Exclusive Interview With Mohamed Morsi: What to Expect From the Muslim Brotherhood

Editor's Note: Approximately one year ago, Dalia Malek interviewed Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who has been declared the winner in Egypt's presidential election. Dalia wrote this story after her interview. We are republishing her story here, along with an excerpt of her interview with Morsi.

As Egypt approaches its first post-revolution elections in the fall, new political parties are burgeoning, and the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood is seizing the opportunity to disseminate its ideology with an ostensibly new face, as the Freedom and Justice Party.

But how different is the Muslim Brotherhood's new FJP from the 83-year-old parent organization? Its members have adapted the language of the 2011 revolution, constantly underscoring the power of the people as the country’s leading force toward constitutional rights and equity. However, discrepancies in the public statements of its leaders shed doubt on whether the FJP is as all-inclusive as it sets out to appear for Egypt’s diverse population.

In recent weeks, Egyptians have protested the highly controversial issue of whether Egyptians abroad will have the right to vote. Meanwhile, Mohamed Morsi, whom the Brotherhood has delegated as head of the FJP, has traveled to the United Kingdom, acknowledging the value of the votes of the Egyptian diaspora. 

Morsi took the time to answer some of my lingering questions following his lecture in an interview (see excerpt below). Some of his answers to my questions, along with what he stated in the gathering, have raised issues worth considering about where the Muslim Brotherhood and FJP currently stand.

Following the lecture and our discussion, it became unclear what the FJP actually is vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood. Previously, Morsi has publicly stated that the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP are completely independent. In London, he offered no further explanation for the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in the FJP, or on which points they may differ so as to be “independent” despite their nearly identical membership, values, and leadership.

In similar contrast with the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent public declaration that they and Salafists are united, Morsi said in the lecture that Salafists have “no political experience,” and that he disagreed with the majority, or in his words, “80 percent” of their views. He implied that Salafists should be more considerate of religious minorities, decrying the use of the word “infidels” in one of their leaflets.

The relationship, if any, between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists is increasingly unclear given these varying stances, and the recent creation of a separate Salafist political party known as Nour.

Morsi spoke at great length about the “Islamic framework” he envisions for Egypt, where, if implemented, he expects that the civil and political rights of the people will naturally follow through. When I asked him to speak about those who might disagree with this Islamic framework he responded that, “People are free, even to believe in God or not.”

His answer was surprising, considering that Egypt currently only recognizes the three religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, but declares Islam as the religion of the State in Article 2 of its Constitution. He noted that “we agree with this article” and that “the Constitution represents the people.” It then seems it would take drastic amendments to the Constitution for religious minorities like Egypt’s Shi’ites, Baha’is, Ahmadis, and Qur’anis — or even non-believers, as he intimated — to gain representation in an Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood.

When we spoke further about this issue of religion being so present in public life that the category is emblazoned on Egyptian national identification cards, Morsi’s answers became less specific. He responded with talk about the authority of the Egyptian courts, saying generally that if a case goes to court, the FJP will agree with the outcome. Morsi assured me that the FJP would not impose its beliefs in attempt to change the will of the people, stating that, “This article cannot be kept or changed unless the majority of the people want this.”

Taking into account that Morsi’s views on religious diversity in Egypt are contingent upon constitutional representation of the “Egyptian will,” one wonders how much change the Muslim Brotherhood actually intends to bring to Egypt. In light of his ideals about agreement on an Islamic framework and his notion that violations will subsequently be “minimized,” it is also worth considering whether the Muslim Brotherhood can bring change to Egypt.

Dalia Malek (DM): You mentioned in the lecture that an Islamic state that applies Islam properly does not currently exist. But we have seen other countries that purport to have Islamic governments implement un-Islamic ideologies and have poor human rights records. In addition to the diversity of religions in Egypt, even Muslims in Egypt cannot agree. Why do you think that this will work in Egypt?

Mohamed Morsi (MM): I was saying that in general, there is no such religious state based on a theocratic concept. There is no state in the world now that applies the meaning of “theocratic state.” What we have now is the civic state. Whether it does or does not have the flavor of religion is something else.

We cannot in reality call Muslim countries “Islamic states.” As you said, we see violations of the constitutions of those countries. But an Islamic state is by definition a modern state. It’s a civic state. You have three completely independent authorities: the parliament, the judges, and the government. Islam confirms these authorities to be independent. Also, the people are the source of power. This is also by definition Islamic.

When people have accepted the notion of Islam as a framework, violations within it will be minimized. It cannot be imposed on the people and it cannot be done from the top. It has to be initiated, created, and agreed upon by the people.  

Egyptians have been trying to vote in elections, and they have been prevented. We have been working with people to accept the Islamic framework. That’s why we are expecting and hoping that what will happen in Egypt will really represent the people, and the Islamic framework can to a great extent control the government and the behavior of the State in the future.

This requires will and that the people remain alert, know what they are doing, and follow what is going on in the government now. This is happening now; after the revolution, people will mobilize and go against anyone who tries to drag them back toward dictatorship.

DM: What would you say to those who disagree with the Islamic framework?

MM: People are free, even to believe in God or not. People are free to express themselves and to have their own opinions and positions, as long as they are not committing crimes against others or going against the law. That’s why I said in the discussion that the will of the people is the source of power; when it is respected, the top will behave accordingly.

When you have opposition, they have the right to raise their voices about whatever they want as long as they are not against the law or the people’s will, which is reflected in the constitution. But they should be free to express themselves as opposition blocs, or even as individuals. 

For a full interview transcript, see here.