Abdel Mawgoud al-Dardery describes himself as “an academician by profession and a politician by necessity.” He received his doctorate in cultural studies from the University of Pittsburg in 2000. He wrote his dissertation on the historical conflict between Eurocentrism and Islamism. Soon after returning to Egypt, he joined the faculty at Southern Valley University near his native Luxor. Following the 25 January uprising, Dardery joined the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly announced Freedom and Justice Party and became spokesman for the party’s foreign relations committee. He was elected to the People’s Assembly in the 2011-2012 parliament and made several trips to European capitals in his capacity as a member of the foreign relations committee until the dissolution of parliament by Egypt’s high court in June 2012. The following interview was conducted on 11 August 2013 during Dardery’s trip to the United States at the behest of an ad hoc group called “Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights,” which has been mobilizing in response to the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013.
Abdullah Al-Arian (AA): How do you believe Egypt reached the current political confrontation? What are the origins of the crisis as you understand them?
Abdel Mawgoud al-Dardery (AD): The first main cause is the power of the deep state. Egypt is passing through a transitional period. It is not a well-established democracy. We do not have democratic institutions or a democratic culture. It is a learning process. There were so many forces against the revolution: (1) Mubarak’s media; (2) the judiciary; (3) the police (4) the corrupt elements of the army; (5) the corrupt state bureaucracy. These are deeply rooted into what we call the deep state. There are about seven million of them working in the state and their leadership is highly corrupt. They would like to keep their privileges and are resistant to change.
Another factor is that the January 25 Revolution was not a full revolution. It was a partial revolution. I think one of the biggest mistakes Egyptians committed was agreeing upon the so-called “road map” by the army because that took the country from a revolutionary course to a constitutional course. That is a major challenge when you have so many enemies who are trying to return to the old days of Mubarak and you do not have the tools or means to confront these corrupt elements.
AA: But was that road map not approved by a referendum, in March 2011, which was strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood?
AD: Yes. It was approved by a referendum but what I am saying is that was the mistake. This revolution should have continued to cleanse the corrupt elements. Then there is the problem of constitutional legitimacy, which takes a long time to establish. We in the parliament wanted to start changing the laws because when you operate within the framework of constitutional legitimacy, you cannot remove people from their positions without legal cause. To do this effectively, we need new laws. To have new laws, we need the parliament, which was dissolved in a hundred days. We attempted to pass these laws during that time but the corrupt elements within the judiciary dissolved the parliament unfairly after the participation of thirty-two million people in the elections. Even if there were procedural mistakes, that was not enough justification for the parliament to be dissolved. I think that we accepted the dissolution of the parliament is the second mistake. As a revolution, you do not go along with what the elements of the past say to you.
AA: What about the more immediate causes that precipitated the 30 June crisis?
AD: I think it was a series of events that led to 30 June. In fact, it goes back to when the Freedom and Justice Party nominated a candidate for the presidency. The attacks began from that moment, through the two rounds of voting. Within a week of Morsi’s election, there was a million man march against him, whether by forces that lost the election, forces of the old regime, and forces of the deep state. It is clear that they wanted to topple the government early on.
Many people who participated in the revolution demanded better services. It was very difficult for Morsi’s government to provide better services because there are so many enemies operating against it. For example, Egypt has two thousand eight hundred gas stations. The government only owns four hundred of them. The rest are owned by private business people who are Mubarak affiliated. They can easily shut down the gas distribution to the country and allow blame to be placed on Morsi’s government. Also, many of the gas stations just existed on paper, but the gas was sold on the black market.
Another example is the bakeries, which would not deliver subsidized goods to the people, but would sell the materials on the black market instead. These were forces working against him from early on. In spite of this, Morsi tried to work hard. He had a minister of supplies who was very successful. He was able to confront those corrupt elements on the street level. For example in my hometown of Luxor, he used the help of forty volunteers who went to supervise the gas stations and the bakeries to make sure that their goods were reaching the people. We used to do much of this kind of work on the street level. We would clean the streets ourselves to encourage the city workers to do a better job. We tried to do this but I think it required much more than the help of volunteers.
AA: What do you think it will take to get out of the crisis now?
AD: I think it is up to the Egyptians. It is not up to anyone else, not the Americans or the Europeans. Do Egyptians want to live under a dictatorship or a democracy? Are Egyptians willing to go back to the Mubarak days? I see many signs that they are not. They are continuing to resist. The more sacrifices that they are willing to make, the closer they are to achieving freedom. I see that they are unwilling to accept another police state, because that is what is coming. Just yesterday, the police tried to arrest another parliamentarian. They did not find him at home but found his daughter instead. They beat her in the hopes that she would tell them where her father was. The Egyptian people will not accept this police state. The anti-coup, pro-democracy coalition will never accept the coup’s ramifications. We will continue to resist it and the cornerstone of our resistance is peaceful. We did the January 25 Revolution peacefully and I think this anti-coup movement will continue to be peaceful.
