Islam al-Katatni, an Arabic language teacher, abandoned the Muslim Brotherhood because he felt the 2011 revolution exposed the Brotherhood’s contradictory missionary work and its political policy. He introduced the Think and Return initiative to help youth like himself who felt deceived. Despite his familial relationship to Dr. Saad al-Katatni, head of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Katatni is disillusioned with the Brotherhood.

Islam al-Katatni, an Arabic language teacher, abandoned the Muslim Brotherhood because he felt the 2011 revolution exposed the Brotherhood’s contradictory missionary work and its political policy. He introduced the Think and Return initiative to help youth like himself who felt deceived. Despite his familial relationship to Dr. Saad al-Katatni, head of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Katatni is disillusioned with the Brotherhood.

Similar to him, but in the other camp, Ahmad Zakaria, a poet and journalist, left his newspaper to protest what he described as “the shallowness of thought of civil forces and their clear contradictions.” This became evident, according to Zakaria, on June 30, 2013 and the subsequent state violence against Brotherhood supporters in Rabea al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares.

While they belong on opposite sides of a national debate about the Muslim Brotherhood, they both agree that both the civil and the Islamic forces, do not understand the youth that sparked the 2011 revolution.

Islam al-Katatni, how and when did you join the Muslim Brotherhood?

I joined the Brotherhood in the early 1990s and I did not face the many complexities faced by the vast majority of those who wish to join because of my kinship relation to Saad al-Katatni, a leading figure of the group at that time, and later the President of the Freedom and Justice party.

What are those complicated procedures?

A new member must go through five stages. He should first be a sympathizer and a registered member. In these stages, he is not officially a member of the group.  After that, he becomes an active brother, and this is the start of the real membership in the organization. Later on he becomes a regular member and lastly a member of the private system, which is the highest degree a member can reach. 

How far did you get in the organization?

I was a regular member responsible for the secondary education division.

What is the private system?

It is a system that depends on choosing a group of individuals from within the organization with qualities such as confidentiality, secrecy and strong physical abilities, especially because the organization was founded during the British occupation of Egypt, and it was dominated by jihadist thought. These members are considered the leaders of the group. The names of some are made public while the names of others remain secret, even to the group’s members themselves.

How do you assess this system?

This private system was the main reason why I walked out of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is because there are these cluster cells, which no one knows about. I also walked out because of the violent ideas of the group based on four principles: governance, jahiliya (ignorance), arrogance by faith, and emotional isolation. All these principles are based on ideas of jihad and violence.

Was the youth represented in that system?

Absolutely not. The organization was characterized by the domination of the old people and the youth was not given the opportunity to be present and to express its opinions.  

What are the reasons that made you walk out of the Muslim Brotherhood?

I didn’t walk out, the guidance office walked-out. It is not the youth who refused the wrong practices of the guidance office, which are inconsistent with the way they were brought up in the preaching side and al-Bana’s approach, who walked out.

You believe that the guidance office practices contradict with al-Banna’s approach. What are the most prominent of those contradictions?

There are innumerable things. The most serious is the political side of the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, al-Banna has put seven stages to reach the Islamic caliphate and domination of the world. These are namely: the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, the Muslim society, the Muslim government and then a number of Muslim states to achieve the Islamic caliphate, and finally the domination of the world. It is assumed that the Muslim Brotherhood is still in the third stage and has not yet exceeded it. Despite that, the Muslim Brotherhood formed a Muslim government, and started to prepare the ground for the creation of a Muslim state. This has caused the loss of the group’s value and the collapse of the work done by al-Banna and those who came after him over the last 80 years in the age of the group.

This is all about how you walked out. What about the reasons that made you stay with group before leaving it?

It is the education that I received since I joined the group and it is the obedience principle that I had followed. It was because I was intellectually immature and because of the complete dominance of the group over the minds of its followers. The individual who joins the group starts to worship it instead of worshiping God. 

How does this happen?

The group teaches us to love Islam and to understand it correctly.  We were also raised on the principle that we are the only ones who correctly understand religion and we own the absolute truth.  Thus, we used to deal with other Islamists as if they were inferior and with other civil forces as if they were infidels.

Are there any social or psychological tools used by the group to make its members adopt the obedience principle?

