Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Rashad al-Bayoumi stressed that under President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt will not turn its back on the United States; however, at the same time, it wants to deal with the United States based on a mutual relationship, far removed from the policy of "leader and subordinate" that prevailed under the previous regime.
During an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor's Adnan Abu Amer at the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in the Mokattam neighborhood of Cairo, Bayoumi indicated that the Sinai would remain a point of vulnerability for Egypt's security. He called for reconstruction in the Sinai and revival of the economic situation for the region's residents.
Bayoumi, who is a geology professor and spent 17 years in prison, clarified that Morsi's position on the Syrian crisis had not changed. He maintains the need to stop the bloodshed and emphasized that Assad should step down from power.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Al-Monitor: President Morsi faces a number of accusations today that he is moving toward the "Islamization" of the Egyptian state, by allowing Brotherhood leaders to occupy leadership positions within the government. How do you respond?
Bayoumi: The truth is there has been a flood of accusations directed at President Morsi, claiming he intends to apply a policy of "Brotherhoodizing" the state. Because of these false accusations, I have abstained from conducting media interviews for the past four months.
In order to take advantage of this interview, the first I have conducted since that period, I want to stress that the source of these accusations are those who lost the elections and failed to come to power in Egypt. These people considered [coming to power] to be their ultimate goal in life, and when they didn't succeed they turned to accusations without any support or evidence.
There is a second group that is hostile toward Islam and Islamic thought, and they criticize any action taken by Islamists. They are not satisfied with any step taken by Morsi, because their quarrel with him is intellectual and ideological.
There is a third group that levels accusations against Morsi comprising those who are deceptive. They buy off the public, convincing them to go to demonstrations that condemn the president and the Brotherhood's rule, without even knowing why they are demonstrating. I'd like to stress that a good part of this group includes street children and those from shelters.
On the other hand, I'd like to respond to these accusations with a question: Is "Islamization" a [valid] charge to level against President Morsi? Islam, as a religion, is not hostile to humanity, rather it places the values of humanity above all else. Morsi offered all of those who disagree with him to participate in managing state affairs, but they refused.
I myself am one of those who insisted that they join his political team; however, they ignored his calls — they ridiculed his sincere national efforts. This is evidenced by the fact that as soon as they joined the presidential team, they began to abandon their work, one after the other.
Furthermore, the place where we are sitting now, the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, we insisted that all Egyptian political forces join in on its inauguration. This included all groups you see now on television, those who are leveling these accusations against President Morsi.
As for the recent cabinet reshuffle, only a very small number of ministers are from the Brotherhood. Regarding the recent appointments of governors throughout Egypt, the majority of them are not affiliated with the Brotherhood … What Islamization are you talking about?
Al-Monitor: Some say that the Egyptian economy and the performance of the government have not improved under the Brotherhood's leadership. What is your plan to change this situation? Is your economic program necessarily linked to political stability?
Bayoumi: We must not forget the poor legacy left by the former regime in the economic arena, as well as the foreign debt that the state treasury has amassed as a result of the poor administration of investments and development. This is in addition to the complete dependence on the economic policies of Western governments, in particular that of the United States. This is evidenced by the fact that more than 1,000 factories have been closed, including those working in the fields of textiles, thread and leather. They all fell behind due to failed policies.
Today, President Morsi announced a series of economic projects. These include: a Samsung factory for electronic appliances, reviving Suez Canal projects that had stalled, establishing projects and factories that increase the amount of money in the market — which will increase foreign currency and liquidity and provide job opportunities. The problem, however, lies with the official Egyptian media, which does not cover these economic achievements.
Al-Monitor: The constitution is still a very divisive topic in Egypt. What are the prospects for a national dialogue to address it?
Bayoumi: All political discussions include talk of the constitution, as it lays the foundations for a democratic modern civil state. However, there are a number of internal obstacles and hurdles that prevent the ratification and approval of the constitution. It is clear that there are certain political forces that are concerned with maintaining this paralysis concerning the ratification of the constitution.
Yet, there is no way [that the constitution can be ratified] before the election of parliament. Parliament should represent all Egyptians, and is the sole authority for approving the constitution. It is only through parliament that we can hold a legal dialogue on the constitution regarding the disputed articles.