AA: What will a political solution look like? What are the realistic aims of the demonstrators?
AD: We demand that the will of the people be respected in regards to three principles: (1) reinstatement of the president; (2) reinstatement of the constitution; (3) reinstatement of the parliament. These are red lines as far as we are concerned.
But what happens after that is negotiable. For example, President Morsi can return and then appoint an agreed upon government that can run the parliamentary elections and then call presidential elections immediately after that. This is one way out. A second possibility is that even if the president does not return, he can return to resign, which is a more honorable way out for him and for the Egyptian people. After that, a caretaker government can be agreed upon by the political parties, meaning the military will not be part of that discussion. According to the Egyptian constitution, the military has no place in political life. Other than those possibilities, it will be very difficult for us to participate. Unless the principle of legitimacy is respected now, it will never be respected. There will be no way for us to trust that any other government can stand up for the will of the Egyptian people.
AA: We have heard the Muslim Brotherhood acknowledging that mistakes were made during Morsi’s presidency, but could you elaborate on what you think were some of the most important mistakes?
AD: Of course mistakes were made. That is natural for a transitional period such as this, and for a polarized society such as this. It makes things very difficult for the government. In one year, there were twenty-four million man marches. It would be very difficult for any country to function in this environment and the rise of a strong secular liberal opposition standing against the changes taking place in Egypt. A coalition formed between the political opposition, the remnants of the old regime, and outside support that allowed the coup to be successful. The military’s role in that was critical.
AA: But what were Morsi’s mistakes? What should he have done differently?
AD: I think he trusted in democracy too much. He believed that a democracy could cleanse itself. He wanted to give a second chance to the corrupt elements in the police, the judiciary, and others. Every time he tried to move in the course of reform, the judiciary would block him. When he tried to reinstate the parliament, we returned to work but it only lasted two hours before the judiciary overruled him. I think he was not revolutionary enough. That is why I say the March 2011 was a big mistake. Accepting the dissolution of the parliament was another mistake. Accepting the judiciary’s blocking of reforms was another mistake.
AA: What about the inability of the Muslim Brotherhood to form coalitions with other groups within society? For instance, there was much criticism after the “Fairmont Agreement” that gave many promises to other political forces but did not deliver. How do you measure the successes and failures on that front and what lessons do you take away from this experience?
AD: Right after the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP invited everyone to form a coalition in advance of the elections. Thirty-five different political parties met and discussed this initiative. Because of the conflict of interest, some thought that if we all go together, the Brotherhood will end up with the biggest share of seats, so they withdrew from that coalition. The FJP continued with the Democratic Alliance, which included eleven parties. Other groups decided to go it alone. It is always better to be as inclusive as possible, but sometimes for practical reasons it is difficult. You cannot force people to go along with what you think. At that time, the polarization was very high. There was a lot of mistrust between different political players.
The Fairmont meeting took place during the presidential elections, before the second round. That was another mistake. We were new to democracy. There was opportunism from the opposition, which made demands of Morsi in exchange for its support. In this situation, if you say you cannot deliver on those demands, then you are concerned that you will lose the election and the revolution will be over. The old regime will return, democratically this time. If you agree to the demands, there is the problem of how to deliver on them. President Morsi agreed, but when it came to delivering on them, there were serious practical problems.
This became a cornerstone of the conflict, but the president called for dialogue many times after that. Morsi issued his presidential decree last November, which he did to protect the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly from the judiciary, which wanted to overturn those two bodies and take us back to square one. When he intervened, rightly or wrongly, and found a strong opposition, he invited those with different perspectives and listened to their concerns. He left the meeting early, telling the participants to decide how to resolve the problem and promised to abide by whatever measures they proposed. They made serious changes to the decree, essentially nullifying it. He approved those changes, which was a good sign from the president.
I think the opposition decided not to cooperate. They insisted on creating enough problems to make President Morsi fail, believing his failure would give them the opportunity to succeed him. Then when the army believed it could lose some of its privileges, it moved to support the opposition since it did not have popular support on its own to do anything it wanted.
AA: Given that there was such a strong indication about the rising tide of opposition, do you think the 3 July military intervention could have been avoided in the weeks leading up to it?
AD: There was really a sense of betrayal. That was not just on 3 July. Preparations for the coup were made months earlier. There were outside forces that began talking about these preparations all the way back in February and March. There were meetings between the opposition and the military and they agreed that if the opposition can take to the streets in large numbers the military would intervene as it did before.
AA: So would you say you were not expecting events to unfold as they did?
AD: No we did not. After twenty-four marches throughout the year, we thought 30 June would be number twenty-five. Without the interference of the military, it would have passed as just another day of protest. That is a good sign for Egyptian democracy. The president allowed protests to continue for days and sometimes weeks without the police brutality we are witnessing now.
