This is a cross-post from Just Journalism.
On Sunday Kamal el-Helbawy was interviewed on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in any post-Mubarak government. El-Helbawy, who served as the spokesman of ‘the Muslim Brotherhood in the West’ from 1995-1997’, was previously the subject of controversy following an appearance on the BBC in 2009, which led to accusations that he advocated the killing of Israeli children as they were all ‘future soldiers’.
During the interview, the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi presses el-Helbawy on a number of issues, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s attitude towards democracy, Sharia law and Israel.
While el-Helbawy assures Badawi that the organisation is committed to democracy and freedom of religion, and would only implement an Islamic state if supported by the electorate, he does acknowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to govern by Sharia law.
El-Helbawy implies that this would include the restriction of alcohol consumption and production to non-Muslims. While he states that he is happy for non-Muslims to drink and make alcohol, he twice refuses to answer whether Muslims would be allowed this freedom, stating instead that they should ‘practise Islam’. He also argues that ‘alcohol should not be a source of income for Islam’, irrespective of the damage prohibition might do to Egypt’s tourism industry.
Following a discussion about Western fears about the Muslim Brotherhood, Badawi asks el-Helbawy whether the Israel-Egypt peace-treaty would survive the group coming to power. While el-Helbawy claims that commentators who say the group would tear up the treaty were ‘completely wrong’, he refuses to state that the Muslim Brotherhood would definitely keep it:
‘This is not the time to discuss such a matter, but I would like to confirm to you, and to the West in general that, if any peace process [is] built on justice, the Muslim Brotherhood will support it 100%, but if there is any peace process built on injustice, then we have to bring justice before the peace process.’
The reticence to discuss the issue, or to make a definite statement on the matter, reflects a similar interview on CNN last week, in which Muhammad Mursi argued that it was ‘ridiculous to ask about the future’, and repeatedly refused to answer the question.Moreover, el-Helbawy’s next answer gives an indication of what he believes constitutes justice in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
BBC: You reassure Netanyahu that you would not tear up the peace treaty?
El-Helbawy: No, we will not tear it – but we will discuss, as I said, we need justice and the freedom, not only for us, but for everyone. There are many Jews – Neturei Karta [sic], and I have very very high relationship profile [sic] with Dovid Weiss – he’s a Jew, a rabbi, but he’s anti-Israeli atrocities and aggression.
El-Helbawy’s citation of Neturei Karta is telling, since the fringe group was formed specifically in opposition to the creation of Israel and continues to oppose Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land,
Dovid Weiss in particular is highly controversial, due to his public endorsement of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Similarly, he recently met with Muslim scholar Yousef Al-Qaradawi, and ‘express[ed] what a great privilege and honour’ it was to do so. Al-Qaradawi is notorious for stating that the Holocaust was ‘divine punishment’ by Allah for Jewish corruption, and for stating his hope that ‘the next time will be at the hand of believers’.
Badawi then raises the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. When the BBC presenter states that the organisation is viewed by many as a ‘terrorist’ group, el-Helbawy immediately interjects:
‘No it is not terrorist – it is resistance.’
Again, this statement reflects the CNN interview with Mursi, where he argued that:
‘What’s going on on the Palestinian land is resistance; the resistance is acceptable by all mankind’.