CAIRO - 21 January 2019: In July 2017, a handwritten document appeared bearing the signatures of a big number of members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in Beni Suef and Fayoum who were being prosecuted in custody. They announced their defection from the group after they had done doctrine rethinking and figured out that their stances were erroneous.
The move was led by a former young brotherhood member called Emad Ali Abdel Hafez who sat for an interview with Egypt Today to reveal how the doctrine rethinking began, and if it is similar to the state’s initiative that targeted members of the Islamic Jamaa and Al Takfir wa al-Hijra by the end of the 1990s.
At the time, many books were issued to explain the wrongness of the Jihadist ideology in addition to discussions with prisoners affiliated with those groups. The outcome was that a considerable number of them renounced the extremist ideology and got integrated into the society.
Abdel Hafez also disclosed how the group was planning to deter peaceful circulation of power, and remain in power for a limitless number of years.
How did you join the brotherhood?
I got to know them in 2002 while I was an undergrad. Their strategy prior to January 25 (uprising) differs from that they adopted later. Beforehand, the group was outlawed and its focus was harnessing followers in charity associations, educational institutions, and youth centers. The brotherhood used to organize sport, cultural, educational and charity events with the aim of propagating its own values and principles, and attract potential members. I was one of those as I knew some persons I didn’t know they were affiliated with the brotherhood. After a year of participating in their activities, I realized that I was considered a member in a preliminary stage and in an informal way. Later on, I was gradually indoctrinated and became a full-fledged member until 2017.
What were the directives you were receiving from the brotherhood’s leaders after Morsi became President in 2012?
The attempts of getting deep-rooted in the society grew stronger and turned to be public as all restraints on the group disappeared. The brotherhood leaders sent questionnaires to senior members in the governorates to nominate candidates who can be appointed in key positions in the state institutions and municipalities. That led to a congruence that individuals who are either members in the group or following its doctrine must be selected for those positions. That was the plan to “Islamize the state.”
It seems that the Muslim Brotherhood could stay for 500 years, if the June 30 uprising did not occur.
When you perceive thoroughly the group’s main ideas and philosophy, you will understand that their goal is not just to be in power. That’s just a means to impose Sharia law which would not be enforced by regular governments like the incumbent one. Brotherhood members consider themselves the most capable of implementing Sharia law and ruling the country in accordance with it. They think that Islam is not currently being enforced.
Did you detect any negative points about the brotherhood in 2012?
Yes, I did. They made irrational decisions such as dismantling the protests surrounding the Presidential Palace of Itihadeya using their own elements and not the security forces. When we were called to be present there, I questioned why Morsi behaves as the brotherhood’s leader rather than the country’s president. Even after he reached the rule, the group was refusing to retreat from the streets and squares in the presence of other protesters so they would always seem victorious.
In the aftermath of June 30 uprising, churches and police departments were set on fire. Were you receiving clear orders by the brotherhood’s leaders to commit arson?
Prior to the June 30 uprising, the group was watching out for protests and preparing to deal with them since June 2012. There were directives to protect the brotherhood’s headquarters as patrols had to be present in those locations 24/7.
Were these patrols armed?
I witnessed clashes and heard shooting sounds. Firearms were used. The brotherhood adopted a terror strategy. They sent threats indirectly to Christians through messengers to inhibit them from protesting against Morsi.
You did not mention arson of churches and police departments. Did you get orders to do that?
None of the brotherhood’s members acts on his own. The personality of each member is canceled within the group whose core discipline is about obedience, and trust in the leaders. Those acts were upon directives. The group at that time was confused. If you consider the group’s founding concepts, you will find that the use of violence to make change is acceptable.
As members in the brotherhood, did you all have a conviction that June 30 uprising was against Islam?
Definitely. We simply used to perceive the incidents at the time in the context of our desire to implement Sharia so anyone who would oppose us was considered an opponent to Sharia enforcement.
Did the brotherhood implement Sharia?
