Emad Abdel Ghafour heads Egypt’s Watan Party: The Salafist leader who advises Mohamed Morsi.

An Interview With Influential Salafist leader Emad Abdel Ghafour

An Interview With Influential Salafist leader Emad Abdel Ghafour

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
May 31 2013 1:17 PM

Egypt From the Inside

An interview with Emad Abdel Ghafour, the leader of the new Egyptian Salafist party Watan.

(Continued from Page 1)

L.W.: The Salafists have criticized President Morsi for reaching out to Iran. How do you feel about it?

E.A.G.: This is not the Salafists—this is the Nour Party.

L.W.: The group you used to belong to. Do you share that view?
E.A.G.: They don't criticize him for communicating with Iran. They criticize him for bringing the Shiites to Egypt. They are afraid that Egypt will turn into a Shiite crescent.


L.W.: You fear Egypt will turn into a Shiite state?

E.A.G.: Yes, that they will come as tourists but will convert Egyptians into Shiites.

We should have political and economic relations with Iran. The problem is that we are afraid of having groups inside Egypt that have allegiances not to Egypt but to Iran.

L.W.: I thought the Salafists hated the Shiites.

E.A.G.: With the Shia, there are certain ideas that are a deviation from Islam, and we hate these ideas.

L.W.: Recently some Egyptian soldiers were captured in the Sinai. Didn't the group that seized the soldiers demand that the government release Salafists to get the soldiers back? You were in the president's office. What happened?

E.A.G.: No. The problem is that during President Hosni Mubarak's time, the treatment of the Sinai people was extremely harsh. They would go, for example, to arrest a drug dealer and not find him, so they would arrest the whole family. They would fabricate cases against them. There are now about 700 convicted Sinai people. They have been demanding—and I have been the mediator—that the president give them amnesty from the crimes they were convicted of. The president says he cannot give amnesty but he can give a fair retrial. But they want full amnesty. In this last incident, they demanded the release of 18 prisoners. There was pressure from the military and … when they felt surrounded [by the military], they released the soldiers.

I've been going to Sinai for a year now. There have been many mediations as to whether we can provide services to the people of Sinai, like redeveloping land to help them have a better lifestyle. We try to improve their conditions so they won't feel forgotten by the state.

L.W.: I understand that when President Morsi makes a decision, he consults senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Is that correct?

E.A.G.: No. There is a group that is close to the president. Let's call it a crisis-management group. There are specialized groups for different issues. For example, from an economic point of view, I truly believe he trusts Mr. Hassan Malek and Mr. Khairat el-Shater.

L.W.: Does President Morsi make decisions by taking orders?

E.A.G.: I totally disagree with that. I don't think so. I know he is an educated man, President Morsi, and he is very independent. He reads most of the reports he receives, and in my discussions with him I've found him aware of all the issues.

L.W.: What do you think is going to happen in Syria?

E.A.G.: The issue in Syria is very complicated and different from the situation in Egypt post–Arab Spring. The problem in Syria is that there is not a strong mediator between [the regime and the opposition] to stop the violence and convince each side that it is their interest to stop the violence. We need a strong mediator in the middle.

L.W.: How do you feel about the United States?

E.A.G.: We consider the American people our friends.

L.W.: What about the American government?

E.A.G.: Of course we have a lot of negative comments about some of the actions of the American government.

L.W.: Why?

E.A.G.: Sometimes the actions are against the will of the people in this region and sometimes even against the will of the American people.

L.W.: I don't understand the problem with the U.S. government—it helped to overthrow Mubarak.

E.A.G.: It's not just about Mubarak. For example, the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, and they should do that but also give the Afghan people a way to decide their future. The drone war and using drones for killing—a lot of people consider this a crime. There are so many issues like that that harm the image of the American government. These are important issues America needs to reconsider.

L.W.: Supposing the U.S. knows a terrorist is going to strike America; why shouldn't it strike him with a drone?

E.A.G.: Do you know for a fact he's a terrorist and is going to strike? You are killing on intent, not on actual actions, and this is a problem. If we think like this, we will be killing children while they are in the womb because they might be intending to do something like that. I personally believe in dialogue and finding political solutions and not killing on intent. I truly believe in that. Sooner or later, everyone sits down to debate and discuss.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.