Could you first clarify reports claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to negotiate with the European Union acting as a mediator?
I think Reuters over dramatised the facts here. The facts were that the EU requested a meeting with the Brotherhood. They wanted to understand what our position is and what would what would bring us to the discussion table with the army.
Our reply was both informal and formal; we told [Catherine] Ashton that three things are required:
First, a full reversal of the coup, a full reinstatement of the constitutional legitimacy of the state, which includes reinstating the president reactivating the constitution and reinstalling the Shura Council.
Second, condemnation of the military coup. Recognising it as a military coup and condemning it and countries that recognised it.
Third, condemning the human rights abuses, violations and crimes orchestrated by the coup regime.
These were the requests. If you want to put them in context of what they mean in terms of talks and negotiations they are much like pre-conditions before anything else starts. After that, everything else is on the national reconciliation table. This includes constitutional amendments, parliamentary elections, presidential election; the whole roadmap that the president said two days before his ouster and the same that roadmap that is being expressed now by the current Minister of Defence, [Abdul Fatah] Al-Sisi. They are the same milestones in a way, the only difference is that one is actually built on grounds of constitutional legitimacy; the other is built on grounds of tanks.
You say there are pre-conditions for negotiations, but during Mohamed Morsi’s time in office he didn’t accept pre-conditions coming to the negotiating table for national reconciliation.
So we are now comparing an elected president with a military tank?
No, but it might be difficult to bring people to the table with such pre-conditions.
Certainly, we are not interested in bringing the military to any table. In fact, when I said national dialogue and reconciliation that does not include the military. The military is not a political player and they have to get this idea into their heads. The military’s role is in the barracks and they have to be pushed back into the barracks and not be allowed anytime soon to have any role in the political life in Egypt. We have already suffered twice by allowing the military to take a political role in Egypt. The last time was in 1954 when we, in absolute naivety, trusted the military to implement democratic elections. They never do; they have to be pushed back into the barracks. Politicians and the Egyptian people have to take back the country into their own hands, and they did after the 25 January revolution. We stood in presidential elections, in parliamentary elections, in two constitutional amendments and in one constitutional referendum, and yet after all of that the military trashed it. Are there any guarantees they wont do it again?
We have discussed what isn’t negotiable, what is negotiable?
Everything else. Once we establish constitutional continuity, everything is negotiable. By pure logic, the Muslim Brotherhood right now is at its lowest rate of approval in the streets in terms of electoral base. Why not have parliamentary elections? There would be official legitimate representatives of the people; they could then ratify constitutional amendments and push them to referendum, request that the president step down, call for early presidential elections or even request a referendum on the president’s continuity. They would be legitimate representatives of the people, not the military choosing one protest because it is cuter than the other and deciding to side with it, because the military doesn’t have the power to do that; at least, it shouldn’t.
A report from the Guardian last week cited Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Ali Bishr, claiming that he had met with the military for negotiations. Has anyone from the Brotherhood or the National Coalition for Legitimacy had any contact of any sort with the military or the interim government?
With the military? Yes.
Mohamed Ali Bishr did, but it was not negotiations. We never close the door to communication because it allows the other side to understand where the other one stands, and that is exactly what it is. They asked us where we stand and we said, ‘you think you are inviting us to any type of dialogue by sending us live bullets, killing our protesters, closing down our offices, confiscating the assets, closing the channels, closing down the press papers and imprisoning our leaders arbitrarily?’ Is that any type of inviting message to anybody? Of course not.
We were communicating our refusal, as well as our recognition that this is military coup; we will never ratify it and the fact is that every decision they are making is based on lack of legitimacy. It is refutable in any part of the future and I imagine that this anti-coup movement will take about a year; after that year, once its won, and it will win; that will be the will of the people. There is no other way around it. In the 21st century, a military coup will never take hold of a state. Once it wins, every decision taken by the military coup government, (the president they appointed, the prime minister they appointed, any International Monetary Fund deal or loan, or decisions of appointment or change of law) all of that will be erased in a swift second because none of it has any grounds of legitimacy.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding who has been imprisoned and for how long. Which of the leading Muslim Brotherhood members are in jail?