The relationship begins with friendship and meeting around the Book of Allah and His Messenger. Then it takes the shape of interpreting the Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and the requisites of Islam. This is followed by deep human relations and participation that reaches the level of brotherhood. This is then followed by the family phase, when the member joins a family of four persons, with one person responsible for the family.  During this phase, love to the leadership, submission to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council and obedience are planted in the consciousness of the members. The individual of the group is brought up to believe that the interest of the mission and the group is the most important thing. By time, the group, in the unconscious mind, becomes everything and a more important idea of the nation.  This transforms the individual from a believer in God to a believer in the Muslim Brotherhood.

How did you manage to get rid of the obedience principle although you have spent 12 years of your life with the group?

It was not easy, especially since I belong to a family most of its members are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  However, I love poetry, writing and creativity, and I want to use my brain and to be creative and distinguished. I found all these absent and a taboo for the Muslim Brotherhood. This made me take a step backwards. It all started when I began not to go regularly to the meetings and then I stopped doing all the tasks I am required to do, especially the routine ones. Then the revolution started and it played an important role in pushing me to leave the group.

How did the revolution play a role in convincing you to walk out of the group?

The revolution revealed the gap between the missionary and the political approaches of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are no standards and clear grounds for the exercise of politics from a religious perspective. On the contrary, there is an absence of transparency and credibility and the principle of “the ends justifies the means,” is dominant.  The group plays the role of the victim, and it manipulates religious texts depending on the situation and the whims of the group. All this proves that there is a vast difference between what is missionary work and what is political work and this is why I left the group at the political level.

You criticize the political side of the Muslim Brotherhood. Did the group make any revisions that you find useful?

I’m sure that the leaders will not accept any revisions and this is why I launched the Think and Return initiative, which mainly targets the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood who have been deceived and ridiculed. 

What is this initiative?

It is a civil initiative that keeps the same distance from everyone. It aims at rehabilitating the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadi groups allied with it and to bring them back to the cradle of the nation.

Have you been in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood youth?

I am trying but the pace is slow. I am seeking the help of a senior group of dissidents such as Tharwat Kherbawi, and Kamal Helbawi.

Why did you decide to launch an initiative and not join any of the civil parties that share a similar vision?

Civil parties are still lame. They suffer from cronyism and individual interests. In addition, there is the absence of funding and organizational mechanisms to enable them to produce a real democracy, which I didn’t find in the Muslim Brotherhood. 

What future do you predict for the Muslim Brotherhood youth who did not reject the practices of the group?

I expect them to split up into four groups: the first will have its own behavior and intellectual orientation, the second will resort to violence, the third will isolate itself and the fourth will make a revision and leave the group.

Did the Muslim Brotherhood youth respond positively to your initiative?

Of course, but the number is very small. Now there is a feeling of solidarity among the members of the group because of the plight.


Ahmad Zakaria, how would you describe civil forces in Egypt?

I think that there is one single sentence that could summarize the civil camp in Egypt: secularism is from this regime. All of us, including the Islamists, are essentially the sons of a corrupt climate. Everything is void of content and there is essentially no real Right or Left. 

But, in many cases, you have taken the stance of civil forces since the outbreak of the revolution and until June 30?

This is true, but this does not make me justify the many dangerous crises that are erupting among civil forces, most notably the shallowness of thought. Egypt is suffering in general from excessive ignorance, given the crises it witnessed and the marginalization attempts. Ignorance breeds dependency, which brings to mind the concept of a sheep mentality. Many are accusing the Muslim Brotherhood members of being sheep who do not think.  For me, this does not only apply to the Muslim Brotherhood. There are thousands of young people from civil forces who were told to chant against the rule of the military and they did, but they are now raising the pictures of al-Sisi and demanding him to nominate himself for the presidency.

In a meeting held at the premises of the Egyptian Secular Stream, one of the most prominent secular Syrians was present. He was shocked by the shallowness of questions raised, the absence of awareness even about the basic concepts that any secularist ought to know. The Syrian secularist left the meeting and literally said: “Secularists in Egypt are fundamentalists.”

But you accused the youth among the civil forces of dependency on the leaders and the shallowness of thought. Why do you now support the Brotherhood, which follows in its literature the principle of obedience?

The idea of blind obedience and other ideas of dependency are mainly due to the corrupt general climate in Egypt. The sheep-like behavior in my opinion is a general behavior in the society as well. I want to ask you an important question: how many people in general, leftist or liberals, considered as affiliated with the civil stream, know the alphabet of the left, liberal or secular? How many people in the ranks of civil forces, who were told to chant against the military council and they did, and are now chanting for al-Sisi.

