“I write this from the darkness of solitary confinement in Egypt’s most notorious prison, where I have been held for more than three years,” the official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Gehad El-Haddad, wrote in a letter published by the New York Times.
El-Haddad is one of thousands currently imprisoned for links with the outlawed organisation and is currently residing in solitary confinement within one of Egypt’s notorious torture prisons, Scorpian.
The letter written by El-Haddad from his prison cell is in response to an inquiry currently underway in the United States on whether the MB should be designated a terrorist group.
“We have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light,” El-Haddad added in the letter.
“We are not terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasises the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law.”
In the letter, El-Hadad explains that the group is a “morally conservative, socially aware grassroots movement that has dedicated its resources to public service for the past nine decades.”
He explained that the group has always engaged politically in Egyptian institutions as well socially addressing the needs of the people.
“Despite being the most persecuted group under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, our involvement in the Parliament, either in coalitions with other political groups or as independents, is a testament to our commitment to legal change and reform.”
“We spoke truth to power in an environment full of rubber-stamp parties. We worked with independent pro-democracy organisations against plans to hand the presidency to Mr Mubarak’s son.”
The Trump administration’s consideration of the organisation would be welcomed by Egypt, who has been at odds with the organisation since the group’s birth as a nationalist movement under British occupation in the 1920s.
In recent decades, the MB has gained popularity by offering the prospect of a religiously based alternative to the corrupt, autocratic governments Egypt has seen for decades.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Syria have all considered the group a terrorist organisation due to the threat the group seeks to topple existing governments.
The MB came to power in Egypt in 2012 following the 2011 uprising which ousted Mubarak and paved the way Mohamed Morsi to become the country’s first democratically elected president.
However a year later Morsi was ousted in a military coup, led by current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and subsequently arrested and sentenced to death.
Since then supporters of the MB have been systematically targeted with thousands arrested and imprisoned in Egypt’s dungeons and thousands more sentenced to death in Al-Sisi’s repressive crackdown.
El-Haddad said the group recognises that mistakes were made during its short time in power.
“During the one year of Egypt’s nascent democracy…we were unaware of the amount of pushback we would receive from hard-liners in these institutions. We were ill-equipped to handle the level of corruption within the state. We pursued reforms through government, ignoring public protest in the streets.”
“In hindsight, I regret that political manoeuvring created distance between us and the people we have long lived to serve, a hard-learned lesson from the Arab Spring. We recognise our political mishaps, but the leap from public deliberation to detentions and fallacious designations is preposterous, short-sighted and an alarming precedent.”
The group has continuously called for its supporters to adopt its unequivocal commitment to nonviolence and peaceful resistance which counters the unprecedented state violence Egypt has witnessed over the last few years.
“State authorities are responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances of hundreds of civilians and the detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners. This continued escalation in repressive measures has been described by independent human rights organisations as constituting crimes against humanity.”
“Despite all of that, we hold on to our belief that political disagreements should be settled with deliberation, not fear-mongering and terror,” El-Haddad explains.
In the letter, El-Haddad refuted the Egyptian state narrative that the MB has “spawned” violence in other groups who have been accused of being “offshoots” of the organisation.
“This is wildly misleading,” El-Haddad explained. “In the cases where people did leave the Muslim Brotherhood to embrace violence, they did so specifically because they found no path in our philosophy, vision of society or movement for such extremism. A great many of these extremists — if not all — consider us apostates and politically naïve.”
“Our movement has outlived intolerant societies, repressive regimes, violent rebel groups and the rapid drive to a clash of civilisations by extremists the world over. To attribute terrorism to us is akin to attributing the violence of Timothy McVeigh, who set off a deadly bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995, to patriotism, or white supremacist ideologies to Christian teachings.”
El-Haddad concluded the letter by reiterating the purpose of the MB as an organisation devoted to providing social service programmes “in poor neighbourhoods, including free clinics, food banks and academic and logistic support to poor college students.”
“We fill a void created by corruption, absence of state provision and lack of an adequate civil society.”