Head of Egypt human rights group fears Brotherhood takeover

Political refugee in Canada and president and founder of One Free World International, says ‘true’ democracy five years away.

Senior Muslim Brotherhood members 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Senior Muslim Brotherhood members 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Rev. Majed el-Shafie, an Egyptian Muslim who converted to Christianity and was tortured and condemned to death, fears that the current upheaval in Egypt will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood.
Shafie is alive today because he managed to escape Egypt and get to Israel by driving a jet-ski from Taba in Sinai to Eilat in 1998.
Rev. Shafie, who was eventually given political asylum in Canada and now lives in Toronto, is the president and founder of the largest human rights organization monitoring events in Egypt, known as One Free World International, El-Shafie Ministries.
His organization, which monitors violations in Egypt and other Arab states against the Christian minority, has 24,000 people in Egypt alone updating him on the situation on the ground there.
Click for full Jpost coverage of Egypt
Click for full Jpost coverage of Egypt
“We have people all throughout Egypt who are informants letting us know what is really going on there.
Many of these people are volunteers who do this because they believe in it. But others are Egyptians, including some who work in the police and the army, who take bribes to be an informant. That is how we do it.”
According to Shafie, “the Muslim Brotherhood has used the demonstrations in Egypt to advance its agenda. They are going street to street, door to door asking people to go out to demonstrate... They want a hand in the new government. They are being more aggressive, more active, are coming out in full power.”
Shafie says that the Muslim Brotherhood is popular with the poor, illiterate people of Egypt “because they provide the basic food and necessities to them... The Muslim Brotherhood is very wealthy. They own supermarkets in Egypt and they get funds from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
He believes that if elections are held in Egypt in the near future, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely come to power.
Shafie, 34, was born a Muslim in Cairo to a distinguished family of lawyers and judges. He was exposed at an early age, through a Christian friend, to hatred toward the Christian minority in Egypt. He decided to convert to Christianity and subsequently wrote a book about it. As a result, he became an outcast and a victim of oppression.
He began a mission to insure that the Christians in Egypt had all the same legal rights as the Muslim community there. After beginning a ministry which built two churches, a Bible school and a medical clinic, he established a newspaper to request that the Egyptian government grant equal rights to the Christian community.
The government did not tolerate this, and Shafie was arrested in 1998 and taken to the torture section of the Abu Zaabel prison in Cairo.
“I was jailed at Abu Zaabel jail and tortured for seven days, and then put under house arrest for three months... After receiving the death penalty, I escaped from house arrest and hid with a Beduin family for two months in Sinai.
“Then I went to the Hilton hotel in Taba, [near the border with Israel] and I stole a jet-ski and landed in front of the Princess Hotel in Eilat, in Israel... It was about a three-minute ride on the jet-ski,” he said.
But when he got to Eilat, Shafie was imprisoned again – this time by Israeli authorities because the government did not know what to do in his circumstances. Legally, he could not stay in Israel; but if they sent him back to Egypt, he would be executed.
“I was in an Israeli prison because under the peace treaty with Egypt, they couldn’t take me in,” he said.
He stayed in prison in Israel for “one year, three months, 15 days, 12 hours and 24 minutes. When you are in prison you count every minute.”
Shafie was eventually released through the assistance of the UN, Amnesty International and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which managed to obtain political asylum for him in Canada, where he emigrated and became a citizen in 2006.
Shafie, who founded as One Free World International, El-Shafie Ministries in 2004, cautioned that the United States should not support Mohamed ElBaradei’s attempt to become the leader to replace Mubarak, as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would “ride to power on his coattails.”
He said, “I am concerned that under the current circumstances, Mubarak’s abrupt departure will create a political vacuum, which will be filled by Islamic extremists. The West appears to be embracing Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the UN nuclear inspection agency, as a replacement for Mubarak. This is of serious concern as ElBaradei, in addition to betraying heavy anti-Israel sentiment through his actions at the UN agency, is communicating with the Muslim Brotherhood, [which has up to now been] a banned Islamic extremist movement, in order to actively involve the Brotherhood in the future political landscape of Egypt.”
Shafie noted that ElBaradei has said he intends to include the Muslim Brotherhood, which he has referred to as “an integral part of Egyptian society,” in the political process, and that ElBaradei has called the Brotherhood “a conservative group that favors secular democracy and human rights.”
