CAIRO - At 97, Fareed Abd al Khaleq was one of the oldest people invited to Cairo University to personally hear newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi deliver his inaugural address Saturday.
Once the personal secretary to Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna, al Khaleq said Morsi’s election was a culmination of the Muslim Brotherhood dream even as he conceded Morsi must share power with the ruling military council, that he governs with no parliament or permanent constitution, and that Egypt is far from the kind of state his one time mentor envisioned.
For Khaleq, it doesn’t matter because at least starting today, he said, Egypt was on its way. The man with the least amount of time to spare, it seemed, had the most patience for an uprising that has yet to bring about revolutionary change. Indeed, that the military retains all legislative and military powers ensures, for now at least, that no real reforms can happen.
“I want to concentrate on the future not the past” said Khaleq as he leaned forward in his chair so that his hearing aid could pick up every word around him, and his failing eyes could see. “This revolution is one of the fruits of the religious and national movement that was founded by Hassan el Banna."
Khaleq remembered a time when dictators banned his party. Now they face jail time, he said, referring to the life sentence handed to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. He remembered when rallying members cost him jobs and forced him out of Cairo. He remembered when his friend and Brotherhood founder was assassinated in 1949.
Since Egypt held its first presidential election last month, the military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster 17 months ago has slowly consolidated power. After the constitutional court found the election of some parliament members illegal, the council named itself as the new legislative branch. And just as polls closed during the run off election earlier this month that Morsi eventually won, the military council announced it had amended the nation’s temporary constitution to limit the president’s ability to make any military decisions with the general’s approval. The council will also have final say over the assembly tasked with writing a permanent document.
Khaleq conceded the military is unwilling to relinquish power to a civilian, particularly one who was a part of a group its soldiers spent years fighting, arresting and fearing. But Banna, he explained, believed that change started with changing the way individuals think. That has happened, he said. No longer are people silent, afraid or willing to accept suppressed freedoms. That alone was worth celebrating Saturday, he said.
Khaleq was drawn to the Brotherhood after listening to a Banna speech in the 1930s, during another attempt at revolutionary here, that time against British rule. Mesmerized by Banna’s sermon, Khaleq returned the next day to hear another speech. Banna remembered him from the day before and eventually Khaleq began training fighters in the 1948 war that ultimately led to the establishment of Israel.
Even now, Khaleq remains a recruiter for the Brotherhood message, almost hurriedly defending what the United States once considered an organization affiliated with terrorist groups. Why can European nations have Democratic Christian parties but a party with the word Islamic in it is a threat, he asks to no one in particular. Sharia or Islamic law means freedom, human rights and education, he insists.
“I want you to understand Islam,” he said.
Morsi on the other hand made no mention of the Brotherhood at all during Saturday’s events, despite being a member since 1977 and representing the group’s Freedom and Justice Party in the election. He has since resigned from the party. And in his various speeches around the capital, each time repeating the oath to defend the law and the Egyptian people, Morsi was defferential to the military that once arrested him and his fellow Brotherhood members.
As al Khaleq explained, Morsi believes that making concessions is the only way to avoid chaos. Banna would have agreed, he said.
“If you listen to Morsi’s speech you will find that the language he is using is not a language of clashes, and that is the Muslim Brotherhood’s idea, which depends on understanding dialog and tolerance, not violence and power,” Khaleq said.
Not all are convinced. That Morsi would have only nominal control hovered over the day’s events as many dismissed the ceremonies, speeches and 21-gun salutes as theater for those who wanted to see change.
Like the Brotherhood, which has endured in part by being politically practical, Khaleq offered an explanation.
“You must think of two Egypts – one before January 25, [2011 when the uprising began] and one after,” he said. “The revolution has changed our thinking of a ruler. If people don’t like him, he will be elected out of office. I am happy. Change takes time. I am willing to wait.”