The brotherhood has no idea what Sharia it wants to implement. I will tell you about a situation I went through. I was once walking with a colleague in Tahrir Square as we were taking part in a protest titled “Legitimacy and Sharia.” Chants were calls to implement Sharia. I asked my colleague what is the Sharia that we want, and what is the brotherhood’s program to achieve that? The program of the Freedom and Justice Party tackled Sharia in a broad and superficial way. When Hassan al-Bana himself was sending messages to different governments, he used to demand implementing Sharia by just banning prostitution and alcohol.
How long did you stay in prison? And, how did you make the decision of assuming doctrine rethinking and defecting out the brotherhood?
I spent 16 months in prison as I was charged of joining an outlawed group, and attacking public institutions. Prisoners belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Jamaa, the Islamic State, and others who are not affiliated with any groups. There used to be disagreements among the brotherhood’s members so I got the conviction that the group’s goals are unrealistic. How a group that wants to rule the world cannot unite under one leadership in prison.
How did the brotherhood’s leaders treat you in prison?
They were making huge efforts to maintain rules. I called that “distraction and drugging” in the book I am about to publish. They kept saying that we would achieve victory.
Still, you did not say how you came up with the doctrine rethinking idea?
The brotherhood’s leaders rejected talks about the existence of any divisions within the group until one of the members in prison prepared a report on the crisis. However, the leaders used to present political analysis and insisted that the brotherhood will get back to rule. Heated debates took place as some supported the idea of doctrine rethinking while others rejected it. Some adopted the doctrine of the Islamic State as a way to make change.
Are there brotherhood’s members who joined the Islamic State?
Yes. And, there are others who admire the Islamic State’s model.
How did you perceive the brotherhood’s leaders in prison?
They used to read Sharia books and the group’s own books. They are very ignorant and superficial. They are not intellects. They reject all non-Islamic books. They read books written by Ibn Taymeya and Qaradawy. There were frictions between us and them.
Were you treated differently after defection?
Immoral acts occurred such as image tarnishing, insults, and physical assaults. That is in addition to groundless allegations and wishing us bad things in their prayers.
What were you doing after announcing the doctrine rethinking?
We did activities away from the brotherhood, and then, we started to criticize the group overtly until the media knew about it after the document had been published. At this point, the brotherhood’s leaders realized the danger so violence against us ascended. We were warned, and threatened that financial aids provided by the group would stop.
What are the financial aids you are talking about?
The Muslim Brotherhood allocate part of their budget to donations. However, their budget would not cover all that expenditure. I think the rich among its members cover such donations in addition to the group’s investments. The financial file of the brotherhood has a lot of secrets that I wasn’t able to figure out, and is managed by a small number of leaders.
While we were in prison, we were being served expensive food, and allowances ranging between LE500-2,000 were paid to our families depending on the member’s position within the brotherhood, and his family’s financial status.
What is the conclusion of the doctrine rethinking?
There are two aspects to this matter. One aspect is about our evaluation of the brotherhood’s experience, and why it failed. We concluded that it was mistaken in certain situations. The other aspect is about our analysis of its fundamental ideas. They can be classified into four main categories. The first is the psychological characteristics of the group embodied in an inflated ego, obedience and denouncement of critical thinking, and the perception of its members as the sole representatives of religion.
The second is about the group’s goal which is establishing an Islamic Caliphate that rules the world. That is considered a hostile project. The third is the change mechanism to achieve that goal. The last category is the brotherhood’s structure that is a totalitarian system that intervenes in everything without knowledge. As a result, we realized that attempts to mend differences would not work.
Have doctrine rethinking taken place in other prisons?
A number of individuals in other prisons learnt about the doctrine rethinking and contacted us through their relatives, and announced they would join the initiative.
Is the Islamic State’s doctrine different from that of the Muslim Brotherhood?
No, it is not. Violence is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine which constitutes the basis of the Islamic State’s doctrine. The group’s founder Hassan al-Banna established the idea of the use of physical strength and violence to attain certain goals, if there are no other options. The Muslim Brotherhood adopts the concept of resorting to Jihad to promote their ideology. Those beliefs are similar to the beliefs of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The concept of those groups is the same but it differs in its intensity.
When you think the brotherhood will end?
It has ended already because it lost its ability to persuade and attract individuals to join it unlike how it used to do. The brotherhood has aged. The issue is with the ideas of Hassan al-Banna.
Additional contribution by Noha El Tawil