Bill the spouse and I had an informative, short conversation today with the longtime MB spokesman Dr. Esam El-Erian, who is also the deputy head of the newly emerging, MB-backed Freedom and Justice Party. (You can find descriptions of interviews I conducted with Dr. El-Erian in early 2007 and early 2009, and a lot of other useful background on the Muslim Brotherhood and other aspects of Egyptian politics, here.)
The Muslim brotherhood were major participants in the democratic uprising that toppled Egypt’s 30-year president, Hosni Mubarak, from power back in February. From 1954 until the end of last February the MB was banned from operating as a political movement. Sometimes its people were “allowed” by Mubarak to run in the notably constrained “elections” he staged– but they had to do so as independents or in the framework of another party. Meanwhile, his regime launched successive waves of arrests, financial expropriation, and other grossly abusive and intimidating acts against the MB. Dr. El-Erian is one of many MB leaders who spent many years in Mubarak’s prisons– that, though the movement definitely renounced the use of violence back in 1982.
The most intriguing points in today’s conversation were:
~ Some of his observations on Egyptian political developments in the run-up to September’s parliamentary elections:
- “We’re hoping to go into the elections with a broad coalition of the forces from the revolution… Yesterday we had a good meeting with the leader of the Wafd Party…
“We face a number of very big challenges. The role of the military is a big one, but we are delaying dealing with it because they were our partners in the revolution. Secondly, there’s the role of the police, who were the main supporters of Mubarak for the past ten years. We have to figure out how to establish a new form of policing appropriate to a democracy. The first challenge that we’re able to deal with is to get all the politicians together in a new coalition. It’s true, we will need to discuss this with the military. Currently, they hold the presidential powers, but they’re going to have to step back and allow a new face in… And we need to find a better balance between the presidency and the parliament…
“Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, was the first head of state to come and visit us after the revolution. He told us in a meeting I was in that he thought Egypt could have an even better democracy than the one they have in Turkey– because, he said, at least in Egypt the military was with the popular movement, not against it…
“I have not had much contact with the military leaders here– there was just one meeting I was invited to. But on the ground, out around the country, the brotherhood has good relations with the military. For example, right now, the tawgihi (school-leaving) exams are being held nationwide and with the collapse of much of the police, security would have been a big concern, except that we and other parts of the popular movement cooperated with the military to keep the whole process safe.”
~ A degree of opposition to the policies of the Saudi government that I found surprising:
- “Without a change in the policies of Saudi Arabia, these current revolutions won’t succeed… In Egypt, Saudi Arabia is the main force of counter-revolution. They’ve been pushing and pushing to keep Mubarak out of prison. He was a pillar of their policy. But Mubarak will go to prison…”
~ A nuanced form of outreach to Western countries:
- “I am asking Europe and America for an apology. For the last 150 years they have blocked any development in this area… We believe that we have a lot to contribute to world civilization in terms of spirituality and values, but we want the help of the west in allowing our democracy to flourish. We want an apology that they supported dictatorship here for so many years, and then when the revolutions challenged the dictators, they tried to find a safe exit for some of the dictators…
“So please don’t intervene in ways that corrupt our new politicians. Westerners corrupted so many of our local NGO’s and even human-rights organizations in the past. (But I want to note that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did a great job! They are my friends!)”
El-Erian said the Brotherhood, which has long been shunned by many Western countries, has started since the revolution of January-February to have some contacts with European parliamentarians, diplomats, and business executives. But he was eager to strengthen its contacts with Americans, too, and made a special pitch for American tourists to return to Egypt in large numbers.