Egyptians shout anti-Mubarak slogans during a march in Alexandria, Egypt, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011.
A longtime strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood said Thursday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his senior associates must be put on trial and held to account for their “crimes” against the Egyptian people.
Mubarak “is like Dracula,” said Youssef Nada, an Egyptian-born banker who served for decades as the Muslim Brotherhood’s de facto “foreign minister” and remains an influential adviser. “He is a ruthless dictator who betrayed his people and killed a lot of people. He must be tried for what he did and held to account.”
Nada’s comments, made in a telephone interview from his home in a tiny Italian enclave in the Swiss Alps, appear to signal a more aggressive -- and potentially dangerous -- stance by the Islamic group on Egypt’s political crisis. Just moments before he spoke to NBC News, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had largely remained quiet during the first few days of demonstrations last week, released a formal statement demanding that Mubarak immediately step down. “We demand that this regime is overthrown and we demand the formation of a national unity government for all the factions,” it said.
Although the 80-year-old Nada no longer holds a formal position with the Muslim Brotherhood, he told NBC News that he is in “continuous touch” with its leaders in Cairo and advised them on the statement calling for Mubarak’s ouster. Asked if his call for criminal trials of Mubarak and other leaders of his regime is shared by the group’s leadership, Nada replied: “Yes, in general, it is their opinion.”
Among those who should be tried, he said, is Mubarak’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, the longtime chief of Egypt’s security service. In addition to his role in the suppression of Egyptian democracy, Nada said, Suleiman was responsible for the “torture of people the CIA sent to him,” referring to the security chief’s role as liaison with the agency during its “extraordinary rendition” program, which brought dozens of terrorist detainees to Egypt for harsh interrogations.
As Egypt’s largest political opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s goals and motives have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate among U.S. officials. An Islamist movement founded in 1928, the organization remains formally committed to the imposition of Islamic law and refuses to recognize the validity of Egypt’s treaty with Israel. But in recent years, it also has renounced violence and some U.S. officials have argued that its leaders should be brought into a political dialogue.
Nada’s role in the organization goes back decades. He was first imprisoned for his involvement in Muslim Brotherhood activities in the early 1950s and, after leaving Egypt in the late 1970s, served for years as the group’s official foreign envoy. In 2007, he was tried and convicted by an Egyptian court in absentia for allegedly financing its activities.
Accused al-Qaida financier
Nada was also accused by the Bush administration in 2001 of using an international financial institution he once ran -- the Al Taqwa Bank -- to finance the al-Qaida terror network. The worldwide assets of the bank were frozen at the U.S. government’s request in 2002.
Nada has consistently denied the charges. He claimed vindication two years ago when the United Nations formally removed him from a list of individuals allegedly tied to al-Qaida. Previously, Swiss prosecutors had dropped their own investigation of Nada, claiming that the U.S. government had refused to turn over its evidence against him. (U.S. officials have said they were unable to do so because most of its evidence was classified. Although his bank has long since been shut down, Nada remains on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of terrorist financiers.)
Throughout this period, Nada has remained a key figure in Brotherhood circles, serving as the group’s spokesman to select journalists and attempting to shape the group’s international image. In his interview with NBC, Nada insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood is misunderstood and the American people have no reason to fear it.
He said the group does not want political power, but would push to align Egyptian society with Islamic principles, he said. Asked about Egypt’s treaty with Israel, which some fear a Muslim Brotherhood dominated government would renounce, Nada replied: “The treaty must be rewritten—to be fair to everyone.”
But while insisting that the group has no intention of instigating violence, Nada left little doubt that there would be plenty of violence if Mubarak does not heed the calls for his resignation. If the president doesn’t leave soon, he said, “It will be a disaster.”