Dr. Abdel Mawgud Dardery enters the café in Cricklewood wrapped up in a Manchester United scarf, with the Rabaa badge prominently pinned on his jacket. Dardery has become a nomad wandering from country to country unable to return to Egypt after his party, the Muslim Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organisation by Sisi's military junta.
Although Dardery joined the Brotherhood from the time of the Revolution, he comes from a family with strong sympathies to the Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna. Dardery, though, shunned politics in favour of academia and spent fifteen years in the US studying linguistics, literature and religion. When he returned to Egyptian academia, he fully expected to teach his classes freely, but he felt stifled at university and was told to become invisible. Dardery refused and taught his students Orwell, Fanon and Ibsen. When the revolution came, he decided to join the Brotherhood and join the democratic process.
Can you give us a status update on Mr. Morsi?
No one knows, even his family are not allowed to visit him. They have only visited him once in six months...there are a group of lawyers who would like to visit him and are not able to. He is incommunicado, we don't know if he is being tortured. Why didn't he appear in court? There is concern for his safety and the courts will be responsible for his safety.
What was your experience on Nelson Mandela's funeral?
The South African establishment refused to invite the Egyptian government. I was sent to deliver two messages to Mandela's family and to the President of South Africa on behalf of Mr. Morsi. It is significant that we are seeing similarities between President Morsi and President Mandela. We think of President Morsi as the new Mandela of the Arab world or on the African continent. The man worked very hard to make sure that democratic institutions are in place in the country... We learnt a lot from the experience, we met with the ANC leaders and they really made it clear that we should not yield. They gave us hints and keys to the nature of the struggle. It is a struggle for freedom and human rights and rule of law. And they asked us not to negotiate with the military until all political prisoners are released...and they have agreed to go back to the barracks. Politics is for political parties.
You have been designated a terrorist organisation, what does that mean on a party level?
Who designated us? It is an illegitimate government that practices terrorism against the people of Egypt. It is a government that killed thousands of Egyptians. Who is a terrorist here? Is it the killer or the one who is killed? That is an old game that any political force [uses] to silence another. We are not going to be silenced. We have been a socio-political movement for 85 years. Terrorists do not participate in Parliament. Terrorists do not win elections five times. Terrorists do not build hospitals and schools. We will not accept the coup. We will resist it by all peaceful means until the coup is broken. We are a peaceful movement. We want to achieve democracy, rule of law and human rights. We want to achieve this because we are the first ever elected government in Egypt. You cannot kidnap the president, dissolve Parliament, kill thousands and then call them terrorists. Just a few days ago they killed twenty, they are sentencing young girls for ten years holding a sign of the Rabaa. No one recognises the MB as a terrorist organisation.
Do you think your actions in government were too quick in hindsight, you can't overturn decades of military rule overnight after all?
We didn't want Mr. Morsi to be another dictator. We wanted him to rule according to the law and according to the parliament that became dissolved. It is true that democracy is difficult to give all at once. It does need time, but we believe that if we could have completed the cycle of democracy then we could cleanse the corrupt elements in the country.
If MB could go back, what would it have done differently?
We should have moved fearlessly against the heads of the corrupt elements of the military.
Didn't MB do that anyway? Then Gen. Sisi shut you down?
Yes, but not enough, we did this to a limited scale. We should have done the same thing with the police, the judiciary, the media and the state bureaucracy. We should have cleansed the corrupt elements that are prejudiced and are trying to tarnish the image of innocent Egyptians.
Don't you need a new generation to achieve this? After all the middle bureaucrats might also share the same ideas and habits?
Removing the corrupt elite is one step, the second step is to provide an environment where the middle people who are corrupt are provided with an opportunity to earn a better living, but not in a corrupt way... We wanted to make this available. We wanted a minimum and a maximum in terms of salary. In Egypt we have people who make half a million in one month and there are people who make 200 Egyptian pounds in a month. We should have moved faster. But I think, whatever we could have done, the forces of the regime would have moved in. I have reports that say that they were planning for a coup from the time Mubarak fell.