Besides, is Brotherhood leader Hossam al-Ghiryani the one who prepared the draft constitution? We must keep in mind that Brotherhood members were a minority among those who composed the draft constitution. A group of our Christian brothers also participated. There is concrete evidence that a group of leaders of various political forces signed the draft constitution and then retracted, without reason or justification.
A conscious reading of what is happening, in terms of the hurdles and obstacles, reveals why [the Brotherhood] resorted to canceling the constitutionality of the previous parliament, a parliament that was elected by 32 million Egyptians.
Al-Monitor: How do you see the role of the military in Egyptian political life, particularly given the fact that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in January, alluded to the possibility that the army could intervene — while two days ago he announced his opposition to it intervening in the political process?
Bayoumi: Perhaps you realize that, over the past six decades, Egyptians have suffered from military rule. It is now time for governance based on an elected civilian political regime. Military coups are now a thing of the past.
Furthermore, today the leadership of the military establishment in Egypt wants to distance itself from political action, because this establishment has a sacred duty to defend the nation and its borders from any external risk. We in the Muslim Brotherhood are confident that the Egyptian Army, the police and the security services support the democratic process in the country.
More than that, let's not forget that those who are calling of the army to intervene — and for a coup against the political process and the democratically elected regime — are the same people who chanted "down with military rule" at the beginning of the January 25 Revolution.
Al-Monitor: The Israeli flag is still waving in Cairo and the Camp David Accords have gone untouched. How can this be reconciled with your traditional position of opposition to Israel? Is this a cause of concern for you, and has it not led to a decline in your popularity among your support base?
Bayoumi: We must differentiate between sincere feelings and emotions and political behavior and facts on the ground, which demand more wisdom and patience. We in the Muslim Brotherhood reject the Camp David Accords, and have never changed our position on this. It is an agreement that subjugates Egypt to Israel, and requires that we submit to the latter's conditions.
This was proven when it was revealed that Egypt was exporting gas to Israel for below-market prices and Egypt was prevented from arming its soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.
However, we are convinced that the agreement is governed by international laws and political considerations. Thus, we in the Muslim Brotherhood cannot cancel it with the single stroke of a pen. This, however, does not mean that we are unable to conduct political amendments from time to time whenever they are in the interest of Egypt. Yet, this requires that we wait until the election of a new parliament, because parliament is the final authority capable of undertaking these amendments we are calling for.
Al-Monitor: Many Palestinians have expressed their disappointment that Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood has not done more to help the Gaza Strip, including their failure to fully open the Rafah crossing. Do you think this is a fair assessment?
Bayoumi: [These claims] are an injustice to the Egyptian position, and our efforts to mitigate the effect of the blockade imposed on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Perhaps you're aware of the political and diplomatic aid that Egypt offered Gaza during the last Israeli war in 2012. Let me divulge a secret, a part of what is happening in Egypt today with regard to the political crisis is a result of President Morsi's recent efforts to stop the war on Gaza.
Furthermore, I think that Egypt needs to stop these criticisms being leveled against it, both internally and externally. As you can see, large amounts of money are being pumped in from different world capitals to cause more chaos in the country.
Al-Monitor: The increasing instability in the Sinai Peninsula has led to the aggravation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which threatens Egypt's security. What is the Muslim Brotherhood's position on this issue, and how will Egypt balance its relations between Hamas and Israel?
Bayoumi: The developments happening on the ground in the Sinai Peninsula today confirm the truth that we have always mentioned. Egypt, throughout its history, has been targeted via the Sinai Peninsula, which means it is the first line of defense for the state of Egypt.
This leads me to say that there should be an economic campaign to rebuild the Sinai Peninsula. This would be an effective way to meet the demands of the citizens there. The region has natural resources, economic capabilities and development prospects that we could invest in in a better way. This would eventually lead to the stability of Egypt, both militarily and politically. It would fill any security gaps in the Sinai Peninsula that could be exploited against the security and stability of the country.
The extent of the negligence and marginalization suffered by the Sinai Peninsula under the policies of the former regime has now become evident. [The former regime] dealt with the region only via a security standpoint and through the use of fore, without responding to the daily needs of the citizens.