The numbers are now racking up; there are two groups. There is a presidential team; there are ten people detained with the president. For the record, Pakinam Sharkawy was never one of them; she was allowed to leave early on, right after the address of the coup itself by Al-Sisi. Afterwards they were on lockdown, incommunicado, no communication or interaction whatsoever.
There are also the arbitrarily arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party and members of other groups as well, not just us. Basically, any group that would have stood in front of the military coup. They started by arresting Mahdi Akef, the previous guide of the Brotherhood, 88 years old, Khairat El-Shater the deputy guide, Dr [Rashad] Bayoumi the other deputy, Dr (Saad) Al-Katatni, previous speaker of the parliament and president of the FJP, Abdel Moneim Maqsoud, an FJP lawyer who went to investigate why Al-Katatni was in prison, and they said ‘well we’ll have you too’. It is police state back in full brute force.
You said there has been no communication at all. One of those detained with the presidential team is your father Essam El-Haddad. Have you had any communication with him?
No interaction, no communication. One of the team members called one of his family members and said, “We’re ok”. That was the call. The only thing the military has said is that they are being held in an undisclosed location.
What have you heard about Mohamed Morsi, any information about his location or condition?
Nothing at all. Nothing official, nothing unofficial. He is a president that is kidnapped with his team, literally. As far as we understand, his team is with him, we have no proof otherwise but we would expect them to be together.
The Brotherhood refused to meet with Deputy Secretary William Burns, but met with Catherine Ashton from the EU, why was this?
We did not refuse; there was a request for a meeting. We said let’s have a meeting; it just never took place because of logistical incapability of organising it. We never close the door to holding dialogue with anyone. At the end of the day, we want to make our positions clear so that people understand what we are standing for, what we are doing and what we intend to do. This is what the Muslim Brotherhood does and what the National Coalition for Legitimacy and anti-coup [movement] does. We did this with Ashton and we are ready to do it with anyone. At the end of the day, the rest of the world has to understand it is a military coup, and don’t look stupid trying not to use the word ‘military coup’. The only thing you are going to do is increase the mistrust in Western hypocrisy: trying to preach democracy for decades and in the first test of time you have failed.
Do you feel in any way that the United States has sided with the military and the interim government?
It’s one of two things: either the US is complicit in conspiring to put together this military coup, or the US actually welcomed it. There is no other way, there is no third option here and it is exactly because of that leadership position that the US has put itself in, is why the world is as messed up as it is today. The main country that was preaching democracy around the world is the most hypocritical in terms of actually siding with interest, or even perceived interest, rather than principle.
It’s no wonder that the US is the most hated country on both sides of the isle now, because they are trying to walk a line that doesn’t exist. You have to choose a side, do you stand with the principle of democracy or do you stand with your perceived interest. It is out of your own naivety that you think your interests are with the military, when in fact for the first time ever we had the opportunity to build a nascent democracy in Egypt that would have never succeeded at the push of a button. It was a very long process and required a lot of participation and support both inside Egypt and outside it but you allowed neighbouring countries to destabilise the Morsi administration.
Which neighbouring countries are you referring to?
The Gulf countries, the ones that recognise the coup, the countries that sabotaged Egypt’s aid more than once. The countries that now, once the coup happened, rushed to recognise it; suddenly Egypt became their best friend and they are dumping loads of money, $12 bn, into it. Democracy would change this region if it were allowed to take place because people aspire to have the freedom to choose their leaders, but if you close the road to peaceful transfer of power through democratic means, you have cut the ability of the wise men on the scene to devalue the argument of violence. Now the argument we are receiving is ‘we told you so. Democracy is for everyone except Islamic parties’.
Many have said during his time in office Morsi displayed undemocratic principles: for example, the November 2012 constitutional declaration, the appointment of Talaat Abdallah as prosecutor general and the way the constitution was pushed through to referendum.
