Arndt Emmerich: What is your research focus in your Master’s degree in Sharī‘ah law?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: I am writing on the notion of Tajdīd and how it has evolved throughout the history of Islamic jurisprudence, renewal in Islamic jurisprudence and how it relates to the socio-political context and how it has evolved over time.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Well, this is the Brotherhood as the reformist…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: No I am not a reformist…
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: So, you joined the Brotherhood but you left the Brotherhood. Why?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Tough question is why did I join? Because when you want to reflect on something that you did quite a long time ago and you had a different mind-set and everything. But I think it was a belief in reform along Islamic lines, very immature believe at that time, not sophisticated and not … [i.a.] the different orientations of Islamism and so forth. I was quite young at that time and it was wanting to change things, to reform things in this country. And the Brotherhood was the largest and most popular and most effective organization that works on the ground. It has a strong presence and big impact on the ways things are going. And it was in different lines when it came to national causes, like the question of Palestine, you know? So that also meant a lot.
Why did I resign? I resigned in 2008 for, I would say, four sets of reasons.
The first is the intellectual dispute.
The MB is currently comprised of four schools of thought. The first is the one upon which it was basically established, the Hassan al-Banna school. And this is a marginal school within al-Azhar. It’s a school that has presence in the broader Azhari school but it is not the main stream Azhari school. So that is the first school that has presence in the Brotherhood, the second is the main stream Azhari school, this also has presence in the Brotherhood. I am fine with those schools, I am in better terms with the main stream Azhari school, the traditional, and I know that sounds strange but I wholeheartedly believe that it’s the traditionalists who are the real reformists when it comes to Islamic jurisprudence and Sharī‘ah law. Of course that is not what I thought two years ago but that is what I found out through my studies. The third school is the Salafī school, Egyptian Salafīsm started in the early 19th century with Rashīd Ridah and … [i.a.] and so forth, all the way to Saudi Wahabism. And the fourth school is the Qutbi school, based on the ideas of Sayyid Qutb. It’s important to say though, that the MB members who follow the ideas of Qutb do not believe in Takfīr or in violence. They read [i.a.] which is a book that was essentially written to refute the ideas of Qutb. They read it as an explanation of Qutb and therefore they accept Qutb’s ideology but they … [i.a.]. Neither way they use violence components and the Takfīr components. So this is the intellectual anatomy of the Brotherhood and I was not at ease with that. The strongest elements are the Qutbis at the moment. The Qutbis and the Salafīs were the ones I had no intellectual ties with. I could relate to the school of Hassan al-Banna, even if I disagree and I belong to the school of traditional mainstream Azhari school. So, that is the first level of dispute.
The second level of dispute was a strategic dispute, I call it the MB’s strategic deficit. I work as a business strategy consultant and I the MB is an organization that has not a clear strategy. They [MB] know what their mission is, but they don’t know how to get there. And there are different alternative paths. First is, being a political party that competes, tries to come to power to change and reform who is being in office. The second is, being a political action group, a pressure group that tries to influence, something similar to AIPAC. The third option is being a social movement that operates in the background of the society, something like Turkey’s Gulenist movement. And those are paths that could not be assumed by the same organization because the structural and rhetorical and organizational and strategic requirements of each, is different from that of the other. You cannot have an organization that competes, relies on alliances that need to be formed, discourses that it needs to adopt… It’s quite different than a social movement.
So, those are different paths and the MB has been extremely unclear on which path does it want to follow. I will tell you why later. [This section is followed by a very short, acoustically hard to understand. Most importantly Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī mentioned that he recently wrote an article about this topic and that he might have to translate it into English. He further mentioned that participants at the MB’s youth conference last weekend used the same examples of AIPAC and the Gulenist movement and that he is glad that they read what happened back then and are informed].
