Muslim Brotherhood Delegation Visits D.C.

Members of Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party — the political arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood — are in Washington this week on the group's first official U.S. visit. Robert Siegel speaks with Egyptian parliamentarian Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery, a member of the delegation, about the visit and the Muslim Brotherhood's growing power in Egypt.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From Syria, now to the political landscape in Egypt. After the fall of its president, Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood is the original Islamist political movement, and it has emerged as Egypt's biggest political party. For years, it was officially banned and repressed. Today, it has the most seats in parliament. And despite an earlier pledge not to, it is running a candidate for president.

I sat down with a member of the Egyptian parliament from the brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery. He spent considerable time in the U.S., earning a doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh. And he's here this week with his party's first official delegation to Washington. And I began by asking him to explain the brotherhood's reversal on its promise to stay out of Egypt's presidential race.

DR. ABDUL MAWGOUD RAGEH DARDERY: Now, after a little bit over a year of the Egyptian revolution, the Egyptians demanded at least three main objectives of the revolution. One is freedom. Second is justice. Third is democracy. And that's how we created the roadmap for Egyptian democracy. Very recent situation in Egypt, the government is not really doing a good job. It's not providing any services to the people. So people are demanding - we would like to see the end result of the revolution. We would like to see different fruits of the revolution.

SIEGEL: So you're saying that the decision was in response to public sentiment that there should be a candidate from the brotherhood's movement?

DARDERY: That is one. Second is that the military council was supposed to give the - to ask the Freedom and Justice Party with other parties to form the government as representative of the people and did not do this. And we became very concerned at what is the - what are the intentions of the military council, the SCAF, in Egypt, and that is one reason why.

SIEGEL: But the prior policy of not running a candidate had been taken by some liberal secular Egyptians or Christian Egyptians as a sign that the Muslim Brotherhood did not intend to monopolize political power and take advantage of its present popularity to do so. Should they be concerned at this point that your movement will indeed monopolize political power?

DARDERY: Not at all. Not at all, Robert. We're still intending not to monopolize power. We - in fact, we did take that move to secure democracy and to solidify it. So that Egyptians for the first time in their modern history to be able to choose whomever they like. This election, if the Freedom and Justice Party does good, it has the right to present itself to the Egyptian people. If it does not, the Egyptian people have to kick them out of office.

SIEGEL: The Associated Press reported this week that your party's candidate for president, Mr. el-Shater, promised a group of ultraconservative Muslim clerics, or at least they say he promised them, that clerics would be given the power to review legislation to ensure that it's in line with Islamic law. First of all, is that a position, as you understand, of your party? And isn't that awfully close to implementing Islamic law as the law of the land in Egypt?

DARDERY: That is something new for me, maybe that was - happened when I was here in the - we came for a week now. I don't think that is good for democracy. I think democracy is the people who are elected are the people who decide. We can - no doubt, we can ask other think tanks, other representatives of different groups, Copts or Azhar University to give us their ideas about what particular laws, but we have the Constitutional Court that decides. And in a democracy, we need the Constitutional Court, not the global courts to decide what is good for Egypt.

SIEGEL: Well, you know, the concern that a lot of Americans have had since the very beginning of the Arab Spring is that the ideas of the intelligentsia and the ideas of the leadership can be very worldly and very cosmopolitan and very much committed to contemporary thoughts about democracy. But the masses of people who have not experienced life beyond their country's borders might not see it that way, and there could be real support for a much, much more authoritarian and religious movement running the country.

DARDERY: This concern is valid, Robert, and we can - it requires a lot of dedication. It requires, also, leading by example. People need to be educated, that they're willing to listen to one another more than we talk to one another. But there is no justification whatsoever because people think differently, that we take the freedom of thinking, freedom of assembly and freedom of organization and freedom of (unintelligible) away from them.

The United States itself, just 200 years ago, did not have what it has today. Look at the participation of women, the participation of African-Americans were not very much welcomed in the United States. But things, through education, can change. Education is the key word here.

SIEGEL: But do you find, for example, in your own constituency in Luxor, where there are a great many Christians, obviously, but do you find, for example, that Salafists who take a much more militant religious view of what government should be can have an appeal with less educated voters that you have to answer, that you have to respond to?

DARDERY: The one running against me in Luxor was a Salafist, but I got more from the Muslims because they knew that the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party is a moderate alternative and that's why they voted for me. I think people - education does not necessarily mean one has to have a PhD like myself. People can be educated. It takes a little bit of education for people to distinguish between radicalism and moderation.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Dardery, thank you very much for talking with us today.

DARDERY: Thank you, Robert. I have (unintelligible). I'm so happy to be able to be giving this a chance and I hope we can meet again.

SIEGEL: I hope so. That's Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Rageh Dardery, who is an Egyptian member of parliament and a member of the party that is part of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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