Even the way you are asking the question sheds the light on exactly where the problem lies. You said the constitution was pushed through quickly. That is not true; it took six months, now the interim government is announcing a constitution in four months. It took six months, not because Morsi chose that but exactly because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces amendment to the constitution in 2011 locked the roadmap to allow six months to write the constitution. Most of the choices we were stuck with were the result of the interim process, which SCAF was running. Even the destruction of parliament was through that same avenue.
Lets set two rules here. First of which, no one has the right, not even the state department, to say that Morsi’s rule was undemocratic. It is not yours to say so. The only people that can say so are the Egyptian people. Second, the Egyptian people do not speak through talk shows or Twitter accounts or unelected leaders that have nothing to say in representation of other people. They speak through two avenues: either directly through the ballot box or through their representative bodies. There are two representative bodies in Egypt: the president and the Shura council. For everyone else, it’s his opinion and it doesn’t matter except when it is put into the context of the democratic process. Within that context, what we said to everyone is ‘lets have parliamentary elections’. At least then you would have MPs that have the legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people, and they would have a say on whether this president were democratic, and if he were doing his best. They would have their say on whether we should have an early presidential election or a referendum on the president’s continuation, but it has to go through the democratic process. Not ending up with a failed presidential candidate that shied away from every election, went whining to the army, brushing up to its muscle and then was forcibly installed on top of the state because the army thought he was cute enough for it.
Who are you referring to?
Dr [Mohamed] ElBaradei
Daily News Egypt recently interviewed the military spokesperson. He accused the Brotherhood of using weapons and described the Brotherhood’s tactics as “propaganda warfare”. Do you have a response to that?
I think they are basically describing their own tactics, because the evidence is clear. The army still has the naivety to think that we are still in 1954 and 1956 because they orchestrated this same thing before. But this is the digital age; this is when everyone with an iPhone or a camera can shoot what is going on. A couple of hours after their press conference hundreds of videos surfaced on YouTube showing the massacre from every angle and it literally backed our story to the point, and the army was embarrassed enough not to disclose it again. They have to concede the fact that they used live ammunition with no warning, killing protesters at dawn during their prayer. I mean what stupidity got over them, what brutality got over them to kill their own people with their own ammunition, state issued and paid for by the Egyptian tax-payer?
86 died in one morning by orders of the military. We cannot allow this to continue, and regardless of whatever they say it is a police state back in full brute force. They massacre the people themselves, they fabricate the evidence and they cut video footage from different scenes and try to present it as evidence. The police force concocts the stories needed, the complicit judiciary accepts the evidence and the media sells it to the public and you have a case.
The same thing has also happened from your side as well; there was an image of the two Syrian children people claimed were killed outside the Republican Guards headquarters.
One of the websites that is related to the Muslim Brotherhood is an unofficial website. At the end of the day, these are different journalists writing the article and using pictures of their own; of course they are going to make mistakes. We have the counts that happen in the three hospitals, and the Rabaa medical centre, and we have eyewitness reports and footage of what was happening there. It was a peaceful protest that had men, women and children. The deaths are now recorded and everyone has copies of them.
It is 51 from the original count and the rest are still being ratified. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International published their reports based on eyewitness reports. Unfortunately most of the people that died out of the 86 died not from direct bullets to the head but rather being left for hours to bleed out on the ground.
They could not make it to hospital because the military kept on shooting. It was a bloodbath that lasted for hours; even the ones that escaped the scene were chased, arrested and sometimes even shot when they were wounded on the ground. We have seen footage that seems to have happened a couple hours afterwards where police actually shot the wounded. It was a bloodbath, a massacre by all means. And don’t tell me that a military coup regime can launch any type of independent investigation.
