Mohammad Soudan was born in Alexandria (Egypt) in June 1956. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1979 and steadily rose through the ranks. Briefly imprisoned on several occasions, by the time of the Egyptian Revolution of January-February 2011 Soudan was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s media committee. Following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 he played a leading role in the formation and management of the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party. Currently Soudan is the Foreign Relations Secretary of this party. He is also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Arbitration Committee, a five-man body that mediates and resolves disputes amongst MB members at all levels of the movement. Furthermore, during President Morsi’s brief tenure (June 2012-June 2013) Soudan acted as the chief consultant engineer to the governor of Alexandria in a voluntary capacity. He fled Egypt on 20 August 2013 at the height of state-sponsored repression against street protesters opposing the forceful overthrow of democratically elected Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi in early July. Soudan currently resides in the United Kingdom, where the interview took place in mid-February.
Mahan Abedin – What is your history with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)?
Mohammad Soudan – I was in the Faculty of Engineering at Alexandria University from 1973 to 1978. At the time the Muslim Brotherhood was active under the name of Jammah Islamiyah.  This was Sadat’s condition for their continuing activity in the universities and other sectors. In the 1970s Sadat hoped to use the Muslim Brotherhood against the communists. It was not until the early 1980s that the movement reverted to using the original name of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mahan Abedin – So which year did you join the Muslim Brotherhood?
Mohammad Soudan – I joined in 1979 after finishing my degree the year earlier. I joined at a time when I was conscripted in the army. So by the time I joined the MB, I was already an indoctrinated member of military security. I finished my military service in July 1981. Before I was formally de-commissioned the military referred me to the security services for a mild interrogation. I was told that the intelligence services were aware of my daawa (propagation) activities and that I was under observation. I was warned not to get too deeply involved with these groups. They were not certain which group I had joined since at the time many Islamic groups were active in Egypt, but they appeared to have some idea about my activities.
Mahan Abedin – This was immediately before Anwar Sadat’s assassination in October 1981?
Mohammad Soudan – Yes. And after Sadat was killed, I had to escape to Germany with Kamal El-Helbawy and Issam Al-Hadad. Many other MB leaders and activists escaped at that time. From Germany I moved to Holland, before returning to Egypt in 1982, when tensions had subsided. I restarted my work with the MB in earnest after my return.
Mahan Abedin – What type of activities were you engaged in at that time?
Mohammad Soudan – My activities encompassed a wide range of work which can be loosely categorised as daawa (Islamic propagation). I worked for MB-affiliated NGOS in addition to lecturing in mosques and other activities. I had to flee Egypt again in late 1993 and settled in the United States. I didn’t return until 2004. I was very active in the parliamentary elections of 2005 as the head of the media committee of the MB in Alexandria. I was re-arrested on four occasions in 2009 and 2010 because of my high position in the MB media committee. The intelligence services discovered this fact and detained me as a result. Altogether I spent several months in prison intermittently.
Mahan Abedin – What was your role in the Egyptian revolution of January-February 2011?
Mohammad Soudan – I was released from prison several months before the revolution and I played an active part in the revolution.
Mahan Abedin – The Western media appear to have formed the conclusion that the MB did not play a leading role in the revolt against Hosni Mubarak. How accurate is this assessment?
Mohammad Soudan – This is a big lie! The movement played a full and active role in the revolt. There was a crucial Muslim Brotherhood meeting involving all district-level Ikhwan leaders across Egypt at midnight on the 27th of January 2011, subsequent to which the movement mobilised the full extent of its organisational network in support of the demonstrations and the revolution. We were security-conscious inasmuch as we were ordered not to use mobile phones to communicate. There is no question that the MB was the organiser of the revolution, because we were the only group with the capability to organise people on a mass scale. The mosques – and specifically Friday prayers – were a focal point for mobilisation. In stark contrast, other Islamic movements, specifically the Salafis, were doing everything they could to stall and defeat the revolution. In Alexandria the Salafis were distributing leaflets dismissing the revolt as haram (forbidden). In Alexandria at least the Salafis wanted to maintain the Mubarak regime.
Mahan Abedin – Were you surprised by the speed of Mubarak’s fall?
Mohammad Soudan – The biggest factor here was the split between the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and the Mubarak family, which aspired to maintain power in a hereditary fashion by engineering the rise of Gamal Mubarak as successor to his father. The SCAF cleverly aligned itself with the protestors and stole the revolution from right under their noses.
Mahan Abedin – As veteran and battle hardened political activists and revolutionaries shouldn’t you have anticipated these scenarios and taken appropriate counter measures?