The third dispute is an organizational dispute – It has to do with how things are managed within the organization. The appearance of the Brothers, and the structure of the Brothers, the philosophy behind the Brothers. Structurally there is no sufficient appearance of the Brothers and this is only a problem if you are a political party or if you are a political action movement. If you are a social movement, then the Brothers are not really that important. It all depends on how you identify yourself. But because you have no real question of where you are, where you stand, the level of formality of the inter-organizational relations and intra-organizational relations are questionable all the time. You can’t even make an argument that you need more formal relations when you don’t know what the organization is supposed to be doing.
The fourth dispute was a personal one to be honest. The first thing is that I am a researcher and that I do research right and this was becoming increasingly a conflict of interest to me because speaking on behalf of the group (because I was group member, I was spokesman for the official English website) so, speaking on behalf of the group in the morning and then read the same statement that you’ve probably made or others have made and critically assess them to see what does that mean in terms of the Brotherhood. I’ve been writing papers, critically assessing the group’s stances and policies and so forth, so that was for me a conflict of interest, because I felt I was jeopardizing my independence and integrity as a researcher….And another component was the personal dispute that when I wrote such articles, such pieces, the level of criticism was beyond what I would accept. The criticism wasn’t about my articles anymore, it was about me. So that’s beyond what I would accept. It included lots of personal insults and threats…
Judit Kuschnitzki: Criticism from other MB members?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Some of them of course were other MB members - at different hierarchical levels. I think of ideas and thoughts as a free speech, where you can say whatever you want and let’s have a battle of ideas, but let’s not make it personal, and I said that a few times. Once, one of the most really insulting and someone really mean of my family, very, very disgusting. So I sent him an email, I told him: Just keep me out of this. Just assume that I am completely ignorant and that what I am seeing is completely non-sense. Tell me that what I am seeing is non-sense but give me respect. So he sent me an email, telling me: someone like me doesn’t deserve respect. I mean that’s, when you keep getting these kinds of comments all the time, eventually it’s not worth it, you know?
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: But if we speak about democratization in Egypt – That’s what democracy is all about: We have an exchange of ideas, we agree on some things, disagree on other things. Let’s argue and -
Judit Kuschnitzki: Yes, but argue with respect…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Yes, but that’s something that we need to have. Actually, speaking about matters of internal democracy, the MB is way better than all other political institutions –way better. Although I think it’s very poor in terms of internal democracy. But it’s much better than anything else.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Why? Could you explain that?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: At least it has elections. At least elections are not rigged. It has different Egyptian viewpoints, even criticized much. There is decentralization in some areas, very high decentralization degree in some areas, of course some areas are also highly centralized. But that takes me to the question of why are these issues coming up again now? I think that is a very important question and that is what I am writing about. I think that the MB has been operated for quite a long time in a context of oppression. And the context of oppression has its impact on the organizational and intellectual structures of the group. Because one thing it does is that it puts your very existence at risk as an organization. So therefore, all the intellectual questions are postponed and defending the very existence of the organization becomes a top priority. So how to do that? A few mechanisms are subconsciously developed. First is, the vagueness of the ideology. So the use of broader formula of ideologies that will encompass not only the MB but will allow for a broader sense of identity, which means a shallower sense of identity – it becomes about identity politics. So, if you are an Islamist, you are more than welcome to join- regardless of whether you are a Salafī or Sūfī, whether you are a Qutbi or a Salafī. It doesn’t matter - you are all more than welcome to join.
Judit Kuschnitzki: How do you defend you interests [as an organization] by becoming vague?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: You are extending the number [of members] in terms of your organization…
Judit Kuschnitzki: - So you get stronger as an organization?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: You think you are getting stronger. What I used to tell them was: You are as if you are a man sitting, having dinner and eating more and more and assuming that this is muscle. He thinks that this makes you stronger. But it’s only because you are still sitting, so you can’t really assess. But then, when you start standing and start walking you realize it is fat and not muscle. That it’s holding you behind and not helping you. Now, that’s exactly what is happening now: They are realizing that it’s fat.
