Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to one of the leaders of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), Dr. Ahmad Al–Bur’i, the secretary-general of the coalition of opposition parties, about the boycott and the current political situation in Egypt.
The Constitution Party MP, a former minister of labor and immigration in the government of Issam Sharaf, also addressed the accusations leveled against the NSF by its opponents and critics, and its plans for the future.
The following interview has been edited for length:
Asharq Al-Awsat: Your decision to boycott the parliamentary elections has been described by some members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party as “adolescent” and “political suicide.” What were your motives for making such a decision, and are you aware of its risks?
Ahmad Al–Bur’i: First of all, we are not adolescents and we do not wish to commit suicide. I ask the members of the Freedom and Justice Party to show greater commitment to balance in their statements. There is no need for this mudslinging. Quite simply, we feel that the rule of law in Egypt is absent. The judiciary’s ruling on the constituent assembly was ignored, the constitution was passed without consensus, and an invalid and unconstitutional declaration was issued by President Mursi that caused all these crises. We then had the prosecutor general, who was not appointed according to the constitutional and legal procedure, and the call for a referendum on the constitution in light of the refusal of judges to supervise it. Finally, the parliamentary election law was passed without taking our comments on it into consideration. The Constitutional Court objected to it also, but [Mursi] did not pay attention to its objections. So what guarantees are they talking about for our participation?
Add to this that elections cannot be held in Egypt at present, given this lack of security and the economic crises. We cannot have full-blown civil disobedience in Port Said and a number of cities of the Canal, the provinces of the Delta, and some parts of Cairo and Alexandria and then have elections. The Egyptian people should be calm first and then elections can be held.
President Mursi should first explain to us how more than 70 citizens in Egypt have been killed since the eruption of the recent events, especially what happened in the city of Port Said, which is not understandable. It was said on the first day of the incidents that those killed were thugs who had planned to storm the prisons. Although this claim is untrue, we will not dispute it. But what about the 12 persons who were killed while they were holding funerals for previous victims? Instead of the president of the republic offering condolences to the sons of Port Said, he described them as thugs and imposed curfew and emergency rule on them, and he is not thinking of offering condolences to the families of those martyrs.
Q: How was the decision to boycott made? Was it controversial within the NSF?
The boycott decision was adopted unanimously by all the parties of the front. In fact, before we announce the decision, several parties and more than 60 personalities had issued statements announcing their refusal to participate in the elections. During our news conference to announce our position, hundreds of the youth of the revolution staged a sit-in outside to announce the boycott. When we announced it, the room was full of applause. This is the biggest evidence of the popular support for the decision.
Q: Do you believe that you cannot achieve a parliamentary majority and to form a new government and implement everything you are demanding?
We are not afraid of the street. We have a chance for a large number of us to win if we run in the elections, but we will not give legitimacy to this regime. Our participation means that we will add legitimacy to it and that our MPs will swear on this constitution. By this, we will be a reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood group. We are not a reaction; we have our action in the street.
Q: But this situation will produce a purely “Islamic parliament.”
Congratulations to them. But do you think that 14 parties will say we are “sad” and that we will sit at home? Of course not. Our boycott will be positive, and not negative. We are now studying alternatives. We will work in all the provinces to educate people about the danger of conducting these elections and to urge citizens to boycott them. We have formed two committees to draft a comprehensive plan for the post-election phase, and we will announce this plan next week.
Q: Why demand the postponement of the elections when the new constitution sets their date and the president has to comply?
The constitution obliges the president of the republic to call elections within 60 days of the result of the referendum on the constitution, and not to set a date for the elections, on which there could be consensus based on the current circumstances.
Q: In his recent TV interview, President Mursi asked you the following question: “How is it that you claim that the state is not ready for parliamentary elections now and then call for early presidential elections?” Can you explain this to us?
The call for early presidential elections came from the Salvation Front only after victims fell in the city of Port Said, as we held President Mursi politically responsible. We said that he should put his legitimacy to the test. This was meant to satisfy and calm the Egyptian street as many demonstrations were staged calling for toppling him.
Q: The Salvation Front has been accused of seeking to stage a coup against a legitimate government and overthrow President Mursi, who came to power through the polls.