Mohammad Soudan – From the 28TH of January to 11th of February, we were engaged in an intense struggle to overthrow Mubarak. We could not have anticipated everything and even if we did we did not have sufficient resources to out-manoeuvre more well-placed players.
Mahan Abedin – Let’s fast forward a little bit. Following Mubarak’s downfall the security regime in Egypt eased up considerably. To what extent was the MB free from repression from this period (i.e. 11 February 2011) to Mohammad Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013? And how organised did you really become?
Mohammad Soudan – Even before Mubarak’s overthrow, we were widely recognised as the largest official opposition and we had 88 deputies in parliament. Mubarak gave us some room to operate and to be fair he observed certain red lines. For example, he never arrested female members and activists of the Brotherhood. What is happening in Egypt now in terms of repression is not comparable to what was happening under Mubarak.
Mahan Abedin – The Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has not yet been banned in Egypt. Is the party still undertaking official activities?
Mohammad Soudan – The proscription of the party, as was the case with the proscription of the Muslim Brotherhood proper, is only a matter of time as the regime has bought the judiciary. Even when Morsi was in power they burnt down 32 offices of the FJP.
Mahan Abedin – Who burnt them down?
Mohammad Soudan – The so-called third current, presumably the military and their thugs in addition to remnants of the Mubarak regime.
Mahan Abedin – How may MB members are currently under detention?
Mohammad Soudan – It is difficult to be exact, but we believe that up to 23,000 people have been detained since July, of which 60-65 % are people affiliated to the MB.
Mahan Abedin – On the disputed question of casualties how many people have been killed on the streets since July?
Mohammad Soudan – I was in Rabaa Al-Adawiya on 14 August and on that day at least 2,550 people were killed in Rabaa, in addition to 57 people killed elsewhere.
Mahan Abedin – The security forces were using live rounds to cut people down?
Mohammad Soudan – They were using everything, every tool which could be used for killing.
Mahan Abedin – How close did you come to losing your life?
Mohammad Soudan – Very close. Death was all around us. But the will of Allah (SWT) was that I should not become a martyr on that day.
Mahan Abedin – Who was doing the killing?
Mohammad Soudan – Both the army and the police. A lot of plain clothes police officers and thugs were also on the scene killing people.
Mahan Abedin – Were you surprised by the scale and intensity of the violence deployed by the army and the police?
Mohammad Soudan – From the army yes, I was very surprised. They were shooting and killing people as though they are birds. But I wasn’t surprised with the police. We always knew they were brutal.
Mahan Abedin – What about violence from the opposing side? Who is behind the attacks on churches and the police and other symbols of the state?
Mohammad Soudan – The security forces have form on arranging false flag operations which they then attribute to militants belonging to the Salafi-Jihadi current. When security service offices were raided following the collapse of Mubarak in February 2011 people found documents that gave weight to these suspicions.
Mahan Abedin – What do you make of this relatively new group, the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (the Partisans of Jerusalem), which is claiming responsibility for many of the terrorist-style attacks on the Egyptian security forces in addition to foreign tourists?
Mohammad Soudan – This group is probably the creation of the security services. I don’t believe this is a genuine organisation with an independent hierarchy and chain of command.
Mahan Abedin – But in view of the violence inflicted on the MB and its allies since July it is not altogether surprising that retaliatory violence has been meted out to the security forces. Why are you so anxious to attribute all the violence to one side?
Mohammad Soudan – If we wanted to struggle through violence we would have done this a long time ago.
Mahan Abedin – So no matter how bad the situation gets, no matter how harsh the crackdown, you will never contemplate resorting to violence to alter the opposing side’s behaviour?
Mohammad Soudan – This has been our policy for a long time, for decades in fact.
Mahan Abedin – How long do you contemplate the cycle of protests and repression to last?
Mohammad Soudan – I think the regime did not envisage the protests to continue for so long. This is really hard on the soldiers as they are being asked to patrol the streets and in effect to fight their own people. This is not their job. We have many reports of soldiers and officers being jailed because they refused orders to shoot or confront their own people. Sooner or later, the army will be exhausted.
Mahan Abedin – But there seems to be a lot of political will behind the repression and the military-led regime appears to have a lot of momentum behind it, not to mention key external support not only from the West but also from Russia.
Mohammad Soudan – What happened in Egypt was a conspiracy that involved both domestic and external actors. [Field Marshall Abdel Fatah el] Sisi is not the strong man of the new regime. Someone behind the scenes is the strong man.
Mahan Abedin – Who is the strong man of the new regime?
Mohammad Soudan – I think it is [General Sedki] Sobhi.
Mahan Abedin – But Sisi appears to be very popular with sections of the Egyptian public.
