Interview with Dr. Aly El Samman
By Heba Amin for Al Watan
At 86 years of age, Dr. Aly El Samman has witnessed the royal era, three revolutions, seven presidents and the Brotherhood in its infancy. He joined them at the time of its founder Hassan Al Banna, but when he learned that Judge Al Khazendar had been assassinated by the Brotherhood, he immediately resigned.
In his interview with Al Watan, Dr. Aly El Samman, president of the International Union for Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue (ADIC), said that he was very close to Hassan al-Hudaybi the Brotherhood murshid (general guide) during the time he was working as foreign media adviser to President Anwar Sadat.
The following is taken from the interview:
Q. What did you think of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in military uniform at the beginning of the celebration of the opening of the New Suez Canal project, then changing into civilian attire?
A. It is his right as the commander in chief of the armed forces to put on his military uniform at certain occasions, aboard Al Mahroussa yacht was certainly one of them. The inauguration of the New Suez Canal is recognized as an historical event, as well as a sign of military progress. The excavation work on the canal was done by the military; therefore the president paid tribute to them by wearing his uniform. Later, when he appeared in civilian attire, prior to meeting the international dignitaries, it was necessary too to send a message that he is a civilian president to all Egyptians.
Q. Some have reservations about Al Sisi putting on the military uniform, and others have taken this opportunity to claim that 30 June was actually a military coup.
A. This is really silly, because Al Sisi in all cases is the commander in chief of the armed forces. And those who say that his military attire is proof that he is a military ruler, are just trying to cause trouble, just like those who say Egypt is not a secular country, and that our regime lacks democracy, and so on.
Q. From your own view point, Egypt’s regime now is it a military or a civilian one?
A. In my opinion it is a civilian one with no controversy. The military side of it is only limited to what concerns safeguarding our national security. If we give that up, we would be giving up our own protection.
Q. Why do you think the Brotherhood regime failed?
A. As I said in a television interview during the time the Brotherhood was in power, they lacked the ability and the mindset to lead a nation. As a group, they are required to obey their leaders without discussion. Whatever the Irshad (MB leadership) office commands, the rest of the group must follow. Another reason for their failure was their attempt to demolish some of the country’s main institutions, such as the judiciary, the military, and the police. They picked a fight with the attorney general, then replaced him with one of their own. The Brotherhood thought that they could rule the nation by force.
Q. What is your opinion about the reconciliation attempts with the Brotherhood that are regularly discussed?
A. First, for reconciliation to happen, the Brotherhood should apologize to the people, and state its reasons for attacking the country. Second, they need to listen attentively to what some of their prudent elders said, those who have denounced violence, rejected extremism, and opposed assassinations. All these acts should be completely a matter of the past; otherwise they will remain hostile to our national institutions. My opinion is that the Brotherhood has not denounced terrorism in action or principle. Terrorism is also the responsibility of those who organized, armed and financed the Brotherhood.
Q. What is the essence of interfaith dialogue?
A. It means that when you listen to me, I too should listen to you and understand your language, and you should understand mine. Dialogue in essence is all about living together in peace and security.
Q. Unfortunately dialogue rarely produces tangible results, in the sense of lacking practical applicability.
A. I do admit that interfaith dialogue has always missed an essential element, which is getting the public at large involved. Dialogue is mostly limited to the elite, which hinders its success. Renewal of religious discourse and re-defining it is a must, if we’re going to engage the general public. We need revolutions in culture, education and industry to engage them.
Q. When will the Brotherhood renounce violence?
A. It is very difficult to imagine a time frame for that. However, this may happen when enough people among them start advocating a different course of action. There are no indications of this happening anytime soon.
Q. How do you view the future of political Islam?
A. I don’t believe in the term “political Islam”. We have politics and we have Islam. When the two mix, both sides lose. Therefore, when someone asks me about the future of political Islam, I assure him that I do not believe it has a future. However, if the Islamists want to engage in politics they must choose the path of tolerance, moderation, and give up violence and terrorism.
translated from Al Watan