international analysis and commentary

Before Murbarak’s fall, conversation with Mohamed Morsi


Sixteen months after the fall of his predecessor, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, election results showed Mohamed Morsi, a US-educated engineer running for the Muslim Brotherhood, winning 51.7% of the vote against 48.3% for his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister in the Mubarak government.

At the time of this interview, one week before the beginning of the Egyptian revolution and when Tunisians were already fighting against their regime, Morsi was the spokesperson for Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, and member of the movement’s Guidance Bureau. Far from calling for a revolution, he spoke about anti-Americanism[1] and the state of the engagement between the White House and the Brotherhood.

Cairo, January 18, 2011

Does your movement hope that, considering events in Tunisia, Egypt will blast into a revolution that will overthrow the regime?

We hope to eradicate the system, but we are in favor of a peaceful reform process and we oppose a violent revolution. We want to change in the country without destroying its institutions, we are looking for something constructive. Our goal is not to destroy and rebuild from the beginning, but to reform the existing institutions, starting from the Constitution. The regime has emptied all Egyptian institutions of meaning and corruption is eating everything.

Do you think there is a kind of inherent anti-US bias inside the Brotherhood as a legacy of its history?

We are not against any people, we have a message for Islam and we want, peacefully, to declare it to everyone. The consecutive American governments, for more than sixty years, are biased towards Zionists. They are making their best effort to avoid solving the Palestinian question. The American administrations want to interfere in the entire region by adopting double standards. Our opposition is based on the behavior of the US, we are not against the American people. They destroyed Iraq, but did they find anything there (editor’s note: any weapons of mass destruction)? They back Israel and they are still against the Palestinian rights to return in their country. Speaking about culture, we understand that every nation has its own culture and is free to believe what it wants. The dialogue between different positions and cultures should be based on justice, but if there is no dialogue, there is a monologue. We are against US behavior that did not want a sincere dialogue with us.

During the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Supreme Guide affirmed the Brotherhood’s openness to all American institutions and non-governmental organizations, and a readiness for dialogue with the American administration. Did the Brotherhood decide to adopt a more pragmatic stance in its relations with the White House? Did the movement press for a more formal engagement with the White House?

Of course the situation in that period was a little bit different, because the US administration was pushing for an opening process, but we were sure this was not for our benefit, rather for their benefit – there was something not clear behind it. In any case, what the Supreme Guide said was that we would have liked to open a dialogue with the US (as well as with others), but under some conditions. We were discussing different ideas and plans with NGOs, unofficial organizations and individuals. With America it was different. What we were asking of America was to open a dialogue in an official way. This dialogue should have started through the Egyptian government, because we are not a state, we are living in the Egyptian state. America likes to speak under the table, we want to speak in an open way, where anyone can see us.

In 2007 there were a couple of informal meetings between the Muslim Brotherhood and Democratic members of the American Congress. During a meeting at the American Embassy in Cairo in April, one of your members of parliament, Mohammed Saad Khatatni [2], met the head of the US Democratic party in the Congress. What was the reason behind these meetings?

This happened trough the Egyptian parliament. It was an official meeting. It was not a meeting to speak about US engagement with the Brotherhood, it was a meeting where the US wanted to speak about Israel and Hamas. They did not mention anything about Egypt and the US. They spent more than two hours speaking about how we were supporting Hamas. They were worried for the Israeli citizens. I also remember that in 2002 or 2003, when I was in parliament, US ambassador David Welch came to speak with some members and I was one of them. He did not say a word about Egypt or the US, he just went on speaking about Israel and I said to him that he was violating the American Constitution because he was supposed to speak about American citizens, not Israeli citizens. Then he started to speak about reform in Egypt.

The Muslim Brothers often criticize the US because, according to them, America wants pluralism without Islamists. This is what happened after the Hamas victory in Gaza, Brotherhood success in the 2005 election and also during the 2006 Lebanon war. As a result, the Brotherhood abandoned its caution on foreign policy and started again with its harsh criticism of the Egyptian president himself. What was the main reason that pushed the movement to adopt this behavior?

Once again we discovered what the US really means by “dialogue”. They spoke about democratization and then they did not accept the people’s will. Is it normal? The problem is that the US wants to interfere in our domestic issues, but this is not its business. American interference in the country is a big problem because they try to gain benefits for themselves and for the regime that is closely allied with them. All this is against our citizens’ interests.

Is there any important change with the advent of President Barack Obama to the White House?

With Obama nothing has changed. Maybe there are internal changes in the US, but relations with the Arab world are not changing. Clinton, Bush, Obama: there is no difference. They have their interests and those of the other states come later. They still support this regime, which is really terrible for the Egyptian people. The US should change its policy, its behavior, but I do not see any change in this direction with the advent of President Obama to the White House.

[1] This interview is an extract of my Phd thesis on “Post 9\11 Egyptian Anti-Americanism. Regime and opposition seen by the media.”

[2] Current speaker of the dissolved parliament elected last November.