Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—In his first interview since resigning as Egyptian presidential adviser for legal affairs, Dr. Mohamed Fouad Gadallah was keen to stress that the crisis between the Egyptian government and judiciary can be resolved.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Gadallah lifted the veil on the activity at the Egyptian presidential palace, revealing that the harried President Mursi fears the appointment of a charismatic and ambitious prime minister, and that the Muslim Brotherhood often intervenes in government decisions.
However, he emphasized that the president is no stooge, saying that Mursi had gone against Brotherhood wishes on a number of occasions, including when Mursi rescinded his controversial constitutional decree under public pressure.
Fouad Gadallah received a doctorate in Human Rights from Cairo University in 2010; he currently works as the vice-chairman of the State Council.
He resigned as President Mursi’s adviser for legal affairs on April 24, citing differences with the regime, particularly regarding Cairo’s recent rapprochement with Iran.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Parliament is in the process of discussing a bill to amend the judicial authority law, which has created a crisis between the judiciary and the executive and legislative branches. What is your view of the situation?
Fouad Gadallah: Every national government has three branches—the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. No nation can be fully stable while there is a conflict between these different branches. What we are witnessing in Egypt right now is a problem of trust between the judiciary and the other two branches. Accusations are being tossed around: the judiciary feels that the executive and legislature are conspiring against it, which is not true—at least, not to the point of conspiracy. In turn, the executive and legislative branches feel that the judiciary is conspiring against them, a fear that is equally exaggerated.
Q: But the issue has gone beyond a crisis of trust. Figures within the ruling party are leveling blunt accusations that the judiciary contains corrupt holdovers from the previous regime who are seek to delegitimize President Mursi. Is that correct?
The judiciary was and is based on integrity, neutrality and independence, just like the Armed Forces. It is the least corrupt state institution, although this does not mean that it free of flaws. There are definitely some issues that need adjusting, such as the appointment of judges and the judicial review process, which needs to be enacted to bring oversight to the judiciary’s actions.
Still, these are institutions that must be reformed from within—reform should not be imposed from the outside.
Q: Is this not precisely what proponents of the new judicial authority draft law are calling for right now in the Shura Council?
No. The judiciary will not be reformed by amending the current law. First and foremost, the judicial branch must desire reform; then—and only then—can pertinent legislation be enacted.
Q: Who is to blame for this crisis, and why is the executive branch being accused of attacking the independence of the courts?
When I’m asked questions such as this, I like to bring up the issue of the [mandatory retirement] age of the judges: is it 60 or 70? Even if this is what created the current crisis, now is not the right time to discuss the issue. The current Shura Council is unqualified to consider the draft amendment of the judicial authority law. You cannot simply rule that all judges over age of 60 are corrupt; on the contrary, these are senior judges with vast experience.
Q: Yet in talking about the independence of the three branches of government, is it within the judiciary’s purview to prevent parliament from performing its role in drafting laws?
We do not aim to prevent the Shura Council from going about its duties, but we demand that they work according to the constitution, which stipulates that the Shura Council replaces the House of Representatives during the transitional period. The judiciary does not interfere in the enacting of legislation, except when it is absolutely necessary. Is it absolutely necessary to lower the age of the judges right now? No. There are only political reasons for this.
Q: One of the accusations directed at the judiciary is that it hampered the transitional period, acquitted prominent figures of the former regime, and prevented the martyrs of the revolution from receiving justice, and this is why reform must be enacted quickly. Do you agree with this?
This is not true. Even if there were suspicions surrounding some judicial figures, this does not mean that the entire institution ought to be dismantled and all senior judges forced to resign. Judges rule based on the available evidence and documents, so if the agencies responsible for collecting information failed in their duties, then the judge is not to blame. The problem does not lie with the judiciary but with these auxiliary bodies, with the evidence, and with the investigations.
Q: Some of the judges have proposed internationalizing the crisis, given that Egypt is a signatory to international conventions that require it to preserve the independence of the judiciary. What is your view?
The judges of Egypt are capable of protecting the judicial branch without resorting to foreign assistance. This would be a sign of weakness, and the judicial branch in Egypt is certainly not weak. We reject any indication or threat of internationalizing the crisis. Egypt cannot open its doors to foreign intervention in its internal affairs.
Q: Is it possible that the judiciary could undergo Ikhwanization?
This matter has been exaggerated. No one can Ikhwanize the judiciary, nor dare to interfere in its operations. Even if 4,000 judges were removed, as some suggest, those under age the age of 60 [who remain] will be even more difficult to influence. It is not true, as some believe, that those younger than 60 are more pliable—they are the fiercest members of the judiciary.
There are always exaggerated reports, and the Muslim Brotherhood is not as bad as some make them out to be—just as they are not as righteous as others imagine them to be. Those who speak of the Brotherhood’s intentions to grant the Sinai to Hamas or sell Egypt to Qatar are crazy. No one can challenge the loyalty and patriotism of the Brotherhood. I have spent time with them and I know them well. Still, they can be criticized for their mistakes. At the same time as this, no one can challenge the patriotism of the opposition.
Q: So what is the solution to this crisis?
The solution is for the political parties to withdraw the proposed amendments to the judicial authority law, and to defer any discussion of the matter until after parliamentary elections. They should then consult the judiciary on any planned amendment, according to the constitution, which stipulates that parties affected by legislation must be consulted. The legislative branch is bound by law to do so; it is not a matter of choice.
Q: Why does the president insist on keeping public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah in his post, despite the strong disapproval of the opposition and a ruling that voided the dismissal of his predecessor?
