the Brotherhood is already infiltrating the security apparatus...
Former Associate Calls Morsi a 'Master of Disguise'
By Dieter Bednarz and Volkhard Windfuhr in Cairo
Spiegel Online 01/28/2013 05:57 PM
Is Mohammed Morsi a peacebroker or a virulent anti-Semite? A former member
of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has known Morsi for 13 years, believes that
behind the Egyptian president's veneer of goodwill towards Israel lies a
Mohammed Morsi can be very sympathetic, even toward Jews, as evidenced by an
extremely friendly letter the Egyptian president sent to Israel last
October. The president had personally written the letter of accreditation,
for his new ambassador in Tel Aviv, to his counterpart Shimon Peres, whom he
addressed as a "Dear Friend." In the letter, Morsi clearly invoked the "good
relations" that "fortunately exist between our countries," and pledged to
"preserve and strengthen" them.
The government in Jerusalem had not expected such warm words from a
president who had emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. Unsure whether they
were perhaps the victims of a forgery, the Israelis published the letter.
But Cairo confirmed that it was indeed genuine, and Jerusalem reacted with
relief. The Jewish state had lost a reliable partner with the ouster of
Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak, and now there was hope that perhaps Morsi
would not confirm all of Israel's fears.
But the Egyptian president, who is visiting Berlin this week and will meet
with Chancellor Angela Merkel, a champion of Israel, appears to be a man
with two faces. He is conciliatory as Egypt's leader, saying that he wants
to be the "president of all Egyptians," even though only about a quarter of
the country's 50 million eligible voters voted for him. And, of course, he
insists that his country will fulfill all of its obligations from the
Mubarak era, including both the peace treaty with Israel and a policy of
close cooperation with the United States.
In mid-January, however, Western diplomats and politicians saw a very
different Mohammed Morsi, a man filled with hate for the "Zionist entity,"
the term Islamists use for the Jewish state. An almost three-year-old video,
published by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute
(MEMRI), depicts an Islamist who is practically foaming at the mouth, as he
rants about the Israelis in an interview with an Arab network. Speaking in a
deep and firm voice, he calls them "bloodsuckers" and "warmongers," and says
that there can be no peace with these "descendants of apes and pigs."
It was apparently more than just a regrettable moment of madness for Morsi,
claims a prominent former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, he
says, the current president served as general inspector of the Muslim
Brotherhood for years, which put him in charge of the group's online
service. That service includes quotes about Israelis and Jews that testify
to the same hatred as the lapses in the video.
Despite outrage internationally and at the White House over the video, Morsi
was unperturbed by the furor over his remarks. In the end, his spokesman
said that Morsi's words had been taken out of context, but offered no
further explanation or apology. When SPIEGEL reporters appeared at the
presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis last week after having
received approval for an interview with Morsi, they were turned away.
All a Pretense
To comprehend the Egyptian president and grasp how the Muslim Brotherhood
shapes its members, it helps to speak with men who knew Morsi during his
time with the Islamist organization -- and who also have the courage to
speak openly about the group. Abdel-Jalil el-Sharnoubi, 38, talks about how
dangerous this can be. Last October, after he had spoken about quitting the
Brotherhood to Egyptian newspapers and in TV appearances, masked men opened
fire on Sharnoubi's car with submachine guns.
For Sharnoubi, a lanky man, keeping a constant eye out for suspicious
characters has become second nature. He takes a cautious look around as he
walks into the Café Riche in downtown Cairo, and when he sits down, he makes
sure that he has a good view of the entire establishment. He orders tea,
rolls himself a cigarette and then tells the story of his time with the
Muslim Brotherhood and the current president, to whom he derisively refers
When they first met in 2000, both men were already successful. Sharnoubi,
the son of an imam in the Nile delta, joined the Brotherhood at 13. He
eventually advanced within the regimented organization to become a member of
its information committee. Morsi, for his part, had made it into the
Egyptian parliament. Because members of the Muslim Brotherhood were not
allowed to run for political office under Mubarak, Morsi masqueraded as an
"independent." The two men had had "a lot of contact with each other" to
further their goal of spreading the Brotherhood's message as widely as
possible, says Sharnoubi.
