Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood . . could they reach ‘power’?
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Back in 2006, a British friend of mine who works as a journalist at the BBC asked me to help her carry out a series of interviews with members and key positions in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. And even though I am not a journalist by profession, the idea appealed to me. My aim was not to propagandize for political Islam of course, but on the personal level I wanted to get a clearer picture of this ideology that is becoming dominant, and would, more often than not, scare Arabs who follow a Western life style and Secular beliefs like me. Observing the seventies’ Egypt, when liberty and art were praised, and women walking down the street were treated with ultimate respect regardless of the length of their skirts, turning toward a judgmental pro Islamic fundamentalist ideology, in which art is condemned of being ‘haram,’ a woman, even when being a victim of rape is blamed of not wearing a proper hijab, while cultural and ideologic diversity is banished behind the simplistic slogan “Islam is the Solution.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, is one of the longest-surviving, and also perhaps the most controversial of all Islamist movements to have emerged from the Middle East. The interest and controversy over the Brotherhood springs from the fact that it represents a complete ambiguity to many of those trying to understand it. Is it a social movement? A political party? A transnational organization? Committed to democracy or to the imposition of an Islamic state?
We carried out interviews with Dr. Saad El-Katatni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood Block in the Egyptian parliament at that time, and Mr. Abdel Galil, the editor in chief of the ikwanonline.com. On the phone Dr. Katani, who recognized my name as soon as I said it, was humorous, welcoming and polite. Dr. Katatni invited me to Maktab Al Irshad “The Guidance Bureau” in Giza in order to have the freedom and accessibility to interview any of the ‘Brothers.’ On the morning of my first visit to the Guidance Bureau I was feeling uneasy and hesitant about what I should wear. I am not a hypocrite!! I cannot get dressed in a way that would please them, yet, I did not want to provoke them. Plus, I wished they would be comfortable during the interview as I wished to get the best of it. Finally, after standing for an hour in front of my closet, I got dressed in a skirt, knee length, and a short sleeved shirt. I took my 2 year old “Leena” and headed to Maktab Al Irshad.
At the Guidance Buraeu, I was received by Mr. Abdel Galil, who asked me to take off my shoes at the door. Mr. Abdel Galil also recognized me as soon as he saw me; however, he said neither words of admiration and respect nor words of criticism or insolence, which I usually hear from people I meet in public, but he was cheerful and polite. He led me to the waiting room, and excused himself to call Dr. Katatni. In the waiting room, I felt somehow uncomfortable with the idea that I am bare feet. It made me feel naked, especially that I was wearing a skirt, although usually I wear shorter skirts and more revealing tops, I do not feel naked!! Shortly, Dr. Katatni came in, looking as cheerful as Mr. Abdel Galil. He saluted me and my daughter and asked if he could take her to Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide, at that time. My daughter has become really famous since she was born and that’s why people like to see her; especially that she looks very much like her father, the actor Ahmad Al-Fishawy.
So I have personally seen the Supreme Guide shortly, which felt for me like seeing a celebrity. He was the only one in the office dressed in a Galabeya and got a long beard. However, he had the same smile and sense of humor as everybody else in the bureau. As the interview started Dr. Katatni wanted to show me being an Islamist does not contradict with being well educated and intellectual. After a brief introduction, I started asking questions to Dr. Katatni, as well as Mr. Abdel Galil who was present in the meeting. The questions were informal, and felt more like a casual conversation. That was actually how I imagined it should be so I can get the best of it, and as much details as I can.
Being a banned group that works underground, operates without having a legal structure, and is not allowed to establish a political party, how does this affect your size and significance among other legal parties? I asked Dr. Katani. If the corrupted members of the National Democratic Party claim they have built a democratic society they are being delusional. Democracy is inclusive of all ideologies. The Muslim Brotherhood is a strong component of the social fabric in Egypt. Anyway Hind, we did it using independents, and succeeded to acquire 40% of the Parliamentary chairs. We are in, whether they like it or not. He looked at me with a big confident smile on his face, then said “Being banned or not, we have our strong influence on the majority of the population, we’ve got power, because we speak a language understood and respected by most of the Egyptians, the language of Islam.. A language that cannot be argued with or debated.”
At present, opposition movements like Kefaya are becoming more visible in the political scene, and are working on political awareness, gearing up for the next parliamentary elections. Are you prepared for the next elections, and do you expect the same results? His reply was very brief, accompanied by another big confident smile iktisa7 tab3an “absolute majority”. Once more his reply makes me feel puzzled and staggered telling myself “From where did they get all this confidence!”. He went on saying “Hind, our ideologies are deeply rooted in the society; we teach kids from the day they start school; we live in every house; we gain more territories everyday and we are confident that the future is ours.”
Throughout my interview with Dr. Katatni, Mr. Abdel Galil used to join the conversation sometimes, but he never objected to what Dr. Katatni says, and he never was able to reply as fast, clear and straight to the point as Dr. Katatni. He used to leave us from time to time to get candies and juice my daughter. After some minor discussions, I asked Dr. Katatni a major question, the one and only one I personally wanted to get an answer for when I decided to carry out those interviews. What if the Muslim Brotherhood reaches power in Egypt, how would laws and policies be changed under their authority? There was nothing new in his answers to this question except in the details of the discussion. His initial answer was the typical answer announced in most of their press interviews, which is “the introduction of Islamic Shari’a as the basis that controls the affairs of the State and society.” “But don’t you think that this basic principle could hinder the freedom of some citizens, like Christians or Muslims who follow secular ideologies?” he said “No, all citizens are open to live the way they desire in their own private places.” He recited a Hadith for the prophet Muhammad that forbids people from spying –intentionally or unintentionally- on their neighbors’ privacy even if what they see might be against the laws of Islam.
Initially, I thought that the Hadith was very refined, yet I was puzzled wandering why reciting this Hadith in specific now? Did he mean that anyone is free to do whatever they desire in their private places, i.e. homes, offices, etc. Does that mean, we, as citizens are not allowed certain activities in public if it is against Islam? After some silence, I asked Dr. Katani “Does that mean if a couple were standing, for example, on Kasr El-Nil bridge holding hands, would they be punished?” “Look Hind, in public, nothing should be done against the laws of Shari’a.” “And how about cinemas? Will certain movies be banned depending on their content?” He replied “Choosing a movie to watch is a completely private matter, however public cinemas won’t be permitted; it is extremely difficult to sensor every single scene that includes an act or an appearance that might be against Islamic laws. How can we sensor every scene that displays an unveiled woman, for example!”. “Just like drinking alcoholic drinks in public,” he went on, “it is also very difficult to control; therefore, in order to be safe and sure to act upon every Shari’a rule, we would outlaw public bars, restaurants or coffee houses that serve alcohol. “Democracy !!!” I said to myself feeling extremely shocked, then asked him “Where is the democracy you’re talking about then?” He said “Hind, the basis of Shari’a laws do apply democracy, but you must first understand the meaning of democracy. If your act would harm other citizens, then they should be simply prohibited.
During the days I visited the Bureau, we had many informal chats, sometimes about my public case, or about my daughter, or about whether her dad was really religious or not, and so on. Many other discussions included pure theology; detailed Shari’a laws, hadith and Quran. Questions also included civil laws related to robbery and murder, as well as family laws, and so on. I got same answer for every single question; “Shari’a law.” Looks for me like their slogan which used to scared me “Islam is the Solution” is simply the answer to any question you would ask the Muslim Brothers. After I finished my interview, and before I said my last goodbye, I looked at Dr. Katatni saying “Finally, one last question, do you support Hind El-Hinnawy’s case?” After a short silence, he looked at me with the same confident smile and said “We support legitimate paternity proof, of course.”