Rise of the Brothers
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam El-Erian says that with new political opportunities in post-Mubarak Egypt, the group seeks to “participate, not dominate”
Essam El-Erian is a spokesman and political strategist
for the Muslim Brotherhood, founded as a political and social movement in Egypt
in 1928. Known for its slogan “Islam is the Solution,” the group increasingly
speaks the language of democracy and compares itself to Islamist parties in
democratic nations like Turkey. El-Erian has spent numerous periods in prison
as a leader of a movement formally banned from politics since Egyptian
independence in 1952. In 1987 he won a seat in parliament, and in 2005 he
helped organize a campaign in which eighty-eight Brotherhood members captured
parliamentary seats running as independents. Cairo
Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod
interviewed El-Erian in Cairo on
February 21, 2011
REVIEW: What happened in Egypt?
A surprise. Till now, it is not yet completed. We are going on the run till
now. What’s happening is going on, it’s still continuing. When the last
election [in November and December 2010] was totally rigged, the only place for
discussion between the people was the streets. They were pushed out of the
parliament. Their representatives were pushed out of the parliament to the
street. Then it resulted [in this]. It was delayed one month or one and half
REVIEW: Not the first time you had a bad election in Egypt.
But this was a very vulgar one. It was not only the rigging of the election. It
was the insulting of the people and the comic scene done by the president
himself. He said to the people, “Let them have fun.” The people got the lesson
and they got to the street “to have fun,” enjoy their time. The people were
enjoying their time since Tahrir Square.
REVIEW: The Brotherhood has been a banned organization in Egypt.
REVIEW: Yet you tried to make politics in Egypt anyway.
Not trying. We did politics.
REVIEW: How would you describe the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt before January
Before, during and after, the same role: We are working with the people. Our
target is the people. Not the power.
"I hope that America can discover also itself, that is not the overwhelming sovereignty in the whole world. It’s not the Allah, the God, for the world."
REVIEW: But politics is about power.
No, this is your philosophy. This time, now, it is the power of the people, not
the power of the regimes.
REVIEW: But what were you doing before January 25, in politics in Egypt as an
ESSAM EL-ERIAN: Our
structure is the same. Participate, not dominate.
REVIEW: Did you have a party?
What’s the role of the party? The role of the party is seeking power, mainly
according to the Western theories. But here we are not a party. We are still keeping
our mind about our role that we are not only a party. We can practice politics
but we are an organization, institution, group working for the people in all
aspects of life, not only politics by the narrow perception.
REVIEW: Meaning politics and what else?
Everything, everything you can imagine. We believe in Islam as a way of life:
individual, family, societal, social, economical, educational. Everything.
REVIEW: Why do you need an organization for Egyptians to live their lives?
This is duty for all Muslims. It’s a duty for all Muslims in the Holy Koran, to
advise, to educate, to be with the people. The people need each other. We are
with the people, they learn from us and we learn from them.
REVIEW: Why do you need an organization for that if it’s not a political party?
But this is our duty also, to organize ourselves. We are not individuals. To
keep your Islam, you must be organizing with others.
REVIEW: Did you regret participating in the last election?
Never, never. The prize came on the 25th of January.
REVIEW: Some people urged you to boycott the elections.
Okay, they don’t understand.
REVIEW: What was the advantage of the election?
To discover the reality of the regime and to encourage people to be against the
regime. There are two ways: to participate according to the state of law, or to
be out and the people can determine their fate.
REVIEW: What part did the Brotherhood play on January 25?
Part of the scene, participating in the events, guarding protesters, supplying
them by all means they can, organizing them, everything. We are part of the
REVIEW: On a political level?
It’s not political. Politics mean parliament, cabinets, this is politics. This
is a revolution. It’s not politics.
REVIEW: Did you formally call your people, your members, to the streets?
We never call anybody. The people themselves come according to Twitter or
Facebook. The masses in the street, they were invited.
REVIEW: So, as an organization you didn’t play any role.
You can go back to our statements or announcements, which seemed to be daily.
We say only that we are part of this event. We are not leading. We are not
organizing. The people organize themselves by themselves, in the square, in the
streets, in Alexandria, in Aswan, in Mansoura. The people do everything and we
are with them, voice among voices.
REVIEW: Is it only the latest election results that sparked the revolution?
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was because of corruption,
closing any window for free expression.
REVIEW: What has this revolution achieved?
Changed the people. This is the most important.
Changed the Egyptians. The Egyptians changed themselves and broke the fear inside
themselves. They rushed in the streets, and when they discovered their
abilities, discovered their original nature, discovered they can do anything,
they can clean the square, clean the streets, organize themselves, sing, dance,
pray and dance, they discovered they are Egyptians, Christians, Muslims. There
is no split in the society. Muslims and Christians are united. Not according to
the regime’s “national unity,” the [Coptic] pope and sheikh of Al Azhar coming
together, no. The ordinary people discovered they are not frightened by Muslims
and there is no ghetto for Christians. There is the new discovery of the
REVIEW: What else?
Mainly democracy, real Islamic democracy.
REVIEW: You have it now?
No, not yet. This is Egyptian democracy with Islamic flavor, Egyptian flavor.
They discover they can make their present and future alone. There is no need
for any help from anybody, from any foreign policy. The debate now in the
United States is, “Was Bush Junior, or Obama, behind what happened?” You are
still thinking that you are mastering the globe. The Egyptians discovered that
they—according to their abilities, according to their power—can be independent.
