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A talk with Egypt’s Advisory Council head Mansour Hassan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- in an in-depth interview the head of Egypt’s Advisory Council, Mansour Hassan, sat down with Asharq Al-Awsat to discuss the overall political situation in Egypt and the fears hovering over its future, especially in the economic domain, and the position of the ruling Military Council [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF] and its management of the transitional period and its intention to turn over power to an elected civilian president by mid-year.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How was the Advisory Council put together, especially since its birth was shrouded with rumours and came at a crucial time amid the violence in Tahrir square and the Army’s insistence on holding the parliamentary elections on schedule?

[Hassan] There are two principal factors in this story. During the past period (about eight months) the Military Council realized (and later admitted) that it had not been politically prepared for this mission, especially since the civilians themselves had been excluded from political life under the former regime, so what would the situation be for the military upon whom the rule was unloaded overnight? They began to feel that they needed a joint council with some civilians to face public opinion. Actually, some went to the extent of advocating formation of a presidential council that would replace the Military Council. But these two proposals required a change in the Constitutional Declaration. So the compromise solution was that a civilian advisory council should be formed to give the Military Council periodical advice without amending the Constitutional Declaration.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the principal tasks of the Advisory Council?

[Hassan] Firstly: To provide advice to the Military Council on the matters it refers to it. Secondly: To submit to SCAF the topics we believe are of importance to public opinion.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were the most important projects you actually endorsed?

[Hassan] The most important were the law on conducting the presidential elections which will be announced soon. It has been sent to SCAF and the State Council is currently reviewing it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were the most important points in the draft, especially since there are demands for opening the door to nominations early (in April) and consequently turning over power sooner?

[Hassan] They will cover everything from the candidate’s age, the deadline for nominations, and other details the people are waiting to find out about. The date defined in a final manner for accepting nominations and the elections has been set for June and turning over power to civilians will be on the first of July without any question.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the condition on the nationality of the President’s wife which was subject to controversy lately, especially since Suzanne Mubarak is a British national and consequently Mubarak’s sons Jamal and Alaa are also British nationals?

[Hassan] I hope in drafting the Constitution that the clause on the wife’s nationality would allow her if she is not an Egyptian national to be of Arab nationality but not of foreign nationality. I say that Arab wives can be completely trusted with Egyptian interests. Of late, the Arabs felt that Egypt was letting them down. But after the revolution all Arab streets celebrated the Egyptian revolution. Until now however there is no stipulation on this point in the new draft law.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did the MB withdraw from the Advisory Council, especially since they say that there withdrawal was meant to uphold the will of the people which the council wants to manipulate?

[Hassan] The MB were not members in the Advisory Council so that they would withdraw. They were present when the idea of forming the council was first proposed, especially in the presence of Dr Mahmud Mursi, and at the formation of the Advisory Council. One of the leaders of the Military Council had made a statement suggesting that the Advisory Council could play a role in drafting the procedures for the committee that would draft the Constitution. This fueled the MB suspicious as they believed that any attempt to come near the People’s Assembly would be an attempt to reduce their powers. They feared that the Military Council would impose its will on them. I said at the time that if the people had trusted them with their interests by giving them a majority in parliament for the next four years then how can they not be entrusted with the formation of the committee which will draft the Constitution? I came out and said: We in the Advisory Council will not come near the committee entrusted with amending the Constitution in any way.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are fears that the Islamists would dominate the Constitutional Committee?

[Hassan] For our part, we have stressed that the Constitutional Committee cannot be dominated by a single party and must represent all the hues of the people. I am in contact with them [MB] through the Accord Committee. There is no crisis in their dealings with this issue. I told them that the Constitutional Committee will represent all hues of the people and will not represent a single current. There are basic concepts that everybody must agree to in drafting the Constitution. This was seen in the Al-Silmi and Al-Azhar documents. But the MB rejected them and said they were “advisory” and not “binding”. They insisted on the 100-member committee.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are apprehensions that the Islamic majority in parliament would dominate the Constitution-Drafting Committee. There are also parties and forces that are not represented in parliament and that will be deprived from representation in the committee?

