Following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian women's rights activist Iqbal Baraka, president of the Egyptian chapter of International PEN, the worldwide association of writers. The interview aired on Al-Hayat TV on May 29, 2011.
"We Need Someone with Resolve and Strength… and Comes From the Ranks of the Revolution"
Iqbal Baraka: "I feel that even though people are pleased with [Egypt PM] Dr. Essam Sharaf, he is not revolutionary enough, and his tempo is very slow. He is not a leader of a revolution. A revolution leader must be a strong and powerful man, who believes fervently in the revolution, and is not afraid. […]
"It is not the right time for Essam Sharaf. He is suitable for more peaceful times – times when we could travel to Africa, kiss people's heads, create a green belt around Egypt, and so on… Relaxation. But we are going through dangerous times. We're at a terrifying crossroads. That's impossible now."
Interviewer: "You think that these times call for more resolve…"
Iqbal Baraka: "Of course. We need someone with resolve and strength, who believes in the revolution, and comes from the ranks of the revolution."
Interviewer: "Some say that Dr. Essam Sharaf's conduct is the kind of politics that we need today."
Iqbal Baraka: "Personally, I am not enthusiastic about him. No. Allow me to tell you that when crimes are committed, without anybody being held accountable, placed on trial, or punished – this is not politics. This is a disappointment.
"It is inconceivable for a bunch of people, tribes, or groups to lay down on the railway tracks, and prevent tourists from reaching Luxor or Aswan, or from returning to Cairo. They were making Egypt in its entirety grind to a halt, for a reason that is the epitome of stupidity and foolishness – their opposition to having a governor who is [a Copt]. They have said it loud and clear. I wish they hadn't admitted it. They should have been punished immediately. They should all have been gathered and placed on trial."
"Why Should the Governor Be a Police Officer? He Could Have been a University Professor, a Journalist, a Lawyer, a Doctor"
Interviewer: "What about the decision to freeze the governor's appointment?"
Iqbal Baraka: "There were many reasons to oppose his appointment. He hails from the national security agency. Why?! That was the first terrible mistake that was made. Why do you bring us one of those people, whose true nature has been exposed? For what reasons? Why should the governor be a police officer? He could have been a university professor, a journalist, a lawyer, a doctor… Why? I don't get it. The choice itself was a mistake. There are three or four reasons why this man should not be governor, but they chose a lame and shameful reason – the fact that he is a Copt. What is this nonsense? In my opinion, Dr. Essam Sharaf himself should be placed on trial."
Interviewer: "On trial?"
Iqbal Baraka: That's right. He is in charge, so how can he allow them to get away scot-free?
"The revolution is liberal and democratic, and it accepts anybody, so long as he is elected by the people. Have we elected the Salafis to rule us?! With all due respect, what's going on here? Essam Sharaf and the ministers do not have the right to seek the help of these people."
Interviewer: "Many have criticized Dr. Sharaf for seeking the help of Salafi sheiks to resolve some problems…"
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Iqbal Baraka: "That is an unforgivable mistake. Unfortunately, the state media welcomes these people, and turns them into superstars. They grovel before them."
"We Want a Civil State; That was the Goal of the Revolution… I am Not Dazzled by the Turkish Model at All… Erdoğan is an Extremely Despicable Man"
Interviewer: "Are you opposed to any religious movement assuming power?"
Iqbal Baraka: We want a civil state. That was the goal of the revolution. The slogan was: A civil revolution through peaceful means. Everyone agreed on this. How can we, who call for a civil revolution through peaceful means, possibly ask the clerics to come and rule us, and to mediate between us and the public?!" […]
Interviewer: "What about the implementation of the Turkish model in Egypt? As you know, the religious movement rules in Turkey, yet the world is dazzled by the Turkish model. Do you think this model is possible in Egypt?"
Iqbal Baraka: "I am not dazzled by the Turkish model at all. Allow me to disagree with you. I feel that Erdoğan is an extremely despicable man, who tries to have his cake and eat it. He portrays himself to the world as someone who is not an Islamist, and who does not want a religious state, while his political party is a religious party…"
Interviewer: "But Turkish society enjoys full liberties. Every citizen can do whatever he likes – from the religious perspective, as well as politically and socially."
