Nearly three years have passed since the Egyptian army ousted Mohammed Morsi, the first civilian president elected following the January 25 Revolution, and then there were the subsequent campaigns of harassment and persecution waged by the Egyptian security forces against the Muslim Brotherhood (with which Morsi is organizationally affiliated). Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood remains strong enough to occupy a considerable part of the Egyptian landscape. Observers remain preoccupied by discussions about the future of the Brotherhood, the transformations it has undergone, the extent of its relationship with violence in Egypt, the re-assessments it has undertaken, its conception of relations with the outside world — be it Arab or Western — and the Brotherhood's fate in the wake of an ongoing escalation by the Egyptian regime against all its rivals and opponents.
In an extended interview with Al-Monitor, Amr Darrag spoke about these and other issues. Darrag is a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who is in charge of the Brotherhood’s political office abroad; he is the former minister of planning and international cooperation and was a member of the Freedom and Justice Party’s planning office. He offered what might be considered a wide-angle view of the Brotherhood’s position and its role at the present moment, and in so doing offered his views on a number of topics.
Internal reassessments within the Brotherhood
Darrag touched upon the importance of the Brotherhood undertaking what he termed “comprehensive reassessments,” at the core of which is the importance of “separating party-building activity from the movement’s other activities … to avoid previous errors produced by the overlap of [religious] preaching with [political] partisanship.”
Yet Darrag, in offering this suggestion, remains committed to the belief in the central authority of Islam in all aspects of life. However, he calls for a specialization of tasks, such that the core of his view is that Islam is a comprehensive faith, but the institutions that labor in its service must be pluralistic, since human affairs have become more specialized and not everyone can do everything.
The great mistake that Darrag sees is that the Brotherhood attempted “to compete politically against a large segment of the population but at the same time work alongside them socially. This is simply not achievable.”
Therefore, the ideal situation would be for “the Brotherhood to concentrate more on social and outreach-related concerns, and leave the [political] institution or other institutions that bear on competitive political life. A member of the Brotherhood who desires to engage in political life or enter the parliament — for example — might join a political party. But the Brotherhood itself would have no party.” At the same time, he holds firmly to the Brotherhood’s famous slogan that "Islam is the solution."
It seems that Darrag, in this interview, was starting from the premise of reviving the outreach-oriented aspect of the Brotherhood, which fractured upon contact with politics. He aimed to convey a vision of restoring the Brotherhood to its original path of outreach-oriented activism separated from partisan political life. Still, the Brotherhood remains a potent political force that more closely resembles a pressure group. It is a suggestion that contains no small amount of bravery at the present time, especially his view of the importance of the Brotherhood not maintaining a party.
On foreign relations
In the course of his remarks, Darrag described the view of the European Union since the dispersal of the sit-ins at Rabia al-Adawiya and al-Nahdah squares as “very unfortunate.” In his view, the European position since Morsi’s ouster has long “showed that there was international readiness to accept that governing democratic systems can be overturned without the perpetrators being held to account.”
Darrag went so far as to describe the reports released in both the Britain and the United States, both of whose contents might fairly be described as anti-Brotherhood, as “result[ing] from pressures leveled by the Gulf states, and especially the [United Arab] Emirates, through lobbies under their control.” However, he distinguishes between the British report and the report produced by the House Judiciary Committee. In the British case, they “neglected to publicize positive aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood contained by the original report … for example, the positive role that it played in combating extremism.” As for the American report, Darrag believes it falls “in line with election-season propaganda against Islam generally, Muslims and everything related to them.”
Darrag stressed, “There is no coordination and there is no kind of communication … with the US administration.” He expressed the view that, [in US dealings with the Brotherhood] “the double standard was quite clear, and this caused the Islamist youth and the youth throughout the region more broadly to view the United States of America in an extremely negative light,” especially since “America turned a blind eye to this coup and participated in stabilizing it and helping it to establish itself.” Therefore, in his view, “America must bear a large part of the responsibility. “
When it comes to other Arab states, Darrag took an accusatory tone, saying, “Saudi Arabia and the Emirates chose to spend tens of billions of dollars in supporting the coup.” He describes the recent visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to Egypt as “a great disappointment to many who had banked on a change in the kingdom’s position.”
On the subject of the reconciliation initiatives launched by many figures, such as Rashid al-Ghannouchi, Darrag said, “Nothing practical comes of out of these initiatives.”
Darrag describes Hamas as “a national liberation movement with an Islamic ideological core … working solely to liberate its lands.” From this starting point, the relationship between the Brotherhood and Hamas is based “only” on the fact that the latter attributes its ideological origin to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his remarks, Darrag spoke diplomatically in his way of describing the Brotherhood’s relationship with foreign affairs and external actors. At the same time, he could not refrain from accusing the existing parties with bearing responsibility for what is happening in Egypt and participating in it, either directly or indirectly. But as a politician he also understands the balance of forces and knows that these forces, whether Arab or Western, cannot simply be dismissed. Moreover he strives to bring attention to their role in undermining the legitimacy of the current regime, and to perpetuate the image of the Brotherhood as a rational actor whom they need on the scene.
Darrag began his remarks on this topic by emphasizing, “The Brotherhood has never adopted any policies calling for the use of violence, terrorism or militarization.” By way of evidence, he remarked that “everyone knows the size of the Brotherhood in Egypt. Even with thousands of our members in detention, there are still vast numbers of Brotherhoods and their supporters [at large]. If there was any intention or directive to use violence, 'the country would have been lost.'” Regarding “a few acts of violence committed by some of the youth,” Darrag said, “That’s to be expected … [given the] volume of killings, injuries, arrests, rapes and massacres like the one at Rabia and what’s happening to the inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula.”
Darrag expressed his view on the question of the so-called Qualitative Committees, which are associated by reputation with the Brotherhood’s young members. He said, “What happens is that [the group] no longer has the same control over some individuals as it once did, as Brotherhood leaders of the first, [second] and third ranks are mostly in prison. Those who are advanced to leadership positions [to replace them] cannot effectively communicate with the lower ranks, and naturally some portion of the Brotherhood youth are able to involve themselves along with others in minor operations such as setting police cars on fire or throwing Molotov cocktails. These are all matters that cannot be ascribed to the Brotherhood and that the organization has not adopted.”
