The Brotherhood Responds

Mada Masr’s journalist Lina Attalah spoke to Gehad el-Haddad, spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood and senior advisor to its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, at the Rabaa el-Adaweya sit-in, where pro-deposed President Mohamed Morsi protesters have been camping to express their rejection of the military coup that ousted him.

What is the current plan? Keep mobilizing to exert pressure? Negotiate at some point?

There is only one plan now, to push the military back into its barracks and out of the political scene. Everything else is on the table and negotiations [could occur] afterward...The only thing we know how to do is mobilize people. We speak by ourselves. The rest of the Egyptian people will either reap the rewards of that or reap the disaster of the military being allowed in the scene. It’s their choice. We live with the consequences of having to face the military and that means that the military is killing a few of us every day.

What is your sense of the success of the mobilization so far? How far will this go?

It is increasing, and the indication we have is that it will continue to increase. Whether there will be a tipping point, we don’t know.

What would be a tipping point?

A tipping point would be that the state comes to a halt. Ministries. Governments. Roads. Networks. Metros. Money. Cash. This would send a message to the military to never stick its head back into the political scene.

What will make these masses accept negotiation?

They want to reinstate President Morsi, reaffirm the constitution, and reinstate the Shura Council, the three elected milestones that we have from the last three years. After that, everything else is back on the table, including the president leaving office or early presidential elections—but not with the military as a bullying partner.

But things seem to be moving counter to this goal. For example, there is an appointed cabinet now.

Let’s backtrack for a second. It was the minister of defense who orchestrated the coup. He then said that according to the constitution he would appoint the head of the constitutional court as an interim president. There are two problems here. First, [President] Adly Mansour had not been sworn in as head of the constitutional court. His papers of ratification were still on Morsi’s desk awaiting his signature. Second, the minister of defense appointed an interim president who swore his oath to the military and not to anyone else. The muscle here is military muscle. And then you have a cabinet in which this minister is a member.

Why is it that you have such an anti-military stance now, when the constitution designed by the Muslim Brotherhood was often criticized for giving the military all sorts of privileges?

We all recognized that after we removed Mubarak, the real face of the regime was the military. The military literally held all the tentacles of the state. If you look at every post—governors, deputy governors, heads of authorities, undersecretaries—they were all ex-military generals. They held the state together via the military machine. They also held roughly 40 to 60 percent of the economy in their hands—the rural economy, the infrastructure economy, the resource economy. That created two choices: first, sever the relations between the military and the state, which would crack the state. And the state is what kept society functioning during the revolution through its very hefty and heavy bureaucracy. So that was not an option. The second choice was to crack the army, which endangers the entire region by posing a security risk. So, you are basically between a rock and a hard place. The choice becomes phasing out the military by putting in red lines, such as instituting civilian oversight over the military economy...which we expected to [be in practice] within one or two political cycles, once there were stronger political parties to back up the argument, such that [the Freedom and Justice Party] would not be the only one in front of military guns. Now, the exit from the military coup would be a parliamentary system, because the military can’t oust a parliament.

Is there a way in which Morsi could have handled the “rock and a hard place” problem better?

The big mistake that the president made was not to carry the revolutionary spirit into governmental reforms...We literally allowed this coup to happen because he wasn’t as forceful as he should have been...The president made a decision early on to [rule] by the book. Many objected to his decisions, even inside the Brotherhood. He decided to respect the corrupt heritage that was left for him, and that includes a corrupt constitutional court, a corrupt judiciary, and a corrupt set of regulations and laws that are literally designed to trap anyone in office. This legacy didn’t give the president a carrot and stick to rule over the bureaucracy. If Morsi comes back, I think he should make changes with this issue in mind.

So what should he have done in regard to Egypt’s institutions, then?

He should have created new ones. I don’t know of any country in the world that went through a [revolution] that didn’t create a new police force. We are left with a corrupt force that is literally directing the criminal activity of Egypt. They are arresting Brotherhood leaders for the Republican Guards massacre that they executed. That’s the structure of a police state. And then the media does the job of selling it to the public and that’s it. Game over.

You mentioned that there were objections to Morsi’s decisions within the Muslim Brotherhood. Can you describe that internal dialogue?

The discussion internally was that we will back him in whatever decision he makes, because there is no way you can force an elected president to do anything except through parliament. And that’s why we needed a parliament as soon as possible. He was a president acting in office with no checks and balances on him and his government. We had no way of investigating an executive decision, except by contesting the president, and access to the president was always filtered through the bureaucracy. That was a major headache.

Overall I think Morsi led his presidency through some political conciliatory arrangements, which was not the right thing to do. He should have been more confrontational, more revolutionary, and more forceful against the old regime. He was blamed for Ikhwanizing the state, although he didn’t do so. I think he should have. That’s a president from the Islamic camp. I don’t expect him to carry a secular ideology. I expect secular, Nasserist, and leftist groups to carry their ideologies either in parliament or in policy discussions. It was an [enormous] responsibility and risk...We knew that the price we would pay would be the Brotherhood itself and its credibility.