Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—With Islamists firmly dominating the political scene, former Egyptian Prime Minister, Dr. Abdulaziz Hijazi, contemplates a country that he hardly recognizes.
Hijazi, who served as prime minister under Sadat, remains a force in Egyptian and regional politics, most recently taking part in the 36th annual meeting of the Arab Monetary Fund’s board of governors in Dubai. He also recently consulted with Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb on the issue of Islamic sukkuk bonds.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the former prime minister shared his thoughts on the political situation in Egypt, and took aim at the government for its lack of vision, and the opposition for its lack of unity.
This interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your view of governance in Egypt, particularly as some Islamists continue to claim that remnants of the former regime still control some vital joints of the state?
Abdulaziz Hijazi: This is completely untrue . . . I believe that they want to blame all the mistakes that they are currently making on the old regime. Two years have passed since the revolution, and we should see the pledges that they made being fulfilled. The changes that were promised should have taken place, because revolution means change. We should be talking about the changes that took place and comparing the situation with that of the pre-revolutionary era. If the revolution called for bread, freedom, social justice, then a large part of this should have been achieved by now. However what we are witnessing at the present time is a multiplicity of political parties and forces. There are more than fifty different political parties on the scene at the moment, and so we have fifty different views. There is something important lacking, namely a clear vision for the post-revolutionary future of Egypt.
Q: What actions or decisions must those in power take to ensure that Egypt is on the right track, especially in light of the political, security, and economic chaos that is prevailing on the ground?
Firstly, those in power must put forward a clear and unambiguous vision for the future. They must say whether they follow an Islamist or socialist system, or a system that mixes together all other political systems. Egypt cannot progress without a clear vision and approach that everybody can get behind. This also applies to the different political approaches . . . there cannot be fifty different political approaches on the ground. Secondly, there are urgent problems that we must work to resolve, while the people in Egypt must feel the results of this revolution in all parts of their life. This is something has yet to happen because prices are rising, debt is on the rise, as is Egypt’s national debt. I believe that those in power must find a solution to these problems.
Q: What’s your view of the current Egyptian government, particularly as it is claiming that it is doing everything that it can to achieve tangible results on the ground?
What is required is more effort and by people capable of managing a state, rather than Islamic dawa (Call). Being in charge of religious proselytization is one thing, and managing a country is quite something else. Egypt needs people capable of managing a state; people with experience and knowledge.
Q: There are many economists, at home and abroad, warning of the threat of economic collapse. What’s your view?
Egypt has passed through more difficult circumstances than this and was still able to move forward. Egypt has capabilities. That is not the problem, rather the problem is in managing this. This is something that needs to be reviewed. We need to prioritize development and take into account the economic situation of Egypt’s poor because they need special care. We need to address the slums in the country, and this should also be a priority. We must support reconstruction and work to involve the country’s youth; this will create excellent employment opportunities for a large section of our youth. I also believe that we should seek to create small and medium-sized projects which will have a clear benefit to the citizens. By all this, I mean to say that there are decisions that can be taken that can start to resolve the problems present on the Egyptian street. One more thing; there must be domestic reconciliation, as well as reconciliation with Arab states. This is a necessity.
Q: What do you mean by reconciliation, whether domestically or with Arab states?
Domestic reconciliation must take place between all opposition parties and fronts; this will ensure a clear vision for the Egyptian people. As for reconciliation with the Arab community this is necessary because there is a lack of understanding between Egypt and the other Arab states. There are political problems that are delaying this understanding or agreement with other Arab states. So we must take all the necessary steps to ensure harmony and accord. However in spite of this, let me say once again that Egypt is fine and will move forward, God willing.
Q: In your view, what precisely are the problems in Egypt? What’s your view regarding the claims that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau is influencing President Mursi’s decisions?
I say, once again, that the problem is that those in charge lack a clear vision. . . .
Q: What about the Brotherhood’s reported influencing of President Mursi? This is something that the president’s own legal affairs adviser, who quit earlier this week, cited.
Of course the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau is playing an active role . . . and President Mursi continues to wear the cloak of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
Q: Do you think Mursi can extricate himself from this situation?
The president is currently trying to bring different parties together . . . by which I mean that he has currently asked different political parties to nominate members for cabinet posts, particularly as the cabinet is currently in the process of being reshuffled. He may succeed in this and we could see the formation of a national coalition government that represents Egypt today, until parliamentary elections can be held. However there is animosity with the judiciary, and animosity between the president and some political parties. There is a lack of agreement between a large number of parties, and this is something that will not, of course, have a positive result. National reconciliation is a must. I personally am calling for a six or nine month truce, or even one year, to put an end to the sit-ins and strikes. During this period, a strong national government will be able to propose solutions to all the immediate critical problems, in addition to putting in place a mid-term and long-term plan for the future. So what I am saying is that there must be an integrated political system in place.
Q: Some of the Islamists are of the view that the opposition, particularly the National Salvation Front, is pursuing a hard-line approach. What’s your view?
What hard-line approach is this? They have a committed stance in terms of calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, as well as regarding Mursi’s dismissal of the General-Prosecutor [Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud]. That is their view, and the government must either give in to these demands or reject them.
Q: So do you support the National Salvation Front’s actions?
The National Salvation Front’s problem is that it has three leaders . . . and each has their own aspirations. Leadership should be centered on a single figure, not three people. The opposition should be led by a single figure that has experience and history.