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,
I feel 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.
think that these times call for more resolve…
Of course. We need someone with resolve and strength, who believes in
the revolution, and comes from the ranks of the revolution.
say that Dr. Essam Sharaf's conduct is the kind of politics that we
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.
What about the decision to freeze the governor's appointment?
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.
That's right. He is in charge, so how can he allow them to get away
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.
have criticized Dr. Sharaf for seeking the help of Salafi sheiks to
resolve some problems…
That is an unforgivable mistake. Unfortunately, the state media welcomes
these people, and turns them into superstars. They grovel before them.
you opposed to any religious movement assuming power?
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?!
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?
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…
Turkish society enjoys full liberties. Every citizen can do whatever
he likes – from the religious perspective, as well as politically
But there is 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 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…
you prepared to give the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice
Party the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their intentions are
If the people elect them, we will blow our heads. Believe me, I will
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?
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 n 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 such things. Even at the lowest levels, not just
the intellectuals, the secular, and so on…
are always inclined to the middle of the road.
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 Shiite 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
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?!
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?
This is a silly and childish idea. We have been making this mistake
for 4,000 years. Every pharaoh would abolish everything that preceded
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.
once asked the Salafis if they would be willing to abolish this punishment.
Did they respond to you?
Precisely. If you want to implement this punishment, this means anyone
who abandons his religion must be punished.
you get a response from the Salafis?
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.