Hussein Aboubakr after having taken part with enthusiasm in the Arab Spring that led to the overthrow of Mubarak, has had to deal with the failure of the same Spring, when the Muslim Brotherhood took power. A scholar and teacher of history and Jewish literature, Hussein has suffered persecution from the new regime. Having obtained the status of political refugee, he now lives in California and has a blog, I survived Tahrir Square, where he continues his struggle, as well as collaborating with the newspaper The Times of Israel. Ilsussidiario.net contacted him for this exclusive interview.
The name of your blog is "I survived Tahrir Square". Can you tell us what you mean exactly by "surviving"? Can you tell us a little about those days, when Mubarak was sent away? What were your hopes?
I meant surviving in the physical sense, during the 16 months I spent in the Square. From January 2011 until I left Egypt in May 2012, I have witnessed so many bloody battles which a lot of people died in. During that time anyone who was a participant in the revolutionary movement had a very good chance of being killed, severely injured or imprisoned and tortured. While the Western media was celebrating the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution, revolutionaries were dying in street battles against the police, the army and militant thugs.
Revolution is not an easy thing, it can't be done really quickly so everyone can go back to his normal life; absolutely not because going "back" to the previous "normal" is a failure of a revolution, not a success.
The Egyptian revolution went through different stages, starting with the first 18 days (January 25th to February 11th) during which Mubarak was removed. Those days were the best days of the revolution as they provoked a euphoria of hope and wishful thoughts for all the people. Our hopes were simple as we crystallized them in our main chant "Bread, liberty and social justice", things which up until this point did not become real.
Do you feel that those hopes, the Arab Spring as it was called, were a failure, not only in Egypt but also in Tunisia and Libya?
Indeed the Arab Spring should be considered an absolute miserable failure if your idea about "spring" was an everlasting season of happiness and prosperity, which is not the case in the Middle East. The spring in the desert countries of the Arab world is a short season which is normally followed by a harsh hellish summer which drives everyone to take refuge in their air-conditioned fortified homes. I'm not an expert on Libya or Tunisia, but a country like Egypt for example, was stable--in the American sense of the word--for thirty years.
This stability was artificial and not natural, paid for by billions of dollars from the US. Beneath this stability laid the issues of liberty, freedom of speech, minority rights, social injustice, corruption, bureaucracy, religious fanaticism etc., issues which were not addressed but suppressed by the US backed dictatorship, so when the cap of that dictatorship was removed, all these problems had to pop up after thirty years with a retroactive effect. Imagine an unopened soda can being shaken for an hour and then opened suddenly. That is how it is right now, not exactly the failure of a revolutionary movement but the failure of post-colonial Arab political regimes.
Why did you actually need to leave your country to become a political refugee in the USA?
I took refuge in the US because my ideas, which are non-Islamic, pro-Israel, pro-Western, could not be tolerated by the Egyptian regime nor by the extremist Islamic groups. I used to defend the Christian minority and discourage Egyptian Anti-semitism. I was arrested by Mubarak's regime several times in 2010 and then was persecuted by the Military-Brotherhood regime in 2011-2012.
Is it possible to say that, even if Mubarak and Gheddafi were ugly dictators, most people were living better before the Arab Spring?
I can understand that some people may think so, and I actually agree that it may seem like that but I don't agree that this is the actual case. What is happening now in the Middle East is actually happening because of people like Mubarak and Gheddafi. Years of political and economical corruption produces generations of poor uneducated violent radical Arabs.
For example, Mubarak's police state brutally eliminated any secular opposition ideology from emerging in the country. The universities were under strict surveillance from the police, no professor would be hired without the approval of the State Security agency, which left the people to be victims of radical Islam which Mubarak did conspire with.
For years in Egypt I have witnessed public marches against the US and Israel, calling for the annihilation of enemies of Allah, but it was practically impossible to see a demonstration against Mubarak himself. The bloody culture of violence that we are seeing today is a direct result of the failure and corruption of the police and judicial system, which taught the people the culture of violent resolutions in the absence of law.
Yes, things were more quiet in the Middle East before, but that does not mean that they were better. What we are seeing today is the direct result of what Mubarak and his fellow rulers did.
What do you think of the decision of the Egyptian army to bring down President Morsi? Was it really necessary?
I think it was a great and vital decision. And it was absolutely necessary. The Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamic group. It’s not a secret that the militant Islam theology of Al Qaeda was based upon the writing of the MB 50s scholar Saied Qutb. Mohamad Atta once was a member of a Muslim Brotherhood organization and Ayman Zwahiri, the current leader of Al Qaeda, started his career in the MB. It’s a group that has nothing to offer but a cult of death and violence. Also the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood was remarkably quick and disastrous in a way that even the opposition did not expect.
Egypt is a poor country with a catastrophic economical situation and the MB was totally so focused on assuming power and occupying the state that it ignored totally the issues of economical development. Egypt is sinking in debt, and yet the MB was asking the international bank for a new big 2 billion dollar loan, unemployment is higher than ever and the value of the Egyptian currency is falling quickly. The MB did very little to prevent the country from hitting the rock bottom.
Nevertheless, we should not over-estimate Morsi as he was just a puppet for the group behind him. Morsi was nothing but a lunatic Imam who used to give speeches in Friday prayers about destroying the Jews. The Army was not so concerned about Morsi as much as the people behind him, and those were the real people removed.
Who are the Muslim Brothers really, and is there no hope that they can be a democratic force?
