Tahrir Square on Jan 25, 2011 - Wikimedia/Gigi Ibrahim
CAIRO – 25 January 2018: Tharwat el-Kherbawy is not just a dissident Muslim Brotherhood former leader, and not just one of the organization's key staff members who decided to leave because he was subjected to its wrath.
Tharwat el-Kherbawy is actually one of the few people who tried to examine the depths of the organization and unravel the secrets of the sacred temple of the Brotherhood, and as a result of his endeavor, he has suffered many attacks and slanderous accusations. On the January 25, 2011, he was there in Tahrir Square shaking hands with young brotherhood members who would walk up to him upon seeing him.
When he recalls this scene, he also recalls associated events of the past seven years. In this extended interview with him, we tried to refresh our memories about what the Brotherhood did to Egypt and to its Revolution.
When you joined the Tahrir demonstrations on January 25, did you in any way expect that the Brotherhood would soon be in power?
On the January 25 and after, the likelihood that the demonstrations would turn into a revolution was slim. However, on January 28 the picture had started to become clearer, and it was evident that we were on the way to a revolution. Anyone who read the social map at the time would have known that we were on the verge of the revolution.
On that day, I realized with a firm belief that the Brotherhood would ascend to power because they were the only organization whose members, structure and organizational abilities were different from the other political parties. This was the only problem that I had with the January revolution because I was opposed to Mubarak's regime, but also to the Brotherhood's.
Why did you believe that the Brotherhood were not fit for ruling the country?
I was aware that they were not competent to rule. I lived among them for many years, and I knew the highest of their calibers including university professors, and I know for sure that a country cannot be ruled by technocratic governments, but only by politicians because technocrats are merely executors of tasks, which could be done by the Brotherhood's university professors, but a government needs politicians, and the Brotherhood had no politicians at all.
The second reason is that the Brotherhood is an organization with a religious background, a belief system, and an idea of a homeland that differs from that of the majority of Egyptians. Even their make-up is different from that of the rest of Egyptians; it is as if you were trying to mix oil with water knowing how impossible that is. Therefore, I realized that they would go into a violent conflict with the Egyptian people, and when they held power, I was certain that it couldn't last for more than one year.
In your opinion, what were the mistakes the Brotherhood made?
The first mistake was that they tried too hurriedly to control the state's apparatuses and institutions; this was done as quickly as possible before the first year of their rule was over, and what they planned for the second year was to reach full control whereby they could issue laws and constitutional amendments that would further empower them.
As a result of this impulsiveness, they went into conflict with the judicial authorities because they presented a draft-law that sought to modify the retirement age for a judge. That would have resulted in 3,000 judges no longer serving, which would enable the Brotherhood to replace them with their own jurists.
With this course of action came the attempt to remove Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, the then-Attorney General, from office although he intended to collaborate with them. The decision provoked the judicial authorities; Mahmoud was the trigger for an onset of similar decisions whereby the whole judicial authority would have gone down a slippery slope.
And then President Mohammed Morsi released a constitutional declaration granting himself the powers to issue any decision or law without any alternative authority in the country having the ability to oppose or revoke it, which made clear the extent of political dictatorship and despotism of the Brotherhood, let alone the arrogant coverage by the Brotherhood's media apparatuses which was provocative and inviting of the enmity of all other political powers.
Why did the Brotherhood tend to form alliances with Islamist and takfiri (Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy) streams after January 25?
The foreground of this alliance started before January 25, it was when the elections of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau resulted in the removal of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Mohamed Habib who were detested by the Salafi movement (a fundamentalist Islamist movement) and also historically by some leading members of Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad groups.
At the time, some signs of such an alliance were given away by the Salafi movement when Yasser al-Borhamy, a leading Salafist preacher and activist, said that the results of the elections were promising in that they discarded the Brotherhood leaders who were influenced by secularism. After the January 25, Khairat el-Shater established what is known as the Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation to take in and include all streams of political Islam, and he would often say during the meetings of the Guidance Bureau that other streams of political Islam were the Brotherhood's kin, and that the Brotherhood should use them to grapple with other non-Muslim political streams.
He would also talk about the fact that the Brotherhood having had more organizational strength ensured that their kin wouldn’t ever replace the Brotherhood in leadership.
Why was the Brotherhood concerned about forming alliances with secular streams before January 25, but turned against them afterwards and made alliance with Islamist streams instead?