President Mursi has had this obsession since he assumed power that there is a conspiracy to kidnap him. This obsession has nothing to do with reality. We were not interested in contesting the legitimacy of President Mursi. We are aware that since he came to power through elections, it is better for him not to leave except through elections. This is not for his sake, but for the sake of the country. Reality says that the president has committed mistakes and that bad blood has become a problem between him and citizens, which we are not responsible for. On the contrary, the Salvation Front has lost some of its popularity recently because the masses in the street are calling for toppling him while we are talking about conditions for dialogue.
Q: Do you, as the opposition, feel that President Mursi does not represent you?
It came to my attention during the recent TV interview of President Mursi [last week] that he used to repeat, for no reason, the expression “I am a president for all Egyptians.” Reality denies this because he is not a president for all Egyptians; he is a president for one faction only, and he knows it. This is why he tries to repeat this expression, to convince himself of it.
President Mursi has left himself exposed on some issues, such as his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not have the legal legitimacy to rule Egypt. No one knows who rules and where do they get these funds that they spend, and no one knows their plan to run this country.
Q: Islamic currents call you the “Ruin Front.” This is a clear accusation that you bear responsibility for the acts of violence that have spread in a number of governorates and which are linked to demonstrations that you call for.
Accusations cannot be made arbitrarily. There has to be evidence. The president and his party should talk about facts. The one who accuses the Salvation Front of sponsoring or financing violence has to prove this and we will remove the one who does that from our midst. We have condemned violence, and we will condemn it, and we do not accept it from anyone, and not from one side only.
We, too, wonder about the source of this violence. Who are those who wear plainclothes and stand by the side of security men and kill the demonstrators? Who are those snipers who killed people in Port Said? Certainly, they are not from the demonstrators or revolutionaries. All the scenes were shown on TV. Is it difficult for the Interior Ministry to recognize them? If this is difficult, then the interior minister should resign at once.
Q: Do you think that the intervention of the army could be a solution to the crisis?
If the army has any role, it will be to come between the conflicting currents if this conflict results in a threat to domestic peace, but it has no political role. This is the position of the NSF. We do not call for the intervention of the army unless the situation develops into a fight between citizens and all legal ways for litigation are blocked.
Q: But you accepted the invitation of the defense minister for national dialogue previously and rejected the repeated calls by President Mursi.
We are eager for any opportunity for real dialogue to save the country. We think that the presence of the army will be a guarantee for any dialogue. The chance for national dialogue still exists if the president becomes convinced that it is better to postpone the elections and hold a real national dialogue once he corrects things legally in order for Egypt to set out. If this happens, we will go to the president even without him inviting us. However, if he continues to follow this method, we will not accept it.
Q: You have accused the president of “Ikhwanizing” [consolidation of power of the Muslim Brotherhood] the state. Does he not have the right to appoint from the men of his party those who can apply his policies?
We were angry with former President Hosni Mubarak because he had relied on trusted people, but not competent people. What is the difference between them?
Q: Based on your economic experience, what is the true situation of the Egyptian economy now and are we truly heading toward an abyss?
The situation does not need experience [to judge it]. In fact, I very much fear for the country in the coming period because the economic crisis reigns supreme and there are no obvious solutions. There is a defect in the general budget and a defect in the balance of payments. There is domestic debt that is beyond imagination. A large part of it is from social insurance. There is also an accelerating fall drop in development rates.
This is in addition to shortage in food supplies, petroleum products, and electricity. However, I cannot say that the economy has reached this stage because of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood. This would do them injustice. But we say that they have not taken remedial measures. The president and his group might be aware that there is a serious crisis and they are unable to do anything about it, or it could be that they can solve it but fear for their popularity. Their priorities are not solving these problems. The IMF loan is on hold because the government has not applied the conditions of the IMF on austerity measures. The Muslim Brotherhood refuses to take these measures because they do not want to lose in the elections, but once the parliament is elected, they will have to take these measures. Then, the people will discover the deception.
People are frustrated as they are fear for their security and livelihoods. Politics is not meant just for popularity; it is meant to protect these things. This is missing in the country. The mistake of President Mursi is that he failed to judge matters correctly. Priority should not be to the constitution or preliminary elections for the national coalition. [It should be] to save Egypt from its economic problems.
Q: What would the opposition do if it were in power?
If the opposition were in power, it would be in the same situation, but the difference is that there would be some kind of national consensus among all the political forces and there would be a solution for which everybody would bear responsibility. In addition, we will be more transparent in telling people about problems. I personally doubt that the advisory body of the president of the republic has the ability to deliver correct information to the president. Otherwise, this would have reflected on the decisions that he makes.