[Hassan] The People’s and Consultative Assemblies will form a committee of 100 members from the members of the two assemblies and from non-members, whether from the parties that did not enter parliament or the general public elite. Further, who said that those coming from outside parliament will be Islamists necessarily? This will not happen. The MB themselves have said they do not want a single current to dominate the 100-member committee entrusted with drafting the Constitution. They are to be asked about this if they do not honor it. I am not the one to ask them about it. Further, they have a rational and moderate faction that needs an opportunity to prove the sincerity of what it says.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the Constitution to be completed before the presidential elections?

[Hassan] The Constitution’s timetable provided for six months to form the committee and another six months to draft it. But we lately squeezed the phase of the elections and consequently the period for drafting the Constitution was also reduced. So now it is only two months, and I believe they are quite sufficient, especially since we have a constellation of the best constitutional experts in the Arab world, in addition to the old Egyptian Constitutions and the availability of the Internet. This is why I believe that drafting the Constitution will not take a long time. The important thing is only that the “lust for talkativeness” does not grip some of the members of the committee that will be formed to avoid wasting more time, which would be very costly in the political process.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your expectations on the Second Article of the Constitution which is a source of dispute?

[Hassan] The article that can be controversial is the Second Article of the Constitution. But Pope Shanudah and the Copts have announced with commendable tolerance that they welcome it and do not want to change it while taking into consideration their canons in private affairs. This is a settled point and there are no differences about it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the MB rejected your request of increasing the representation of the revolution’s youths from 10 to 20 MPs in Parliament?

[Hassan] I asked for adding 20 youths from the revolution’s youths, not only 10, because they were not adequately represented in the People’s Assembly through the elections. The Military Council has nearly agreed. But the MB rejected this because they believe the purpose of this number was to change percentages inside the Assembly. Here I ask them with amazement: How could this happen when you and the rest of the Islamic current have won about 70 percent of Parliament’s seats? I told them concerning this fear that I propose that all parties in the People’s Assembly should share the 20 youths so that they do not form a bloc of their own inside Parliament.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, is the political landscape in Egypt so dominated by mistrust that any joint effort to improve the life of Egyptians is vulnerable?

[Hassan] Indeed there are deep suspicions that Egypt lives in such a phase. Unfortunately the country is currently filled with doubts in an unimaginable way. These suspicions are due to long periods of rule during which the people were not told the truth. The people had to use their intuition to verify the truth of what they are told. This formed and entrenched the tendency to doubt among the Egyptian people. Even if you told the perfect truth it will not be fully believed. The proof is all the doubts raised about the continuation of the Military Council in power. The Egyptians say “there is not a single soldier who reached the [ruling] chair and left it willingly”. No matter how much you assure them and swear, and even open the door for electing a civilian President, the people still do not believe! But in the end the people will be assured about the truth at a later time. One of the most important results of the January 25 revolution was that the Egyptian people themselves have changed. Before January 25 they were most unfortunately submissive, cowardly, and hypocritical because they lived under repression for nearly 60 years. When the doors were opened, they stood strongly. This is a lesson that will teach the next politicians that they have to abide, not only by the rule of the law but also because of fear from public opinion, from the “people”. This is what European politicians are also facing.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the light of this, would you say that breaking the fear barrier is the most important accomplishment of the January 25 revolution, and will eventually lead to endowing society with a positive, critical awareness?

[Hassan] This is absolutely true. The people accomplished their victory in the first phase after the revolution. But there was exaggeration in expressing opinion. After a period, matters will calm down and the Egyptian people will be able to distinguish between what is important and what is not important, between what is scum and what is precious. Matters with us have reached the extent that Tahrir Square may witness more than one million-strong demonstration on the same day and more than one platform for expressing opinion. Million-strong demonstrations are great, but they were abused of late. They must be kept as a force of pressure in some extremely important situations in which there is one demand and the people are unanimous on that demand. Anything other than this is a form of anarchy, for we most unfortunately do not believe in discipline. Despite the affable nature of our people which is considered a unique trait, unfortunately it has reflected on them in their relations with the central authority since the days of the pharaohs. So they give their ruler more than one chance. If the ruler gave them 10 percent of what they hope for they feel satisfied. But this does not mean that the people should be dealt with in all the negligence and indifference they suffered in the last decades.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There has been talk lately in the Egyptian media and amongst the political elite about an exit strategy for the Army by giving guarantees to the commanders of the Military Council that protects them from legal accountability on mistakes they committed during the period they ruled the country?