So, it’s not only democracy, it’s independence. This is a new independence for
the Egyptians. I hope that America can discover also itself, that is not the
overwhelming sovereignty in the whole world. It’s not the Allah, the God, for
the world. That it can live beside others. We are not of course as strong as
America, economically, militarily, but the power of the people is the same.
REVIEW: What else has the revolution achieved, since it’s not finished?
The president stepped down. His men are still in power, they must step down
also. A new cabinet must come, a new parliament, a new president, a civilian
one. This transfer of power to civilians is very important. They discover that
the army can be a guard, not a political army. It will take time, maybe five
years to bring a democratic system and to train the people to vote. Trial and
error. It can take time, but we are on the right path and this is very
REVIEW: What are the next steps?
The next step is transfer of power, of course.
REVIEW: How will this happen?
Look, sir, surely you studied the history of revolutions in France, in America.
I think you had some time from George Washington until the constitution. How
long? Ten years? Twenty years? We need time.
REVIEW: What’s the next step?
I don’t know. There is still debate between the military, cabinet, the media,
the intelligence and the people. The debate is still going on.
REVIEW: What does the Brotherhood see as the best solution for going forward
Cleaning the country, by the political meaning, because [officials of the
former regime] are corrupt. They need to be brought to justice, the stolen
wealth needs to be restored, the people who are still in power from the last
regime must be out, and this needs of course pressure. The people are ready.
They are still not indoors. They are ready to be pouring to the streets again
if there is no meeting with their demands.
REVIEW: So you want them all [from the regime] to be arrested?
Of course, it can be step by step. But people want to see something. The media
are still controlled by those people, all the media. No changes till now.
REVIEW: Is there active resistance on the part of the regime?
Is this history or is this investigation? You are asking as a prosecutor. If an
American comes to interview us as Muslim Brotherhood, he knocks at the door and
we say yes or no. America is doing fatal mistakes as America, and you know what
I mean. It must review its strategy and listen to the people, not listen to the
regimes. You are biased till now, biased. You are hypocritical. This is not
beneficial for America. The people here need to listen to American people not
American administration. Please, that’s enough. People here said enough to
Mubarak and they are ready to say enough for everybody. That’s enough.
REVIEW: Are you saying that America is interfering in this revolution now?
Of course, it was a fatal mistake to be hesitating from the start, and till now
they are hesitating. They don’t get the message till now.
REVIEW: Is America against the revolution?
Look, it’s an international game. It was between intelligence and government
and military. Now the people are in the game. There is no leadership to
negotiate with, to satisfy them by anything. It is demands of the people. This
is a revolution. Now the people need to have democracy, a real democracy. And
democracy is not an American invention or French invention, it’s a humanitarian
principle. Islam is compatible with democracy. You are still in your country,
in your media, literature, in your news, still speaking the same old language.
This will create catastrophic consequences for the whole region. Why are you
silent about what’s happening in Libya now, a massacre in Libya now. Your new friend
Gadhafi is killing people in the streets. Bush junior said that, “We committed
a fatal mistake when we supported dictatorships for sixty years,” but you came
back to the previous support. Why? It’s time now to discover that Israel is not
the only democratic oasis in the region. We can have many democratic oases. Can
you deal with all as the same? This is an historical moment. I hope you can
review yourselves. It’s not advice. I’m a very little man in a very little
organization in a little country and you are mastering the globe. But it’s time
to discover realities, not to run the same way, to go the same way. And we can
be friends, the people of America, people of Egypt, Arab people, Muslims. You
know, there is the fall of the legend of Al-Qaeda. The legend of 11 September
also has fallen. There is the fall of false theories about terrorism, about
Islam, about many things. This is a moment of truth. I hope we can discover
ourselves, all of us.
Is the Brotherhood creating a political party now?
We are ready. We are not going to run in the presidential elections with a
candidate. We are not targeting to have a majority in the coming parliament. We
are not speaking on behalf of the people. Our demands are the same demands of
the people. We don’t have a special agenda. We are not going to negotiate
anything for our own interests. Our prisoners still in jail. We are not looking
to bring them out alone. All detainees must come together. We are not going to
have party for ourselves alone. All Egyptians are to have the same rights. We
are not to dominate. We are going to participate. All of this is not to send
message, it’s our policy. We do it and we believe in it.
REVIEW: Are you suggesting that if you fielded candidates in all
constituencies, you could win a majority?
We are not targeting such thing.
REVIEW: Why not run candidates everywhere?
This is not our strategy. Why not? It’s up to us, not to others.
REVIEW: What’s the reason?
I told you from the start, we are not just a political party. We are not
seeking power. I say that frankly. Believe us.
CAIRO REVIEW: What’s your
We said to them all, wait and see, wait and see. Our program will be in the
REVIEW: Will it endorse a civil state?
Of course. Islam never talked about a religious state. Islam from the start is
pro-civil state, in which the nation is the source of power, the nation elects
the president, elects the parliament. Accountability, transparency and
multiplicity. This is a civil state.
REVIEW: Why did the Brotherhood propose an ulema
council for this civil state?
We in that debate said that this council is cancelled. It was a wrong idea,
written in a wrong language.
REVIEW: What about disallowing a woman, or a Christian, to be president?
Everything can be reviewed. It’s one interpretation of many interpretations.
REVIEW: You agree that this will be an important signal if this remains in your
The election of president is not our
opinion only. It’s the rule of the people. If the people elect women, if the
people elect Christian, it’s up to them. We cannot stop this.
REVIEW: Why not be in favor of it?
We are not going to have a candidate, neither men, neither Muslim, neither
women. We are not going to have a candidate now, at all.