Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour about the progress of the Egyptian revolution, his hopes for Egypt’s future, and the political landscape in the country following the collapse of the Hosni Mubrak regime. Nour ran against then president Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, winning 7 percent of the vote – according to government officials – with independent observers estimating his share of the vote as potentially being as high as 13 percent in the elections which were widely reported to have been subject to vote rigging. Nour was arrested on charges of forgery in the run-up to the elections, being convicted of this crime after coming second to Mubarak at the 2005 elections, and later being sentenced to 5 years in prison. He was released in 2009, and played a role in the Egyptian 25 January revolution, appearing in Tahrir Square, the center of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Nour spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about his intentions for the future, confirming that he still intends to put himself forward as a candidate at the forthcoming presidential elections in Egypt. He also exclusively announced the formation of a new political coalition, namely the “New Tomorrow Coalition” which he claimed would be made-up of 26 political parties.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you intend to run at the forthcoming Egyptian presidential elections?
[Nour] I am the only one who represents the middle generation, because all the other [presidential] contenders belong to an older age-bracket. I am the candidate of the Liberal current, which represents myself and everybody who has been wronged in Egypt. I have been grievously wronged, and I believe this has allowed me to identify with the poorest, the most aggrieved [in our society], and all those who have been economically, politically and socially wronged during Mubarak’s long reign. I am [also] an experienced candidate as I was the only one to run for president [opposing Mubarak] in the 2005 elections. I first got involved in student political activism whilst I was in secondary school…indeed I became the president of my secondary school’s student union, and I followed this same example with regards to my behaviour as an Egyptian MP, and my fellow MPs can testify their opinion of my performance as an Egyptian MP. I also have genuine experience with dealing with people’s problems and concerns, along with finding the best solutions for the pressing issues that are facing all Egypt citizens.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think this will be enough to win the presidency?
[Nour] I am 46 years old now, so I don’t think I am that much older than the youth generation. I have never had any problems communicating with them in the past, nor should I have in the future. The majority of the founding and senior members of the El-Ghad party are from the youth generation. Throughout my student career, I always held leadership positions [within the student union] and this provided me with a good knowledge of the demands of the youth and their legitimate aspirations. Indeed the youth will be my [political] partners during the forthcoming period in shouldering of the responsibility [of government]. When I first contemplated running for president and facing Mubarak in 2005, the decision was my own…however my standing for the forthcoming presidential elections opposing the remnants of the Mubarak regime is one that will affect the fate of Egypt. This is a decision that the middle generation – which believes that there are entitlements that must be guaranteed and responsibilities that must be borne – must take advantage of. However, the existence of multiple candidates should not be seen as a cause for concern, political plurality is a good thing, for it opens the door before a wide range of options and choices.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following the 2005 elections, your political party El-Ghad ran into a lot of trouble. Will you be standing at the forthcoming presidential elections as the El-Ghad party nominee or as an independent?
[Nour] The security forces recruited some elements [of the El-Ghad] party during the Mubarak era and tried to create a media rift within the party. Today, the El-Ghad party is here and it is functional. There is also something that I would like to reveal for the first time, namely that we are currently working to form a [political] coalition named the “New Tomorrow Coalition” [Itilaf El-Ghad Al-Gadeed]. This coalition will officially be announced in the coming days, and it will be a party that brings together a number of civilian institutions, including the El-Ghad party. The New Tomorrow Coalition will be submitting its documents to the Egyptian Political Parties’ Affairs Committee by mid-July. We will also be establishing a daily newspaper. I am not trying to play down the impact of independent political candidates, but in my view, a genuine party candidate is stronger, because he can rely upon a clear [political] vision and a firm ideological and political position. Such candidates have supporters, parliamentary backing, and political experience that perhaps might not be found in independent candidates. It is common knowledge that political parties in Egypt were repressed and restricted during the Mubarak era; however the crisis that these political parties were facing also affected everybody else. However this opinion does not mean ruling out the chances of everybody who believes they can serve their country [as independent political candidates].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You famously spent a number of years in prison following the 2005 presidential elections. How has this affected your political career and will it affect your presidential nomination?
[Nour] These were trumped-up charges made against me by the former regime and which resulted in my being imprisoned just days after the presidential election. Upon my release, I submitted a request for the case to be reviewed and launched a large-scale two-year campaign to promote myself as a presidential candidate. Following the collapse of the Mubarak regime, a decision was issued by the Egyptian public prosecution on 17 March  ordering a review of the case against me in light of the appearance of new evidence. Just three days later, I announced my intention to stand for the forthcoming presidential election and began my election campaign. I have visited many Egyptian cities, towns, and villages, and spoken with the Egyptian youth in many different parts of the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don’t you think it’s strange to announce your presidential candidacy when a final decision has yet to be made about when precisely the presidential elections will take place?
[Nour] You are quite right. The picture is still not clear, but it is possible that this may be clarified during the coming period, perhaps after the parliamentary elections or following the formation of the committee that will be tasked with drafting the new constitution. In any case, some candidates have been put forward by the media but they will ultimately fade away. There are [also] serious candidates who have a presence and influence in the Egyptian street, and I hope to be grouped among them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you be following the same political course as you did in the 2005 elections?