The coordinators of the protest, once they arrived at the Republican Guards location the night before, contacted the main office of the Republican Guards club and set up a communication channel so that if anything went wrong there was a communication channel. ‘What’s going on? What’s happening here? Do you want us to move a couple of blocks?’ There was coordination, it was a peaceful protest at the end of the day, and there was no legitimacy or need of any type to opening live fire on a peaceful protest. Who gave that order?
How important is it for you to remain in Rabaa and what do you think of the reaction of local residents, some of which have said they are getting tired of the sit-in?
I can understand their grievances with the people at the sit-in. There are hundreds of thousands of people gathered in a place close to where they are living and it affects their lifestyle. There are some who understand the legitimacy of the cause and are willing to be patient with us and there are those who are not. At the moment, we do not have the luxury of choice here. This is Tahrir 2.0, literally. The only reason it is not in Tahrir is because it is filled with Molotov cocktails and thugs at the moment and that is why we decided not to have any confrontations because at the end of the day the essence of what we are doing is keeping to the peaceful non-violent nature of that protest. Our cause is just and no one has any other claim but that. We are standing up to a military coup that took over our country by brute force.
We are coordinating with many of the Rabaa citizens. There is a committee of coordination that has been set up to deal with building orders directly. They are dealing with issues like garbage not being picked up efficiently, or some people sleeping in the internal gardens of the building themselves. We are setting up coordination committees to make sure that we don’t put pressure on the residents of the area to the best of our abilities.
For us, this is nothing more than a central location like Tahrir was during the 25 January revolution but the marches that go around Cairo and all governorates around Egypt that are increasing in number and in size since we started this. We are 21 days into this sit-in, it is the longest sit-in ever and these are the ones that give recognition from the people and they connect with it and more start streaming in.
Tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) we are going to have even more numbers. Tomorrow is a million man march that will converge on a central location, all of that will be disclosed Friday morning. So the movement around the sit-in is much more important because this is where the engagement with the citizens happen.
There have been reports that people in Rabaa have been prevented from leaving and others that people are being paid to join the sit-in. I would like to hear your reaction.
You can walk around and ask anyone you want. It is an open scene here, we have received diplomats from all over the world as well as Egyptians from both sides of the aisle; even people from the anti-Morsi camp have come over. The people here are here by choice; they are here to stand up for the long hours they spent in lines at the ballot box to make a choice, to choose a leader for their country and they should not allow the military to take over that will, and they decided to step up for it.
The Brotherhood has failed to condemn acts of violence against Christians around the country.
Let’s be frank here. There always is [condemnation]. We never ratify violence under any circumstances. The only time ever that we ratified violence was under the British occupation, trying to push an occupier out of our country. Other than that we don’t accept violence as means of change.
On the official Arabic website of the Brotherhood, Ikhwan Online, this week there was an article claiming that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar colluded with the Coptic Church to oust Morsi. Do you not think this is an inflammatory statement?
It is not an official Arabic website. It is an opinion website of Muslim Brotherhood members and writers. It represents ideas of people, and if anyone thinks that it lacks facts they should talk to the one who wrote it and discuss it with them.
The Muslim Brotherhood expresses its official positions in two ways: either through its official spokesmen (there are three of those,) or through its official statements.
What is your response to emergence of the Ahrar group that claims to be members of the Brotherhood calling for a change of leadership, including for the supreme guide to be replaced.
It is funny they being led by the National Democratic Party. That is my answer.
Are there any concerns within the Brotherhood that people might get to a point where they will think that it is time to negotiate without Morsi being reinstated?
The Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation by choice; in fact you pay 10% of your income to the Brotherhood to support the movement itself. It is by choice; if you don’t want it, leave.
Anyone can do that but from the brotherhood position we are saying no. We are entitled to have our own position. That is all we are saying; we have our own position. Whoever sides with our position is with us in this camp.
If a member of the Muslim Brotherhood decided to negotiate without Morsi being reinstated, would he still be a member of the Brotherhood?
Well, they can go and speak to the military themselves, but the brotherhood takes its decisions democratically through its own decision-making mechanisms, not by the whim of a member.