Dr. Amr Darrag: Testimonies and Reviews
General Introduction to Episodes by Dr. Amr Darrag:
During the summer of 2017, I received a generous invitation from Dr. Azzam Sultan Al-Tamimi for recording a number of episodes for his program “Reviews”, to be broadcast on the London-based Al-Hiwar satellite channel. In fact, this invitation came in time; as I have been thinking for a long time of documenting my expertise, experiences, and the events and circumstances to which I was a major eyewitness. However, due to my concerns and commitments, I was never able to allocate the required time for this important issue. Therefore, I viewed the invitation as a good opportunity for, at least, taking the first step of documentation, and narrating the most important events that I have witnessed over nearly 60 years, the years of my life so far. I hope I will have enough time at a later stage to write down these experiences in the form of one or more books, including the outcome of these experiences and expertise; especially that no one, unfortunately, documented a large number of such events that future generations may benefit from through taking advantage of the lessons contained therein.
The events and stations I have undergone took seventeen full episodes to cover, each one lasting for nearly one hour. The process of recording was intensively done in September 2017, and the episodes were broadcast on a weekly basis thereafter for about four months from November 2017 to March 2018. Despite the effort I have exerted in completing this production, I enjoyed it so much. It really revived my memory and even my emotions and feelings while I was narrating the most important events over my whole life in this short span of time, reviewing my most important experiences, successes, or failures, which, shed a lot of light, in a panoramic way, on an important stage of the nation’s history, through my modest narration.
The episodes started from the beginnings of my life in 1958 and the subsequent years I experienced during the second half of the Nasserite era, where I recalled the memories of my childhood and the popular mobilization using the tunes of Umm Kulthum’s and Abdel-Halim Hafez’s songs about patriotism, through the memories of the defeat of 1967, the death of late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the October victory, and the Camp David Accords, up to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, where all these events ended by the end of my university studies.
I have monitored the Islamic tide in the Egyptian universities in the 1970s and how I was only an observer to what was happening, not part of it; and how my upbringing, which was different to a large extent from that of a “traditional” Muslim Brotherhood member, contributed to shaping my personality and my own way of dealing with people, and enabled me to easily communicate with and be close to different spectra of people in later stages, as it is required according to the rules of political action in communication with others. Then, I came to the stage of the doctoral study in the United States and how this period witnessed the beginning of my real religious commitment contrary to what people may think about the nature of life in America. At the end of this stage, I became fully convinced of the approach of the Muslim Brotherhood as introduced by Imam Hassan al-Banna, directly through my reading in the original sources, and not by persuasion or preaching from anyone – which also contributed at a later stage to my convictions and awareness of how far the Brotherhood organization, in its present form, has turned away from many of the principles laid out by Imam al-Banna, contrary to what many of the current Brotherhood leaders may believe.
The episodes that I recorded for Al-Hiwar TV addressed many stages of my professional life and the public work as well, especially after my return from the United States. All this, as well as my previous upbringing factors, contributed to my preference for open and public work through the Muslim Brotherhood, not within any narrow organizational or clandestine framework. I have maintained this methodology throughout my tenure with the Brotherhood. This has driven me towards adopting many stances and views on the methodology followed by the Brotherhood since its second foundation in the 1970s. I never, more or less, engaged in any traditional frameworks or administrative responsibilities within the Brotherhood.
Of course, the episodes focused on the January 2011 revolution and beyond, the period which witnessed the most active stages of my political life, starting from participation in the founding of the Freedom and Justice Party – where I was the party’s secretary general in Giza governorate, through my work in the party’s foreign relations committee, where I later became the committee chairman, my work as Secretary General of the Constituent Assembly which prepared the Egyptian Constitution in 2012, my participation in the elections of the People’s Assembly (Parliament), and my work with President Mohamed Morsi – May God free him (from prison) – up to becoming the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation for less than two months directly before the military coup in July 2013. This short period, though it was rich in terms of activity, witnessed many of the major events that I was directly involved in making, or at least was an eyewitness to them, which enabled me to narrate many events and experiences, some of which were first revealed through the episodes. Therefore, I think these episodes could be of great benefit for those interested in documenting the history of this important stage in a neutral and useful manner.
The episodes then reviewed the post-bloody military coup phase in Egypt, and highlighted my role – at this time – as responsible for talks with international parties that wanted to appear as seeking to resolve the emerging “crisis”. I mentioned many details and events that I was directly involved in, and indicated that I was later convinced that the official international community only sought to stabilize the new coup regime and to get rid of any ruling system belonging to the January Revolution. The episodes also dealt in detail with my current remarks, comments and convictions concerning the Muslim Brotherhood and the mistakes the organization has committed, and the need for in-depth reviews and real and comprehensive changes on all levels of performance if the group wanted to remain in the arena after ninety years of huge and productive work in many areas. In the end, I indicated and discussed my vision for the future, after my focus and full-time dedication to the research work through the Egyptian Institute for Studies (EIS), especially after I announced in early 2017 abandoning all forms of administrative, official, or partisan work.