[Hassan] This is a shame, a shame, a shame. This is what I say. It must be an honorable exit and we must celebrate them [military]. I admit and they admit that mistakes have occurred. I do not believe in distinguishing the Military Council and the Army. Unfortunately this distinction which is circulated by some politicians has become a door through watch they want to “defame and insult” the Military Council. But the Military Council and the Army are one entity. If there is somebody who has evidence that one of them committed a mistake then he should present it to the legal bodies. When they criticize, the criticism must be within the framework of the objectivity and respect commensurate with the way the Egyptian people cherish their army in their hearts. We must not forget the 1967 defeat during which we went down to the streets bare-footed to weep uncontrollably for the army and the defeat. When they were victorious in 1973 they raised our heads high among the clouds. The Army is our honor and is a precious value for us, in addition to the fact that it is the army that will confront the enemy sooner or later. There is no army that will face the enemy some day when it is “insulted” in its country. What happened against the Army was unfortunately an ethical blunder. I remember before the revolution that no one thought about insulting or defaming anybody in power! The Military Council’s members are simple people. They are really serious about turning over authority. I have no doubt about that. Field Marshal Tantawi wants to be a member in the Consultative Assembly, and I think that at the first session in the coming People’s Assembly he will announce abolishment of the Emergency Law.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the Army not asked for special guarantees and privileges that preserve its independence and that might be added in the new Constitution?

[Hassan] The status of the Army in the new Constitution will not be more than its status in the 1971 Constitution. Six months ago some came out to say: We want to give the Army a special status so that it might become the protector of the civil system. I objected to this publicly in previous statements. This idea is an attempt to imitate the Turkish system of governance. But our situation is different from Turkey. Kemal Ataturk wanted to impose a different cultural and civil order. He did change the language and the attire for instance. He wanted in return a power that helps him to impose this order until it becomes entrenched in the people’s minds. We do not have this problem. Consequently there should be no special status for the army. After the end of its mission it must return to its barracks and the people will be responsible for protecting the regime. After the 25 January revolution, does it make sense that we should fail to protect the civilian authority?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the Army clearly committed mistakes?

[Hassan] Ruling in its simple definitions among the people is “flexibility and a stick”. I reproached them [Military Council] because they did not show the firmness needed to confront trouble-making elements. Flexibility is used with the straightforward elements and the stick is used with the trouble-makers. But their doctrine as an Army is not to clash with the people. They thought that they could satisfy everybody with flexibility. But this is not possible in the science of politics.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] some political analysts believe that Egypt could turn into another Pakistan, especially with the growth of the Islamic tide and its control over Parliament?

[Hassan] The Pakistani model is not suitable for us at all because it requires external powers that plan for the regime. How can this be? It also requires forces within the Army that accept carrying out these plans and that have ambitions for power. This is completely irrelevant in our case because the United States cannot impose a specific system on us. The Army is also not prepared to accept what the United States wants and has no political ambitions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some believe that the Military Council committed two principal mistakes. The first was to link the constitutional amendments to suspending the Constitution and to the proclamation of an independent Constitutional Charter. These amendments could have been added to the Constitution which could have then become an interim Constitution regulating the transitional period without going into the controversy of whether the Constitution or the elections should come first. The second mistake was opening wide the door for forming political parties even though the fruits of the revolution had not ripened yet and when its strength was still scattered in the streets and squares. How do you see this?

[Hassan] I was the first to advocate this opinion. If we had adopted it we would not have gone from the phase of the revolution to this dismal situation now. The Military Council said it wanted constitutional amendments for a period of six months only. But after we dealt with the problem of nominations for the next presidential elections we now stand at crossroads. We could have lived with this Constitution (the 1971 Constitution) in the transitional period until the conditions stabilized. If there had to be elections we could have organized class elections rather than political elections. But what happened is that a group of political advisers said: “No. We want a new Constitution with the new era because the old Constitution is not suitable.” The alternative was to go to the elections of the People’s and Consultative Assemblies that will subsequently form the 100-member committee that drafts the Constitution later. After this proposal a dispute erupted among the political elite on whether the Constitution or the elections should come first. The dispute escalated and would have threatened a civil war. Their logic was that the referendum meant a majority in favor of the elections first. Some lost their minds and said that those who want the Constitution first were “human devils”. But democracy does not require only that there should be a majority from a certain current but that this majority should take the hand of the minority and make it participate in the political process.