[Nour] The political direction that I intent to follow [during the forthcoming presidential election campaign] will not be separate from that I followed during the 2005 elections, although it will take into account the developments that occurred over the past 6 years. However now is not the time to announce official campaign slogans…although I can reveal that there are suggestions that are related to my previous official election campaign slogans, such as “Hope for reform and change”, and “The renaissance following change…the responsibility of a generation.” We have yet to settle on an official slogan, although our party and election campaign are ongoing. Indeed this campaign began long before the 25 January Revolution. My nomination as the El-Ghad Party presidential candidate was made in February 2010 by the El-Ghad party Executive Committee. We have visited 355 cities, towns, and villages, in less than two years [as part of this presidential election campaign].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you try to reach a compromise with the former regime prior to being sentenced to imprisonment following the 2005 elections?
[Nour] Compromises are tantamount to political suicide. I believe that if we have any political credibility in the street today that is because we did not compromise on our principles, which is something that most other Egyptian political parties did [during the Mubarak era]. Our position was decisive and firm. We were against the regime; we were not in contact with it, neither through face-to-face communication, nor through exchanged messages or reassurances or anything else.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you think that the regime was preparing to put Jamal Mubarak forward as a presidential candidate to succeed his father during the presidential elections that were originally scheduled for September 2011?
[Nour] We had a president-elect…Jamal Mubarak was not so much a future presidential candidate so much as he was a president-in-waiting. The idea of whether or not he was going to stand at the presidential elections scheduled for September 2011 is a moot point because he was already acting as a de facto president. I spoke with Jamal Mubarak a number of times, but never direction…we would meet in banquets, or forums and national events, and we exchanged views a number of times, but never in private conversation. Jamal Mubarak would have been the weakest of all the presidential candidates because he was unqualified, although he would have received the backing and support of the state and regime. As for the situation now, all the potential presidential candidates are strong contenders for whom I have great respect.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With the 2005 presidential election widely believed to have been subject to large-scale voter fraud and vote rigging, have you ever been able to find out the truth figures with regards to the number of votes that you received?
[Nour] No, I didn’t know then and I never will. This secret was only known to the head of the election committee, who was subsequently appointed – or rather rewarded – with the position of Justice Minister. I remember that on the day that the election votes were being counted, and before the announcement of the final results, I headed to the concerned authorities to contest the elections result. I found the election committee head, who told me “please don’t contest the results, because after everything that we have done your winning 24 percent of the vote means that we cannot take these results to Mubarak.” From the very beginning, the president’s men were against the idea of me finishing second to Mubarak in terms of votes. Therefore there actions indicate that I might have won even more votes, but I don’t know the exact number of votes or percentage of the vote that I obtained. Precisely 20 minutes after this conversation, the head of the election committee came out to announce that I won 9 percent of the overall vote. They couldn’t change the fact that I was runner-up [after Mubarak]. There were instructions from close associates of the president that I finish third or fourth, therefore they were not happy with me finishing as runner-up. There was anger within the president’s family over this, but they were incapable of altering the election results further.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you respond to this?
[Nour] I lodged a complaint concerning this incident. I also lodged another complaint relating to the elections. As you know, in Egyptian elections candidates register their candidacy with the Supreme Elections committee, and their names appear on the ballot in the order of their registration. I wanted to precede President Mubarak in presenting my election candidacy. This is why I spread a rumour within the circles close to the president that I wouldn’t submit my candidacy papers except at the very last moment so as to ensure that my name was last on the ballot list, in view of the fact that Mubarak’s name would be first [on the list]. I pretended that this would be in my own interests, as my supports would be ably to easily find my name! Mubarak’s supporters fell for the ruse, and on the first day of the registration period I headed to the election committee and stood outside at 7 am in order to ensure that I was the first to submit my candidacy papers and that therefore my name would appear first on the list of 10 presidential candidates. This was officially recorded, and I received an official receipt stamped with the symbol of the crescent moon [symbol for first place].
This was the symbol that had been monopolized for decades by Mubarak’s ruling party candidates. The head of the election committee then surprised everybody by coming out and saying that Mubarak had submitted his candidacy before me, and had his request stamped with the crescent….whilst mine was second and had been stamped with the symbol of a palm-tree. The same official told me “You have every right to contest this and I will testify in your favour” but the election committee rejected this complaint.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the Egyptian Revolution, six months on?
[Nour] The revolution achieved a lot by the ousting the former president and his family from the political scene in Egypt. However, there are still a lot of enormous challenges facing the revolution. For example: Citizens should feel they have obtained something from this revolution which positively reflects on their living standard. This is where huge challenges are concerned. On the level of smaller challenges like security and stability, these could be achieved by getting rid of the symbols of corruption, the fifth column, and the remnants of the old regime. The citizens of Egypt recovered their dignity during the 25 January Revolution, and the real challenge that they are now facing is to win back their rights.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe it will be possible to hold parliamentary elections in September?
[Nour] I think that due to the current weakness of the Egyptian [transitional] government, there is a pressing need to hold elections in Egypt in order to form a strong government which represents the different political orientations in the Egyptian street. However security situation [in Egypt] may be a serious obstacle to these elections, and we must try to overcome this. Therefore I believe that we must demand that parliamentary elections be postponed until December 2011 or January 2012 in order to allow us to restore security and carry out elections in a safe environment. We expect the electoral process to take place in accordance with international standards of fair and free elections. We look forward to being judged by the ballot boxes for the first time in Egypt and we hope that mutual respect and appreciations prevails in Egyptian society.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many observers have speculated that Egypt holding parliamentary elections so soon after the revolution may allow the Islamists to obtain a majority in parliament. What do you think?
[Nour] There are fears of the Islamists, but we are capable of encircling these fears by joining forces with a group of 26 political parties, five of which are Islamic parties. All parties agree on establishing mutual respect. I believe every Egyptian citizen has a right to participate in politics…religious beliefs should not be a barrier between a citizen and their political rights; provided that we do not confuse religion with politics.