Why do you agree with the vision of the Muslim Brotherhood at this particular moment in time?

My reasons for agreeing with the Brotherhood’s vision now is simply the same reason why Egyptian intellectuals make fun of them. These intellectuals consider the term “legitimacy” an Islamic one. This term has nothing to do with the Islamists as many people may think, otherwise, it wouldn’t have been used by international intellectuals. I don’t know why the intellectuals of Egypt make fun of it?! In other words, these people went to the ballot boxes five times. Everything established by the popular will should be dissolved by a really popular will and not by mobilizing people through media lies around fabricated crises. We should abide by that because this is the core of democracy, which we are demanding as secularists. 

You say you are a secular and that you write poetry and work with the press. Aren’t these talents against the violence discourse and restrictions on freedoms adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood?

Yes, I write poetry and defend freedoms and this is why I am now defending the freedom of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is because I do not have an Islamist phobia like many others. I see that if the Islamists are going to be defeated then this should be a political defeat and not through killings and arrests.

 What about violence?

Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood used violence at the al-Itihadiya Palace but only after Morsi had called the interior ministry six times without getting an answer and when the minister hung up and did not speak to the president.  Thus, Morsi resorted to his party. This is a big mistake. The al-Itihadiya clashes happened and everybody practiced violence: civil and Islamic forces. I saw with my own eyes young people from the civil stream burning a Muslim Brotherhood bus carrying people.  We should not forget that the victims of the al-Itihadiya palace were not all from the civil stream. The Muslim Brotherhood had their victims, too.  If we review figures, we find that the number of the Muslim Brotherhood martyrs was bigger but I do not have the exact figure. But things should not be judged by these figures because it was the Muslim Brotherhood’s mistake from the beginning. Yes, this is true, but this does not justify the killing of thousands of them in the Rabea al-Adawiya, al-Nahda and other squares. We all used violence in one form or the other. I will never forget the message I received from a leading member of the Tagammu Party on 30 June when he wrote: “My comrades, don’t worry, before tomorrow’s sunset, we will have burned all the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and we will rid ourselves of them forever.

Considering that everyone has practiced violence, why do you defend the Brotherhood now and see that the solution is not a security one?

The similarity between Naguib Mahfouz and Sayyid Qutub is clear.  They both started their lives in the critique field and they were both the students of al-Aqqad. However, the suppression suffered by Qutub gave birth to violence. Before we speak about the terrorism of the 1990’s, we should speak about the violence of the 1950’s and 60’s. 

Polarization has reached its highest levels in Egypt.  Where do you fall, within the civil or Islamic stream?  

The methodology used by the different civil and Islamic political forces is similar although I refuse to use the word “civil” versus “Islamic,” because the opposite of civil is military and the opposite of Islam is secular.  However, I refuse the sheep word used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood and I feel surprised to know that there are those who were not disturbed by the bloodshed in Rabea al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares and who say that “they were killed by those who told them to demonstrate,” because they obey their leaders without thinking. If we adopt the same logic, then we should say that the martyrs of Mohamed Mahmoud and the al-Itihadiya were killed by those who told them to demonstrate, too.  For example, I was chanting together with my secular friends, during the military rule period, “Down with the Military Rule.”  Today, civil forces tell people that the army is a red line and there should be no clashes with the army. 

Hundreds of young revolutionaries took a stance rejecting both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood and they initiated a third stream. Why didn’t you think of adopting the same methodology, especially since you are critical of the two parties?

I have clear objections to those who call themselves the third stream because the idea is based on the perception that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood are two sides of the same coin. For me, this is the core of the counter-revolution. Moreover, their slogan is “down with the betrayers: the military, the remnants and the Brotherhood.” I don’t committed many mistakes when it was in power.  However, all those mistakes do not justify killing and detaining the Muslim Brotherhood members as well as depriving them from participation in the political life.

In your opinion, how might young people get out of the current impasse?

I see no solution other than knowledge.

How might we reach an end to political polarization and violence in Egypt?

I do not have an integrated vision of how to get out of this bad situation that we have reached.  However, I am sure that the security solution is not the right one and the solution should be a political one par excellence.