As for the parties, this had to happen. When the door for establishing parties was opened nearly 50 parties were formed. Today less than 10 of them remain actually on the arena. Gradually, parties will disappear and others will appear. The formation of parties was so energetic and had so much momentum, like everything else we were deprived of during Mubarak’s era. The dissolved National Democratic Party during Mubarak’s days used to take the decision on who will compete with it. It was a shameful thing for some people to go the State Council to form their parties yet approval remains locked in desk drawers for 15 consecutive years and in the end they do not get that approval!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it not strange that the youths who carried out the revolution and sacrificed for it have been shut out from the entire political process? Do you still sponsor the call you made for the revolution’s youths to form a political party?

[Hassan] The problem is because of the revolution’s youths themselves and their lack of political experience. This made it easy to fragment them into parties and coalitions. I proposed to them to form a party under the name of “25 January” that combines them in a single entity. I was fully prepared to help them in this and be an adviser for them. This was the only party I was willing to be affiliated to after having shunned political life for 30 years. But they did not respond and told me they were divided and had differences among themselves. Until now I tell them that your position is “vacant” on the political arena. They had a golden opportunity to form the biggest political party of its type. I am still prepared to support the formation of such a party. They are the ones who will head it. My role would be to advise and help.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you feel about ElBaradei dropping out of the presidential race?

[Hassan] Dr ElBaradei is a first-rate politician. But concerning his withdrawal being because he believes the present situation lacks democracy I tell him: “It is not strange that the transitional phase should lack democracy.” I wished he would have remained in the presidential race to reach the presidency and bring about the democracy which we want as much as he does. But the withdrawal does not bring about such a democracy.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some had reservations about the timing of his announcement which came days before the first anniversary of the January 25 revolution?

[Hassan] The timing and style of the withdrawal was not proper for ElBaradei because the conditions in Egypt do not tolerate his withdrawal with all the momentum he represents for the youths. I remember that nearly 2,000 youths went to the airport to receive him upon his arrival in Egypt at a very important and sensitive political timing. But he left all this by his withdrawal.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been rumors that the Military Council and partisan forces would nominate you for the presidency. Election campaigns have already started in the town of Abu-Kibir in Al-Sharqiyyah Province to support you?

[Hassan] I am not going to run for the presidency. The campaign in Abu-Kibir to support me is because it is my hometown and because they love me as a person, nothing more and nothing less. I do not follow any one, whether the Muslim Brothers or the Military Council. I follow myself only and I say it: I am not going to run. I am not going to run so that all those who raise doubts would feel at ease. After the Advisory Council I shall retire completely from political activity.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some believe that the post-revolution parliament will be stripped of powers and poor; that there are no major issues on its agenda. In the light of this, how do you see Egypt’s future in the coming phase?

[Hassan] The major power in that parliament, namely the Brotherhood, has “kept in store” major issues to discuss. They are actually prepared to work on them. These include the dossiers of poverty, education, and the economy. They have dossiers for all this. Because of the chaos that prevails in political life, I have called for forming a national reconciliatory council to discuss the problems of the current transitional phase and find out about the existing fears and ways of dissipating them as we enter the new era. If we enter with these apprehensions, differences, and problems which will be fuelled by some whims and lust for limelight, this would make the transitional phase difficult. But the Brothers are now extremely rational and work with others to stick to rationality in dealing with the coming phase, controlling the chaotic situation, and avoiding disorderliness and hypocrisy toward groups among the masses that have particular trends. To my mind, the foundation in the coming phase which will form Egypt’s future is the economic situation. This is the main issue we must strongly focus on. We talk about politics all the time and have forgotten “the people’s daily bread”.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your views on the current economic situation?

[Hassan] The political situation is extremely difficult and is getting worse with time. There are no attempts for salvation. The economic development rate is negligible. There is no tourism and no income. After some months we could be on the verge of bankruptcy, especially because most of the people are not used to savings because of economic hardships over decades. It was a pocket-to-mouth situation. Consequently the people do not have any alternatives today. The situation is really dangerous.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Within this context how do you see Al-Janzuri’s Government?

