Egypt Brotherhood: This is Democracy, Love It or Leave It

Millions have demonstrated across Egypt, demanding that Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi step down. In a frank interview with Al-Ahram, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad concedes that his group’s government has made mistakes, and has remained too secretive and opaque. But he says that big causes of recent unrest are the country’s corrupt bureaucrats, and the fact that there was no parliament to give voice to competing political viewpoints, thanks to a court decision last year which invalidated the parliamentary elections.

We should note that Al-Haddad seems to exaggerate Islamist support in Egypt when he claims it at 70 percent; the Islamist vote in the presidential election of 2012 surprised many observers when it barely reached 43 percent, and it did not surpass 52 percent even in the second round. El-Haddad hints here that President Morsi will likely fire his technocrat prime minister, Hesham Qandil in hopes of quelling the popular anger.

Ahram: There have been attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices in Alexandria and the Nile Delta. Is there a feeling that the Brotherhood is under seige?

El-Haddad: It’s more than a feeling at this point. It’s more of a reality right now.

A lot of people going to the streets to protest on the anniversary of the President Morsi’s first year in office are not thugs[‘baltagis’, old-regime enforcers], are not going to be violent and are angry at the president and the Muslim Brotherhood – Why?

There are four segments who are on the street protesting against Morsi: The first segment is the old regime, basically Hosni Mubarak tycoons and [Mubark’s] National Democratic Party stronghold families. They are fearful that a democratic system would question their loot… that is the most influential group as they have the resources and the finances to mobilise the violence and the thugs.

The second group is genuine opposition that are frustrated about the fact that they don’t have a voice and that their leaders are not showing up to dialogue sessions. Our words to them are push for the parliamentary elections with us.

The third group is none-genuine opposition: members that are in it to bring down the Morsi administration for the sake of political gain, they are irrelevant.

The fourth group is disgruntled citizens that are angry with the performance of the government… They have the right to do so. It is a government lead by a bureaucrat.

As genuine and honest as [Prime Minister] Dr Hesham Qandil is, he is a bureaucrat he comes from the perspective that everything is right until proven wrong. We [Brotherhood, FJP] come from the perspective of the revolution: that everything is wrong until it is proven right. That revolutionary reform ideology has not yet been put in place inside this government.

Is that an argument for a new prime minister?

… Maybe so.

A number of Brotherhood officials have associated grassroots signature campaign Tamarod (Rebel) with thugs, what is that based on?

We have pictures of people wearing Tamarod t-shirts and nametags while carrying ammunition, pistols. We can’t say that these people carrying a Tamarod name tag and T-shirt are Tamarod but the same thing is said to us: there is no such thing as a Brotherhood tattoo or hat.

Wouldn’t Tamarod say that calling them “thugs” is a means to discredit them?

We are not discrediting them. Let’s believe for a second that they have collected 22 million signatures like they said they have. This is actually a laudable act moving from violence to a means of peaceful and respectful expression. But petition signing doesn’t mean you’re going to force anyone’s perspective on the president.

What do you think of the Tamarod campaign’s announcement that they have gathered 22 million signatures calling for Morsi to resign?

I simply don’t believe it. So I question the elections results supervised by the judiciary with party representatives, international observers, NGOs inside Egypt, MPs and the national security databases – but you don’t want me to question a bunch of kids signing photocopied sheets in the street and storing them in a building that supposedly carrying more than a 100 tonnes of paper? This is absurd. Democracies are not built on petitions forcing presidents out of office.

If you’re that confident – 22 million signatures is more people than voted this parliament in – then go ahead sweep it over, impeach the president – change the constitution. This won’t happen: every time we have come close to elections most of the opposition cowed away.

Could it be that President Morsi has lost so much support that the majority are now in the streets, are coming out against him?

This is not the case because – if this is a numbers game it would have been over ages ago – everyone knows the Islamic stream in Egypt across repetitive elections represents 70 per cent of the population, all the rest, the leftists, Nasserists, secularists, only makes up 30 per cent.