Darrag knows that the revolutionary program that he believes the Brotherhood has currently adopted calls for “a rejection of this regime and a refusal to recognize its legitimacy or its long-term durability. We will strive to remove it by the same means that many other peoples have tried, primarily nonviolent civil activism and refraining from cooperating with it from inside as a [loyal] opposition.”
In his remarks, Darrag sought to stress the idea that any violent practices employed by members of the Brotherhood do not stem from ideological motives, but rather from how they have suffered from killing, rape and dispersal [at the hands of the regime]. Even though he stressed the Brotherhood has changed and its current adoption of what it calls the "revolutionary platform," he nevertheless insists that the Brotherhood has not adopted the ideology of violence “at all.” In so doing, he reveals the state of oscillation that has afflicted the Brotherhood over the last several months as they seek to restrain the revolutionary understanding, curb the desire for vengeance among their younger members and keep from falling into the trap of systematic, destructive violence. This indicates the state of tumult and ferment that has taken hold within the Brotherhood; moreover, it has caused a fissure inside the Brotherhood between those who want vengeance and those who are warning against falling into it haphazardly.
Concerning Morsi and relations with the regime
On this topic, Darrag explained his vision of the relationship between the regime and the Brotherhood, saying, “Even if the entire world recognized [President Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi, this still would not give him legitimacy.” He voiced his opposition to the idea of accepting the coup as a fait accompli, saying, “Our position is one of principle; it doesn’t depend on who the president is or [the interests of] the Brotherhood.” He repudiated any discussion of a negotiation with the regime “over anything,” saying that the regime “is waging a zero-sum battle.”
He expressed the view that if Sisi were to leave Egypt or fall, it would “constitute a major advance for the revolutionary movement. Naturally, the revolution does not stand or fall with the fortunes of Sisi the man.” Regarding his view of what such a scenario might entail, he cautiously noted, “The circumstances and balances [of power] at the time could impose a great many scenarios.”
Darrag admitted, “There has been some trust lost between the [Brotherhood and the other opposition parties], because each side has accused the other of bearing responsibility for the presence of the military and their entering with such force into political life.”
Regarding his view of the role played by the Egyptian army, he stated, “The army protects Egypt and its stability by carrying out its proper, defined role in defending the country and its national security, not in political positions, in governing, in the public square or interfering in the economy.”
Throughout the interview, Darrag sought to lay down the notion that the Brotherhood has changed its position regarding purported understandings with the regime that it had previously accepted. He stressed that the resistance to the regime, and not only Sisi, will continue, and he accepts the legitimacy of no one but Morsi. However, he has not yet advanced a vision of what would come next after Sisi were to leave power, except to admit that there is no trust in the other parties that have taken sides against the regime. He does, however, remain optimistic that there will be some sort of rapprochement, though this might run aground on the shoals of reality.
Concerning internal disputes
Darrag, as one of the representatives of a movement that claims it seeks to change its vision, called on the Brotherhood to “be more transparent and open to society” and that young people “must be represented at the leadership level and in decision-making.” He also advocated for “maintaining the separation of particular institutions working within the Brotherhood and continuing accountability for past mistakes.” In his view, the absence of the current Guidance Office and Shura Council overseeing it leaves “the alternative [of electing] a Shura Council and Guidance Office that will contain a sufficient quorum of members.”
Darrag described the decisions taken by Mahmoud Izzat, who is overseeing the Guidance Office in an interim capacity, as “a shock to many in the rank and file,” and claimed "that increases the likelihood of a split” in the Brotherhood. Nevertheless, he maintained that “the Brotherhood will ultimately emerge stronger.”
Darrag sought in this interview to offer a different vision for the group in its handling of the youth and women, and presenting himself as a man with a fundamental vision of change toward a transparent institution within the Brotherhood. Despite the note of worry about a split within the group, he nevertheless appeared optimistic and nonconfrontational with other parties to the disputes within the Brotherhood.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: You’ve written a few articles on reassessments within the Brotherhood but until now the group has not officially apologized for the mistakes it committed while in power. What’s your take on it?
Darrag: Self-examination is a healthy process that large organizations must undergo from time to time. That’s always the case, regardless of the question of apologies, or the group’s tactics over the last 20 years. Moreover, the changes — both large and small — that Egypt has experienced and continues to experience require a comprehensive reassessment out of which we can draw conclusions about what we must do for our movement to become healthier, more institutionalized and more influential. When I wrote about the importance of separating party-building activity from the movement’s other activities, for example, it was an act of self-assessment. I was offering a model for the form of the relationship between the movement and the party to the people. One that avoids previous errors produced by the overlap of [religious] preaching with [political] partisanship.
Al-Monitor: How can preaching and partisanship be separated? Explain the idea and its premises for us.
Darrag: There are two essential points that must be explained. First, Islam is both an all-encompassing and a public religion. It is both religion and state, and has its own perspective on all social and political actions, as well as in every other aspect of life. At the same time, those perspectives contain a great deal of flexibility, such that it can encompass [all] people, regardless of the era or nation in which they live. But this does not mean that the institution that serves this faith must be the overseer of all the affairs that the faith encompasses. That’s the core of my view: that Islam is a comprehensive faith, but the institutions that labor in its service must be pluralistic, since matters have become more specialized and not everyone can do everything.
Al-Monitor: How will you apply this on the level of [day-to-day] practice? How do you conceive of the movement’s ideal role within [Egyptian] society?
Darrag: The proposal necessitates that there be room for the Muslim Brothers to work with the entirety of the Egyptian people. For it is clearly impossible for the group to compete politically against a large segment of the population but at the same time work alongside them socially. This is simply not achievable, and this is the largest mistake that took place. The Brotherhood bore the mistakes in [the party’s] political tactics, despite the fact that the party benefited from the Brotherhood’s support.
As for the ideal situation, from my perspective it would be that the Brotherhood concentrate more on social and outreach-related concerns, and leave the [political] institution or other institutions that bear on competitive political life. A member of the Brotherhood who desires to engage in political life or enter the parliament, for example, might join a political party. But the Brotherhood itself would have no party and has nothing that might be termed a political wing. This would help the group to restore its standing in society, as it was before.