[Hassan] I was a candidate for the Prime Minister’s post along with Al-Janzuri. When the Military Council headed by Field Marshal Tantawi asked for my decision, I told them “Al-Janzuri is the best choice”. This did not mean I was weak or that I avoided shouldering a national task. I looked at the issue from the nationalist viewpoint. I know that Dr Al-Janzuri is capable of adopting strong decisions and has an economic mentality. He served as Prime Minister before, something which means that as soon as the cabinet is formed he will be able to act quickly whereas if I had assumed the post now I might need additional time to explore the situation. The present phase cannot tolerate more wasting of time. Incidentally, it is not true what was said about his being Mubarak’s man. Mubarak hated him because he never accepted anyone sharing the limelight with him.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the light of this future, what is your opinion about the civilian trials for Mubarak and his regime?

[Hassan] The Military Council had one of two solutions. These were to either refer Mubarak and his regime to military tribunals, as happened after many revolutions, or choose going into normal conditions, after we lived eras under exceptional circumstances, by referring the trials to civilian courts. No one can tell the civilian judge “hurry up, hurry up”. Further, the chain of legal procedures takes time and requires more patience. The realities will be sufficient to reply to all the fears and rumors about these trials. The Military Council has no ulterior motives in these trials.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will be the make-up of the coming regime in Egypt, especially with the differences in political views about a presidential or parliamentary systems or a mixture of both?

[Hassan] At the start I believed that the parliamentary system was the more suitable for Egypt, even in the future. But with the current period which is closer to anarchy, I believe that this phase requires the parliamentary and presidential systems together. This would be the more suitable. We might return later to the parliamentary system exclusively.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will a clause be added in the coming Constitution on whether the ruling system will be presidential or parliamentary?

[Hassan] Such a clause will not be added in the new Constitution because it existed in the 1971 Constitution but was not activated! Since Sadat’s days, I told him once: “Rayyis [skipper] we are by virtue of the Constitution a mixed presidential-parliamentary system when in fact we are a presidential system only. The President of the Republic is completely responsible for the legislative system and is asked before adopting any decision on it, even though there are other tools in the system of governance that can adopt decisions on such matters.” He told me: “Yes, you are right.” He asked me to study the matter. After this I contacted the American Ambassador in Egypt when I was in the cabinet and asked him for some books on the ruling system in the White House. But the circumstances did not allow this because I left the cabinet and the matter was not pursued, especially since Mubarak (the Vice President) was at the time opposed to these moves on the basis of a very strange viewpoint, namely that “are we still going to bring legal advisers to discuss the matter with each one of them requiring an office, car, and other details?” His rejection was not logical at all!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But there are apprehensions among the liberals and leftist forces in general about adopting the parliamentary system, especially after the growth of the Islamist forces and the possibility that they would maintain the majority in parliament.

[Hassan] The apprehensions among liberal circles about the parliamentary system magnifying the strength of the Islamist currents are not justified. When we talk about a parliamentary system we should not talk about who has the majority. The existing parties in parliament are not capable of establishing a real parliamentary system, especially since many of them in addition to the Muslim Brothers did not practice politics. As for restrictions on public liberties and tourism, this will not happen because the Brothers themselves told me explicitly “we have no relationship to the bikini” and that what is important to them was the economic situation and providing food to the citizens.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the alliances among the political forces, as they appeared in the parliamentary elections, not represent an indication that the political map in Egypt will suffer for years to come from imbalance and realignment of roles?

[Hassan] The Salafi Al-Nur Party joined the [Egyptian] Bloc, not the Muslim Brothers. This is a piece of good luck otherwise they would have been able to control more than 70 percent in parliament. Consequently they might become the delaying third in parliament. But the Brothers in all events are fully aware that they have an opportunity to really prove what they have been promoting and form a principal pivot in the equilibrium of the political map. I believe that if they are not up to the level of the trust the people have placed in them, the people themselves can say overnight “we do not want them”. Their difficult test will be in the economy, ensuring livelihood and controlling the executive apparatus. They have “people everywhere” and work amid the masses. There is a very important factor for the Brothers which the others do not see, namely that a large percentage of them place Allah before their eyes in their actions. Even if there is a percentage of corruption in any group, the prevailing trait among them is piety and fear of Allah. Consequently we might expect their faith to guide them to achievements they want to accomplish.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you deal with the resignation of a large number of the Advisory Council members at the start in protest of the bloody events in Qasr al-Ayni Street?

[Hassan] I understand the humanitarian considerations and circumstances of the 11 members who resigned from the Advisory Council because they had direct interaction with the masses on the streets. Most of them were university professors and could not have faced accusations made against them by university youths. We have thousands of requests to join the Advisory Council.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism that bordered on defamation yet you held on to your position as head of the council. Why did you not resign?