So, the first thing I said was intellectual vagueness, which allowed for the existence of four different groups, within the organization.
The second mechanism that has developed is the vagueness of orientation – what will you do? Vagueness of what I call action. Because again, any decision would please some people and displease others. So, you don’t want to displease anyone, you want to be on the defensive all the time. And you develop lots of words and concepts that serve that purpose. … So you as an organization you start to think defensively all the time. It’s thinking about preserving and not what will I serve, what will I do?
The third thing that happens is defining of decision-making or the nature of decision-making and decision implementation in the group. You have highly centralized decision making and highly decentralized decision implementation. Why? Because for the decision-making you don’t want disputes you don’t want lots of discussions that cause disputes. But for the decision implementation you want to make sure that crack downs and arrests would not hinder your ability to implement your decisions. So they have to be highly decentralized not depending on anyone – and that happens in the organization.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: How do you bring this together: highly centralized decision making and highly decentralized implementation?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: You bring them together through the notion of trust- So you trust the leadership with the decisions it makes and you are willing to implement. It’s organizational brilliance. I mean the ability to sustain an organization for 70 years under this pressure is definitively…
But the thing is: Now this is over. The challenges of oppression are over and the MB is not ready for the most serious challenge: the challenge of freedom. They are more serious than the challenges of oppression. Because in a context of freedom you have to actually let think of what brings the Brotherhood together as an organization now.
I argue that there are only two points of consensus that bring the MB as an organization together. The first is the acceptance of the fact or the notion of Islam being an all-encompassing system not only a religion. Everyone in the MB accepts that but of cause it means resilient things for different people. So, for some it means, in organizational terms, it means that they should have an all-encompassing organization that has departments, political departments, social departments, student departments, religious departments, Arabic departments. But for others that means the exact opposite that it requires specialization, everybody needs to be specialized in a different area. In intellectual terms, for some that means that Islam has say in the details of everything, every aspect of life, but for others it means that Islam provides general principles and this is what I believe: There is no such thing, Islamic is not an ideology, that there is no such thing as an Islamic political party. That doesn’t make any sense because Islam has some values and guidelines that could be integrated into political programmes and orientations. So, you couldn’t really reduce it to an ideology.
The second point of consensus is the concept of democracy. And of course depth and real meaning of democracy is not agreed upon. But there is a general consensus of the acceptance of democracy.
The third is the acceptance of political pluralism….
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: What does this mean “the general acceptance of democracy”?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Yes, but democracy, the younger procedural component of it, doesn’t have a real meaning to anyone, because, the younger procedural meaning - everybody would define it in his own way…
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: But this is a problem…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: But at least you have the idea of the acceptance of elections and the concept of a transfer of power and that it’s the majority that has a say – that in itself is something when it comes to Islamists
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: In other words, if there would be a MB government and the next election would bring another majority..
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: -They would step down. But that’s an area of consensus. Unlike the Salafīs, for instance.
Third point of view, topic, on which they agree, is the acceptance of political pluralism. Again, this is accepted as an… - we accept other political parties. But the … [i.a.] of the political system and what type of parties would not be allowed is again disputed, so, people like myself… [i.a.] think that everybody should be allowed. Given that they don’t use violence. That’s it, but other than that everybody should be allowed. But for instance, you find people saying, okay, but communist parties who reject religion wholesale shouldn’t be allowed. So, there is no consensus on that, but there is consensus on the general idea of accepting political pluralism.
The fourth point of consensus is the rejection of violence as a means for political change. There is definitively consensus about it. And those are the only points, because I’ve been doing this research for some time and did not find anything else that brings the group together, except those components. Nothing else. Actually for those four points, I tell you that over 95% of Egyptians accept it. It is very hard to find people refuting it. Of course the debate would only be about what it means, but about the acceptance of the notions like democracy, pluralism, protection of violence - you have 95% of the Egyptians. So what is it exactly that comprises the MB’s political shot [i.a.]?
