Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—As Egypt heads to the polls to vote on the constitutional referendum, members of the Muslim Brotherhood are not the only people expressing discontent about the new document and the way it has been drawn up and presented to the public.
Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh is the leader of the Strong Egypt party and a former independent presidential candidate. A physician by training and a one-time senior member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood—he served for over a decade on its Guidance Bureau—he has sought to position himself as both more moderate on social issues and to the Left of his former colleagues since breaking away from the organization in 2011.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Aboul-Fotouh on the eve of the referendum on Egypt’s new constitution about his party’s objections to the new document and its call for Egyptians to reject it.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is the position of the Strong Egypt party on the military-backed transitional roadmap?
Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh: Our position is clear and we publicly declared it immediately after the announcement of this coercive roadmap. We reject the roadmap because it was not issued in a legal or constitutional manner, and it did not provide the single requirement that the Egyptian people took to the streets for, namely early presidential elections. The roadmap also led to a lot of bloodshed and has strongly divided society, from when it was issued to today.
Q: What is your party’s position on the referendum on the new constitution?
The Strong Egypt party’s Supreme Council has called for a “no” vote on the constitution. This comes following investigations into some of the guarantees that have been granted to the Higher Election Commission. We wanted to be sure that the referendum expressed the true desires and will of the Egyptian people. However, a number of changes have taken place on the scene that forced us to evaluate our position once more. Adly Mansour intervened to open the voting to expatriates after the Election Commission had issued a decision to restrict voting to those registered in their local constituencies. This raises questions about the integrity of the referendum process.
In addition to this, a number of our party members have been arrested for putting up posters calling on Egyptian citizens to reject the constitution. This confirms that there is no intention [on the part of the authorities] to accept dissenting opinion, not to mention the huge numbers of human rights violations, from killings to detentions to torture. There is also a media campaign to distort all the symbols of the January 25 revolution and everybody who opposes the government, mobilizing popular support against it. Therefore, this referendum is closer to window-dressing than a means of measuring Egyptian public opinion.
Q: What are the reasons behind your rejection of the constitution?
As for our rejection of the constitution, this is a constitution that ultimately follows the same principles as the 2012 constitution that we previously rejected. It contained articles that are not firm in terms of [promoting] social justice. The articles do not contain anything new to actively resolve the huge social and economic problems facing the Egyptian people, while it also expands the powers of the president at the expense of the parliament, with parliament losing any real ability to monitor the executive branch and hold it to account. It also grants the president the ability to continually threaten to dissolve parliament, in addition to allowing him to appoint 5 percent of parliament.
Last but not least, the constitution places the military above all state institutions, from the manner in which the Minister of Defense is appointed to the lack of oversight over the military’s budget and military trials for civilians. This is not to mention other issues with the constitution, which we have talked about before on our party’s website, in our publications, and on social media.
Q: After the constitution referendum, Egypt will gear up for parliamentary and presidential elections. Does the Strong Egypt party intend to take part in future parliamentary elections? Do you have any conditions that must be met to agree to take part in the political process in the future, such as what kind of election system will be used?
We wholeheartedly believe that it is the duty of all political parties to take part in listening to public opinion, whether through elections or a referendum. Therefore, the basic principle is to take part in all of these democratic practices. However, our final position on this issue will be based on the extent of the adherence to the principles of genuine—not superficial—democracy, not to mention the atmosphere surrounding the democratic process in terms of freedoms, political and civil rights, equal opportunities, and ideas and candidates being dealt with impartially, as well as other issues without which democracy is meaningless.
Q: You were a candidate in the previous presidential election. Do you intend to stand in the next one?
I hold firm to my previous position that I would prefer Egypt during the coming phase to be ruled by a young president in his forties or fifties, and for us—those of us who are older than this president and with more experience—to provide our services to push Egypt forward to achieve real change in the structure of the Egyptian state. However, the decision ultimately rests with the Strong Egypt party amid the rapidly changing situation in Egypt in the coming stage.
Q: We have seen a number of Egyptian parties propose alliances and coalitions and so on. Will the Strong Egypt party follow suit, and if so, which party in the post-Mursi political scene could your party join with?
Politics in Egypt has been clinically dead since July 3, 2013, and all areas of the Egyptian political scene have been restricted, with the exception of those under government control. At the same time, killings, detentions, security challenges and other human rights violations have returned to politics once more. Politics has, once again, become an area of social danger, and this is something the current regime is seeking with all of its power in order to return the Mubarak regime to power, with little resistance. In light of this, thinking about alliances or rapprochement with other political parties is not a priority for the parties that want to offer something to this nation. This means postponing consideration of these issues until we see the return of an atmosphere of freedom once more, and until the revolution triumphs over its enemies.
Q: How do you view the government’s decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization?
To begin with, this decision represents interference on the part of the executive branch in the work of the judiciary. It is up to Egypt’s legal system to assess this issue [whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization], not the executive authority. This administrative decision by the executive authority also puts an end to all chances of political reconciliation, which is the only solution for Egypt. This hasty decision, which was not correctly studied, could also lead to more violence and terrorism on the Egyptian street as a response to the illegal extraordinary measures that were issued both before and after this decision, including freezing finances and closing schools and civil associations. This could push the youth to despair of all the tools of peaceful political activism and legal redress, and we could see them moving towards something that nobody wants.
Q: In this case, what would you suggest to restore stability to the Egyptian street, particularly as the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters appear to be no closer to entering talks or reconciling with the new government? The so-called Anti-Coup Alliance continues to call for Mursi to be returned to the presidency. Do you think such calls are realistic?
Stability will not return to the Egyptian street until transitional justice is achieved and implemented for all, without exception. The Mubarak regime and its successors committed some crimes, whether we are talking about during the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces-era or the Mursi-era. At the moment, only Mursi-era crimes are being tried, and these legal procedures are also contrary to the most basic rules of law. Second, we must also put an end to all the exceptional procedures that have been enforced over the past period. We must stop the popular mobilization, demonization, and accusations of treason. These are primarily being issued from the government and its media affiliates, but also by those who oppose it, albeit to a lesser degree.
In addition to this, there is the deterioration in social services and the worsening economic situation. These will remain a ticking time bomb that could blow up in everybody’s faces, threatening Egypt’s security and safety, and this is something that we all fear.