Interview with Dr. Essam El-Erian, Muslim Brotherhood

This is my final post during my time in Cairo this week. I’m leaving my “second home” (Cairo) early Monday morning, returning to my “first home” of Boston. There is far too much I have learned to capture in a blog or a diary or a book; I am sorry to leave this country at this historic time but I am happy to return home all the same. And I am happy to prepare for our return in May, insha’Allah, with our two Dialogues (Journalism and Arabic) plus potentially our third Dialogue (“soundscapes of the Mediterranean”).

This inability to capture everything, retain it, hold it, and especially to communicate it is my biggest challenge – and my being here demonstrates both my solution and my mission: to be here in person. It has long been my mission to bring Americans and others to Egypt to experience for themselves, unfiltered through American media or the web or me, and to learn from Egyptians themselves, first-hand, person-to-person, in “dialogue” together.

(photo: Dr. Essam El-Erian, courtesy of Guardian)

I started today with a wonderful meeting with Dr. Essam El-Erian, the leading spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. I’d met Dr. Essam before, in 2009 and 2010, and was so pleased to see him in this new reality, the post-Revolutionary Egypt, where the Brotherhood is free to participate in politics and society along with all other movements. At least that is the hope for this Revolution – that all voices can be heard; all ideologies expressed; all parties represented: left, right, center; Islamist, Secular, Christian; even ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal. Let all voices have a say – even if Egyptians won’t follow the extreme paths. We’ll see if the reality gets anywhere close to the hope, the dream of Egyptians.

Dr. Essam told me that he hopes “America gets a lesson from our Revolution. After World War II, the US had stupid policies, supporting the most militant and conservative regimes, military leaders like Saddam – yes, you supported Saddam! – and the Saudi monarchies and Mubarak here in Egypt, and Jordan and Morocco. Now the people are revolting against these militant regimes. I hope America supports the people and not the anti-democratic regimes. If America wants peace, they must build it on democracies in the Middle East.”

Dr. Essam also emphasized that “all of these revolutions across the Arab world are not about foreign affairs, they are not about Israel. They are about domestic affairs – freedom, justice, dignity, and bread! The people need jobs. They need their dignity back. They need their freedoms.”

Although these are not about Israel or America or Iran or other foreign affairs, Dr. Essam emphasized that “America cannot support Israel against the Palestinians. America must support Palestinians and their rights for the same things: freedom, justice, dignity.” But, he warned, “Democracy in the Arab world is against the interests of Israel. Israel does not like Arab democracies.”

I asked Dr. Essam if he thought the Brotherhood and the US could start a good relationship. He turned the question around – i.e., he didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no – and said “We only need the support from the Egyptian people. We don’t need US support or anyone else’s. And we don’t trust Hilary [Clinton], who says that it is okay for the Brotherhood to participate in elections. We will participate, not because she says so. And we have formed a new organization, called Freedom and Justice. It will become a party – once we have a new system in place and we can present this party to the People for their participation.”

I asked him if he could ally with al-Wasat party. He said, “we had problems with them but now we are friends again. We can ally with any party, and we want to ally with all parties. We are keen not to be in the forefront. We are keen not to dominate the politics in Egypt. We want a strong voice – but we don’t want the only voice.”

He told me that my work is not in Egypt – it is in America. “If you are working for peace, your job is not here! Your job is in America! Tell them about us. Tell them about Egypt.”

See: for an interview on 8 February with the Guardian. Dr. Essam’s message there was quite similar to what he told me today.


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