Iqbal Baraka: "But there is a ban on religious political parties, and he is making all efforts to abolish this article in the constitution. He wants the religious parties to support him. Erdoğan is a dangerous man. By the way, the West is onto him. There are politicians and analysts in the West who see and understand everything. Erdoğan conducted an all-out campaign to restore the hijab to Turkish universities, and his wife wears the hijab." […]
"[The Muslim Brotherhood] will Ultimately Win Seats in Parliament… They have Hoarded Money and They are Well Organized"
Iqbal Baraka: "The Muslim Brotherhood learned from Erdoğan how to conceal what they really believe. They wear a peaceful civilian mask on their faces. This is one of their means. This is a form of propaganda, no more no less…"
Interviewer: "Aren't you prepared to give the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their intentions are good?"
Iqbal Baraka: "If the people elect them, we will blow our heads. Believe me, I will not object."
Interviewer: "Do you think that the choice of a Copt as the vice president of their party is a form of propaganda, or of concealing their true beliefs?"
Iqbal Baraka: "Of course. They are liars. In their platform, they said that they would not allow a Copt to rule Egypt. Of course we kicked up a fuss following this, and I was the first to respond to them on the basis of the Islam and the shari'a they said: 'no to a woman and no to a Copt.' They have no right to deny anybody the opportunity to rule Egypt, and to prevent him from having political aspirations. They have no right. What kind of party is this, which says: 'Those can, and these cannot?' How can a nation of 85 million be ruled in such a naïve way? […]
"The mixing of the sexes at university is a must. I reiterate: It is a must, because it prepares young men and women for life. […]
"Fortunately, the Egyptians by nature object to [banning this]. Even at the lowest levels, not just the intellectuals, the secular, and so on…"
Interviewer: "We are always inclined to the middle of the road."
Iqbal Baraka: "The middle of the road is Egypt's soul. Egypt does not like extremism. Let me tell you an historical anecdote. When the Fatimids ruled Egypt, they made it Shi'ite for I don't know how long. The day after they left, all the Egyptians became Sunni again. […]
"Women have fought for the liberation of Egyptian women. But now, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members are the enemies of women, and who see nothing good in women, and who try to hide women under chairs and behind screens, so they won't be seen, and who dress her up in a niqab or a hijab if she absolutely must leave the house… These people will ultimately win seats in parliament. Why? Because they have hoarded money, and they are well organized.
"They take a woman and make her a candidate, even if she doesn't want to, and has nothing to do with politics. She has been brought up to believe that her role is to stay at home, and to take care of her husband and her children. All of a sudden, she is thrown into the political fray, and money is spent on her.
"It is very likely that in the future parliament, three-quarters of the members will be women wearing the hijab, and seven-eighths will be women wearing the niqab, and they will be defending the freedom of women, the freedom of Egyptians. How can that be?!" […]
"The Salafis Do Not Dare to Talk Back to Me, because They Know that My Religious Education is Ten Times Better than Theirs"
Interviewer: "Before the break, we talked about a group of laws passed by Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the former president. Now, an idea has been raised to remove her name and her portrait from projects established in the days of the former president, Mubarak. Are you for or against this idea?"
Iqbal Baraka: "This is a silly and childish idea. We have been making this mistake for 4,000 years. Every pharaoh would abolish everything that preceded his rule. […]
"Everybody is entitled to choose his religion. Under no circumstances must we oppose this, because God said in the Koran 'Whoever will, let him believe, and whoever will, let him disbelieve.' […]
"Mistaken notions attributed falsely to Islam are spreading. Take, for example, the issue of the punishment for apostasy. Some claim that it is permission to kill anyone who leaves the fold of Islam. There is much controversy over this ruling. I don't want to give my opinion, because I am not a jurisprudent, and I don't want things attributed to me. But there is controversy over this. There is no evidence that there is such a thing as a punishment for apostasy. This was fabricated by some politicians."
Interviewer: "You once asked the Salafis if they would be willing to abolish this punishment. Did they respond to you?"
Iqbal Baraka: "Precisely. If you want to implement this punishment, this means anyone who abandons his religion must be punished."
Interviewer: "Did you get a response from the Salafis?"
Iqbal Baraka: "The Salafis do not dare to talk back to me, because they know that my religious education is ten times better than theirs. […]
"I do not support the niqab. I am in favor of abolishing it completely, because it is a ruse used by thieves and thugs to carry out more crimes. […]
"People do a disservice to this great religion by assuming that they can force a woman, created by Allah, to hide behind an ugly black curtain this way. This is a despicable thing, which is meaningless. We must fight it in the clearest and bravest manner. There is no niqab in Islam, and it must be banned in Egypt by law." […]