TORA, Egypt — 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. I am forced to write these words because an inquiry is underway in the United States regarding charges that the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization to which I have devoted years of my life, is a terrorist group.
We are not terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has lived in two modes: surviving in hostile political environments or uplifting society’s most marginalized. As such, we have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light.
We are a morally conservative, socially aware grass-roots movement that has dedicated its resources to public service for the past nine decades. Our idea is very simple: We believe that faith must translate into action. That the test of faith is the good you want to do in the lives of others, and that people working together is the only way to develop a nation, meet the aspirations of its youth and engage the world constructively. We believe that our faith is inherently pluralistic and comprehensive and that no one has a divine mandate or the right to impose a single vision on society.
Since our inception, we have been engaged politically in the institutions of our country as well as socially to address the direct needs of 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 organizations against plans to hand the presidency to Mr. Mubarak’s son. We also worked closely with an array of professional syndicates and labor unions.
During the one year of Egypt’s nascent democracy, we were dedicated to reforming state institutions to harbor further democratic rule. 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. We were wrong. By now I am sure many books have been written about what we got wrong, but any fair analysis of the facts will show that we are fundamentally opposed to the use of force. Our flaws are many, but violence is not one.
Nothing speaks more to our unequivocal commitment to nonviolence than our continued insistence on peaceful resistance, despite unprecedented state violence. Over the last four years, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has taken power, clamped down on the opposition and presided over a campaign of brutal repression. 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 organizations 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. We remain committed to our ideals of community development, social justice and nonviolence.
We have long heard that violent groups were “spawned” by the Muslim Brotherhood or were our “offshoots.” This is wildly misleading. 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. This is not an issue as simple as distaste for our political naïveté, but is in fact recognition that our philosophy renders their extremist ideology irrelevant. Not only is our movement based on a deep conviction that morally upright societies prosper, but its peaceful reformist approach has also guaranteed its longevity, as history has demonstrated. Our movement has outlived intolerant societies, repressive regimes, violent rebel groups and the rapid drive to a clash of civilizations 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.
The Muslim Brotherhood has devoted the larger part of its involvement in public life to providing social service programs in poor neighborhoods, 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.
In hindsight, I regret that political maneuvering created distance between us and the people we have long lived to serve, a hard-learned lesson from the Arab Spring. We recognize our political mishaps, but the leap from public deliberation to detentions and fallacious designations is preposterous, shortsighted and an alarming precedent.
* This article was originally published in the New York Times newspaper.