Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Interview with Justice Party MP Mustafa el-Naggar | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq al-Awsat- Mustafa El-Naggar, born in 1980, is a founding member of the Justice Party in Egypt. He is also a prominent human rights activist, regularly contributing to his online blog “I am with them”, for which he won an honorary award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2010. A prominent activist in the January 25th revolution, El-Naggar recently won a seat in the People’s Assembly after the run-off round of the Egyptian elections, designed to elect individual candidates who originally failed to win over 50 percent of the vote.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, El-Naggar detailed his successful election campaign. He also provided his views on the liberals, the religious current and the military council in Egypt, whilst also outlining his perceptions of the revolutionary youth. He then outlined his visions for the forthcoming parliament, and how best to resolve the current impasse and crisis of confidence in Egyptian society. The following is the text from the interview.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The fact that the Islamists have obtained the majority in parliament has led some people to believe that it will be difficult to stand in their way. Do you think this is true?

[El-Naggar] This is not true. It is possible to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, provided that the other currents put forth a moderate discourse that persuades the people, as an alternative to the religious discourse that the Islamists are offering. [The Islamists’ discourse] relies more on playing with emotions than speaking to people’s minds.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You fought a fierce campaign to win a seat in parliament. Tell us about this election campaign.

[El-Naggar] Behind the scenes the election battle was extremely fierce, in a district considered to be the Islamists’ most important stronghold; Nasr City (eastern Cairo). From the outset of the marathon parliamentary elections, on the 28th and 29th of November, I was surprised by the Brotherhood-Salafi alliance trying to bring me down. There was a clear difference between them and me in terms of financial and organizational resources. However, the voluntary spirit demonstrated by the young people of Nasr City, and the cultural and political consciousness of the district’s residents, were both reasons behind for my victory.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did the Islamic current use unethical practices against you?

[El-Naggar] For the religious parties, the presence of a candidate representing the civil trend in an important district like Nasr City was a great challenge for them – to prevent such a candidate from winning. They engaged in an extensive and very hurtful smear campaign, where they said [on one occasion] that I was a candidate of the Egyptian Church, or [on another occasion] that I was against religion. Indeed they even went as far as to accuse me of being a non-Muslim.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have said previously that the religious current’s election campaigns were an insult to the Islamic religion, can you elaborate on this?

[El-Naggar] It is indeed an insult to thrust religion into politics in this manner. Instead of the parliamentary elections taking place through democratic platforms, they took place purely through religious polarization. We need to be aware of this pattern and combat it, because it harms religion more than politics. One of the worst things said [during the election campaigns] was that anyone who voted for a religious party candidate would enter heaven, whilst anyone who did not for a religious candidate would have a place reserved in hell.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the Islamists’ majority influence the form of the new parliament?

[El-Naggar] The new parliament will be an exceptional parliament, because it coming into existence after a revolution that has yet to be completed. Its members must seek to agree with each other and find common ground; they cannot deal with each other according to the logic of majority and minority. The Egyptian public is looking for agreements; they do not want in-fighting or any sort of political polarization.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have proposed an initiative to bring forward the transfer of power, out of concern for a possible clash between the army and the people. What would cause both sides to come to blows?

[El-Naggar] The army’s errors on the ground in dealing with the voice of the popular protests, and their excessive use of force, have led to a crisis of confidence between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the young people. All these factors will sooner or later lead to a clash. Furthermore, a third party has emerged to fuel the spirit of antagonism between the two sides. A swift transfer of power to a civil authority can therefore be considered the only safety valve to preserve the army’s positive image among the Egyptians, and to prevent a clash between the army and the people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why hasn’t this initiative been proposed to SCAF?

[El-Naggar] It has, and SCAF is still considering it. The initiative was proposed through the media, and was discussed with a variety of national and political forces, and with several figures in government institutions. There was an element of “give and take” in the discussions in order to reach a compromise formula, and the principle itself has not been rejected by the military establishment. The fundamental goal of the initiative is to rein in the current state of tension in the street before it escalates. This will not happen unless SCAF take a step back to restore the protesters’ trust.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you mean by a “step back”?

[El-Naggar] I mean that the apologies of SCAF are no longer sufficient to overcome the Egyptians’ fundamental concerns. The question that every Egyptian asks every day is will SCAF hand over power? With our initiative, we requested that the symbolic nomination of presidential candidates should begin on the 25th January [2011], in order to reassure the people, and that the elections should be held on the 1st of April and end two months later, as the army originally desired. We do not oppose SCAF’s political schedule, but we want to speed up procedures in order to restore the street’s trust that presidential elections are coming.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So what are the main points of disagreement now between the liberal and religious forces and SCAF?

