Dr. Tarek Heggy to “Good News”: Political Islam as the greatest threat facing humanity
Dr. Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian liberal author, political thinker . Heggy is one of Egypt’s more prominent authors on the subject of Egypt’s need for political reform. His extensive writings advocate the values of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and woman’s rights in the Middle East advancing them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. He has lectured at universities throughout the world and various international institutions . Heggy’s main themes are the need for economic, political, cultural and educational reforms in Egypt and the Middle East
This is my second time to have the chance to do an interview with Dr Tarek Heggy , and every time I feel excited talking and discussing different subjects with him , and my first question was about secularism.
1- The term secularism is still ambiguous to a large number of people, while others have an incorrect definition or concept of secularism as blasphemy. What is secularism, Dr. Tarek?
Secularism is not the separation of religion from society, but the separation of religion from the state, and that the state be “civil”, and that the reference therein is the constitution and the law. In practice, secularism means removing the clergy from managing and running the affairs of society. Therefore, the clerics have been, up to now, in a state of war with secularism because it reduces their power and influence.
2- In one of your television interviews, I was struck by a very important sentence that you mentioned, which is: “We did not grow humanly within a tenth of what we had financially grown.” Please clarify this expression?
I intended that the progress and growth of human beings in the various fields of science was not accompanied by human progress and growth. There are tens of evidences for this, but I am satisfied with a very clear evidence, which is that what was spent on weapons was and still is many times that of health and education.
3- In your wonderful book “A Look at the Egyptian Mind”, in which you point out that the Muslim Brotherhood does not demonstrate any features capable of progress and modernization, you also state they are just a movement and are not a party. This is a criticism or extremely important conclusion, but there are some who wonder upon what the pillars of this criticism were built?
My study of the Brotherhood’s thought and my follow-up on their path both assured me that their vision is purely past. They revere ideas and people from the distant past. This is a complete contrast to the spirit of modernity. They believe that ideas from an ancient time are eternal, and this is contrary to scientific thinking. These ideas, which they find to be sacred, are products of a certain time (history) and a certain (geography) environment.
4- What is the effect of Wahhabism on understanding Islam?
Wahhabi ideas, such as the Brotherhood’s ideas, have the greatest impact on the alienation of Islam, or rather Muslims, from the march of human progress. This distancing is an undeniable phenomenon. While I am currently witnessing a significant decline in Wahhabism, it cannot be said that there has been a similar decline of the Brotherhood.
5- How do you see political Islam?
I see political Islam as the greatest threat facing humanity, progress, modernity and science. And the terrorist operations that occurred during the last two decades, such as the events of September 11th and what happened more than once in France, are “some” of what the world will see at the hands of political Islam groups.
6- Often when we look at day-to-day life matters in Egypt, we see economic, social, and medical matters referred to Al-Azhar to be decided upon and taken into account. How do you see this Doctor Tarek?
This phenomenon is a stab in the back of the “civil state”, and I blame the state for not dealing with this pathological phenomenon, which will make the process of developing society almost impossible.
7- What is your idea of the Egyptian identity?
Egypt, Egypt. Although Islam, Christianity and the Arabic language are components of its identity, it is a special case and a product of history and geography. In short: Egypt’s identity is the fruit of Egyptian history in all its aspects, and at the same time it is a product of Egypt’s geographical location as a country in the Mediterranean.
8- How do you see the Arab Spring?
Change, development and modernization were, and are, required and desired. But it is normal for this to happen from the inside, not from the outside. The so-called Arab Spring was directed by external forces such as the administration of US President Obama, which made it not in the interest of its societies, but only in the interest of the Brotherhood.
9- How do you see the oriental model in management in Egypt?
I have a history of practicing management, as for about a decade I was the CEO of a well-established international company, and I have also written several books on management. Against this background, I do not believe in the existence of an Eastern model and other models of management. The modern administration has no nationality. Management is either scientific and modern, or it is backward.
10- What do you mean when you describe this current religiosity as a ritual religion?
Religiosity is either dominated by spirituality or rituals. The first is individual in nature. As for the second, it invokes the cleric who interferes in all matters to the scene. The current religion in Egypt is mostly of the second type. It is a situation that the clerics and religious institutions fight to continue. As for the Friday sermon, it must be standardized and issued by a high level of knowledge. The opposite is very harmful. In Egypt, there are about 200 thousand mosques and zawiyas in which ten million Friday sermons are delivered annually. How can we leave this influential tool to the imams, most of whom are of modest culture and knowledge, and most of them have reactionary tendencies?
11- Some say that there is a brutal war on Islam being waged by secular thinkers – your comment?
There is no war against Islam, but rather against its frozen and non-modern model. The real war is a follower of this model frozen over modernity and its values and scientific thinking.
12- How do you see the situation of the Copts in post-Arab Spring societies?
