Darrag Discusses The Future Of Egypt

The year since the Egyptian revolution began has been a good one for the Muslim Brotherhood. The restrictions they once faced in Egyptian political life were lifted with the ouster of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Amr Darrag, a senior official in Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party — the Muslim Brotherhood party, speaks with Robert Siegel about the past year and what he anticipates in the next one.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This week marks one year since protestors claimed Cairo's Tahrir Square and went on to oust longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. In the parliamentary elections that followed, the big winner was the Muslim Brotherhood, whose offshoot, the Freedom and Justice Party, won nearly half the seats. More militant Islamist groups won another 25 percent of the seats.

And we're going to hear now from a senior leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, Amr Darrag who joins us from Cairo.

Welcome to the program, sir.

PROFESSOR AMR DARRAG: Welcome, yes.

SIEGEL: In yesterday's demonstrations in Tahrir Square, it was reported that secular liberals and Islamists rallied separately. The liberals called upon the military to surrender power at once. And your side, the Islamists, didn't. Why not? Why shouldn't the military give up power right now?

DARRAG: Everybody in the country is looking forward for the military to hand over power to civilians. Some people say that this has to take place immediately, while others are looking for a safer way - aiming at handing over fully the full power by mid-2012.

SIEGEL: But you said a safer way. What would be unsafe about the military saying, there's now a parliament and until there's a president, the parliament can rule?

DARRAG: Well, actually we have to realize that we've been under the military rule for more than 60 years. We have to make sure that we don't end up with any ugly situation, any conflict between civilians and the military on the long run.

SIEGEL: I want to hear a bit about what political Islam means to you and your party. We've heard some of your Egyptian supporters say that an Islamist-led parliament should change Egyptian family law - fathers' custody right should be stronger, the age at which can marry should be a lower age. Do you foresee any changes of that sort from a majority Islamist government?

DARRAG: Well, let me clarify this. When we talk about Islam, we talk about Islam as a reference for life; as a reference to guiding our steps in economy and politics, and the ethical conduct in general in the political practice. However, we're not talking about any interference whatsoever in the freedom of individuals.

But when we talk about the principles of Islam as a reference, for example, politics, we talk about democracy versus the oppression that we've been having for a long time. When we talk about the economy, we talk about an economy that's based on social justice, based on fair distribution of the wealth. These are...

SIEGEL: But I want to pursue that a little more, Mr. Darrag. When you say Islam means democracy, in fact, this has been problematic for Islamic countries. And certainly in your part of the world, we've associated Muslim countries with monarchies, with new dictatorial dynasties that have been created. Democracy has been hard to come by.

DARRAG: You're absolutely right and we believe that that happened because we were far from Islam. And if we go back to the real values of Islam, the will of the people is the basis actually for governance. They have the ultimate power. We have been suffering a lot because we were far from these principles.

SIEGEL: Including equal rights for women, something that wouldn't have occurred to people for 1,400 years ago?

DARRAG: Definitely, yes. If you look at the parliament, the party that provided the largest number of women candidates and women members is actually the Freedom and Justice Party.

SIEGEL: The Muslim Brotherhood has been very critical of the old regime, the Mubarak regime's relationship with Israel. If your party gains control of Egyptian defense policy, will it secure the Sinai Peninsula and the border area with Israel, so that the only armed groups operating there will be the Egyptian armed forces - no militias, no terrorists?

DARRAG: Well, actually this is not have to do anything with Israel or any other country. I mean, we have - any good government has to secure its lands, it has to make sure that the national security of the country is maintained, whether we have Israel on the other border or anybody else.

SIEGEL: So any of Egypt's neighbors then, including Israel, will be able to count on Egypt to police the border and prevent any armed group from crossing over into their...

DARRAG: Well, this would be our duty as a good government.

SIEGEL: The US gives Egypt $1 billion a year in military aid. Does your party welcome the continuation of that aid or would you prefer to see it discontinued?

DARRAG: We generally will like to see a better collaboration with the United States, based on equal understanding of the mutual interests of the two countries. What we don't like to see is one side putting its agenda and enforcing it on the other.

The billion-dollar you're talking about is really related to the military aid, and that took place actually following the peace treaty with Israel. And as long as the treaty is maintained, I don't see a reason why this aid should not continue.

SIEGEL: And you would intend to see that the treaty is maintained?

DARRAG: Well, we - you know, according to the international law, we have to respect all treaties and agreements of previous governments. We have - however, the other sides of these agreements have to realize that it's not a one-sided game and the Egyptian people, through the parliament, will have to monitor that.

SIEGEL: But will the Egyptian people be offered a referendum to vote on revocation of the treaty with Israel?

DARRAG: Well, this is not on our agenda. If Israel maintains its commitments, according to the treaty, there will be no reason to speak about this anywhere.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Darrag, thank you very much for talking with us.

DARRAG: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Amr Darrag, who is a leader of Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party, the party allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. He spoke to us from Cairo.

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