[Hassan] It would have been very easy to withdraw from the Advisory Council and resign. But my national conscience did not allow me to shirk responsibility at a historic moment Egypt is going through in which it needs everybody. This is why I announced to everybody that “no one should try to overbid me”. I lived in a similar situation 30 years ago but I decided to depart, even though the prize at the time was the position of Vice President in Sadat’s era!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the truth about Mubarak’s position toward you and his excluding you from political life all these years?

[Hassan] Mubarak engaged in all-out political bulldozing throughout his period as a ruler so that when the day comes when the people look for an alternative they would find no replacement for him. He completely succeeded in this 100 percent. In the 2005 elections, those running against him nominated Mubarak as President! The truth is that his negative feelings toward me were one-sided, from his side. I never had any such feelings toward him at any day. Since I entered the presidency during Sadat’s era I began to feel his personal distaste for me because the comparisons were not in his favor. He of course did not tolerate any one beside him who had some attraction, intelligence, special capabilities, or any type of success, like Al-Janzuri, Amr Musa, and Osama al-Baz, even though Al-Baz specifically was the one who taught him politics. In the end he used to say that Osama did not understand anything about politics!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Sadat?

[Hassan] Sadat had a lot of confidence in himself. He was a good listener, unlike Mubarak. Many people do not know that what brought me close to Sadat was that he listened to me and that I was not afraid to tell him the truth, without honey-coated words and the praise for the ruler all the time.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Politically, what is the lesson you draw from this comparison between two presidents who ruled Egypt?

[Hassan] Policy in Egypt in the past periods was formed according to the thinking of the president of the republic exclusively, in both the internal and external policy domains. Hosni Mubarak did not like confrontation, even though he is primarily a military man. He used to do this internally and externally. The freedom of expression he said he had granted to the people was in fact wrested from him because he did not like confrontations. In foreign policy he had to “walk close to the wall”.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what should we do in our external policy in the coming period?

[Hassan] In the coming period we have to water down our allegiance to the United States. All peoples act according to their heritage and history. The Americans by nature respect those who build themselves, accumulate a strong legacy of history and steadfastness, and then extend the hand of friendship without fear. They shun the weak follower and respect the strong. Further, our problems with Iran were not real in Mubarak’s era. The peasant saying goes “do not bring in a stranger to support you against your neighbor” because the stranger can abandon you any moment. The major calamity was in Mubarak’s cooperation with Israel in laying siege to Gaza. How can Egypt be afraid of Hamas? Of Islamists? And also the media war which erupted between Egypt and Qatar. All these were petty matters that had major ramifications. They cost us the Arab world and we no longer saw any support from them. The Arab world was shocked in Egypt because it kept totally distant from it. We lost even Africa after we were masters in it and had a strong position. I hope that the coming Constitution will have an article that bolsters Egypt’s African position and take into consideration the importance of the Nile as our life’s artery.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true that Sadat in his final days wanted to devote himself to his private life and leave power after placing Egypt on the road of proper democratic life?

[Hassan] In his last days, Sadat used to say that he wanted to devote himself to his family life. I believe he would have done so. In that period it was said that he began to discover that Mubarak was not fit for the Vice President’s position. It was said that he was preparing a decree to change Hosni Mubarak and that the position of the Vice President would go to Mansur Hassan, [with this to be announced] after his [Sadat’s] attendance at the October 1981 military parade and his return from it. [He continues laughing]: But Allah saved me and saved Hosni Mubarak.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were Egypt’s Minister of Information at an important time. How do you see the entire media discourse, both private and public, in this phase?

[Hassan] Information in Egypt is the Government’s wayward son. There is a love-hate relationship at the same time. This means that the Government wants the media to serve it but realizes at the same time that it can rebel against it. This explains to you why the status of the Information Ministry has been confused across the years; once there is a ministry, another time it is abolished, and a third time it is annexed to the Culture Ministry. I believe that it is important in the new era to establish the perception of real media that are based on the foundation of the staffers, including the private media. This should be done through a national council for information that does not supervise but represents and monitors, like the Higher Press Council in England which evaluates the British media in an annual report. A representative of that council should cooperate with a representative in the People’s Assembly. This would allow us to live in responsible freedom rather than an irresponsible freedom that causes many problems.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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