Al-Monitor: Does this mean that the slogan "Islam is the solution" is still the Brotherhood’s slogan, or do you think that it must move beyond this? And why?
Darrag: Yes, that is still the Brotherhood’s solution, and no one can dispute that "Islam is the solution," as the slogan means that Islam is a comprehensive religion and contains the solution to many of the problems that we face. But the details pertain to a [particular] tactic or tools through which we can implement this slogan.
Al-Monitor: But some believe that the Brotherhood has not achieved any success under this slogan?
Darrag: The validity of principles or slogans is not subject to change because those who were charged with implementing them succeeded or failed. In Egypt it is very difficult for anyone to say anything that is utterly removed from Islam or its source of authority.
Generally speaking, the Brotherhood must undertake a great deal of self-examination in the realm of tactics and its administrative style, as well as in its decision-making so that it can develop into an organization that can cope with the nature of the times and the challenges they pose us. There are many details to this and interactions taking place right now that will necessarily lead — in my opinion — to the group emerging stronger than it was before and discharging its social and outreach obligations professionally and successfully.
Al-Monitor: You were one of the first participants in the negotiations that took place with Catherine Ashton before the dispersal at Rabia al-Adwiyyah. How do you assess the role played by the European Union in the period prior to Rabia al-Adawiya’s dispersal until now? And why?
Darrag: In both cases its performance was deeply disappointing. That’s because in the period preceding the dispersal of Rabia, the debate basically revolved around how to resolve the current problem and how the sit-in could be ended peacefully while at the same time satisfying the demands of the "revolutionaries" in the street. But the message carried by Ashton and the other European and US officials was that we had to accept the status quo of the time, even though there was a president elected by popular mandate and even though there was a standing constitution, both of which were deposed by military force. This unfortunately showed that there was an international readiness to accept that governing democratic systems can be overturned without the perpetrators being held to account.
This continued afterward, even to the extent of providing direct support and giving legitimacy to the regime of the coup, which was present and ongoing. It completely flew in the face of all the principles of democracy and respecting human rights — the same principles that the European Union is always calling for — in the face of serving existing interests, be they arms sales or economic agreements.
Despite the fact that the European Union issued directives and recommendations less than two months following the coup that were clear in putting a halt to the sale of weapons or equipment to Egypt that might be used in the suppression of protests, these recommendations were not implemented. In fact, they weren’t even worth the paper they were printed on. The general position was one that supported the putschist regime instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with democratic values and principles. Even when the repression directly hit European citizens such as Giulio Regeni or Eric Lang — the French national who was killed while in detention — the European Union failed to take a serious stand to protect its citizens from the brutality of this repressive regime.
Al-Monitor: What was your take on the British report and the recommendations of the House Judiciary Committee to the American Congress concerning the Brotherhood?
Darrag: As a matter of principle, there is a difference between the two situations on the political level, but the common denominator between them is that they’re both reports that resulted from pressures leveled by the Gulf states, and especially the [United Arab] Emirate, through lobbies under their control in the American case. That holds despite the differing manner in which the reports were released, or what [their contents] reflected.
Al-Monitor: Explain that difference to us.
Darrag: In the British case, everyone knows the sheer scope of the UAE’s economic and financial interests inside Britain. They exerted direct pressure and, as a result of these pressures, work began on a so-called reassessment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain. Moreover, the scene of the investigation was in Britain itself, and the influence of the local Muslim Brotherhood upon Britain. The primary goal of this report on the part of the countries that pressured the British government was political, and so they only released a slapdash summary after a year and a half of working on the report. This relied primarily on information that — it was said — was acquired after the original investigation concluded and without prompting anyone to reopen the inquiry. This was naturally most unfortunate, especially given that it neglected to publicize the positive aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood contained by the original report. For example, there was the positive role that it played in combating extremism, in several concrete instances. Despite this, the report insinuated that certain practices [of the Brotherhood] might lead to extremism, without [directly] accusing the Brotherhood of anything.
Al-Monitor: What about those things that went unpublished? How did the Brotherhood handle the report to mitigate its negative ramifications?
Darrag: There are many things about this extensive report [of which we knew large parts], including the infamous issue of the mosque in London that was affiliated with some extremist figures for over 10 years. At the time, the Brothers began to exert a positive influence with the young men who frequented the mosque in an effort to bring them to a proper understanding of the faith. It was frankly acknowledged in the report that the Brotherhood played a positive role in Britain in combating extremism and violence.
As for the report’s ramifications, practically speaking the report didn’t have any negative consequences worth mentioning, but it should still be considered an unacceptable tarnishing of the Brotherhood’s reputation. For our part, we had lawyers who sought through legal means to deal with the British government on this matter, to remove any possible negative impact that [the report] might have on the Brotherhood’s reputation. The Brotherhood has nothing to fear, nor have we engaged in any behavior that would sully our good name.
Al-Monitor: What about the report of the House Judiciary Committee in the US Congress?
Darrag: For a long time there have many and repeated attempts by some members of the Republican Party in particular to raise the issue of putting the Brotherhood on the list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in America, and especially those [Republicans] who have alliances with the Emirati lobby, as Al-Monitor has disclosed before. There are also those who seek to score political points at home at this time.
We believe that what’s happening must be placed in the general context of one-upmanship that goes hand in hand with election-season propaganda against Islam generally, Muslims and everything related to them. That’s what we’re seeing especially in the candidacy of Donald Trump, for example, who broadcasts a hateful discourse that is rejected by many Americans.
Al-Monitor: How will you handle this issue?
Darrag: It’s clear that the current US administration will not heed the committee’s recommendations. The deputy secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs made it clear that there is no call for that. Moreover, they understand the danger inherent in pursuing an irresponsible measure such as this.
The danger that we grasp, rather, is [what will happen when] the next Republican administration takes office, if it is accompanied by a GOP majority in Congress. Therefore we are trying in every way to reach out to the largest possible number of representatives from both parties as part of a public relations campaign through which we will explain what the Muslim Brotherhood and its role really are, and its place in the scale of moderation — particularly in areas such as public work where it plays a major role in combating extremism, terrorism and violence. We’ll also try to make it clear that it’s dangerous to level unsubstantiated accusations.