For information expert Sharnoubi, Morsi was "a typical man from the country,
a fellah with peasant origins who quickly integrated himself into the
machine." At the time, claims Sharnoubi, Morsi was "downright submissive to
the Brotherhood's leadership." Morsi was apparently completely opposed to
the Brotherhood becoming more open, as Sharnoubi had advocated. "He fought
against any internal democratization."
It seemed "inconceivable" to Sharnoubi that Morsi's group would one day
assume power in Egypt. In fact, he says, he would have "found it even less
likely" that Morsi, a modest member of parliament, would become president.
Even in the highest government position, Morsi cannot have shed the
Brotherhood's mission like an old suit, says Sharnoubi. "A man like Morsi,
with such deep convictions, can't do that. If we hear anything else from
him, it'll be a pretense." He explains that Morsi owes his survival under
autocrat Mubarak to this "talent for assimilation," and that he is a "master
'Any Cooperation with Israel is a Serious Sin'
There is too much at stake now, says Sharnoubi. There are the aid payments
from Europe and the United States, which Egypt's ailing economy urgently
needs. And Morsi himself also needs the West's goodwill. If there is a
"power struggle with democratically minded forces," he says, the president
will depend on intercession from Washington, Brussels and Berlin.
Sharnoubi wasn't surprised by the Morsi hate video. "Agitation against the
Israelis is in keeping with the way Morsi thinks. For the Morsi I know, any
cooperation with Israel is a serious sin, a crime." Morsi's choice of words
is also nothing new, says Sharnoubi. As proof, he opens his black laptop and
shows us evidence of the former Muslim Brotherhood member's true sentiments.
Indeed, the video gaffes do not appear to be a one-time occurrence. In 2004
Morsi, then a member of the Egyptian parliament, allegedly raged against the
"descendants of apes and pigs," saying that there could be "no peace" with
them. The remarks were made at a time when Israeli soldiers had accidentally
shot and killed three Egyptian police officers. The source of the quote can
hardly be suspected of incorrectly quoting fellow Brotherhood members:
Ichwan Online, the Islamist organization's website.
Few people are as familiar with the contents of that website as Sharnoubi,
who was the its editor-in-chief until 2011. The current president became the
general inspector of the organization in 2007, says Sharnoubi. In this
capacity, Morsi would have been partly responsible for the anti-Jewish
propaganda on the website, which featured the "banner of jihad" at the time
and saw "Jews and Zionists as archenemies." The threats are attributed to
the undisputed leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badi. According to the
website, Badi's creed is: "Resistance is the only solution against
Zionist-American arrogance and tyranny."
It was under the editorship of Sharnoubi, who stresses that he condemns the
"Israeli government's settlement policy," that Morsi gave a self-promoting
interview in May 2009. Referring to the Israelis, the current president
said: "They all have the same nature. They are equally shaped by shrewdness,
deception and hate." He added that their only objectives are "killing,
aggression and subjugation."
Former fellow Muslim Brotherhood member Sharnoubi expects "no words of
regret, at least not sincere ones," for his offensive remarks in the
scandalous film. Anti-Israeli rhetoric, he says, is a "cornerstone of the
Sharnoubi assumes that cordial moves like the letter to Peres have only one
goal: "To secure and expand the dominance of the Brotherhood." Only
recently, the president issued a decree that gave him absolute powers, and
Morsi currently controls all three branches of government. "He has secured
more power than his predecessor Mubarak ever had."
Sharnoubi's vision of a future Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood is
horrifying. "They will infiltrate all areas of our society: government
offices and ministries, schools and universities, as well as the police and
the military. They will eliminate their enemies."
Isn't he exaggerating?
"Not in the least," says Sharnoubi, noting that the Brotherhood is already
infiltrating the security apparatus. "The Brotherhood will never give up its
power without a fight."
When he leaves the café, Sharnoubi looks toward Tahrir Square, where there
is no end to the turmoil. Last Friday, once again, there was rioting and
there were clashes between Morsi opponents and the police, and some were
killed or injured. For Sharnoubi, this is "merely a small foretaste of an
imminent popular uprising."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan