November 3, 2011
A series of once inconceivable meetings between U.S. representatives and leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood [MB] in October presented a triumph for the Brothers’ efforts to establish themselves as responsible partners in the post-Revolution democratic transition. In the wake of these developments, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s leader, Dr. Muhammad Badi, discussed the implications of these discussions and the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s political transition (Akhbar al-Yawm [Cairo], October 30).
Dr. Muhammad Badi, Leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
Regarding the movement’s recent contacts with U.S. representatives, MB General Guide Dr. Badi recalls that not long ago the United States regarded such contacts as “100% taboo” and urges Washington to deal with new political realities in the Middle East: “The U.S. Administration has to understand well the lesson of the Arab spring revolutions. We hope it will deal with the peoples not rulers because rulers are bound to go. Consequently the interests of the Americans are not guaranteed with the rulers. So I hope they will deal with the Egyptian people as being the source of the powers. The people are the side to wager on now.”
Though the Brotherhood has emphasized it is not seeking a majority in the new parliament and is not running a presidential candidate to mute claims the Brothers are seeking to take control of Egypt, the Brothers’ political wing, Ḥizb al-Hurriya wa al-’Adala (Freedom and Justice Party – FJP), has nonetheless emerged as the strongest political faction in the current political environment. Badi insists that this is not a sin or crime for which the movement should seek forgiveness: “. It is the harvest of jihad and struggle and of having stood in the face of injustice for tens of years. We paid a dear price for it. Suffice it to mention that over the past 15 years alone 40,000 MB members were detained.” Nonetheless, Badi maintains that reforming Egypt will take a broad, unified effort: “We cannot run Egypt, live in Egypt, or win in the elections except through accord. This is a foregone conclusion, for we know that Egypt’s problems are too heavy to be borne by any single faction under any circumstances.”
However, deliberately avoiding responsibility for the inevitable failings (real or perceived) of the new government may well be a practical political strategy for the MB. As Badi notes, those who are demanding a new government must realize that such a government will face a host of problems accumulated over thirty years: “[The new government] will face problems and those who demanded its appointment will go down to Tahrir Square to call for its downfall. This is why we must realize that we are in a transitional period.”
Despite the Brotherhood’s insistence it is not seeking to take power in the new government, the movement is taking measures to make sure its MPs are among the most effective and least tainted by corruption in the new government by excluding all candidates involved in unethical behavior or financial irregularities. According to Badi, an educational camp has been set up for the training of all MB candidates
While observers have noted a proliferation of new MB offices in nearly every district of Egypt since the Revolution, Badi rejects accusations that the movement was suddenly in possession of funds from abroad: “Not a single cent entered our pocket from any funds or financing. We are the people most concerned about transparency and integrity because we fear Allah. We can never accept any funds from any quarter under any circumstances.” Dr. Badi warns that the Revolution is under threat from both “vested interests” inside Egypt and external interests that used to benefit from the pliable nature of the former regime, which was always ready to respond positively to foreign demands.
Like most of the MB’s leadership, Badi is a veteran of repeated terms in Egypt’s prisons, but he believes that the detentions of the movement’s leaders gives the group credibility among the Egyptian masses and provided an opportunity to reflect on the correct course for Egypt: “While we were in prison we were thinking of what is in Egypt’s interest, like Prophet Joseph who entered jail on a false charge but despite this kept thinking about how to save Egypt.”
Last month Dr Muhammad Sa’d al-Katatni, the secretary general of the FJP met with an official from the U.S. National Security Organization and the First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at the FJP headquarters in Cairo (Bikya Masr [Cairo], October 6). Shortly thereafter, a delegation of assistants to U.S. House representatives met with MB Secretary General Dr. Mahmud Husayn and movement spokesman Dr. Mahmud Ghazlanon October 18.
In an interview with a pan-Arab news agency, al-Katatni downplayed the significance of the unprecedented dialogue with official American representatives: “The United States has interests in the region, and if observers see that the FJP is close to power, then it is natural that the Americans should hasten to initiate dialogue with it to know its inclinations. This falls also within diplomatic norms and not only within reconciliation” (Ilaf.com, October 3).
According to MB spokesman Dr. Ghazlan, the MB leaders assured the Americans that the movement had set a ceiling of acquiring only a third of available parliamentary seats and would not run a candidate for president “because the Brotherhood was used as a scarecrow in the past,” adding that the Americans’ understanding of Islam “included frivolities, distortions and misconceptions. We explained to them the status of non-Muslims in the Islamic State and that they have the freedom of belief and worship and to apply the rules of their religion in dealings and to perform their rites in full freedom” (al-Hayat, October 21).
This article first appeared in the November 3, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.