Al-Monitor: Some of the Brotherhood’s young people view the group’s leadership as having tried to placate the West and America and compare the degree of their peacefulness to their scale and [say] that they are captives of Western hegemony. How do you respond?
Darrag: There are two general directions in dealing with the outside world and the great powers. The first thinks that the reins of global power are in the hands of the West, particularly the United States of America, and that these parties possess the tools to place anyone’s endeavors under siege. Those who hold this view think it preferable to remain loyal to these powers or, at least, to refrain from breaking with them. However, this is a narrow view, one that oversimplifies many factors — and it is not held by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has moved over the course of its history with the conviction that holds steadfastly to resistance to outside hegemony and tyranny. It does not wait for pressure from anyone in order to adopt a peaceful, gradualist platform for promoting change. The times when it made recourse to a form of violence were directed against the occupier and its collaborators, and even that was over 70 years ago. But in the end, after the British occupation came to a close, the Muslim Brotherhood became enmeshed with public work, moving in tandem with its roots as a social movement based on paying close heed to society and promoting its welfare while at the same time upholding the values of opposition to assault upon other people and the terrorization of the innocent, as well as practicing democratic work and adopting the choices of the people.
The Brotherhood, from this starting off point, has a fundamental responsibility before its people — and not before America or the West. At the same time it is resisting massive campaigns aimed at tarnishing its reputation and that can be exploited to blot out the true image of the Brotherhood or Islamists more generally. The Brotherhood is keen to clarify the situation for the various peoples of the world and to communicate with them. We are continuing on our path, 2½ years after the coup, without relenting from our work at all, because the Egyptian people deserve the right to walk a democratic path.
Al-Monitor: What is the nature of the relationship between the Brotherhood and America? Is there any coordination or cooperation between the US administration and the Brotherhood’s leadership?
Darrag: There is no coordination and there is no kind of communication of that sort. All that happens are unofficial meetings, whether with members of Congress or think tanks. When we visit America we meet with some researchers who are concerned with Egyptian affairs, and at the same time we’re keen to meet with a few members of congress to provide a detailed explanation [of events]. For all that, we have never sought to meet with representatives of the US administration, nor has the administration sought out a meeting. Therefore the visits are more in the context of explaining our perspective and answering researchers’ questions. No more than this.
Al-Monitor: How do you view the American role in solving the Egyptian crisis generally? And what about its role in the contentious relationship right now between the Brotherhood and the regime?
Darrag: The truth of the matter is that at present America has put Egypt at the bottom of its list of priorities in terms of regional issues. This stems from the [administration’s] strategic vision, a vision that does not look at the region as a whole with the same degree of interest as used to happen [in prior administrations]. Nevertheless America — as the primary great power in the world — presumably harbors certain responsibilities. Responsibilities such as defending the values that it publicly proclaims. America states that it is a defender of human rights and democracy; it celebrated with the people when the Arab Spring broke out and supported it. But when the military coup overtook both the people and their democratic regime, the US administration cooperated with it as a matter of course. Aid [to the Egyptian military] was not affected. The double standard was quite clear and this caused Islamist youth — and the youth throughout the region more broadly — to view the United States of America in an extremely negative light. After all,, it had shown itself to have a double standard and conspicuously failed to speak about human rights except when came to its own interests. This is what influenced the entire region, whether when it came to the spread of dictatorial practices or even civil wars stemming from [the region’s] veering off the democratic path. I think that — for the short and middle terms — this will continue to have extremely negative influences upon the position of the United States as a primary great power. Because of this.
Al-Monitor: Then, you agree with the opinion of many in the Brotherhood, and particularly with the young men among them, that America participated in the management of the coup?
Darrag: I won’t argue in this area, since the Americans deny it categorically, but the truth is staring us in the face now. America turned a blind eye to this coup and participated in stabilizing it and helping it to establish itself. One might compare the response to the outbreak of the Arab Spring when America supported the outcome of these revolutions, and then participated in the stabilization of the coup against them. Matters developed to the point that [America] turned a blind eye to acts of murder, detention and torture. Therefore America must bear a large part of the responsibility.
Al-Monitor: The Muslim Brothers are accused of having wasted an opportunity to sign the Rome Statute. Now they are paying the price, since they cannot have Sisi tried before the International Criminal Court [ICC].
Darrag: The issue of joining the ICC is connected to the presence of a parliament, and of course everyone knows the circumstances under which parliament was dissolved in Egypt. But even more importantly, the statutes [governing] the ICC allow a petition to be made by a representative of the state. However, when such a petition was filed [on behalf of] Dr. Morsi they did not accept it — on the pretext that he did not have the standing to make such a petition, even though he was an elected president demanding an investigation into his ouster. This constitutes an admission on the part of international institutions that the coup was legitimate.
The other matter is that these arbitrations and decisions are subject to many political and international agreements. There is ample evidence of this, rendering the window for leveling international criminal charges and keeping presidents in office a very narrow, very difficult one. Many also know that the president of the republic is immune from some charges as long as he holds office, unless those charges are presented before the UN Security Council. And the Security Council, in the present political circumstances, could never come to such a decision.
Al-Monitor: Some believe that this reveals the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood on the Egyptian issue and that the regime has outperformed it in managing foreign relations.
Darrag: Really, that’s an extremely unfair assessment. The [human rights] violations taking place aren’t directed against the Brotherhood alone — even if they do bear the brunt of it. Likewise, putting an end to military rule and bringing the criminals to justice isn’t just a responsibility of the Brotherhood alone. Those parties that are conducting fair investigations and that have produced clear reports on the subject — such as Human Rights Watch — have called out Egyptian officials by name. These reports must be placed in the hands of the international community to ensure that justice is done. The evidence is not hidden.
It is not just either to compare the capabilities of a nation — including both the Brotherhood and those outside it — with a regime employing organs of state, external bodies and embassies all over the world, possessed of support from many agencies and massive funds from regional players that have spend unimaginable sums on lobbying. The tools at their disposal simply — the tools of state — simply cannot be compared what is available to peoples, especially if these states enjoy massive support, as the Egyptian regime does.