Because the Brotherhood had a detailed perspective for times of disempowerment and another for times of empowerment. During times of disempowerment, they seek to gather society's political factions in order to gain empathy and solidarity in case they were under attack; and indeed there were Coptic and leftist icons who supported the Brotherhood and who partook in all their proceedings, and in return, these factions were well-aware that they needed the Brotherhood's organizational powers in order to succeed in the parliamentary and syndicate elections. Therefore they sought the help of the Brotherhood and formed alliances with them.
So, does that mean that Egypt's political elites fell for the Brotherhood's manipulation?
The problem is that significant figures of the Egyptian elite circles needed to lead and not be led, but they fell for the petty and deceitful tricks of the Brotherhood. Among these were, sadly, the Fairmont opposition group which included Hamdi Qandil, George Isaak and others, some of which are still under the Brotherhood's political spell which means that they haven't yet uncovered the truth about the Brotherhood. What is really peculiar is that some of them called for including the Brotherhood in the democratic circles in Egypt, which shows their complete ignorance of the real nature of the Brotherhood.
If we were to go back in history, how do you think the Brotherhood would act?
You can't expect anyone to act against their nature; a scorpion cannot help but sting. They had many propositions, ideas and offers presented before them leading up to the July 3, and they could have gone back to taking part in Egypt's political life, and Morsi could have agreed to have a referendum on his staying in power. All this was possible, but they didn't do it.
Why didn't they?
They were very avaricious and thought they could not be removed from power.
Up to this very day, some still believe that it was possible to remove them from power through elections.
The Brotherhood wouldn't have given anyone the chance to take them down. They wanted to take full control over the state's establishments and apparatuses; they closed the Religious Extremism Department in the National Security Agency, they sought to hold a grip on the Ministry of Interior, and sought to infiltrate it by enlisting about 350 Brotherhood members as students at the Police Academy in the time span of under two years. All these were tools that would have come in handy for vote rigging and electoral fraud.
Do you mean to say that they would have resorted to electoral fraud?
The Brotherhood practiced electoral fraud even before January 25, and not all of their election victories were won with integrity. One of the secrets that no one knows about is that in the elections of the Egyptian Lawyers Association in 1990, 6 out of 17 Brotherhood members won votes by rigging.
The same thing happened in the Egyptian Engineers Syndicate and the Egyptian Medical Syndicate. The Brotherhood even issued fatwa (a fatwa is a nonbinding but authoritative legal opinion or learned interpretation that the Sheikh al-Islam, a qualified jurist or mufti, can give on issues pertaining to the Islamic law) which legalized fraud because it was intended for a good cause, namely to establish Islamic rule. All this I witnessed myself during the time I was member in the Parliamentary Elections Supervising Committee of the Brotherhood. Therefore, whoever still thinks that the Brotherhood would have allowed the transfer of authority through elections is surely high on drugs!
Is the Brotherhood trying to come back to the political scene through elections?
Sami Anan is indirectly in touch with the Brotherhood's leading members, and there are two opposing and conflicting streams inside the Brotherhood about supporting Anan in the coming presidential elections. Some of them say that if they consent to giving votes to Anan, they would thus be forfeiting Morsi’s legitimacy. Some others believe that Anan is nothing but a bridge the Brotherhood could use to cross over to what they want, and that supporting him is the first step towards Morsi’s release and, later on, his return to the presidency. Among those who have played parts in this movement are Hazim Hosni, Hisham Genena, and Ayman Abdel Ghani, the son-in-law of Khairat el-Shater.
How did you see the Brotherhood’s sit-in in Raba’a?
I realized from the way they settled in Raba’a that they were seeking a clash in whichever way because they knew in advance that large numbers of them would die and that Raba’a would turn into a cause of injustice, and the Brotherhood knows best how to make comebacks through such causes and through alleged persecution. When they made a comeback in the seventies, for example, it was through the cause of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s prisons. That’s why the group was very concerned about creating a clash with the police and the army so that the breaking of the sit-in could turn into a cause of injustice.
How did the Egyptian Revolution pay the price for the Brotherhood’s actions?
The worst crime committed by the Brotherhood was that of stealing the Revolution. The January Revolution was a strong and young revolution which was heralded not by elites, but by young people and by the different classes of Egyptians. When the Revolution started, it had no leader, and just as the Brotherhood tried to hijack the Revolution of 1952 but was stopped by Abdel Nasser, they also sought to hijack the January 25 Revolution, but this time there was no leader to stop them.
I was one of those who warned against this in the early days of the Revolution, and had this not happened, Egypt would have now been on a completely different path, and we could have had a real democratic system in a multi-party framework. We are still taking our first steps in such a path, and we are waiting for President Sisi to put Egypt on the right path for democracy in his second term of presidency.