Erdogan, when he visited Egypt, urged the Brotherhood to make peace with secularism and embrace it. There was a mixed response from MB. How do you look at this idea?
On a personal level, I look at us as being spiritually secular, I don't see real conflict between secular people and us. At least we can agree on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. All of us can agree to this. Now let us leave this to the Egyptian people to decide whether they want someone like me in parliament or not. It is an Egyptian decision. The problem is not us, it is on the liberal side. The Liberals lost all the elections so they knew that they failed to communicate with the populace of Egypt so they sided with the military.
Is this current conflict a city versus countryside conflict?
Yes of course, part of it. Part of it is that there is this class that came from the colonial era and stayed...there was this unholy trinity between the political leaders, the business community and the media leaders who wanted to stay in power, supported by the military, police and the judiciary. They worked together to make sure that the two percent stayed on top, the fifteen percent are serving them and they are between themselves controlling the country. We have to break the cycle of oligarchy.
Some political commentators have suggested that the West didn't act because Mubarak at least was a 'liberal' dictator, he was secular, they understood how he was thinking. With the MB, the West didn't understand your thinking. Is this a fair assessment, that the West can work better with Mubarak than MB?
It is a fair assessment, but short sighted, a long sighted perspective should be to deal with those who represent the Egyptian people and serves their interests best. I remember being sent as a delegation to Washington to meet with think tanks. President Morsi told me to tell the Americans that they have to be prepared to deal with us on an equal footing. Any relationship between America and Egypt has to be based on three principles, mutual understanding, mutual respect, and mutual interest.
But is that not naïve? The US is the most powerful country in the world, as great as the Egyptian people are, realpolitik dictates that US stays on top.
Again, and this is not about economics, this is about human respect. You see Egyptians were suffering from inferiority complex, on January 25th we were prepared to get rid of this. People of America or Europe have to be prepared to get rid of their superiority complex....President Morsi told me to tell the Americans, that whichever president is going to come, you have to deal with us and the Egyptian people.
With the Arab Spring, people have begun to reassess the term 'political Islam'. Is 'political Islam' a failed project?
I disagree with the term political Islam, the fact is to be Muslim is to be part of the political process. And I said this in Washington, if the experience of FJP fails, it does not mean that Islam has failed. It is just one experiment that has failed. Islam is part of politics and politics is part of Islam. Anyone who understands Islam will tell you that. It is very important to understand the experience in its totality, we had lots of successes and some failures. But the experiment is not over yet, again and again and it's going to come in different formats...It is very important for Muslim democrats to define themselves clearly and it is important for Muslim countries to engage with them on the basis of mutual understanding, mutual respect. I think we can achieve a more stable world together.
MB stands accused of being power hungry- the ends justify the means. Can you clarify?
We do not believe that the end justifies the means. Power is a means to provide better services for people...We are part of the world, we are prepared to give to the world more than we will take from it. If we wanted to do this, we could have done this under Nasser. We only achieved the presidency through the democratic process. We believe that democracy is the closest form to Islam. So we adopted it a long time ago. Morsi came to power not through a tank. If we are voted out we will accept the decision.
How do you feel about Al-Azhar going against you? That seems like a great betrayal.
Not anyone can stand alongside oppression, there are those who are willing to go along with the powerful because they fear for their own safety. Although this is a classical [Islamic] position, it is a betrayal of the Egyptian people...They [military] domesticated al-Azhar leadership, when you control the leadership you control the rest. Those leaders do not represent Al-Azhar. Most of the demonstrations in Cairo are coming from within Al-Azhar. I don't feel betrayed by Al-Azhar.
What about the Salafist Nour Party?
Nour Party is a different case. The Nour party has a history of dealing with the security apparatus of the Mubarak regime... they are political opportunists, despite the fact that they stood against the revolution from the first. They issued fatwas not to participate in the revolution. But now not only do we feel betrayed by Nour, but even their own members feel betrayed...you see, you can disagree with me politically but never support my killing. That was a crime. I refuse to meet with them because they have the blood of Egyptians on their hands.