The information available in the first draft of the European Parliament’s resolutions was the fruit of intensive labor. But they never called upon them until [they needed redress for] the wrongs perpetrated in the case of Giulio Regeni. This reflects the deep injustice built into the international community. We will not soon forget that the [threat of a] lawsuit in Britain had an impact in preventing 43 Egyptian officials from traveling with Sisi in his latest visit to Britain. It is wrong for you to compare [a regime with] the capabilities of a state to the capabilities of a defenseless people being killed and jailed day in and day out, and with a limited number of political representatives scattered all over the world and in Egypt hounded and persecuted. Despite that, the movement continues.
Al-Monitor: You have been accused of establishing a "cartoon parliament" abroad, prompting people to wonder about its role.
Darrag: The truth is that diplomatic work abroad is a long-term affair, one that is unlikely to bear fruit in the near term. By way of example, members of the European Parliament — so that they would have a complete picture of the Egyptian reality — had frequent meetings with their [Egyptian] counterparts, engaging in many discussions and debates in an attempt to convince to adopt a [particular] position at the right moment. This is an ongoing effort and it requires the right circumstances to bear fruit.
Also, when the speaker of the German parliament refused to have a meeting with Sisi, this was based upon a suggestion from existing members of parliament. All of this was the result of efforts made by [now] former parliamentarians, and it was work that they did well — work in which they were experienced. Therefore I believe — while the rules concerning parliament can sometimes be arbitrary — nevertheless that does not at all negate the existence of some negatives in their performance. Still none of them were deficient and no one sold out the cause [to benefit] his private life.
Al-Monitor: What was the extent of the rapprochement between the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia after the arrival of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud? What is the main difference between him and his predecessor, King Abdullah?
Darrag: There was a perception and belief on the Saudi side — especially with King Abdullah — that the experiment of moderate political Islam, if it were successful, would constitute a threat to the different model that governs in the Gulf states. However hard the Islamists tried to convince them that this was not correct, [it made no impact]. The revolutions of the Arab Spring arose as a result of despotic factors within these countries, but Saudi Arabia and the Emirates chose to spend tens of billions of dollars in supporting the coup.
When King Salman arrived, we saw at first a relative decline in the level of support for the regime. It diminished greatly compared with what it had been previously during the reign of his predecessor King Abdullah. But naturally this did not mean a full about-face into supporting the Arab Spring and the Brotherhood. It’s what drove us to the conviction that there is a difference in position between the current and former kings. We had hoped that [Saudi policy] would be premised upon neutral logic that answered the ambitions of the peoples [of the region] and not simply support a brutal putschist regime. After all, this also undermined the stature and image of the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] in many parts of the Islamic world. Unfortunately, King Salman’s recent visit to Egypt and the heavy political and economic support he provided to the Sisi regime came as a great disappointment to many who had banked on a change in the kingdom’s position.
Al-Monitor: Why haven’t we seen any reflection [of this], or an attempt on the part of the Brotherhood to benefit from this position in solving the Egyptian difficulty?
Darrag: Saudi Arabia has a defined view regarding the importance of Egyptian security and stability. The Saudis are always proclaiming that this can only be achieved through the rule of the Egyptian army. Even now the kingdom continues to support the coup. But I believe, as an analytical matter, that this might change if it became clear to them that the regime now in existence had slipped into terminal failure and that its failure might lead to a state of instability with the potential to drive Egypt into the unknown. Foreign and regional organizations adamantly do not want this. Saudi Arabia might have a problem with Sisi as an individual, but they remain wedded to the army that has the ultimate authority and is a guarantor of Egyptian security and stability.
Al-Monitor: To what extent is there a back-channel or line of communication between the Saudi regime and the Brotherhood?
Darrag: Regarding the initiatives, the truth is that there are many who have volunteered to try and propose an initiative — such as Sheikh [Rashid] al-Ghannouchi and others. But in the end nothing practical comes of out of these initiatives and none of these calls are heeded in Saudi Arabia. The Brotherhood are not the ones who rejected mediation, and they are part of the people who are trying to make their voice heard through every available means. [Nevertheless] we are truly interested in having a balanced relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Al-Monitor: Given that, are there channels of communication to the new leaders in Saudi Arabia?
Darrag: There is nothing direct, but there are many occasions when we meet some Saudi academics or media figures and express our positions clearly.
Al-Monitor: What is the nature of these messages?
Darrag: That we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of any friendly country, and that all we are striving for is to regain our freedom and our democracy, the release of our prisoners and a halt to [Saudi] support for the current regime.
We believe that this would be in the kingdom’s strategic interest, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the peoples of the region and their choices, especially given the severe threats that they face. We believe Saudi interests [in combating these threats] overlap with those of the [region’s] peoples — particularly the Islamic ones — whether it be [regarding threats like] Iran in Yemen and Syria or terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
Al-Monitor: What is the Brotherhood’s current relationship with Hamas? How does the Brotherhood view Hamas?
Darrag: Hamas is a national liberation movement with an Islamic ideological core. It has its particularities as an institution or a movement working solely to liberate its lands. Any individual’s ties with Hamas must be viewed in this light. Many governments around the world have dealt with Hamas just as they have dealt with Fatah and all the other factions that generally serve as the address for their work in liberating land from the occupation.
Al-Monitor: But does their relationship with you negatively influence your relationship with the Egyptian regime?
Darrag: These are ridiculous, unfounded accusations with no basis in fact whatsoever. Hamas is not hostile to the Egyptian regime; the Egyptian regime is hostile to Hamas. Hamas understands that it must have a relationship — in one way or another — with whatever regime governs Egypt. The latest negotiations between Hamas and Fatah that took place in Doha caused the Egyptian regime to understand that it had lost its position as the arbiter of Palestinian reconciliation — and that this was not in its interest. Thereafter, the Egyptian mukhabarat [intelligence] began to get closer to Hamas and invited a high-ranking delegation to visit Egypt. We were surprised, after that invitation, when the interior minister charged Hamas with responsibility for the assassination of the prosecutor general. A few days after that a high-ranking Hamas delegation arrived and entered through the Rafah crossing to meet with the head of the mukhabarat. This showed everyone that these accusations are not serious and that some organs of state that understand the nature of Egyptian national security paid them no heed. Moreover, there are very important interests [binding] the Egyptian and Palestinian peoples that must be safeguarded. And by the way, this event showed the precise extent of frustration and lack of coordination between the different wings of the Egyptian regime, casting doubt over who truly rules Egypt.
