By Humeyra Pamuk
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is rising again under young new leaders despite the sentencing of former president Mohamed Mursi and the widespread jailing of its members, one of its senior figures said on Tuesday.
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Mursi was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole on Tuesday on charges arising from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012. Twelve other senior Brotherhood members were sentenced alongside him.
Amr Darrag, co-founder of the dissolved Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters the movement was about more than one man and had become more revolutionary under a new generation.
"The president, whether in jail or outside, will always be our president … Many members of the upper leadership are in jail and we still consider them to be our leaders," Darrag, a now exiled former minister under Mursi, said in an interview in Istanbul hours after the former president was sentenced.
"But in order to run the affairs … you have to be outside and at the heart of events," he said.
His comments matched the assessment of a senior Brotherhood figure with channels of communication to both jailed and underground leaders.
The Brotherhood, once Egypt's oldest, best organized and most successful political movement, has seen hundreds of its members killed and thousands detained since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mursi in July 2013.
Egypt has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist movement. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful group.
"It is always good to have fresh blood … (this was) one of the blessings of the coup," Darrag said.
"The overall attitude of the Brotherhood (is) more revolutionary because the generation taking it over is young and more revolutionary and they saw what kind of an Egypt we'd have if they don't do what they have to do," he said.
After toppling Mursi following mass protests against his rule, Sisi proceeded to crush the Brotherhood, which he says is part of a terrorist network that poses an existential threat to the Arab and Western worlds.
"The coup wants to show it as a struggle between the Brotherhood and the army, or the Brotherhood and liberals, but that's not the case. This is a struggle between democracy and civil state, versus the military and deep state," Darrag said.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is deeply rooted in Egyptian society … We have been there for more than 80 years. It is an establishment, not a one-man show," he said.
"We are sure we will come back."
FUNDED "FROM OUR POCKETS"
Qatar and Turkey were the only regional countries to back the Brotherhood after the Egyptian army toppled Mursi and provided refuge for its members after the crackdown.
But Qatar has been under pressure to stop backing the Islamists from Gulf Arab states who see the movement as a threat to their monarchies.
Darrag said the Brotherhood was funded "through our own pockets" when asked if the movement was receiving support from either Turkey or Qatar.
"We are also a social movement, we have always self-financed our movement. We are not a small group, we are talking about millions of people here," he said.
Tuesday's ruling was the first against Mursi and Darrag said the sentence was meant to test world reaction, forecasting harsher penalties would follow if the international community failed to voice any objections.
But he remained defiant.
"Whatever happens to Dr Mursi and others – and there are thousands of people in jail – … it's not only about President Mursi or people in jail," he said.
"It is about the Egyptian revolution and it is not about the Brotherhood. The Egyptians have found a way to rule themselves."
(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Georgy and Giles Elgood)