[El-Naggar] There are two fundamental points that must be discussed: Firstly, determining the status of the military establishment in the new constitution, and secondly, the process of drafting the constitution and agreeing on its fundamental articles.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe in the conspiracy theory that some are promoting in order to discredit SCAF?

[El-Naggar] I totally reject any talk that uses the logic of conspiracies, but I do acknowledge that Egypt has been targeted by foreign forces that do not wish the country well. This is well known, but we should not place the responsibility for all our mistakes on foreign or hidden parties.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] From your point of view, what is preventing SCAF from reaching an agreement during the current period?

[El-Naggar] SCAF is currently preoccupied with defining its position in the new constitution and future state, and is seeking sufficient guarantees that civilians will not interfere in the activities of the military establishment. These are the concerns that resonate strongly within it. Based on my dealings with SCAF, they have no intention to seize power or select a particular candidate for the presidency, because they have no need for this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some believe that Egypt is destined to follow the Pakistani model. What is your comment on this?

[El-Naggar] This is a very pessimistic idea. The Pakistani model is not one that we should accept. The rise of the Islamic current was predictable: they were the most organized and had strong financing, while the civil forces were weak. However, I would wager that the Egyptian people after the revolution will be able determine their destiny. They will now present the religious parties with a real test, and if these forces fail, the people will hold them accountable in the next elections, which might be held early if the People’s Assembly is dissolved.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk that the Salafi current is nearing an alliance with the liberals, is this true?

[El-Naggar] Yes, the Salafi current is now closer to an alliance with the liberal and civil trends rather than the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a great desire to improve their image in Egyptians’ minds and to remove their negative stereotype. They don’t want to appear as “scarecrows” in front of the people. Furthermore, they have acknowledged that that they do not possess sufficient political experience at the present time, but they don’t want to be mere subordinates of the Muslim Brotherhood.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But some believe that it was the Salafis themselves who created their negative image, through a series of radical statements?

[El-Naggar] The Salafi current’s project is different to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and we as civil forces have to deal with them. The problem with the Salafi current is that it is not one cohesive school or organization, and so it has more than one orientation. There are some moderate figures in the Salafi Al Nour Party with whom we can engage in dialogue. It is not in our interest for anyone to exercise covert political activity, but this is natural after an extremist party – whether from the right or the left – has been marginalized for a long period of time.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the absence of electoral representation for the revolutionary youth?

[El-Naggar] The young people of the revolution have given more attention to the process of destroying the previous regime than rebuilding the state. I mean “destroying” in the literal sense, through their group demonstrations, protests, and mass marches. The revolutionary youth neglected to work in an organized political fashion in parallel with their destructive processes. For example, they did not establish a political party with a moderate inclination and mainstream discourse, in order to unite the revolutionary forces and build for the future. Now the Egyptian street is looking for stability, and this has not favored the revolutionary youth. Some people have even exploited this to create a state of antagonism against them. In addition, the young people lacked financial and organizational resources.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who do you predict will be the speaker of the next parliament?

[El-Naggar] I would nominate Dr Wahid Abdul-Majid for the position. He is a moderate figure, not affiliated to any political current, and someone who receives great approval from all the political trends. In addition, he is the coordinator of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party alongside the Karama and el-Ghad parties.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would the Brotherhood agree to this choice?

[El-Naggar] The Muslim Brotherhood will lose a great deal if they insist that the speaker of the parliament comes from their group, on the grounds that they hold the majority in parliament. If they do so, it would be a political mistake, because they need to send the people a message of reassurance. Besides, it would be preferable if the speaker of the parliament was not affiliated to any political current.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of some people’s accusations that the liberals have a foreign agenda?

[El-Naggar] The accusations of disloyalty are one of the most disgraceful phenomena that have tarnished the image of the revolution ever since the departure of former President Hosni Mubarak. Unfortunately, such accusations have become very prevalent among political currents. They must disappear or abate, because they go against national interests.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The US Administration adopted a somewhat conceited tone during the past period. Was this tone acceptable to the liberal current?

[El-Naggar] I reject American interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. The US Administration has interfered to the extent of “political audacity,” both before the January 25th revolution and afterwards. We respect our relations with America, but it does not have the right to interfere in the country’s affairs so as to condemn any situation. Our liberal inclination does not mean that we seek to employ outside forces. There are patriotic liberals who have values based on the independence of national decision making.