We’ve been a bit busy for the past few days, and not reading the newspapers as much as we’d prefer, so we’re not sure what exactly is going on in the Brotherhood. After the initial round of resignation articles, the Brotherhood pushed back on the story, saying that Akef had not resigned. The papers apparently don’t believe Akef. An article in yesterday’s al-Shorouk said that Muhammad Habib, Akef’s deputy, is leading a caretaker administration until elections scheduled for January, perhaps with Akef still the titular leader (this article puts resignation in quotes, we assume to denote ambiguity). But Akef himself still claims to be running things, and we trust him more than the many anonymous sources cluttering almost every story about the Brotherhood.
Today we translated highlights from an interview Akef gave to BBC Arabic yesterday, though we’ve had trouble finding the actual interview, so had to rely on the al-Youm al-Sabe’a account. It covers a lot of ground. If anyone has the link to the actual interview, please put it in comments or hit us on twitter.
Before the translation, a couple thoughts:
A Note from Mark Halperin
TBE used to be an avid reader of ABC News’ The Note, the DC media circle jerk formerly helmed by the incorrigible Mark Halperin. One of the things they harped on incessantly (circa 2004) was message discipline, and Republicans’ understanding of its value and Democrats non-adherence. The Brotherhood’s media operation (we assume it exists, against the evidence) is flailing. Though Akef’s round of interviews (on al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic and possibly elsewhere) may stem the tide of theorizing about what is going on inside the Brotherhood, we doubt it.
This is due in part to media culture in Egypt, where anonymous sourcing is even more common than in the US, and perhaps also to the fact of top-heavy organizations with too far too many “informed sources.” Call us conspiratorialists, but we don’t generally trust journalists (whether in Egypt or the US) to determine for us who is and isn’t an “informed source,” even as we understand the reasons why some of these sources prefer anonymity.
That said, Akef’s blaming the whole affair on the regime (see below) also rings hollow, because in order to do so all these journalists would have to be using fake Brotherhood sources provided to them by the government. While we wouldn’t put this past some unscrupulous scribes, there are clearly some who have good sources inside the Brotherhood and would not be fooled by some two-bit quote-hustlers.
Judges, Not Teachers?
The al-Shorouk article we mentioned above, headlined “Four Crises Hastened Akef’s Departure” is the first in which we’ve seen what has previously been referred to as the Brotherhood’s “conservative” wing as the “Qutbist” wing. Though it’s in quotes in the article, it’s still quite shocking, and either an instance of al-Shorouk editorializing or repeating a sentiment it hears from its sources, which we believe are overwhelmingly “reformist” or “liberal.” At any rate, it surprised us. Unfortunately the al-Shorouk website is currently down, so we can’t provide a link to the article.
From al-Youm al-Sabe’a online:
Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mehdi Akef confirmed that he did not submit his resignation and that he is still undertaking the duties of his office. He added that it would be shameful to submit his resignation because of a difference of opinion with members of the Guidance Office.
In an interview with BBC Arabic on Thursday afternoon, Akef accused security forces and the government of trying to distort the image of the Brotherhood by fabricating this crisis. He said, “Security forces try to use some of the Brotherhood’s words for their own purposes and to shed light on the Brotherhood for the purpose of battling it politically.” He stressed that, “This will not stop us from pursuing reforms or calling for the advancement of Egypt.”
He added, “We work in this environment, meaning that security forces know every word spoken in the Guidance Office and during our meetings,” pointing out that disagreements naturally arose in the Guidance Office, because every member enjoys the right to freely state his opinion.
In discussing the crisis surrounding the appointment of Dr. Essam al-Erian, who is responsible for the political portfolio, to the Guidance Office, Akef said, “It is normal. Our kind and dignified brother Essam’s turn to join the Guidance Office came, as he had garnered 40% of the vote in the last elections. That was my opinion, but some members of the office said that this broke the rules, and that there were elections coming up soon, and that was their opinion.”