Al-Monitor: How do you evaluate the Brotherhood’s relationship with violence after all the accusations and indications, particularly over the last year and a half, with the rising tenor of accusations directed against the Brotherhood employing violence of every degree of severity.
Darrag: The Brotherhood has never adopted any policies calling for the use of violence, terrorism or militarization. We — as an organization — believe that the militarization of the revolution would bring many horrors upon the peoples of the region, and would leave the door wide open to foreign intervention. In addition this is against the Brotherhood’s principles regarding the proper avenues of change.
Everyone knows the size of the Brotherhood in Egypt. Even with thousands of our members in detention, there are still vast numbers of Brotherhoods and their supporters [roaming free]. If there was any intention or directive to use violence, the country would have been destroyed a long time ago. And if the Brotherhood had adopted a program of violence or of calling for violence, everyone knows the size of the Brotherhood in Egypt and what that would entail for the spread of violence.
What I always say in forums abroad is that one must salute the Brotherhood and feel gratitude to it for not slipping into violent or terrorist practices, despite the forms of repression that the regime has directed against it over the last 2½ years. The regime has behaved in this way in an attempt to drive people into adopting terrorist tactics in a bid to prolong its own life by presenting itself as fighting a war against terrorism; in effect it seeks to manufacture terrorism. Despite this, the Brotherhood has remained firmly and clearly on the peaceful path to revolution. For this, it deserves praise.
Al-Monitor: What about certain acts of violence attributed to some of the young people?
Darrag: There are a few acts of violence that have been undertaken by some of the young people, and that’s to be expected. How could it be otherwise that after 2½ years the vast majority of young people remain as resolute after they and their loved ones were subjected to such a volume of killings, injuries, arrests, rapes and massacres like the one at Rabia and what’s happening to the inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere? Should we really expect that not a single one of them would carry out some random operations for the sake of vengeance? This is not to excuse violence or terrorism, but if the Brotherhood had not handled itself [in a peaceful manner] this violence would have risen to even bloodier forms.
Al-Monitor: You are accused of assassinating the prosecutor general?
Darrag: This accusation was directed at three groups before, all by the same party, and every time it said, "We’ve got the group responsible for the assassination and eliminated it." When they killed 12 leaders in October City last summer, they said that they had avenged the prosecutor general. And after that when they killed three young men in al-Maadi, they said that they were the ones who’d killed the prosecutor general, and now also they direct the same accusation to individuals who’ve been detained in order to claim that the Brotherhood was the one responsible for killing the prosecutor general. And they claim that Hamas was involved [even while] the head of the mukhabarat invites a high-ranking delegation from Hamas. It’s clear that they have no credibility; even the international media has nothing but mockery for these accusations.
Al-Monitor: There are some groups within the Brotherhood that have actually formed what they refer to as the Qualitative Committees. Could you perhaps explain the extent of its organizational involvement with the Brotherhood at the level of financing and encouragement?
Darrag: It isn’t the Brotherhood alone to have been harmed by the regime’s campaign of repression — broad swaths of the Egyptian people have. As for those who participated in the peaceful movement in Egypt, at most 30% are from the Brotherhood, according to most estimates.
Groups that engage in such operations in a systematic way in other parts of the world generally are driven by specific goals and announce their demands with every operation. The Brotherhood has not — and will not — do this. Instead what happens is that [the group] no longer has the same control over some individuals as it once did, as Brotherhood leaders of the first, [second] and third ranks are mostly in prison. Those who are advanced to leadership positions [to replace them] cannot effectively communicate with the lower ranks and naturally some portion of Brotherhood youths are able to involve themselves along with others in minor operations such as setting police cars on fire or throwing Molotov cocktails. These are all matters that cannot be ascribed to the Brotherhood and that the organization has not adopted.
Allow me to propose an important note that should reveal the dangerous impact of repression in Egypt: Most of those recently detained are 17- or 18-year-olds, meaning that when the revolution broke out they were 12 or 13. This means that the oppressive climate and harassment by the security forces have shattered families and helped to cultivate a [political] awareness among the very young — something that has made it very difficult to control some of the lower ranks in this climate.
The Brotherhood does not adopt violence in a systematic manner. It is not organizationally involved with any group that does adopt violence, not through [indirect] support and not in any way whatsoever. On the contrary, you can see for yourself that they have committed to the peaceful path of the revolution, and all their formations and directives show as much.
Al-Monitor: But there are statements from some Brotherhood cadres to the contrary and we have seen that some public facilities have been targeted as a means of discomfiting the regime.
Darrag: Individual statements cannot speak for groups and movements; only official statements can do that. There are many declarations that have been poorly understood, whether they’ve come from a person with a leadership position or not. But in the final analysis the leaders with senior organizational positions have been clear on the subject of violence.
Al-Monitor: What is the understanding of revolutionary behavior in the Brotherhood? How can we understand the slogan that "anything without violence is peaceful"?
Darrag: This slogan does not speak for the Brotherhood. But the young people who feel oppressed come out with statements — or more accurately, slogans — like this. But at the end of the day, it comes down to individuals. If the Brotherhood’s critics believe that the words of the [supreme] guide that “our peacefulness is stronger than bullets” are purely for media consumption, then why don’t they deal with these other slogans by the same standard?
The revolutionary path does not offset the peaceful approach, but rather the slow, gradualist, long-term reformist path that had been the Brotherhood’s program before the January revolution. As for the revolutionary program, it grew out of the Arab Spring, in an attempt to generate a radical change in a short space of time, and to do so decisively through bold but peaceful civil activism. Our definition of the revolutionary program is a rejection of this regime and a refusal to recognize its legitimacy or its long-term durability. We will strive to remove it by the same means that many other peoples have tried, primarily nonviolent civil activism and refraining from cooperating with it from inside as a [loyal] opposition.