Many Western news outlets have adopted the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative, nonviolent movement. But, Shafie countered: “Nothing could be further from the truth. While it officially renounces violence, the Muslim Brotherhood is the ideological parent of terrorist movements such as Hamas and al-Qaida. Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are behind daily forced conversion attempts, violent attacks, and torture against Egyptian Christians. The Brotherhood cooperates with Hamas in Gaza and [its] leaders are determined to launch war against Israel.”
“This is a very serious matter and we cannot, under any circumstances, allow the Muslim Brotherhood to increase its influence in Egypt. To do so would be to condemn the Egyptian people, from Christians and other religious minorities to moderate and secular Muslims, to a regime of oppression and religious tyranny that will make Mubarak’s repressive regime seem like a beacon of freedom.”
Shafie said that in Egypt there are “daily persecutions” by Muslim extremists of the Christian population, which makes up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.
For example, he said that on January 30, a week after the demonstrations began, not far from Cairo, members of two Christian families were killed in a brutal attack by Muslim extremists.
“They were randomly killed... Muslim extremists took advantage of the fact that with all the ongoing chaos there were no police around,” Shafie said. But, he notes, “this was not widely reported in the mainstream Western media.”
According to Shafie, the two families were killed by “Jamt Islamiya,” a group that “was born out of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Shafi believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, they “will say at the outset that they respect the treaty with Israel, but then shortly afterwards they will say they want to reform the agreement.”
Shafie is of the view that “Obama needs to work with the Egyptian army and Omar Suleiman, as democracy can’t occur tomorrow.
The regime needs to be supported until Suleiman can reform the constitution and educate the people, and allow freedom of the media, freedom of speech and work toward a free election.”
When asked how long he felt would be needed before a free election could take place in Egypt, Shafie answered, “Five years from now, there should be an election...
Democracy in Egypt is an infant – it needs to learn to crawl before it can learn to walk.”
Shafie has family in Egypt but “is not in communication with them since they disowned me after I converted to Christianity.” He emphasized that “the people of Egypt have been living ‘in darkness’ under a dictatorship for 30 years – you can’t expect them to adjust to the light right away.”
“Thirty percent of the population is illiterate – they can’t read and write their own name – you can’t give them absolute democracy in the beginning, because it’s easy for them to turn to extremism. The United States and other countries should support Omar Suleiman. We need slow change.
“Democracy as we know it in the West cannot simply be transplanted into Egypt, a country that has never experienced any form of true democracy.
Democracy cannot survive where people cannot read their own constitution. It must be taught, nurtured and brought to maturity so that it can flourish.”
If there were elections now, Shafie says the Muslim Brotherhood would win because they are “the most organized group.” In his view, any transitional or new government under Suleiman “will be playing with fire by including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
He is also concerned that if democracy is brought to Egypt too quickly, “we will see the same scenario that we saw in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006, where Hamas won the elections,” or we risk “repeating the Iranian scenario, where pro-democracy forces deposed the shah in 1979 but were quickly overcome by the radical Islamic ayatollahs.”
He noted, “When Egypt had elections in 2005, even though they were rigged, the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 out of 454 seats in the Egyptian parliament. The Brotherhood really got more than 88 seats; but once they got 88 seats, the regime shut down the elections completely.”
Regarding Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, Shafie said that the peace was not one that was really between people.
“It was a cold peace that the Egyptians entered into [in order] to get money from the Americans,” he said. “There is no love lost between Egypt and Israel.”
He said Mubarak’s regime was supporting Hamas under the table by enabling the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza.
There are reasons for Israel to be concerned about developments in Egypt.
“There is now a whole wellequipped army in Egypt [due to American support Egypt received after entering into the peace agreement with Israel]. It is a built-up modernized army that could in the future be at war with Israel.”
Shafie said that unlike Egypt, the Arab gulf states are stable, even though there is no democracy there “because the people are wealthy.” He said that “Saudi Arabia has a higher standard of living than Egypt.”
In Egypt, due to Mubarak’s corrupt regime, Shafie said, “the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class is disappearing. The average Egyptian salary is under $2 a day.”
Rhonda Spivak is editor of the online newspaper The Winnipeg Jewish Review, found at www.winnipegjewishreview.com.