Mohammad Soudan – This is media hype. In reality Sisi is a weak man.
Mahan Abedin – Let’s discuss constitutional affairs. The new constitution (adopted last month) is being portrayed as liberal and progressive. What is your objection to it?
Mohammad Soudan – In short, instead of defining Egypt as a country with an army, the new constitution gives the impression that Egypt is an army with a country. If the constitution is implemented in full then every Egyptian citizen is potentially vulnerable to being subjected to martial law should they fall foul of the authorities.
Mahan Abedin – The Egyptian authorities are hopeful that the adoption of the new constitution will lead to greater political stability. On what grounds do you disagree with their prediction?
Mohammad Soudan – On the grounds that the repression has not eased, on the contrary it is intensifying.
Mahan Abedin – Was ousted president Mohammad Morsi trying to move Egypt in a decidedly Islamist direction with the previous constitution?
Mohammad Soudan – This is not true. The process behind the drafting of the former constitution was much more inclusive and democratic than the one employed recently under Sisi. One hundred elected people were involved in the consultation process for the former constitution, of which fifty were liberals, leftists and from the ranks of religious minorities like Coptic Christians. The fifty people selected for drafting the new constitution were all handpicked by the military, presumably on the grounds that they are “safe” choices.
Mahan Abedin – One criticism levelled at the MB during the period when the movement appeared to be in power, i.e. early 2011 to July 2013, is that you lacked a coherent vision for the country. What is your vision for Egypt? If you believe in democracy, then what’s the difference between you and the secularists?
Mohammad Soudan – The Muslim Brotherhood has a coherent plan to change and fix society. We don’t want to force the people to pray. Egypt can only become Islamic in a gradual fashion.
Mahan Abedin – What did Morsi specifically do to bring about this gradual change?
Mohammad Soudan – Morsi’s priority was to improve the economy and to raise living standards. He was beginning to make inroads in this area, for instance by raising the salaries of key public service sector workers like teachers and lecturers and by restoring full pensions for civil servants. In addition, Morsi was planning to implement the minimum wage and equally importantly the maximum wage on 1st July 2013. The minimum wage is 1,200 Egyptian pounds (circa 172 USD) per month and the maximum wage was going to be set at 50,000 Egyptian pounds (circa 7,180 USD) per month.
Mahan Abedin – If that is indeed the case then why did so many people, 23 million according to some sources, came onto the streets to call for Morsi’s removal in late June and early July? Even if we dispute the numbers, and many do, there is no doubting that hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, poured onto the streets to protest at Morsi’s style of governance. What did Morsi do or didn’t do to alienate so many people?
Mohammad Soudan – This was media hype. Only a few hundred thousand came out for a few hours on one day alone, and not several days as the media claim. Many of these people were counter-revolutionaries and loyalists of the former regime. To give you an example, Mubarak’s portrait was raised high in Tahrir Square on 30th June (2013). This shows that something was wrong. This was a counter-revolutionary crowd.
Mahan Abedin – To what extent were the Salafis complicit in Morsi’s downfall?
Mohammad Soudan – This was a big conspiracy from the beginning. As I said earlier, right at the outset of the revolution in January 2011, the Salafis were on the streets agitating in favour of Mubarak. The army and its allies saw a lot of potential in the Salafis in so far as they are a deep-rooted Islamic movement with a lot of followers.
Mahan Abedin – Are you claiming that the establishment helped the Salafis to organise politically, principally in the form of the Al-Nour (Light) party?
Mohammad Soudan – Sure. The system was facilitating their progress because the Salafis had very little political experience. They could not advance so far in such a short period. But their lack of experience is catching up with them hence the split in January 2013 which led to the formation of the Al-Watan (Homeland) party. Not everybody in the Salafi movement wants to align so closely to the establishment. There are influential dissenting voices within the Salafi movement, which is bound to fracture this community more and more in the years to come.
Mahan Abedin – Let’s take stock of the bigger picture. This new Egyptian regime appears to have a lot of momentum behind it as evidenced by the determination and iron-clad discipline by which they are going about their business in a step by step fashion. The inevitable impression that is formed at this juncture is that Egypt is now poised for a long period of authoritarian rule dominated by the military. Do you agree with this gloomy prediction?
Mohammad Soudan – As I said, this is a big conspiracy that was organised form the inside and outside.
Mahan Abedin – You keep talking about a conspiracy. What are you doing to defeat this scenario?
Mohammad Soudan – It is not easy. If Morsi had been allowed to rule and to implement his project, then the Muslim Brotherhood would have become a role model in the whole of the Arab World.
Mahan Abedin – Do you agree that Morsi failed to deal with the so-called deep state?