On 30 June, the military called upon a Mubarak era minister to collect a group of liberal and secular supporters to compose a statement in support of military intervention. That is why I say it was a military coup and not really a protest. The military wanted that statement delivered at six o’clock. The marches were set to begin at five o’clock. There was really pre-planning for this. That is why there is such a sense of betrayal. It is surprising that a minister who was appointed by an elected president can remove that elected president and then appoint another puppet president, suspend the constitution, and the elected parliament. Unfortunately, this was supported by outside forces. Clearly, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries participated in the betrayal of the Egyptian people.
AA: On the question of violence against the protesters, there have also been some reports by news agencies as well as a report by Amnesty International that suggest abuses committed by pro-Morsi protesters. What is your reaction to these reports?
AD: The anti-coup, pro-democracy coalition has invited so many reporters and public figures to come and see what is going on in Rabaa. I was there in Rabaa and people are protesting peacefully. They are not there to use weapons or to fight back. They are there for a political struggle and intend to stay in the streets peacefully. Look at the number of people who have been killed. All or nearly all of them are from the protesters. We will continue to do this. A cornerstone of our struggle for democracy is to do it peacefully, and that will continue.
Amnesty International later decided that was a fabricated story and the reports of torture were untrue. This report occurred because Amnesty International takes the word of anyone who claims that they have been tortured. Later on they discovered that this was a fake story. That is not what people at Rabaa or al-Nahda do.
[Editors note: Amnesty International researchers issued a report on a subsequent visit to the Rabaa sit-in. The report did not include any admission that the aforementioned story was “fabricated.”]
AA: How do you see events unfolding in the coming days? Do you believe there will be a confrontation that might lead to greater violence?
AD: I would use a different word than confrontation. I see that there could be a major attack by the military or the police against the peaceful protesters. It will be stupid. It will go against the will of the Egyptian people. I personally think that the coup has failed and it is now in its final stages. If they go through with this attack, they will only accelerate the process of ending the coup. It cannot continue, especially because there is still a revolutionary spirit among Egyptians. Yesterday I saw a presenter from Egyptian television publicly condemning what Egyptian television has been doing. She then came to Rabaa and declared on stage that she would not report what she had been told to report. She challenged Sisi to arrest her. More Egyptians are standing up and rejecting the coup and what its leaders are doing.
This is a political conflict that requires a political solution. I think the different political parties need to be able to sit together and compromise. I believe they can reach an agreed upon solution that respects the will of the Egyptian people.
AA: What is the level of the engagement right now between the parties?
AD: Unfortunately, there is interference from the outside world. The Americans are interfering. The Europeans are interfering. Unfortunately, both are largely siding with the coup and asking us to accept the status quo. We have rejected that and will continue to do so.
The opposition is not free to discuss things openly because they are under the army’s control. We do not believe in negotiating political issues with the army. We think the army is not part of the political game and we do not want it to intervene every time it does not like the results of an election. So we continue under this principle and encourage other parties, especially liberal and secular political parties to have the courage to respond to the initiatives, including the good initiative by Mohamed Salim al-Awwa and Tariq al-Bishri and other good initiatives that start with legitimacy as their basis. Let us go to the polls together and respect the Egyptian will. If the Egyptians vote the liberals in, we will respect them and work with them. If they do not, the liberals need to respect that. That is the essence of democracy. There cannot be a future for Egypt without that.
AA: What is the message that you hope to deliver to leaders during your visit to the United States?
AD: Let me make clear that I am here at the invitation of Egyptian-Americans for Democracy and Human Rights. I hope to talk to people who are willing to listen, to inform them that what happened in Egypt was a coup and that it has to be rejected. I think we need to build better relations between Egypt and the so-called civilized world. I also aim to highlight the unethical nature of supporting the coup and the suffering of the Egyptian people. I made this clear when I addressed the protest in Washington: those who support the coup are enemies of the Egyptian people. I am here to make people understand that if they want to build bridges, as President Obama stated during his Cairo speech, it must be based on mutual understanding and respect. What we have seen since the coup has been nothing short of hypocrisy.
AA: Going forward, what do you believe are the biggest lessons for the Islamist movement from the experience of the last two years?
AD: The number one lesson is that anti-democratic forces are willing to use any unethical methods to come back to power. We must be conscious to not allow this to happen. The second lesson is the importance of being as inclusive as possible. We need to be able to work with different political forces that may not necessarily agree with everything we stand for. Compromise is essential between parties. Thirdly, I think we did not put our house in order before moving to the outside world. President Morsi moved to the outside world because he wanted to secure economic investment. He wanted to fix the internal problems through securing external support. He believed that the country’s economic problems could not be repaired without assistance, but he did not realize there were forces within the country working against everything he did. The police, for example, refused to work under a Morsi presidency. One police officer told me he was taking a four-year vacation, by which he meant he would not work until after Morsi left office. Another important lesson is the need for Egyptians to be better informed, and that results from a stronger system of education and a more responsible media.