I wish to clarify that the revolutionary deed in and of itself depends on not leaving any room for systematic violence. The people’s choice and that of the revolutionaries was to topple the corrupt, oppressive regime and military rule. But the dictatorial regime is trying to equate these noble goals with violence and terrorism. Therefore I say with the utmost clarity that we will not abandon the revolution, or working to change the regime of tyranny, corruption and military rule. Nor will we live in fear of fraudulent, lying propaganda that constantly seeks to paint despotism and subjugation in flattering colors, while slandering the revolution and the revolutionaries.
Al-Monitor: What’s your view on what the armed movements in Sinai are doing, particularly when the regime connects them to you?
Darrag: Generally the adoption of violence in order to achieve political goals is something that the Brotherhood categorically rejects. The truth is that many of the violent organizations have put the Brotherhood at the head of their lists of enemies. On the one hand, those organizations charge the Brotherhood with responsibility for having accepted the principle of participation in the democratic process years ago. On the other, we must be specific about who is responsible for creating this climate in Sinai. The spread of lethal operations, destruction, forced expulsions and the exclusive reliance upon handling the locals by military and security means, the absence of any economic development, all this has created a tumultuous climate that inevitably leads to the rise of armed and violent operations.
Al-Monitor: How do you view the spread of those organizations in Sinai?
Darrag: In Sinai, the regime’s repressive military tactics are not directed at those organizations but against the people of Sinai, starting with forced expulsion and arbitrary detention, as well as random killing. This has caused the people to feel as though they are not living in their own country and these groups have been stoking those frustrations. They found a popular base among some of those who have been oppressed by the regime — not out of sympathy with their ideology but out of the conviction that this was the way to protect themselves and avenge their losses and their prisoners, both of which were borne out of the regime’s repressive tactics. This is what has helped these organizations to spread throughout Sinai and the western desert, and it’s an extremely dangerous matter and a likely candidate for escalation. The situation was not like this — nor anywhere near as dangerous — before the military coup of July 2013.
Al-Monitor: Is there any possibility that the Brotherhood will concede on its demand that Morsi return to rule, especially after the world has recognized Sisi as president?
Darrag: Even if the entire world recognized Sisi, this still would not give him legitimacy. But Morsi is not considered the president by the Brotherhood alone; rather, he was elected president with 52% of the votes of the Egyptian people. That is a far larger percentage of the population than can be accounted for by the Brotherhood. Moreover he came to power through a democratic choice, one in which even his detractors participated.
Al-Monitor: Why don’t you accept the fait accompli? Isn’t that a natural part of politics?
Darrag: Our position is one of principle; it doesn’t depend on who the president is or [the interests of] the Brotherhood. It’s about supporting [electoral] legitimacy and defending democratic choice in Egypt and even outside Egypt. Accepting [Morsi’s ouster] as a fait accompli would be the greatest possible mistake we could make. We are striving [to prevent] the imposition of a model that would harm the democratic process in Egypt and in the world more generally.
As for political matters, and what [would] happen in the transitional phase after the coup is removed, that’s a political discussion that might be discussed through the options that will be proposed, in accordance with the popular will and that President Morsi must be a part of. We are of course speaking about all this [in the hypothetical scenario] after the coup is broken, legitimacy is restored and Morsi has returned to office.
Al-Monitor: What if the regime executes Morsi or sentences him to life in prison?
Darrag: If Morsi were to fall victim to misfortune — whether by an act of the regime, the judiciary or an act of God — this would not change the fact that he is the country’s legitimate president in the least. His presence or absence would not settle the question and the regime understands this. Therefore they will not pursue any policy against Morsi or his personal well-being, because they fear the popular reaction.
Morsi being sentenced to many years in prison would in no way prevent Morsi from leaving [prison] and assuming [power]. This is what happened with Nelson Mandela after nearly 30 years in prison. The struggle of the peoples and the struggle of leaders is a classic thing in the annals of global revolution and Morsi’s cause is the world’s cause.
Al-Monitor: What if Sisi were to depart tomorrow? How would the Brotherhood react?
Darrag: The coup regime has put a great deal of weight on Sisi in [seeking to shore up] support for the coup. It has said that this man has a great deal of popularity, that he is the main card the putchist regime has, just as President Morsi is the main card against it.
Despite the fact that this subject does not turn on Sisi alone, nevertheless his fall would constitute a major advance for the revolutionary movement. Naturally the revolution does not stand or fall with the fortunes of Sisi the man. This isn’t just about who heads the regime, though without a doubt the head of the regime is a cornerstone of the regime’s stability.
The current revolution would consider Sisi’s fall the first step on the path to achieving the aims of the Egyptian revolution. Sisi’s fall might entail the collapse of the regime as a whole, or it might bring about an even worse situation, and perhaps a civilian leader unacceptable to the people [might be put in charge]. The circumstances and balances [of power] at the time could impose a great many scenarios.
Al-Monitor: Have there been any offers from the regime to restore [the Brotherhood] to the public square in exchange for recognizing the regime?
Darrag: We cannot work through this illegitimate military regime. More to the point, there have been no offers from the regime to recognize it and it is clear that this regime is embarked on a zero-sum game and wants to eliminate the Brotherhood, all of its competitors and anyone affiliated with the January revolution.
Al-Monitor: But there have been many offers that the regime discusses having offered to you. And then there are the reports of meetings between you both.
Darrag: All of these things are not serious. One time we hear that there is a public figure like Ahmad Kamal Abu al-Majid bearing a message from the regime. Another time we hear that figures from the Sufi movement or Al-Ashraf come bearing a "mutual understanding" initiative. But none of these [reports] have any foundation. We have not negotiated with the regime over anything for — as I said — it is waging a zero-sum battle.
Al-Monitor: You have been accused of continuing the movement purely out of obstinacy, with some saying that the Brotherhood must announce its withdrawal from political life in order to secure the release of its detainees and an end to the death sentences.
Darrag: Right now there is no room for political life for us to withdraw from in the first place. Even those other political forces that aided the regime during the coup have no place [in public life].