The situation of Christians in Arabic-speaking societies is getting worse and worse. This has nothing to do with the so-called Arab Spring, as it is one of the fruits of the reactionary ritual religiosity wave prevailing in varying degrees in these societies. The situation for Christians is aggravated by the failure of most of these societies to impose a “civil state”.
13- How does the West receive the channels in which the Koran appears?
“The trap was broken, and we set off like a bird.” Does this sentence bring to mind any situation you mention? The Brotherhood media, on top of which are the television channels in Turkey and Qatar, have nothing to do with the media. In fact, it is one of the weapons within the Brotherhood’s arsenal. I do not think that the West is upset with it! The reason is that the West does not have a unified position on the Brotherhood. France’s position on them does not resemble Britain’s position.
14- His Holiness Pope Shenouda is a very close friend of your honor. Talk to us about the side that we do not know about, which perhaps without a doubt it would be a great addition to us?
The aspect that most people who talk about Pope Shenouda III do not deal with is the aspect due to which I found such a close friendship between him and me. By this I mean his fondness and the richness of his knowledge and cultural crop in the history of Egypt in general and the history of Egypt-Muhammad-Ali in particular, along with poetry and literature. During a quarter of a century, I was happy and honored spending countless hours with him, as the dialogue between us was always either historical or literary.
15- There is a critical period in which Pope Shenouda was forced at the beginning of his pontificate to confront this tide of political Islam. How do you monitor this critical period?
A little less than fifty years ago, with the encouragement of Saudi Arabia, the former President of Egypt Anwar Sadat not only released thousands of Brotherhood members, but also absorbed many of them in the Egyptian state, like the Brotherhood member who was appointed as the governor of Assiut. From the first day of this move, Pope Shenouda saw its repercussions on Egypt and its society and on the Christian Egyptians. This was the starting point of the dispute between the Pope and Sadat. Unfortunately, this error in the calculations on the part of Sadat had the most severe consequences, including his assassination and the strong presence of the Brotherhood in Egypt since Sadat opened the doors for them.
16- Your Honor, you said before that you met His Holiness Pope Shenouda for nearly a thousand hours of time during his lifetime. What did you gain from this great stature?
Culturally, I am the fruit of four things: reading, travel, my career, and the exceptional personalities I dealt with. Although I have dealt with dozens of very special people, Pope Shenouda is one of the most important of them. Through him, I learned pages from the history of Egypt that are not easily accessible to those interested in culture.
17- How do you see the reconciliation initiative between Egypt and Qatar?
I was, and still am, rejecting and opposing this reconciliation, as I classify Qatar as an enemy of Egypt just like Turkey. Of course, I mean the ruling regime in the two countries.
18- What is your assessment of the recent parliamentary elections?
No one can evaluate these elections and their fruits before monitoring the performance of the new members of Parliament. We can only hope that the performance of the new council will be better than the very poor performance of the previous one.
19- Do you have an explanation that for five decades we have been calling for the development of education and we are still in a state of confusion?
Educational levels in Egypt have continued to decline for nearly seventy years. The reason is the lack of a political cadre with the vision and ability to provide an educational system that is similar to the most advanced education systems in our world, such as the education systems in Finland, Singapore and Japan.
20- What rituals do you perform when you prepare psychologically, mentally and emotionally to write a new book?
There are no rituals. I write as I breathe. And I write daily. I write even while I’m on a plane. It did not happen that I wrote and then revised what I wrote.
21- What is the dream of your life that you would like to see a tangible reality?
My life’s dream is for Egypt to become a modern society joining the ranks of advanced humanity.
22- The Egyptian woman and her role in society, is one of your most important intellectual concerns. How do you see her now?
The most important axes of my writing aim at promoting the status of “women” and “non-Muslim Egyptians.” By this I mean that the state works to achieve their full citizenship. I am certain that the progress of Egypt depends on several things, the most important of which is the breaking down of the barriers that prevent women and non-Muslim Egyptians from enjoying all the rights of citizenship.
23- As we know, you love poetry. What are the lines closest to the heart and mind of Dr. Tarek Heggy?
I have memorized hundreds of poems by Al-Mutanabi, Al-Maari, Shawqi, Al-Sayyab, Nizar Qabbani, Amal Dunqul, and many others, so it is very difficult to have a favorite verse or poem. But there could be a poet who was raised in my opinion, and for me, one of the ancients al-Ma’ari and contemporary, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.
24 – Are you preparing to publish a new book soon?
I have a final draft of a thousand-page novel titled “Mhazelistan” which I personally translated into English and titled Farce-land … and it may be my next book, i.e. the thirty-fifth.
25- You have visited many countries. What is your favourite country or country?
26- In your spare time, Dr. Tarek, what do you do?
There is no free time in my life.
27- What are your other interests Dr. Tarek?
Reading, music, symphony, opera and visual arts.
28- Music and Theater play an important role in forming the personality of the great thinker Dr. Tarek Heggy. Talk to me about them?
Symphony music was one of the most important emotional and tasteful formation tools.