Egypt won’t be an Islamic Caliphate – Alaa al Aswani
What does the future hold for Egypt? Alaa al Aswani, a world-famous Egyptian novelist, answered this question in an exclusive interview with the Voice of Russia, which is his first ever candid talk with Russian media.
Not only have you backed the Egyptian revolution – and your voice alone as a renowned writer would have been enough to make a difference – but you also co-founded the main opposition movement called Kefaya, which stands for “enough.” Did you expect to see a new wave of protests and the society being split once again?
Of course, we didn’t expect it to be easy. I am well aware of other revolutions, and Russia in particular realizes that an uprising comes with profound shifts in society and people’s perception of life. These changes always trigger counter-reaction, mostly from the ruling regime.
The Egyptian revolution is alive and well. Our fight will go on. It is a fateful struggle for reform you see there.
You are being so optimistic despite the bloodshed that is happening across Egypt?
I am full of optimism, primarily because I see these changes taking deep root in the Egyptians. These are no longer people that bent their knee to Mubarak’s regime. They are free. They are not afraid of the government. They want to set up a new democratic society. And they want this society to respect human dignity.
Can you think of a bloodless revolution? Revolutions always take their toll – that’s only natural. An uprising is not a leisure walk. An uprising is a fight that goes on. An uprising is an era, it is a sequence of changes that can last for years.
It’s essential that the Egyptian revolution hasn’t failed to protect itself, because there has been more than one attempt to stifle it. But the revolution has not yet won in Egypt. After Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011, the power was seized first by the military top brass and then by the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe that the Brotherhood is the heir to the old regime.
The forces that started the revolution and advocated reforms haven’t managed to win Egypt for themselves yet.
I happen to know many people in the upper crust of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the incumbent president Mohamed Morsi, and I’m certain that they fought against the regime and were frequently jailed by it. So, why do you link them with the ousted regime?
First of all, it’s their own perspective of the country’s future they were fighting for, and not a democratic Egypt. Their vision of Egypt is that of an Islamic Caliphate. It is all castles in the air. Egypt won’t be an Islamic Caliphate. Moreover they were not consistent in their opposition to the regime and would often collaborate with it. Members of their party were in the Parliament. They still speak positively of many regime old-timers. Even Morsi once went as far as calling Mubarak “a symbol of Egypt.” That’s my reason for comparing the Muslim Brotherhood with the toppled regime.
What mistakes has Morsi made so far? Why are you so critical of his rule?
We believe that Morsi has lost any legitimacy he had. One of his blunders was the constitutional amendment he adopted on November 21, 2012 when he claimed sweeping new powers. The society stirred that day. We didn’t make this revolution to get a new dictator.
Morsi was also pushing through a new Egyptian constitution, which benefited Islamists at the expense of the nation. Moreover, repressions were still going on in the country. That year, 240 people died defending their political beliefs. 130 of them were jailed and tortured to death. Thousands were arrested. Many prisoners are still being tortured in Egypt. And the president is responsible for this too.
I am no politician in search of office, I am a writer. But I have always put up a fight against totalitarianism. First it was Mubarak who trampled the rights of the people, then the military and now it’s the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m not really against the Brotherhood per se, rather against a state that wraps up fascism in religion.
The Egyptian revolution will reject the Muslim Brotherhood, same as it didn’t tolerate the military and Hosni Mubarak before them. Our future lies ahead, and democracy is the only way forward. I think the Muslim Brotherhood is ultimately a fascist movement. Egyptian democracy has been trampled.
Are you not afraid to be so outspoken? Prominent Egyptian writers, such as Youssef Zeidan, have received threats for less.
I was not afraid to criticize Mubarak, nor the military. Why do you expect me to be wary of the Muslim Brotherhood? People who rally during a revolution realize the risks they run, but they come out nonetheless. Egyptians have no fear anymore, and that’s one of the positive things about the revolution. I am a practicing doctor and my office has already been attacked. But I’m not afraid.
What is there to be done? What would you suggest? Would you propose having new parliamentary elections or drafting another constitution?
That’s where the problem lies. The current constitution doesn’t allow for new parliamentary elections. We need an early presidential vote, which I’m sure neither Morsi nor the Muslim Brotherhood will win.
But announcing a transition period would be even better. During it, we could reinstate the 1971 Constitution, which stipulates that Egypt can be run by the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court who would become the country's transitional leader until new elections. We would use this respite to draft a new constitution. First a new constitution, then a new election, and not vice versa, as was the case just now.
You have announced the release of you new novel, “Cars Club.” It hasn’t been translated into Russian yet. What are you working on next?
I need some more time to free myself psychologically from the atmosphere of the previous book. It can take several months. I’ll probably get down to work in autumn.
What will the new book be about?
About the Egypt of today. My new novel will be about the revolution.