We believe from many experiments in other countries how individual initiatives like a mother of a detainee standing in the street or an individual protesting in parliament have turned into a massive revolution that brought down a regime. Individual initiatives and the current movement must continue, because the ongoing, vocal repudiation of this regime will eventually cause a large number of people to fuse into a hard core on the ground. We have seen the signs and harbingers of this in the popular movement, which broke out on April 15 and April 25. Its causes are likely to escalate, and the people’s will is certain to prevail at the end of the day.
Al-Monitor: But why do you force people to participate?
Darrag: No one is forcing anyone to participate. If we look at the movement we find people who never used to participate and others who did. No one can force a neophyte to protest, just as no one can force the veteran activist to stop protesting.
The current movement belongs to the people. No one can tell the people to stop, and even if no one was called out to protest, they would come out anyway, for the people are fired up over their movement.
Al-Monitor: But we hear that there is incitement from abroad to continue the movement and incite demonstrations despite the plight of the detainees and the harsh circumstances of those being pursued by the state.
Darrag: Those who are abroad are not directing any call to anyone to participate or to come out [to protest], nor do we determine what activities they should undertake. All of this is decided by those who are on the ground inside Egypt themselves. We don’t know people’s precise circumstances, so the movement is local and internal. Therefore you’ll find governorates where there is a large movement, others where it is small and still others were it is nonexistent. The question depends on the people who are located on the ground. Those who bear responsibility for what [misfortunes] befall the people are the ones who are putting people in prison, expelling them and killing them.
Al-Monitor: Are you satisfied with the conduct of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad?
Darrag: No one would claim that the role being played by those abroad is an ideal one. All those institutions and work located abroad were established under extraordinary circumstances, without prior experience in working within a diaspora, and by intensive personal effort in an extremely complicated regional environment. Moreover, there were many mistakes as a result of this effort, but without a doubt the political performance [of the Brotherhood] abroad has improved. It has produced studies [and held] in-depth discussions. This is generating accumulating achievements whose impact will become clear at the appropriate time.
Al-Monitor: How does the Brotherhood view the Egyptian opposition, what is their position toward the latter and how do they coordinate their positions in confronting a regime that both parties believe is dictatorial?
Darrag: I don’t prefer to call any movement that doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the current regime "opposition," for the opposition is part of the regime. Part of any regime’s legitimacy derives from the presence of an opposition.
Al-Monitor: Do you agree that trust has been lost between the Brotherhood and others who repudiate the regime?
Darrag: In fact there has been some trust lost between the two sides, because each side has accused the other of bearing responsibility for the presence of the military and their entering with such force into political life. But this will diminish with time as a result of the repressive tactics of the regime toward both sides, in addition to [the army’s] failure to govern the country. Sooner or later, all parties will direct their efforts together, and they will agree on toppling this regime. We have seen the early warning signs of this in the April 25 movement of this year.
We in the Brotherhood must prepare to clearly cooperate with everyone, and this is what we have announced at every opportunity. We are working hard to extend our hand to cooperate with all.
The truth is that we must seize the opportunity, for the current regime has proven itself to be a manifest failure in shouldering its social, security, economic and political duties, and discontent with it is on the rise. Conflict between its various wings are on the rise as well and are coming out into the open every day. Every day the regime continues bringing new harm to the future of the country and its stability and that damage is extensive.
Al-Monitor: What is the Brotherhood’s view of the army’s role in the governing regime?
Darrag: The army protects Egypt and its stability by carrying out its proper, defined role in defending the country and its national security, not in political positions, in governing, in the public square or interfering in the economy.
Al-Monitor: You are one of the representatives of the movement that has called for change. What is the essence of your view?
Darrag: Our vision stems from the [fact that the] way in which the Brotherhood was managed was geared toward the period before the revolution. But now the Brotherhood must be more transparent and open to society. For everything to be handled in an institutional manner, all of the current leaders must be elected and speak on behalf of all the members. If young people comprise a large share of the organization, they must be represented at the level of the leadership and in decision-making. Similarly women must also have a space in the leadership. All of these changes must transform into institutional reality and in regulations [governing the group]. We seek to build complete confidence among all leaders in the importance of listening to the rank and file, and of representing them in governing the affairs of the Brotherhood before the world. And all the while maintaining the separation of particular institutions that work within the Brotherhood and maintaining accountability for past mistakes. This will help clear the air and many of the accusations directed against the Brotherhood.
Al-Monitor: Who has been leading the Brotherhood since the coup? What is the role of the supreme guide’s office at this point?
Darrag: Since the coup the Brotherhood has twice formed a supreme administrative committee to occupy the place of the Guidance Office. Therefore on a temporary basis until the election of a new office of the guide and a new Shura Council work continues through the current agencies through the supreme administrative committee that manages the brotherhood’s affairs and that brings together all the proposals for preparing bylaws and electing a new Shura Council. We want the decision-making authority to be vested in the Guidance Office under the supervision of the general Shura Council but unfortunately this is not feasible at present. The alternative is the election of a Shura Council and Office of Guidance that will contain a sufficient quorum of members.
Al-Monitor: Where is [Brotherhood leader] Mahmoud Izzat?
Darrag: I am reluctant to answer that question.
Al-Monitor: As one of the supporters of the change trend, do you think a split among the Brotherhood’s members might occur?
Darrag: We are talking about the process of retooling and restructuring from inside the group. We are not calling for a process of splitting up the group. We don’t ask anyone to resign, but we are firmly resolved that we will reform the Brotherhood from within. Whoever takes on this responsibility should have the ability to change and should be entitled to bring about this change.
Al-Monitor: What is your view of the recent proposed initiative by the Ten Administrative Offices and the subsequent decisions of the Shura Council as announced by Dr. Mahmoud Izzat on April 2?
Darrag: There are many initiatives and attempts at bridging the gap coming from various sides. The most recent of these was the Ten Offices’ Initiative. All of these initiatives might have opened up roads wide enough to bridge the gap and minimize the schism, but unfortunately the decisions that have been announced by Dr. Izzat recently were a shock to many in the rank and file, whether because he was the one to take these decisions or because of their content. He cannot solve ideological disputes or clashes of opinion with an administrative decision. This unfortunately only deepens the chasm and increases the likelihood of a split. But in my view this will not occur, the Brotherhood will emerge stronger, larger and more capable of confronting the challenges faced by our country, with the aid of all honorable people in this nation.