Senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood Dr Kamal El-Helbawi discusses the turmoil in Egypt as anti-government protests enter day 17 with Tony Jones of Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Here is the Transcript:
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: We’ve now entered the 17th day of protests in Egypt and as the turmoil continues there are concerns both in Egypt and abroad about the agenda of the country’s biggest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Our guest tonight is a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who’s still in close contact with the leadership in Egypt. Dr Kamal el-Helbawy joined me earlier from our studio in London.
Dr El-Helbawy, thank you for joining us.
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: It’s a pleasure. It’s a pleasure.
TONY JONES: Do you see the Iranian Revolution in any way as a model for what could happen in Egypt?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: No, there is a big difference between the revolution in Egypt and the revolution in Iran. Some of the differences can be summarised in the following points. The revolution in Iran was led by the mullahs, the scholars, but the revolution in Egypt is led by the people from different sectors of life.
So, there is no way to say that it will go according to the model of the revolution in Iran. In Egypt we have different religions. We have Muslims, we have Christians, we have others as well and who have different political orientations. We have leftists, we have (inaudible), we have liberals, we have seculars and we have Islamists, and this makes a big difference that the future administration in Egypt should take in consideration, the multi-party system and all related matters related to political reform mainly in Egypt.
So in some ways it is different from the Islamic revolution. But this does not mean that the Islamic revolution in Iran did not have impact, although it was very slow, on other areas in the region.
TONY JONES: Well, that’s certainly the case and you mentioned the range of parties there and your own party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is considered to be an Islamist party.
And I’m just wondering how much power could they conceivably get if Egypt had free and fair elections? Could you end up as the ruling party, the governing party?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: It may happen if the people select a majority of the Parliament from Islamists, but I cannot assure you at present the Muslim Brotherhood popularity can reach 35, 39, up to 40 per cent if there is none rigged and there is free election in Egypt.
And in any case, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and spokesman announced it many, many times, as it is in our teachings that we teach to our junior generations, that we are not after power, but we are after a society that is built on, and a political system built on democratic values, freedom and equal social justice, equal opportunities and the dignity of human rights and the respect of human rights.
If these are available by anyone, we will accept him as our administration and the president and the government. So this will be the best government. We are not concentrating on ourselves to come to power, but on the reform in the society.
TONY JONES: In the past, the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated under the slogan “Islam is the answer”. We haven’t seen those kind of banners in this popular uprising in Tahrir Square.
Does that mean you’ve rejected that idea, or does it mean you’re simply keeping quiet about it until you get rid of Mubarak?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: No, no. You have in Australia different political parties and each one of them has its own agenda, private agenda. If you are doing only your agenda and the people accept it, that is something, but if you find that the whole population of the Australia are going out demonstrating against Mubarak, so the priority is not for the private agenda, the priority is for the agenda proposed and the amendments needed and required by the revolutions.
Not – it is not the right time or the place for the private agenda. Neither Islamist, nor the leftist.
TONY JONES: But can I interrupt you for a moment, because it may not be the right time now, and that could be the point of my question.
Is it still the primary aim of the Islamic Brotherhood to create an Islamic state in Egypt based on Sharia law?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: They will promote that aim and objective, but if the people agree for it, there is no enforcement. If the people like it to be ruled by Islam, why not? This is not our immediate aim at present, but we will not forsake that aim and we will work for it in future peacefully, not through enforcement.
TONY JONES: If it is a long-term aim, if it came to pass if the Muslim Brotherhood became the governing party in Egypt, what would change in Egypt?
For example, would the Muslim Brotherhood, would a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood tear up the peace treaty with Israel?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: No, no. There will be many changes, but not to that effect of – we are taught, since our youth and young days, early days to respect all the covenants and respect all the treaties, including the peace process, but we would like to confirm that any treaty should be built on justice, not injustice.
We will fight injustice and try to reform injustices. But we respect all treaties. But the change that will happen in Egypt should be very clear from now, because the Muslim Brotherhood concentrate on building and the preparation of human resources more than anything else. We build the human being that should behave nicely in the society, that should behave peacefully, that should love the good for society and for others, that should respect other people. This is written in our literature in every library and every…
TONY JONES: OK.
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: …bookshop in Egypt and in the world now.
TONY JONES: OK. Let me ask you this, because this is a fundamental question as well: would the Muslim Brotherhood, if prominent or dominant in government, maintain a close relationship with the United States?
For example, would you continue to accept $1.3 billion a year in military aid from the United States, should the United States want to keep giving you that aid?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: I do believe that the Muslim Brotherhood will build very good relationship in the international sphere with every nation, including the United States. But this relation should be built on mutual respect and dignity. They cannot be built on hegemony, and if the American state, American would like to help in the development of Egypt and the promotion of Egypt, we will not be ungrateful and we will accept that and build our relation.
But if the Americans were giving this money for Mubarak and others who are corrupt and who are – who have been stealing the resources and the aid coming from America and the other areas, then this will be another choice of the Americans. But in our long term, we should not depend on aids coming from outside or abroad or international. We have to benefit from our resources, agricultural, cultural, commercial, industrial as well.
TONY JONES: OK. We’re nearly out of time and I’ve got to ask you just one last question. You said that if the Muslim Brotherhood gained power it would seek to institute Sharia law with popular support.
How quickly could that possibly happen? And just give me one major change you would see in Egypt if Sharia law were introduced by your government?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: I would like to say that we are not enforcing Sharia law, but I said if the majority in the Parliament would like to see Islamists in power and agree on Islamic law and Sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood will be happy to implement that without any negative impact or effect on non-Muslims.
For example, if an Australian who is not a Muslim is in Egypt in Cairo and would like to drink wine, he should find his wine, but the Muslims should not be in that direction. It should be because Islam does not want Muslim to drink wine, for example, or commit adultery. You can’t give a licence for a Muslim to build a house for adultery or for prostitution. So this will change. In this area, it will change.
TONY JONES: A quick question: you mentioned adultery, and of course the punishment under Sharia law for adultery is stoning to death. Could you imagine that happening in Egypt?
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: Not always this is the case, but for example if you have – if you are going in the street and there is a red light, you can’t go ahead, you will make disasters. So this is a red light that should not be trespassed and it is not necessarily to capital punishment.
But the ruler has its power to make it less punishment according the seriousness of the crime committed. And, by the way, adultery – in the Ten Commandments, adultery is also prohibited.
TONY JONES: Dr El-Helbawy, we’ll have to leave you there. We’ve got much more to talk about. Perhaps we’ll come back and do this again at some time as it gets closer to a change of regime in Egypt.
We thank you very much for joining us.
KAMAL EL-HELBAWY: Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much.