two streams were the actual state apparatus itself — soldiers, recruits — that went in civilian clothes to amass the protest. And the third one was the old NDP regime financed by the neighboring Gulf countries, the Gulf monarchies that fear an establishing of democracy in the region and in full power of the old state. …
But by your own admission, he failed the test of good governance. It is perhaps a tough test, but he failed that test.
… The test of good governance is a very good test. And some would argue that he failed that test because of his bad intentions, of his bad performance. I would argue that the reason for failing the test is the unbelievable amount of undermining that was happening both from outside Egypt and inside Egypt.
But you’re playing the blame game. … You’re blaming the deep state; you’re blaming the remnants of the Mubarak regime; you’re blaming the opposition. … Some people have said that the Muslim Brotherhood failed because they don’t know how to govern, they’re inexperienced.
We may have struggled and yet still [be] struggling with the change of moving from the back seat to the driver seat in the same car because we never played that role before. No one ever did in Egypt. By default we’re all amateurs in the political game. …
You made a point about how none of the allies that you needed came to your side when you needed them. The United States has taken a policy here where they deal with the leader in power regardless of how that leader achieves power. In the case of a dictator like Mubarak, they supported him, and they didn’t deal with opposition groups. In the case of your president, they supported him.
And they didn’t get involved in other groups. In fact, a lot of people now dislike Obama because they have a policy of not trying to get involved.
Actually both camps now dislike Obama. Both camps significantly hate America.
Obama is the only person that’s been able to unify Egypt.
On hating him and hating the American nation. But why? You have to ask yourself why. Because you can’t walk a line that doesn’t exist between interest and principle. You have to choose one of them. And the game here was, it’s democracy or military coup. You have to choose.
You’re saying to me now that they supported Morsi. I know differently. I was that involved in the back channels and the front channels in dealing with the U.S. administration.
So [Ambassador Anne] Patterson’s rhetoric was just that?
No, it was vocal support. But vocal support we didn’t want that much. What we wanted was genuine support. America was supposed to be preaching democracy for the rest of the world for the past decade, saying they can’t man up to the responsibility of recognizing that this is a coup?
We asked them more than once to help us with internal issues of the government itself. This is a new leadership that’s coming onto a hostile bureaucracy, and we asked them for bureaucratic knowledge. We asked them to embed bureaucrats from their own ministry, from their own Treasury secretary to our own Ministry of Finance, to help plan the government’s budget, to help us with internal reform procedures that we did not have the knowledge to do. No one did in Egypt. The only entities that did were the old state actors and the NDP, and they couldn’t be trusted that much. …
People are going to have a hard time listening to a Muslim Brother talk to them about democracy.
Tells you a lot about prejudice in the world, and it tells you a lot about stereotyping.
So you think it’s simple prejudice against you?
No, I think that the Mubarak regime managed to literally quell the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world or even with Egyptians. We were never allowed to have papers or media channels or even mosque sermons because we had a political agenda involved.
But others were allowed to do so. So we couldn’t communicate. At the end of the day, you, as a media professional, you hold a mic in your hand and a camera. Whoever you point that mic and camera on, that’s the guy you give the voice to. If you point it on … the extremists in any ideology, you frame the ideology in that box.
You’ve demonized it. You’ve literally quelled the voice of the wise men among them that have the audacity to stand up for the democratic idea and say that violence is never a way to change any type of government system.
Yet, to this day, we still stick to our nonviolent means. We still stick [to the belief] that democracy will work. It’s peaceful transference of power. But someone pulled the rug from under our feet. …
But as you explained, during the presidency of Morsi, during the one year in office, you failed. The deep state defeated you.
I would have to tell you something different here that might be personal, not as a spokesperson. The Brotherhood stood up to the old regime all the way, but once they had a president in office, there was a question posed for the first time to the Brotherhood, to its ideology, to its basis.
We now have a president that’s from the Muslim Brotherhood. Who leads the way? Who follows the other? The president follows the Brotherhood’s policy decisions, or the Brotherhood follows the president? And the discussions amounted to the Brotherhood yielding [to] the presidential will. By design, it’s a country; it’s run by the president. He’s the one that has the legitimacy of the voters behind him. The Brotherhood can only represent itself.