Democracy is a contractual agreement between the people and an elected leader to lead the country across a transition. That contractual agreement was for four years.

The problem that many don’t see is that the primary pinnacle of any democratic system in a developing nation around the world is the parliament.

Grassroots opposition movements say they have lost faith in the system, consequently don’t trust elections, parliament, state institutions, anything

Well that’s too bad. The best thing that human beings were able to do was to come up with a governing system, which allows for differences of view: this is democracy.

If they think violence, under any circumstances, is going to change the course of the game they don’t know what they’re dealing with. We’re the biggest most organised [political current]of Egyptians inside Egypt.

At the end of the day we are dealing with a president that came in with a vision: the machine that is a bureaucracy which is supposed to deliver on that vision is largely corrupt, challenging that vision and aligned with the old regime. That relationship is still in tense. If that machine is not capable of running the country then we will act as the scaffolding to that country.

When you say “we” do you mean the [Brotherhood’s] Freedom and Justice Party?

No I mean those pro-legitimacy, that is the title of this protest [at Rabaa Al-Adiwaya mosque].

What are you as the FJP doing to speak to grassroots opposition, the political movements and campaigns?

I have to say the Muslim Brotherhood was operating under a very oppressive police regime so the issue of transparency was not one of its best traits. Afterwards the change of the revolution was too swift for the Brotherhood to adapt… We hoped we could rely on authentic media channels that we could literally deliver our positions to the people.

Unfortunately most of the local channels, state and private, are preventing our positions and policies from getting out, in fact they are distorting most of them… There are 1000s of disgraceful rumours: Egypt selling the pyramids, renting out the Suez Canal, or laws about having sex with dead people: this is imaginary fictional news reporting. Yet some people have the audacity to talk of journalistic integrity in our local media. I think this is one of the primary problems that means that the Muslim Brotherhood to this day remains misunderstood and demonised.

Will the president make any big concessions in the coming days to assuage fears and reach out to the opposition?

I have no idea, it’s his call.

But what would you like him to do, as a member of the Freedom and Justice Party what would you advise?

From his perspective I don’t think he thinks the opposition has enough clout or leadership on the streets, they say that themselves. I think the opposition constituencies have lost faith in their leaders. Their leaders, including [former presidential candidates]Dr. ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabbahi have never been tested in elections.

Their parties up till now are paper work. No one knows the size of their grassroots support. Until that is proven on the ground I don’t think we can say anything about the opposition.

The only real opposition that is challenging the Brotherhood, or the FJP is the [ultraconservative Salafist]Nour Party… We are not seeing any political programs from the other opposition. The only thing the opposition have is airtime and a few shots on media channels and perhaps a few influential western friends. They don’t have votes behind them.

But in the end there are going to lots of people on the streets who are angry – that can’t be ignored.

Of course not. Human societies have agreed that the best way of governing our differences is the democratic process….

If people are coming to the streets now – isn’t this them saying they are not happy with the current manifestation of democratic process here in Egypt?

Yes it is and I think that message has registered. There have been two government shuffles in the past year: an attempt to bring more professionals into government. There have been reform attempts to the law but we also have to understand that all of that is happening without a parliament to represent all policies.

Believe me we couldn’t be happier if this responsibility was passed on to someone else. If Tamarod is that confident that they have 22 million votes, then man up and go into the elections. Don’t whine. If you can get parties into parliament, change the government. By all means take the responsibility.

Everyone knows that Egypt is a fireball right now: we are getting burnt holding that fireball.

Every member of the opposition group has been offered leading positions in government and each one cowed away from it. They are too scared to take responsibility and put themselves in the public eye of scrutiny. They would rather sit on the bench and play the blame game.

I’m sorry we do not have time to indulge such childish games. This is a game of politics it’s not a charity.

Bel Trew