Now that we moved from oppression to freedom they are faced by those questions. And those are the most serious questions. Because now, you can no longer postpone the questions that you have chosen to postpone. You could no longer say: Okay well, we are under oppression so we thought … You can no longer say that. Now you have political groups and now you can disagree or disagree with this political group. The Islamic movement at large is moving, whether it wants to or not - whether it likes it or not. From identity- to reform politics. If it doesn’t do that it would be completely transcended and left behind.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: So what is the leadership for the MB doing about it?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: They are not doing anything. They are helping Islam being manifested in more forms, like … [i.a.]. They will be transcended, definitively.
Arndt Emmerich: I was wondering, when you mentioned one of the points you were disagreeing with, the structural aspect, how could you bring in more sophistication in terms of organization and is there a generational divide?
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: A number of people are claiming this…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: It’s not a cultural divide…
Arndt Emmerich: Or a lack of academics?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: It’s again the culture of oppression that has been in power. And this culture of oppression has its followers in different generations. I don’t want to reduce things because that would be a sweeping generalization that wouldn’t capture realities within the group. But for the sake of simplicity I could say that it’s a question of the being governing or being hegemonic culture within the group and, at the moment the hegemonic culture is actually the feeling that everybody wants to exclude them, that they are not welcome, that they are “defendants” now. I called them that. I wrote that in the article. I said that Islam is defending you more than you are defending it, actually. So don’t overestimate your role because it’s only the encompassing nature of Islam that gives you room … you are not defending anything anymore, because nobody is attacking you.
Arndt Emmerich: [Question not clearly understandable on the record]
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Informality and control. You need control at the top level. They [MB leaders] think, with the best intentions, but they think that, they need to do that to defend, not only the organization, not only the movement, but religion.
Arndt Emmerich: So now with the transition it’s the first time for the MB to legally participate?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: It’s [MB] the first time partner with all that that means in the political system. It is a partner, not an unconditional partner. That’s the first time. And that’s what is causing a lot of divide because the questions of people are pressing. I told them, and I said that, I said that actually as soon as Mubarak steps down and as soon as the MB was at least partially accepted, I told them to expect major divides within the MB over the next weeks. They came sooner than I expected because of the leadership’s attitude, which was extremely out of touch. Extremely out of touch.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Where is ‘Isām al-’Iryān standing?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: al-’Iryān is usually a moderate leader. But his stances recently do not reflect his moderation. He is becoming more conservative than the conservatives. I will write in another article that the leadership should resign. The damage that has been caused by the wrong leaders of oppression would make it impossible for them to recover and deal with the context of freedom – they couldn’t. It’s irreversible damage for them. So with all due respect, it’s time for them to leave. I tell them that. I say that verbally. I am not interested in exposing them, if I see that they are going to act upon it. But if they don’t act upon it I have to write so that the youth would take it from there.
Judit Kuschnitzki: You mentioned at the very beginning the four subgroups of the MB. Do those groups still exist in this form today and if yes, where are the current conflict lines going?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Each two groups have allied together, in many ways. So, the Salafīs and the Qutbis have allied together and they are in power, they are the strongest – they are a string component of the MB, hardliners, more rigid in many ways, and…
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Who is the main leadership at the moment?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Badī’, Mahmūd 'Izzat, Muhammad Mursī, Rashād Bayyūmī, Jum'ah Amīn, Sabrī ’Arafah, Mahmūd Husayn… -All the leadership, almost the entire leadership. And the other two groups have allied together, they are both heavy components, because al-Azhar is a school of moderation despite of what happened in the past, I am not speaking about the Azhar as an institution, current institution, because it’s very problematic at the moment. But I am speaking about al-Azhar as a school. Al-Azhar is a school of moderation. So when I say “Azhari school” I mean people who belong to the tradition of reform and moderation. Like Abū al-Futūh, Ibrāhīm al-Za'farānī, Hamad al-Dafrāwī, Khālid Hamzah, and 'Isām al-'Iryān - until recently. I think this is where he ['Isām al-'Iryān] stands ideologically. He is not a Qutbi, he is a politician.