There is an urgent need to arm [Egyptian soldiers] in the Sinai Peninsula, in order to impose the rule of law in the region. This requires an amendment of the Camp David Accords, which prevented Egypt from arming the Sinai Peninsula over the past three decades for security reasons.
As for Hamas' role in the Sinai Peninsula, there has been much exaggeration in the media aimed at inflating this matter. I am sure that Hamas is keen on maintaining stability in the region, because it will have a direct impact security in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Monitor: President Morsi's position has fluctuated throughout the Syrian crisis. At times, he has expressed his support for the uprising, while at other times he has coordinated with Iran and Russia to find a political solution. This has provoked criticism from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Why has Egypt maintained this middle position, and what role can you play in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis?
Bayoumi: I won't hide the fact that I've recently met with a group from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and explained to them that Egypt's position on the need for President Bashar al-Assad to step down has not changed. This, however, requires that we make serious efforts [to coordinate] with supporters of the regime in Iran and Russia to stop the bloodshed there. The bloody scene in the country is no longer bearable, and there is no visible end in sight to the tunnel of massacres that are currently taking place.
Furthermore, no one — including us in the Muslim Brotherhood — expected that the Syrian revolution would continue for all this time. While the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions lasted a few weeks, and the Libyan revolution lasted a few months, the Syrian crisis has worsened in a dreadful way that exceeded all estimates. In particular, there has been growing sectarian strife and ethnic divisions.
Again, I can assure you — just as I assured our Syrian brothers — President Morsi's position hasn't changed. [This position] starts with Assad stepping down, along with efforts to mitigate the people's suffering.
Al-Monitor: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has strong ties with Qatar and Iran, and maintains peace with Israel. Does this mean that Egypt believes in maintaining friendly relations with all parties in order to be a regional player that can influence the stability of the Middle East? How do you envision its role in this troubled region?
Bayoumi: It's important that everyone knows that Egypt is not a toy in anyone's hands, and Egypt doesn't seek to dominate anyone. Therefore, our relationship with Qatar is based on Egypt's appreciation for Doha's noble position and commendable support. [Qatar] stood beside the Egyptian people during the popular revolution, with that having consequences on reciprocal policies between the two countries.
As for Israel, we don't have relations with it, with the exception of the Camp David Accords. We respect [Camp David] because it is an international agreement, without striving to develop this relationship.
As for Iran, I invite those who criticize our relationship with Tehran to go to Saudi Arabia and see the number of Iranian pilgrims who visit every year. Also, there are seven daily flights between the United Arab Emirates and Iran. I lived [in the UAE] for five years and Dubai, to me, seems like Tehran, given the large number of Iranians there.
Our relations with Iran are normal political relations. I see no justification for the fears that emerge from time to time about the spread of Shiism in Egypt, because the Egyptian people are aware of this issue.
Al-Monitor: President Morsi announced that he wants to develop friendly relations with China, and likewise with Russia. Does this mean that Egypt seeks to counter US influence in the region by fostering relations with other world powers?
Bayoumi: Let me address the US administration by saying: Egypt's relations with the United States were based on the theory of "leader and subordinate," and this is something that is forever gone. We want to establish relationships based on equality and reciprocity, far removed from the negative pattern followed by the former regime. We Egyptians are eager to gain our freedom and take independent decisions, without alienating any country in the world — including the United States — because our relationship is based on the binary of both peoples and governments. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood maintains strong relations with all the peoples of the world, including the American people, but our views differ regarding the US administration and some Western governments that support Israel without reservation.
As for our relationship with China, Russia and other emerging countries, we have great respect for the Chinese economic experience — which conquered the world with its products and goods. And likewise for the Turkish and Brazilian experiences.
The United States must realize that revolutionary Egypt — headed by Morsi — will not turn its back on [Washington], nor does it want to turn the page on its relations with the United States. But they must realize that Egypt is not a stick in anyone's hands, we're not going to follow the United States in all cases, as was true under the former regime.
Adnan Abu Amer is dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He holds a doctorate in political history from the Demashq University and has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On Twitter: @adnanabuamer1