Amr Darrag is a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who most recently served as minister of planning and international cooperation in former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s Cabinet. He formerly served as secretary general of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 2012 Constitution. Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with Darrag on 17 July.
Mada Masr (MM): The Muslim Brotherhood is continuing to call for [deposed President Mohamed] Morsi`s reinstatement. Do you think this is a realistic demand, given the current political situation? Would you settle for anything less?
Amr Darrag (AD): Actually, the point is no longer Morsi. The point is the restoration of legitimacy and democracy in Egypt. It is not just the Muslim Brotherhood, it is a wide spectrum of the Egyptian people who are quite disturbed by the fact that the military are taking over the country again. They are objecting to that, and the only way that they can be satisfied is to reverse the process, dismantle the coup and get back to legitimacy.
Legitimacy is not just Morsi. Legitimacy is the president, the constitution and the Shura Council. These are the democratic establishments that have to be there. But to wipe out all this and build on the fact that a coup is there, and we give it some sort of legitimacy — this is totally unacceptable.
Look at the people who are protesting right now in the streets — millions of people, and it is getting larger and larger everyday. I believe this is going to be spreading and increasing until those who took over realize that it is impossible to run the country this way, and the only way for stability is to restore democracy.
MM: The military appeared quite comfortable with the constitution that was passed in December; it granted them their privileges. Why do you think the military is targeting you now? Is this something you foresaw?
AD: To be honest, I do not think we expected that the military would make such a move, and I do not think the military made such a move without a clear green light from the United States. The problem is that although the constitution seemed to be quite satisfactory to the military at that time, they knew quite well that that was a transitional period. The more time that would pass, the less benefits they would get, and the less authorities and power they would have. They wanted it all, they wanted to go back and have complete power.
By definition, at least some of the military leaders cannot stand to be in a democratic environment — they are not used to it. It is not just the military; the military is the tool. It is mainly the old regime in full, with all of its tools, supported by the United States. This is the combination that led to the development of such a coup, which we believe was being planned for some time.
MM: The decision to field a presidential candidate last year was quite divisive within the movement. The vote in the Shura Council of the Brotherhood [to nominate a candidate] was very close, fifty-six – fifty-two. Are there any regrets for fielding a candidate?
AD: My personal opinion is that it was the right decision to take at that time. It was not just by the Muslim Brotherhood, it was also by the High Commission of the Freedom and Justice Party, and that was actually before the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood. I was part of the High Commission of the Freedom and Justice Party.
At that time it was very clear that the government, led by the military and the remnants of the old regime, would not allow any patriotic force in Egypt to get into executive power. Actually we thought that we would go through the course of a democratic process where parliamentary elections would take place, and the government would be constituted based on the results of the election. So when we got the clear message to “forget about this,” and “your Parliament is ready to be dissolved ... the decision of dissolving the Parliament is in the drawers of the Constitutional Court,” we realized that the only way to get into the executive power to maintain the democratic process was for us to field a candidate.
Before that, we even tried to convince some independent characters to get nominated: Tarek al-Bishri, Hossam al-Gheriany, Mahmoud Mekki, and they all declined. We realized that no one wanted to take the risk, and other political forces do not have that much popular support to have a chance of winning against the deep state candidates. So that is why decided to field a candidate, and I believe we were right.
As a matter of fact, if we did not do that, we were bound to take the same course we are taking right now — but right now we are in a better position, because as an Egyptian people, we did achieve legitimacy. We did achieve an elected president, we did achieve a constitution, we did achieve a Parliament — one of the chambers was dissolved, but that was not justified.
All these are legal gains and gains of the revolution that we managed to make, and they are legitimate. If we did not do that at that time, we would have ended up back to the government that belonged to the previous regime, supported by the military.
MM: Much of the top [Brotherhood] leadership has been arrested and is behind bars. How are you making decisions? Who is making the decisions?
AD: The decisions are not now just that of the Muslim Brotherhood, this is number one. There is a coalition, and the coalition is getting wider; actually, all of the statements that are issued are issued in the name of the coalition. Several entities and parties are contributing.
Number two, when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, they are both deeply rooted; they are more of a social movement. It is not just a very strict organization with a few people doing everything. The movement is everywhere in Egypt. There is a second tier and third tier and fourth tier and a hundredth tier, and more and more of the Egyptian people are joining.
This is not the first time that our leaders are put behind bars. The organization itself is flexible enough to accommodate all these challenges.
MM: Will you take part in the national reconciliation efforts?
AD: How can we have any reconciliation while we are being imprisoned, shot in the street, our media is shut down, our president is kept away? All of this is not an environment for reconciliation. What reconciliation? You put a gun to my head and say “please come for reconciliation?”
MM: What did you think of the massive 30 June protests against Morsi`s rule? And do you have any regrets over the decisions of the past year?
AD: We must realize that in any democracy, there are supporters and there are opponents. The president started his term with forty-eight percent of the people against him. So it is natural that you find a lot of protests and objections to what he is doing, [especially] if you add to that the problems he and his government were trying to solve. The problems are related to chronic factors — decades of dictatorship and corruption in addition to the problems of the transition. He was trying to tackle all of this, yet without support from anybody, while crises are being made and obstacles are being put in front of him and his government.
It was very difficult to make any progress, but nevertheless, some achievements really took place. Maybe there were some mistakes, but this is politics. It is natural that a political power does good things and also does wrong things. They commit mistakes, the opponents make use of the mistakes, and this is the political game. But you cannot really have an argument for supporting a military coup for just making some political mistakes. Otherwise you would find military coups all over the world, everywhere, all the time. This is absolutely ridiculous.
MM: Are you facing any charges or warrant for your arrest?
AD: Not that I am aware of, but very soon I am sure there will be [chuckles]. This is the practice, this is normal.
[This interview originally appeared on Mada Masr. It was conducted for a forthcoming article in The Nation.]