The protests in Egypt are focusing attention on the Muslim Brotherhood. It has Egypt’s largest grassroots network and is linked with other Islamist movements throughout the Arab region. Host Marco Werman finds out more about the group’s plans from former Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Kamal el-Halbawy. Download MP3
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Marco Werman: As Matthew reported, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be taking a prominent role in the protests. Kamal el-Halbawy is the group’s former offical spokesman in the West. He has lived in Britain since 1994. Dr. el-Halbawy now chairs the London-based Center for the Study of Terrorism. He says the Muslim Brotherhood stands for the same principles it was founded on decades ago.
Kamal el-Halbawy: The Muslim Brotherhood, long time ago, more than 60 years, are asking for freedom; decent and fair level of living; and end of stupid, autocratic regimes. We never witnessed any fair, democratic elections except for very small periods.
Werman: Dr. el-Halbawy, if there were free elections though, many leaders in the West and the Arab world believe it’s an almost certainty the Muslim Brotherhood would win. Do you agree with that?
El Halbawy: They will not win the majority because you know that we have in Egyp 24 licensed political parties. But if there is a fair election, I will tell you the Muslim Brotherhood can enjoy a good percentage in the election. Not the majority, as some people believe.
Werman: There are a lot of mainstream analysts out there, including mainstream Arab analysts, who are concerned that with the Muslim Brotherhood in the equation, there’s a risk of Iran 1979 playing out as a scenario here. Aren’t the parallels very similar?
El-Halbawy: No, no, no. There is a big difference between Sunni way of reform and the Shia way of reform.
Werman: And you see Iran as the Shia way of reform, is that right?
El-Halbawy: Of course. Iran is a dominant Shia population. Shia, they believe that the authority should be only in the offspring of the prophet Muhammad Salla alayhi wa salaam, peace be upon him and all other prophets, and his lineage. But the Sunni, they do not have this concept and they have anyone who can rule and be acceptable â€“ they will support him.
Werman: Are you saying there would be no Sharia law, then, in Egypt? Is that a scenario that would never happen there?
El-Halbawy: No, no. Not at present. Not maybe for 10, 20 years, unless the people ask for it and they vote for the Sharia laws.
Werman: Do you think it would ever lead to a situation where a peace treaty with Israel would be annulled?
El-Halbawy: No, no, no. The Muslim Brotherhood will agree and approve any peace treaty established and built on justice. You cannot just go for treaties or protocols without justice. So if there is anything related to injustices, why not put it in order?
Werman: How would you describe where the Muslim Brotherhood sits ideologically in Egypt today â€“ conservative, extremist, Islamist?
El-Halbawy: You can’t say conservatives, but they are more liberal that many people can think or understand. If you look into the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, you will find that the majority of them were either professors in different fields of knowledge, or advisors or lawyers, solicitors, medical officers, engineers. They cling to that very highly educated.
Werman: Dr. el-Halbawy, you haven’t been based in Egypt for some time now. You are in London. Do the events in Egypt tempt you to return?
El-Halbawy: Yeah, we will return. One day we will return and we will enjoy freedom in Egypt, I hope, as you enjoy it in America; and as our friends are enjoying it in the U.K.
Werman: Dr. Kamal el-Halbawy is the chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism. He spoke with us from London. Dr. el-Habawy, thank you very much, sir.
El-Halbawy: Indeed, it is a pleasure to be with you. Thank you very much.
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