The Muslim Brotherhood is not a democratic political movement; it never was and never will be. The MB is a political Islamic movement which evolved in the colonial era, mixing religion and armed resistance, turning war into an eternal holy dogma. The main MB logo is a picture of two crossed swords above a Quran and below them written the word "Prepare!" which is the first word of the Quranic verse "And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrorize the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them. 8:60". So the main logo for the MB is not "Yes we can." It is not "social change" and it is not "justice for all.”
As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with politics, but it has to do more with "be prepared to terrorize." As I have mentioned before, the theological school of the MB is the one produced by the theological foundation of today's militant Islam. Hamas, which is considered globally to be a terrorist organization, is the MB branch of Palestine. They assumed power in Gaza in 2005 in full democratic elections, which also happened to be the last elections Gaza ever saw.
The Muslim Brotherhood is ready only to manipulate Western democracy in order to get power, but never to leave it. The same thing pretty much happened in Egypt during the year the MB ruled; the elections were their last interaction with democracy. Following the elections, the MB appointed a government made up almost exclusively from MB members; they wrote the constitution of the country all by themselves and the Salafis. I don't think that they can turn into a social democratic movement at any time; it’s not in their system.
Why are the Western countries in a way supporting them? In our news or media they are described as victims of the Egyptian army's violence and the UE is talking about changing the relationship with Egypt.
The West’s support for the MB is based upon a complexity of factors: first, the MB was seen to be the bridge between the West and radical Islam. Let’s not forget that lately, Al Qaeda started to open "diplomatic" offices in the Arab Gulf, just a few hundred miles away from US military bases. Also, it seems that there is some sort of a trend in the West that believes in creating some sort of an "Islamic Zoo" in the Middle East to contain all Islamists in it instead of them going to the West. There could be also the hope that the MB could convert militant Islam to just pure political Islam. But all of these reasons are really idiotic. You can't take millions of Middle Easterns as hostages to secure safety for the West. That just can never happen.
Do you think that the Egyptian army’s reaction and the killing of people in the street was necessary, the only way?
We have to know that military is military, militaries do not understand anything but fire and orders. Groucho Marx once said, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to music." There is no military that can control its use of force. Look to the actions of the US military in Vietnam or Iraq. Even if the military is fighting for a just cause, like the IDF, we still expect to see excessive use of force.
Most of the reports do not speak of what is really going on. You can't judge anything without seeing it in its context. The Army is not shooting at protestors; the army is shooting at armored lunatic terrorists. I think that the Egyptian Army, which for years has been an American puppet and survived on US aid, would act very cautiously with the MB since they have US support, but there is a trigger happy terrorist group running wildly all over Egypt, and the military is forced to act.
In this process tens, if not hundreds, of people, many of them innocent, will be killed, injured or imprisoned. But what is the alternative? For Egyptians, they don't really see any. There is no option for the army but to proceed with cleaning the house from a group that is burning the country to the ground recklessly.
You also wrote: "What part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s undemocratic, delusional ideology is hard for the West to understand? How can Western governments and the media be sympathetic and supportive of them?" Can you give us an answer?
There are all kinds of conspiracy theories, but I have never been a fan of conspiracies. I think the truth is that the West is mainly led by Washington, and Washington does not have a clue and they are too arrogant to admit it. This has been clear during the last couple of years. On January 25th 2011, the eve of the Egyptian revolution, Hillary Clinton stated that "the US believes in the stability of Mubarak's regime." Two days later Mubarak was practically not the president of Egypt anymore. Pretty much the same exact thing happened right before Morsi was ousted. While me and my Egyptian friends were running around telling everyone that there could be acoup in Egypt very soon, the US was expressing deep confidence in Morsi. That tells you that the people in Washington have absolutely no clue.
The Western leaders are talking about Egypt as a new Syria, a possible civil war. Is that the future?
It is very hard to speculate at this moment what is going to happen; it’s the time of spontaneous anarchy that will do what it pleases. In the case that more pressure was to be put on the Egyptian military to back off, which the military will never do, and more support be offered to the MB then yes, the situation is likely to develop to a civil war. But I think that is not likely to happen. If the West was to give up on the Egyptian Army, there is no doubt that Russia would step in to re-win their old Middle Eastern ally. Let's not forget that once the largest warehouse of Russian weapons outside of Russia was in Egypt.
About the attacks by the Muslim Brothers on the Egyptian Christian churches, you wrote: "The Copts have faced their fate alone, as they always have. Attacks on churches, shootings of priests in broad daylight, and burning of Coptic owned properties is common daily news".
The ones who usually pay the heaviest price in the Middle East generally are the religious minorities. As is the case with the Coptic minority in Egypt, they are abandoned by the State and targeted by the radicals. I hope that Egyptians will have a clear vision of what they want for themselves, that they finally determine their relationship with the state, religion, the West and everything else clearly and rationally.
You were born Muslim, you are a researcher of Jewish and Middle Eastern history and Hebrew literature and you are also amongst the few Muslims who I know who are writing in defense of the Christians. What does God mean to you? Are there other Muslims like you in Egypt who really want a world where Muslims, Jews and Christians can live in peace?
My story is a long story. I started to develop my own ideas at a very early age. The great mistreatment of the Christians that I have witnessed in Egypt made me rethink everything my family and society taught me. I don't consider myself a Muslim anymore; I consider myself a homo sapiens who does not believe in a deity. The most terrible crimes I have witnessed in my life were all committed under the name of God, so God for me is a very unpleasant idea. Are there any Muslims who hope for global peace? There should be, because if there were none, then I wouldn’t see any hope in the future of mankind.
(Interview by Paolo Vites, editing by Sharon Mollerus)