Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—In the second part of a two-part interview, veteran Egyptian politician Amr Moussa, who chaired Egypt’s 50-member constitution-drafting committee, talks about the issue of parliamentary and presidential elections, the prospects of a Sisi presidency, and the situation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Asharq Al-Awsat: The constitution may have passed with a landslide “yes” vote, but questions remain about whether presidential or parliamentary elections should come first. What is your view?
Amr Moussa: In my opinion, this is not important, because the constitution says that all of these elections must take place within the next six months.
Q: But ultimately a choice will have to be made regarding which elections are held first. What would you prefer?
This is up to the current president. I personally think that parliamentary elections should come first, because the position of president is currently occupied. But I would not mind if the choice is made to hold presidential elections first, because ultimately everything will be finished within six months. There will only be two to three months between each election.
Q: Parliamentary elections require organization, and political parties have to launch electoral campaigns. Wouldn’t it make sense to hold presidential elections first?
This is the responsibility of the political parties; everybody is aware of the provisions in the roadmap that was announced in July of last year. If we hold elections around June, the political parties must prepare themselves, and if not, then when will they be ready? After a year, two years, 10 or 15 years? They are working within a democratic framework and are aware of the mistakes that need to be corrected.
Q: But if Egypt’s mainstream political parties are unprepared, wouldn’t it guarantee a strong showing for the Islamists?
No. The general atmosphere in Egypt has changed, and I don’t think that the momentum that swept the Muslim Brotherhood into power is there now, because the people witnessed the catastrophe that resulted from their rule. This will not happen again. You can probably say that there will not be a clear majority. I predict that the next parliament will be hung, with no majority, but alliances and coalitions will be formed to push us towards democracy. It will not be easy, but we must go through the process.
Q: What are your feelings regarding presidential candidates?
I believe that Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is leaning towards running for president.
Q: If Sisi responds positively to popular demands calling for him to stand for president, what do you think will happen?
Very simple, he must stand for president.
Q: Do you think that if Sisi takes the decision to stand for election, he must first resign from the military?
Of course. Some people are talking about appointing a president by consensus, but the president must be elected. For that to happen, the candidate must be a civilian, and thus he [Sisi] must resign his post. This is what US General Dwight D. Eisenhower did before becoming president of the United States. This is a different time, and a different place, but if Sisi runs for president, it will be as a civilian, not as the commander of the military.
At this point in time, we are in need of trust. The people must believe in their leader. They must have faith in that person, and I think that Sisi will stand for president. It is in Egypt’s interest to do what the people want. Some criticize me for this position, but we need the people to be reassured by a nationally beloved figure who they believe is capable of leading them away from the brink and towards prosperity. The people are inclined towards this [a Sisi presidency]. We need to invest in this trust and invest in the person they trust. We must encourage this person to act and lead and rescue the country. The people have placed their trust in him. Why? To save and reform the country. And now there is a constitution, in which you can find whatever you please.
Q: Are you confident that totalitarian rule will not return to Egypt?
We must all work to ensure that totalitarian rule does not resurface. We are speaking now about a democratic system. We want to elect Sisi only if he is a candidate in a democratic system, with a term of four years. In order to win another term, he must then stand for election again. There will be a two-term limit under the constitution. He will be in the vanguard of those who guard the constitution, its principles, its freedoms and its rights.
Q: Let us now look at the Muslim Brotherhood, which now finds itself outlawed in Egypt once again. How can the Brotherhood change the situation it now finds itself in?
It’s in their hands. The fact is that the constitution doesn’t exclude anyone. The 2012 constitution excluded those from the era before it. With this constitution, we were mindful that no article should exclude any group. Thus any citizen, Brotherhood or otherwise, will benefit from the constitution and all of the privileges it affords. They have an opportunity before them. There are 54,000 seats at the level of local government, and if the national legislature is bicameral, there will be 1,000 seats at the national level. This is not about reconciliation, it’s about political engagement. However, spreading chaos and killing mean that they have excluded themselves from society.
Q: Has Egyptian society moved beyond the Brotherhood issue?
It’s not about “moving beyond.” They have proven that they are not capable of ruling. There was opposition to Mursi because he was incapable of ruling. He could not lead the government in a manner that met the demands of the country, nor could he steer the country out of the storm in which we found ourselves. This was not because they were a part of the Muslim Brotherhood; I was not against him because he was a member of the Brotherhood. I opposed him because he and his advisors were not competent enough to rule.
Q: After everything that has happened, what is your opinion of the Arab Spring?
Honestly, the term itself is misleading. Instead it should be referred to as the “Arab Change.” And this change will continue. It will have its peaks and troughs, but it will continue onwards.
Q: But the price will be high.
I know, but it will continue onwards. Current governments must also change and adapt to the demands of their societies and their youth. In Arab countries such as Egypt, the youth have become the majority. They need new horizons to strive for. They want jobs, affordable housing, and the basics for raising a family. They want to be competitive in the global marketplace. They use a different language than we do, and they have their finger on the global pulse. We cannot possibly approach the youth of today as we approached the youth of 20 years ago. The world has changed, and so too will the Arabs and Egypt. In five years, maybe less, you’ll find that the Middle East and the Arab world will have evolved into something entirely different.
This is the second part of a two-part interview originally conducted in Arabic. You can read the first part, in which Amr Moussa discusses the contents of Egypt’s newly approved constitution and the beginning of Egypt’s “Third Republic,” here.