Judit Kuschnitzki: And do you think that the two existing coalitions within the MB reflect a general generational divide?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Not necessarily. But I tell you what the generational component of it is. The generational component of it is that you have the generation of the 1940’s, and that is the generation that adds strong relations with al-Banna, so they belong to this school of moderation. The strongest components of the 1940’s were the ones who were closer to al-Banna. The strongest components of the 1960’s generation were the ones who were closest to Sayyid Qutb. The strongest component of the 1970’s were the ones who were close to Abū al-Futūh. The strongest components of the 1980’s and 90’s were the ones who came from the countryside and aligned themselves to the leadership which was more conservative. And then, the strongest components of the new generation are the ones who have been exposed technologically to other… - social media. But that doesn’t mean that this is the generation, or even the majority of the generation, it only means those are the clearest voices or most vivid, or the loudest voices of the generation. Not even loud in terms of numbers. Not at all. My generation, in the MB, which seems to be the revolutionary generation - It is not. It is not! I posted on my facebook page last week that I am going to join the MB youth conference to support them against the oppression they are facing. And again I got another series of insults and attacks from other members, youth! – If I got one thank you message I got 1 to 50… - that’s the ratio. That’s the ration. So don’t assume that it is generation.
Arndt Emmerich: So you are saying that the MB is very much divided internally.
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Yes, it’s fragmented. And it will expose over time. Especially when its leadership continues doing what they are doing. They are only helping to destroy the organization. … stating that members of the MB should not be allowed to join other political groups.
Arndt Emmerich: I recently attended a lecture at AUC, where they said that the MB will basically create two or three parties.
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: What happened is that they [MB] announced that they will create one party. That day, I went to meet with al-Futūh. A really formal meeting. I told him that I think what he should do is form a political party and not resign from the MB. Because, again, the school of thought, the value system that you are speaking about, is very broad, and you could create tons of political programs coming from this very broad direction. So if you want to reduce this school into one political program then you are actually harming this school. You are harming it. Because those principles and values and legislation in some areas but they don’t accept this political program. I don’t agree with you in having for example a presidential system instead of a parliamentary system. There can be differences on the use of the economy. On the healthcare sytem. On education. On whatever international relations. This is not something that Islam deals with. Islam outs principles and guidelines. So, they won’t accept that. So, what’s happening is that because he [assumedly Badī’] said that no members should be allowed to join parties other than the “Freedom and Justice” party that is formed by the MB leadership, he is putting himself in big trouble. Abū al-Futūh is exposing him in a way, because if they [MB leadership] dismiss him from the group they are in big problems. If they dismiss him from the group that would not make any sense, it shows a lack of tolerance. And if they allow him, they have already broken the monopoly over the political group. What would expose them even more is that different political groups go and say we want to join the religious movement of the MB, but not the party. We already belong to other political groups. Should this be rejected? I know that its wicked but I am asking my friends to do that [laughing].
