Egypt’s MB against idea of having secular or religious state

MAHMOUD HUSSEIN

September 16, 2012, Sunday/ 12:35:00

Dr. Mahmoud Hussein, secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) (Ikhwan) in Egypt, stated that they are against a secular state like Turkey or a religious state like Iran, adding they support a civilian state that is ruled by the Egyptian people.

 “We don’t want a secular state like Turkey but also not a state that is based on religion like Iran. We want a state like Egypt,” said Hussein.

In an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman at the movement’s headquarters in Mokattam in Cairo, Hussein said that the MB supports a civilian state that meets the demands of the people, adding a state like Iran, which is based on religion, doesn’t serve the interests of the people but the ones who only speak in the name of God.

Pointing to statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called on Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution, a move that was strongly criticized by Egypt’s largest political group, the MB, Hussein said the Brotherhood was against the call for a secular state.

Last year, Erdoğan urged Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution, noting that secularism does not mean renouncing religion. The idea of adopting a secular system for Egypt has fueled controversy between the country’s liberal and Islamist powers since the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution.

The statements of Erdoğan, who said that a secular state respects all religions and that people have the right to choose whether or not to be religious, came during a two-day visit to Egypt last year.

Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s February 2011 ouster, the MB has emerged as Egypt’s most potent political force

When asked his assessment regarding the revolution in Egypt, Hussein stated that Egypt’s revolution was different than revolutions in other countries, underlining that the revolution created a huge change in Egypt. “First of all, the important result of the revolution is that there is a parliament that has been established with the will of the Egyptian people. Secondly, for the first time the president of Egypt is elected by the people,” said Hussein.

In June, MB leader Mohammed Morsi was elected as Egypt’s first civilian president, which the Brotherhood considers a very successful step.

“Until now there have been some people from the old regime, but I believe more time is needed for a change in the system of the country. It will take time to implement all the missions of the new government,” Hussein pointed out, addressing the fact that the revolution has not ended yet.

The secretary-general of the MB asserted that the social and economic problems that Egypt currently faces are due to 30 years of dictatorship and cannot be solved within a few months as the new government needs more time to implement all the policies. “The process is going on. The revolution is not over,” said Hussein.

The Egyptian revolution took place following a popular uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The grievances of Egyptian protesters focused on legal and political issues including police brutality, the state of emergency laws, the lack of free elections and freedom of speech, uncontrollable corruption and economic issues.

When asked as the MB what policies were needed to overcome the socio-economic problems of Egypt, Hussein replied that they support the new president and the government in political and economic projects, which aim to meet the demands of the people.

“We support Morsi’s projects that he announced during his campaign,” said Hussein, adding that the project -- the 100-Day Plan -- focused on five main problems that the majority of Egyptians face: security, traffic, bread quality, fuel and rubbish collection. “Currently, we are in this first 100 days. We are not totally satisfied by the project, yet it is good,” he said.

“There was no government after the revolution. When Morsi took office, the first elected government was established. Previous governments didn’t consist of civilians but military officers,” said Hussein.

Since taking office, Morsi has moved quickly to consolidate the brotherhood’s power, appointing fellow Muslim Brothers to head key ministries. His most important step was when he sacked several senior generals, including Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Sami Anan, who posed the greatest threat to his authority, promoting new generals to their positions.

When asked what their policy towards the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt will be, Hussein replied that Islam preserves the rights of all Muslims and non-Muslims. “We don’t believe that there is a minority or a majority. We believe that everyone is a part of Egyptian society,” said Hussein.

The MB pledged to guarantee the rights of the Coptic Christians in Egypt (about 10 percent of the population) after taking power.

“Up until now, all minorities looked at the Muslim Brotherhood as the old regime presented it to them. We need time to show the people the real Muslim Brotherhood. Later, they will realize the Muslim Brotherhood acts according to Islam,” said Hussein.

When asked how the Brotherhood’s relations were with other parties in Egypt, Hussein replied that the MB had good relations with all the parties, adding that more partnership is needed among the parties. “Indeed, we have different point of views among ourselves. We are open to any criticism but not destructive ones. We are against people who make destructive criticism. We have strong opposition in Egypt. We believe that opposition is essential for strong democracies,” said Hussein.