He stressed that the Brotherhood does not contain two wings, one of them conservative and one of them reformist. He said that this was repeated by a number of people that know nothing about the Brotherhood. He also expressed his surprise at the uproar and those that tried to attack the Brotherhood, considering that the disagreement was dignified and they know how to honorably disagree, denying that there had been a power struggle amongst the Brothers. He said that he was planning to leave his position, and that positions of responsibility in the Brotherhood are serious and significant matters, and not suitable for any but the most determined of men. He pointed out that any disagreements will be resolved once and for all with the election of the new Guidance Office and the choosing of a new Supreme Guide, which he will try to achieve in the next two months.
On the issue of inheritance of power in Egypt, Akef said that Gamal Mubarak has a right as an ordinary citizen to contest elections after he leaves his father’s palace, but that he was surprised that he took control of the Policies Committee, which runs the government and the regime and the military courts used against the Brotherhood and the fraudulent Shura Council and local elections, and undertook to amend the constitution, tailoring it to his ambitions. For these reasons he is no longer an ordinary citizen and has become instead someone influential in attempting to destroy the Brotherhood.
He added: “Had Gamal Mubarak been a man who believed in freedoms and democracy, I might have supported him in elections. However, he is the opposite.” He denied any deal between him and the Brotherhood, because the authorities fear dialogue. He pointed out that he had called for a dialogue more than once because he believed the interests of Egypt trumped all else.
In response to a question about the Egyptian people’s fear of Brotherhood rule, Akef said, “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and those close to the Brotherhood know who the Brotherhood is and know that we fear God Almighty, and he who fears God oppresses nobody.” He pointed out that freedom and democracy are obligations, straying from which would be an attack on them and on the sanctity of the people, adding, “If the people want the ruler to depart then it is their right to make him leave.”
About Brotherhood participation in upcoming parliamentary elections, Akef mentioned that the group is committed to entering all types of elections, but that the decision as to the nature and extent of their participation is up to the group’s members, who acknowledge that the government rigs every election, as they did in the Shura Council and local elections, and as they are doing now in the student union elections. He announced that the Brotherhood will not decrease its participation in coming elections. He expects that the group will reap even greater gains in coming elections, as long as the regime doesn’t subvert the will of the voters, as happened in the third round of the last elections, which he characterized as a massacre.
He also said that representatives in the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc join every debate large or small, and that their fingerprints on everything annoys the regime, that what prevents them from carrying out its agenda is the minority.
In response to writer and journalist Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, who said the Brotherhood “does not want to undertake revisions in its thought, as other Islamist parties have done,” Akef said Heikal knows nothing about the Brotherhood and the group is not his concern, with all due respect to Heikal as a journalist and a writer. He reinforced that Heikal’s connection to Gamal Abd al-Nasir’s presidency made Akef not respect his opinions or assessments, considering them unsound and untrue.
Akef had the following to say about the issue of Copts and women: “The Brotherhood follows Islamic law on any subject about which it offers an opinion. Having reviewed it, they found differences of opinion, so chose one. And any final decision is for the people to decide because they have complete freedom to choose.
On the Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas, Akef said, “Hamas is us and we are Hamas, pointing out that reconciliation is a Palestinian matter and that he would not interfere as long as Egypt sponsored the reconciliation, and that he called for the end of intra-Palestinian divisions, adding that, “If Hamas seeks advice, we are at their service.”
He revealed that he had called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and offered his congratulations after the Mecca Agreement was signed. However, what happened afterward ensured that Hamas would distance itself from the agreement, especially after the Zionists and their collaborators got involved, as is their wont.
He also denied any disagreement in the Guidance Office about his support for the Hizballah, and denied the support of Parliamentarians for the government’s measures against Hizballah, pointing out that it is time for Egypt to thank Hizballah for what it has done against Zionist entity, and not fight it and arrest its men.