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: You as an intellectual have a critical viewpoint on the MB. But if you go to the countryside, they don’t respond that way, they follow their leaders…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: That’s not the case anymore. When you hear stories about Bedouins, Bedouin youth, arranging a conference and discussing things and questioning the leadership – the leadership of the Bedouin tribes - you understand how radical that is? They say: what have you done to save our interests under Mubarak. You did not defend us, you failed us. You even failed us during the revolution because you were very late. I think that things are changing. Tāriq al-Bishrī made a very interesting remark, as always. He said that every era creates its own people and if Mubarak created those chanters of power, because they were the ones who served the interest of people at that time, than the new system will create its new people and leadership. And I think, yes, it might take a bit of time, but it will happen. And the core responsibility, the responsibility of people like myself, and other independent thinkers and activists, who work hard to dismantle the power structure that existed to dismantle the inteligencia and to build political awareness –real political awareness, because I don’t want political awareness to be based on the short sighted interest of political activists. It should be real political awareness, education, and that is actually what I am trying to do.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Back to the villages. How is this applying to the villages -Real political awareness?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī : It does not apply yes, because people are still focusing on Cairo, but what is happening now is that it’s no longer only Cairo anymore. At least now it is in major cities. So you find politicians travelling to major cities, Cairo, Alexandria…etc. – So those cities are changing. The next step, and we have six months until the parliamentary elections, the next step is that you go to villages and those people, who by the way all have satellite and all watch the different TV channels, when they see those people they see on TV, coming to them in their village and they start talking to them and then when its two or three people with opposing views, different views, it will make them think. And I say that to people explicitly at the beginning of any debate: Sorry people, I am here to confuse you. I am sorry to say that but I am here to confuse you. I am here to tell you that there is no absolute in politics and that you will have to think and you will have to create your own decisions. I could use rhetoric tricks, but that is not what I want to do. I want to confuse you, to show you that it’s not simple and that it’s not easy and that you have to think and that it’s not absolute and that not all arguments are as strong but that all arguments have rationale. So, that’s what you do and that’s what it takes. It’s not easy. It will take time but people are willing to listen and change now more than ever. And people’s decisions are active [i.a.]. Politicians continue to do what they did do during the referendum, to talk in close circles in TV and elsewhere. They shouldn’t be except themselves. If they want to rule be political – that’s what they have to do. I am not a politician and I am doing that. If they are politicians and they don’t want to do that – it’s their problem.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: A friend of mine stated that he believes that the local municipal councils are still dominated by the old guard NDP.
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Yes, that is the easiest thing to do. … [i.a.] we could in one have municipal elections and get rid of all the NDP, because municipal elections are about services, are about small communities so people know each other. They are about credibility, transparency of the person and his political views. So we can easily elect people for the municipal councils, I won’t I mean. I am not interested in it to that degree, I don’t have time, but it’s what you need. And if we have strong municipal councils then the parliamentary elections will be about politics and that’s what matters, the old elections were about services, because ...
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Secularists state so as well…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: And actually I am not a secularist. I just don’t understand what secularism means in a modern context, that’s my problem. It’s a word, separation between church and state is something that was easily understandable in the 17th and 18th century but now it’s far more complicated than that.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: It is people who are arguing you should not involve religion into politics…
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: What does that mean? You see, the devil is always in the details. It’s far more complicated. It is not as simple as it seems to be. So probably if you go beyond the headlines you find this agreement on most of it. I am against the use of religion in politics, but definitively my political view is religious that I base on my understanding of religion.
Arndt Emmerich: We were thinking that it is fairly difficult to implement secular democracy in a country like Egypt, so maybe Egypt will develop its own idea and own approach to maybe get its own version of secularism?
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: I usually don’t like using terms that are problematic. We have to define two ideas. On the one hand we have the idea of Islamism and their feeling of the necessity of bringing religion to everything, and on the other hand you have laicism, French laicism, or secularism, and I am against both. I stand somewhere in between – I am against both models. Not every form of secularism is secularist and not every form of Islamism is Islamic – I stand somewhere in between. I think most people stand somewhere in between. Most people in Egypt. And I think the real question is not about the involvement of religion in political affairs. It’s about the involvement of politics in religious affairs. It’s about state control over religious institutions.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: That was with Mubārak
Ibrāhīm al-Hūdybī: Yes, and that caused most of the problems. The rise of the Salafī movement, which is the least tolerant component of the Islamic movement is accredited mainly to the disempowerment of al-Azhar, which was caused by the state control over the institution. So those are serious questions. The president was appointing muftis, minister of religious endowments, the Coptic pope.