Mohammad Soudan – There is no doubt that the deep state was left alone to plot in secret. But I don’t agree that Morsi failed in anything. Morsi had other priorities, namely he wanted to improve the economy.
Mahan Abedin – Apart from organising endless street protests, what else can you do to oppose the new Egyptian regime?
Mohammad Soudan – We can organise civil disobedience and already we are organising small-scale strikes at the neighbourhood level. We are also working hard to galvanise international public opinion against the coup.
Mahan Abedin – What is happening in the Sinai Peninsula? Morsi was often criticised for not being harsh enough on Sinai-based militants.
Mohammad Soudan – It is a very complicated picture in the Sinai, primarily because of lack of socio-economic development. That region was neglected for decades and Morsi was trying to restore the Sinai people’s dignity. There is a wide range of political, economic and administrative discrimination against Sinai residents and Morsi wanted to address this problem. It is the poverty and discrimination that is at the heart of instability in the Sinai.
Mahan Abedin – What about activities of armed groups? Are you saying the conflict in Sinai is not real?
Mohammad Soudan – To some extent it is, but the attacks on the police, the army and the intelligence services are not real. They are false flag operations carried out by the deep state.
Mahan Abedin – Let us talk about the internal dynamics of the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the core ideological goal of the Brotherhood at present? Do you still aspire to an Islamic state?
Mohammad Soudan – Yes, but very gradually and absolutely without force.
Mahan Abedin – What is the definition of this Islamic state?
Mohammad Soudan – Our definition is a state of affairs where the Egyptian people perform their duty toward their religion, country and families.
Mahan Abedin – When you talk about duty this creates the impression of some type of citizenship ethos, which is hardly original.
Mohammad Soudan – We are not talking only of duty, but the desired outcome is for the Egyptian people to express the full extent of their Islamic identity.
Mahan Abedin – Many would argue that an Islamic state requires a public face. Under what conditions would you envisage enforcing the Islamic hijab?
Mohammad Soudan – Under no conditions. The hijab cannot be forced on anyone. This is not the way to change society.
Mahan Abedin – I want to criticise the Morsi administration from another angle, namely that Morsi didn’t really do anything to change the face of Egypt. To outsiders at least Egypt under Morsi looked more or less the same as Egypt under Mubarak. How valid is this criticism?
Mohammad Soudan – We were under a lot of pressure from numerous enemies, including the deep state, the remnants of the former regime, militant secularists and their allies in the West. Morsi aspired to foster Muslim unity with a view to the creation of a common Islamic economic area similar to the EU but he wasn’t given the chance to implement these plans.
Mahan Abedin – Is the MB divided between reformists and conservatives?
Mohammad Soudan – The so-called reformists are very few in number and what tends to happen is that once the media identify these people they amplify their importance in a bid to undermine the Brotherhood.
Mahan Abedin – Are you saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is a united movement in terms of ideology, ethos and manhaj (programme)?
Mohammad Soudan – Absolutely.
Mahan Abedin – Are you confident of maintaining this unity in the face of unprecedented state-sponsored repression and violence? Are you not afraid of the radicalisation of some elements within your ranks?
Mohammad Soudan – We have kept our discipline in the past seven months and we will do so in the future. We train, educate and culture our people patiently and methodically.
Mahan Abedin – What is the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood in numerical terms?
Mohammad Soudan – In Egypt we have close to a million indoctrinated members who are active in an organised sense. If you define membership more loosely we have close to three million members and active sympathisers.
Mahan Abedin – What is your overall strength both organisationally, politically and electorally? What is the minimum number of people that you would expect to vote for the MB and its satellite groups in elections?
Mohammad Soudan – Judging by statistics from previous elections then at least 13 million. But this has increased since the bloodshed.
Mahan Abedin – How important is the exiled MB leadership to the struggle back home?
Mohammad Soudan – At present, we have two members of the General Guidance Bureau outside Egypt. They left immediately before the coup. One of them resides in Qatar and the other is here in the UK. Following the coup many other leaders fled the country in various ways, many tried to flee south through Sudan or flee west through Libya. The former Prime Minister Hisham Qandil – who was not even a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – was detained and mistreated while trying to cross into Sudan. In direct answer to your question, we still have many leaders in Egypt who have gone underground and they are using sophisticated means of communication to lead and coordinate activities, which is driving the security and intelligence services crazy. At an international level, we are doing our best to raise awareness of the coup and to rally international public opinion against the new dictatorship in Egypt.
 Not to be confused with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a formerly militant group that achieved international notoriety in the 1990s by targeting the Egyptian tourism sector.
Mahan Abedin is an academic and journalist specialising in Islamic affairs.