Due to the significance of this long and rich experience presented in these episodes over a period of seventeen hours, I decided to publish these episodes in the form of summarized transcripts on the website of the Egyptian Institute for Studies (EIS) for the benefit of readers. I hope this will be a useful contribution, albeit modest, in providing some important signs of our modern history over sixty years by reviewing my personal experience, thanks to Al-Hiwar TV and its director Dr. Azzam al-Tamimi.
(Summarized by staff of the Egyptian Institute for Studies)
Al-Hiwar TV has broadcast a series of episodes within a program titled: “Reviews”, interviewing Dr. Amr Darrag, the Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in the government of Dr. Hisham Qandil. The first episode, which was broadcast on 13 November 2017, addressed the first years of the upbringing of Dr. Amr Darrag which greatly influenced his character in the afterwards. Dr. Darrag was born in 1958 to an Egyptian father from Minya Al Qamh, a city in Sharqiyah, Lower Egypt, and an Egyptian mother from Abu Hammad, also Sharqiyah. However, they have lived in Dokki, Giza. Dr. Amr’s mother was a relative of Dr. Ahmed Al-Malt, a prominent Brotherhood leader, who was actually her uncle. Upon his birth, Dr. Darrag’s parents disputed over naming him: While his father wanted to give him the name of “Ahmed” after the baby’s uncle (his father’s older brother), his mother wanted to give him the name of “Amr” after Amr ibn al-Aas, a well-known companion of Prophet Mohamed. However, they finally agreed to name him “Ahmed Amr”.
In the first episode of his interviews, Dr. Amr Darrag addressed the political atmosphere during the Nasserite period which witnessed a complete closure in Egypt’s political arena at the time. His father, who was a liberal Wafdi (belonging to the Wafd Party) like most Egyptians before 1952, turned into a nationalist Nasserite, also like most Egyptians at the time (during the era of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser), amid a dominating nationalist discourse that was directing and leading the masses.
Dr. Darrag said he used to imitate and follow his parents without receiving any kind of direct guidance to do that. He went to Asmaa Fahmi Mixed Primary School and was taught to maintain a balanced relationship with Christians. He said he had Christian friends and was taught by Christian teachers.
Since he was a little child, Dr. Amr Darrag has been a lover of music and singing, and always appreciated them. He was fond of the “patriotic” songs that formed the awareness of society at the time. It is noteworthy that Gamal Abdel Nasser was interested in supporting the production of such songs, and used to encourage the talented in in music, art, theater and literature for participation. In this context, Dr. Darrag criticized the Islamists’ negligence of such important tools which could serve the nation’s issues. At the time when some Islamists issued fatwas (religious opinions) prohibiting music and singing, some ruling regimes were fighting to prevent Islamists from using these tools for fear of their undesirable results.
Dr. Darrag also talked about the impact that songs could have on promoting nationalism, and mentioned as an example a song that was written by Nazar Qabbani and sung by Umm Kulthoum, highlighting the establishment of the Palestinian resistance movement, saying in part: “I now have a rifle; to Palestine, take me with you, to sad hills, like the face of Magdalene, to the green domes and the sacred stones.” He also highlighted as another example the songs of Abdel-Halim Hafez, especially the “Garden of Socialism”, or his song about the “High Dam”.
He also indicated that the cinema and movie making at the time had a great impact on the society, setting as an example the movie of “Return My Heart”, about a story that was written by Yusuf al-Sibaai, glorifying the 1952 “revolution” and dedicating such meanings in the minds of the people.
Dr. Darrag stressed that dedication of the nationalistic sentiments through art and media contributed to creating a dream for the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of Tel Aviv; a dream which was terminated after the severe defeat in June 1967, when warplanes were shot down like flies, many soldiers died, the army was defeated, and the land was occupied. The former Planning and International Cooperation Minister continued talking about the events that took place during that period, up to the announcement of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s stepping down, which some observers viewed as an attempt from Nasser to restore his lost popularity. Dr. Darrag also addressed the Egyptian people’s real feelings of rejecting Nasser’s stepping down, and again referred to the exploitation of media – Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, a well-known journalist at the time, promoted the idea that defeat of the army and the occupation of Sinai was just a “setback” while the abandonment of Nasser was the real “defeat”.
Dr. Amr Darrag emphasized that the use of art and media in the era of Abdel Nasser is worth studying because it had a significant impact in guiding the community and mobilizing people behind the objectives of the leadership at the time – regardless of being right or wrong. He added that despite the media arms of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has aspirations towards leadership, yet he does not have the tools that were in the hands of Gamal Abdel Nasser in terms of influencing the Egyptian people.
Dr. Darrag also indicated that after the demonstrations staged by the Cairo University students, demanding the trial of those who were behind the defeat of June 1967, Abdel Nasser was obliged to declare a statement on March 30, 1968, glorifying the people to contain the protests . Dr. Darrag wondered about people’s fear of the likely absence of the leader despite the defeat he was responsible for. He added that he, himself, thought in the same way even before the death of Nasser, when he was only a child.
The first episode ended with Dr. Amr saying that after Abdel Nasser’s death, he noticed that his mother, his female relatives and women in general were wearing black clothes, to express their sadness, adding that Nasser’s funeral scene was also a kind of expression on the people’s part of their feelings towards the death of the “leader”.