The way I see it, President Mursi is not insisting on keeping Talaat Abdallah, but he is worried about him being removed. He sincerely wants to resolve this conflict, because it is not in the interest of the state to create a crisis with the judiciary. The upcoming parliamentary elections require judicial oversight, and the judges cannot be forced to participate if they do not agree to it.
Therefore, President Mursi has to be an arbitrator between the branches. He needs to open up serious, constructive dialogue between the Supreme Judicial Council, current public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah, and former public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.
The situation could see Talaat Abdallah resigning and being given a political post [as a minister or governor]. Abdel Meguid Mahmoud would also be placated, dropping his case despite the ruling demanding his return. Then, the president and the Supreme Judicial Council can agree on the appointment of a new public prosecutor.
Q: How true are the claims that the Muslim Brotherhood is interfering with the decisions of the president’s administration?
This is not true at all. In the Presidential Palace, there is a mechanism for making decisions based on consultation. The president consults everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, as is his right, and then he makes decisions. Sometimes he heeds of their opinion; sometimes he does not.
Other times things can happen far removed from the presidency, such as local administrative appointments that the president knows little about. These will happen when the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau or one of its members intervenes, and thus the appointment is made without the president’s knowledge.
Perhaps these appointments would be within the Muslim Brotherhood’s rights if the country was in a natural state, and not its current, post-revolutionary state of political instability, but now is not the time for them to take exclusive control of these decisions. The Muslim Brotherhood gets involved in everything, large and small, and issues statements on everything, causing a crisis for the state administration.
Q: Has President Mursi ever gone against the opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Yes. This happened, for example, when he decided to rescind the constitutional decree he issued last November. When the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the repeal of the decree, the president went his own way.
Q: Most of the presidential aides who have resigned complained that they were not being consulted. Why did you feel unable to continue your post any longer, and decide to tender your resignation?
With all due respect to them, those who resigned previously were far from the actual decision-making process. They were not based in the Presidential Palace; their offices were elsewhere. My situation is different, because I spent most of my days in the Presidential Palace, and I always met with the president. Therefore, I was involved in some of the decision-making. The president was not obligated to follow all of my advice, but he listened and formed his own opinions as he pleased.
I felt that the administration’s vision was amorphous. There is no vision or timetable; instead, you have an insistence upon having a prime minister who lacks political and economic experience, one group monopolizing political power in the midst of an ongoing economic collapse, the security vacuum, attempts to dismantle the judicial branch and undermine its independence. These are all negative things.
Q: Why does the president insist on keeping Hisham Qandil as prime minister despite the opposition of the majority of the political forces?
Frankly, the new constitution gives the prime minister a lot of powers. Thus, if there were a prime minister who had a clear vision and charisma, in addition to political, economic and administrative skills, he could potentially play a larger role in the management of the nation, and thus compete with the president.
Q: Some describe your resignation as jumping off a sinking ship. What is your view of this characterization?
I left the president’s office once the situation had stabilized. I left during the best, most stable period that the nation has seen in a while. For the record, I deferred my resignation for five months because of the wave of strikes that the nation was experiencing.
Q: So would you characterize Egypt as being stable now?
Yes, at least more than it was before, in terms of movement on the streets. The ship is not sinking, as some claimed. The purpose of my resignation was to shed light on some negative issues, and for everyone to reconsider their take on these issues.
Q: Do you regret anything about your time in the office of the presidency, such as being blamed for mistakes for which you were not responsible?
No. On the contrary, I learned a lot. Despite being blamed for others’ mistakes, I publicly took full responsibility for my part in the decision to reinstate parliament, as well as for my rejection of President Mursi’s constitutional declaration issued last November, which caused a schism in the street. I say this in the hope that everyone would bear responsibility, re-evaluate their positions, address their mistakes, and apologize to the people.
Q: Is there any chance of your joining the opposition National Salvation Front?
No, that’s not possible. I will not join any [political] entity, ruling or opposition. I have returned to the people once more. Even the opposition is divided. Some challenge the legitimacy of the president and demand early presidential elections, which is a mistake. Others want reform, which is the right thing to do. I am in favor of the president completing his four-year term, and any early presidential elections are not in the nation’s interest. Those who call for early elections are calling for bloodshed in the streets.
Q: Currently, the Supreme Constitutional Court is looking at the legitimacy of the Shura Council. Is there any chance that this will be dissolved, in the same manner that the lower house of parliament was?
I do not think that the Shura Council will be dissolved, because the new constitution grants the Shura Council immunity. This is my legal opinion, although some may disagree.
Q: President Mursi has often talked about conspiracies that aim to overthrow him and the government. How much truth is there to such allegations?
These are all exaggerated. There might be some truth to them, and there have been some attempts, but they have been blown out of proportion. This is similar to the opposition’s exaggerated accusations that the Brotherhood is conspiring against Egypt. Sometimes inaccurate information gets to the president from an unreliable source, something which is not in any way unique to Egypt. The Iraq War was an example of this, where a source was unprofessional, and sometimes mistakes are made.
Q: One of the reasons for your resignation was Egypt’s rapprochement with Iran. Why did you oppose this?
I am only against opening Egypt’s doors to Iranian tourism, which will lead to the spread of Shi’ism and the building of Shi’ite mosques, as well as the exploitation of some Egyptians to spread Iranian ideology. I welcome a new political relationship with Iran, but not at the expense of Egyptian national security and our relationship with the Gulf. Our priority for national security is our relationship with the Gulf states. Therefore, there are flaws in our foreign policy towards Iran that need to be reevaluated and corrected.