The problem that created was we don’t believe in single-man leadership at all, even by Brotherhood’s ideology. We believe in collective rhetoric, discussion and Shura [which means "consultation" or "assembly"]. That’s why we call it the Shura. The leadership of the Shura, which is supposed to be democracy, one man, one woman, one vote. Now, that was missing in a single-man presidential leadership with no Parliament oversight over it. So our way out of this was the Parliament.
… I don’t think the failure can be put directly on one person or one entity. I think the failure is very much distributed on all of the collective partners within that created the Jan. 25 revolution, because at the end of the day, when we were united, we were able to remove Mubarak. When we each were split and had different decision-making mechanisms and different points of reference, we quarreled. And when we quarreled, the one with the biggest size dominated the scene, which was the Brotherhood. …
So is democracy impossible in Egypt?
I don’t think so, because democracy is the right of the people to choose their leaders. The specificities of that system differ from one nation to the other. As Muslims, we did not from an Islamic perspective develop a governance system that embodies the value of Shura that could work in the 21st century.
The West did. And that’s why it was very easy for us to actually accept democracy and even embed it into our own curriculums and lives. And that’s why we carry it as a solution that this is how it works. It speaks for transference of power through the power of the vote of every man, woman in the country.
That failed because the military was allowed to step in for the third time. There’s no guarantee it won’t do it again. The military has to be pushed back to the barracks. But there’s only one entity that could push it, which is the people themselves. …
You had a group of Muslim Brothers who were protesting over at the Republican Guard club on the morning of July 8. …What happened at the Republican Guard’s massacre was that a group of peaceful protesters at 3:30 in the morning started the dawn prayer, and while they had their heads bowed to the ground, they were sandwiched from two sides. They had [their] backs to the Republican Guard complex, and then the police came from the other side, armed to try to clear the road.
… If you want to clear the road, you’d send at least a warning signal, at least a firing shot in the air. You wouldn’t start shooting people while they’re praying and their backs.
Didn’t they first use tear gas to clear?
No. They started firing straightaway from both sides, including tear gas. It started with live rounds.
Were there no provocations on the part of the protesters?
Not a single provocation.
You were here in January of ’11. There were a lot of incidents there with no provocation where the military fired on the protesters.
Very few with no provocation. …
So after a revolution and a year of Morsi in power, the military is acting more randomly than they did in the past?
That’s not progress.
Not at all.
I want to go to [when] the last the 48-hour ultimatum was given by el-Sisi to Morsi. Morsi stubbornly refused. At that point it was very clear, the Americans gave clear signals, finally that the game was over, and Morsi decided to not come to any terms, not come to any compromise at that point. Was that the right thing for him to do as a patriot, or was it better to endure a coup?
Absolutely was the right thing for him to do. And I think that he risked his life doing it because the military has no role to issue ultimatums. The military has no role to pick a side and present its argument over the other. And the military certainly has no role to take on a military coup.
The game was over.
I would contest that argument. It’s never over. It’s the fight of the people to have their free choice respected. It’s never over. … Populations can still push back the army; that’s our argument.
You think you’re going to reverse this coup?
We’re trying to.
Do you think you are going to succeed?
It seems like we’re walking in that direction. More forces are joining even from the anti-Morsi camp because they realize what they have unleashed.
You have prominent leaders that were always standing in the middle and [are] now joining the anti-coup movement. They realized the stunt that has been pulled on [them], that they all were hoodwinked into the process.
Can we reverse the coup? We’re going to do our best to, or they’re going to kill us. Every other day they kill a few of us. At some point in time the Egyptian people we think will say: “That’s enough. The military has to go out.” If they do, they will flock to the streets. They will bring the country to a halt.
If they don’t, well, we have died silently, but we died on principle. And perhaps they, in history, will remember that we died of this and would recall this when they see a new 60-year cycle of military coups in Egypt. Perhaps our blood then would wake up the conscience of a new generation that would orchestrate the new revolution perhaps. Who knows?
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