Hussein also dismissed the recent claims that after the MB took power it had started to apply censorship to the media. “These claims are not true. Until now there is no sort of law by the government that minimizes the freedom of media,” said Hussein.

Touching upon the regional role of Turkey, Hussein stated that Turkey, which is one of the biggest Islamic countries, plays an important role in the Middle East region. “Egypt needs to cooperate with Turkey. If there is cooperation between Egypt and Turkey, the region will open a new page. The partnership between Egypt and Turkey is beyond the partnership among other countries. There is cooperation in terms of economy, politics and culture. Both states need to have a common vision,” said Hussein.

Hussein added that the MB appreciated Turkey’s role, adding that more cooperation is needed between Egypt and Turkey to maintain stability in the region. “Turkey as well as Egypt alone cannot be the sole actors for stability. But if they cooperate, they can maintain stability in the region,” said Hussein.

Pointing to statements by senior MB figures who supported the idea of founding a political party with the same program as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Sunday’s Zaman asked Hussein about the similarities between the MB in Egypt and the AK Party in Turkey. “The AK Party’s policies are not similar to the [Muslim Brotherhood] Ikhwan’s policies, there are big differences,” said Hussein.

Assessing the policies of the ruling AK Party, Hussein stated that the AK Party had made a great effort to develop Turkey in terms of politics and the economy. “Today, Turkey is a rising economic power. Turkey can play an important economic role in the region. We believe that Egypt’s cooperation with Turkey in this field will bring stability to the region,” said Hussein.

Hussein added that the current situation in Egypt had similarities with the situation prior to AK Party rule in Turkey in terms of the economic crisis and the army’s control. “We experienced a revolution, but Turkey only implemented reforms. So this is the distinguishing point,” said Hussein.

Touching upon the role of the Gülen movement in Egypt, Hussein stated that Brotherhood was open to any movement that would create a win-win situation. “Our perspective towards the movement [Gülen movement] depends on what purpose they are serving. If they are working for Turkish interests, then our country will be open for them,” said Hussein.

When asked about the relations between Egypt’s MB and Syria’s MB, Hussein replied that the MB in Syria had no strong influence in Egypt due to the suppression of the Syrian regime. “The Syrian regime prevented the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from having power. They were excluded from politics and were in exile for many years,” said Hussein.

To the question as to whether the Syrian MB would be able to take power as the one in Egypt did, Hussein said: “I cannot say anything because I don’t know what is going on in Syria currently. So I don’t know the map of the Syrians. It is very complicated. In order to frighten other factions, usually the reports say that Ikhwan is the strongest among all the factions,” said Hussein.

Riad al-Shaqfa, president of the Syrian MB, told Today’s Zaman recently that Iran is a partner in the massacre being carried out by the ruling Assad regime and that the Brotherhood has evidence to prove it. When asked to assess the Iranian role in the Syrian crisis, Hussein maintained that Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite movement in Lebanon, strongly supported the Syrian regime, adding the international community is also weak in stopping this support and ending the massacres in Syria.

“Iran is one of the strongest countries in the region. But Iranians should stop intervening in the internal affairs of the other countries,” said Hussein.

In August, Morsi made clear Egypt’s stance towards the Syrian crisis at a summit hosted by Iran in August. Morsi, who was the first Egyptian president to visit Iran since the Iranian Revolution, described Assad’s government as an “oppressive regime” and said it was an “ethical duty” to support those rebelling against his rule, while sitting next to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hussein added that the Assad regime should leave power and stop the bloodshed as soon as possible, adding that the Syrian crisis was the main issue for Turkey and Egypt to cooperate on.

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt are expected to attend talks next week in Cairo in an attempt to reconcile differences over Syria. Senior diplomats from the four countries met in Cairo on Monday in preparation for foreign ministerial talks. The quartet talks are part of an initiative by Morsi to address the Syrian conflict through the efforts of regional countries. “Each state is looking to end the crisis in Syria. In addition to the other three countries, Iran also wants to stabilize the situation in Syria,” said Hussein.

When asked if the Brotherhood looks towards Israel, Hussein stated that Israel is a country that occupies lands that do not belong to it. “Israel violates the rights of the Palestinian people and must stop this,” said Hussein.

Hussein also gave the signal for maintaining the agreement between Palestinian factions, Al Fatah, the Palestinian political organization, and its rival Hamas, adding that they will support the new government to maintain reconciliation between the two factions.

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