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Q & A with the MB’s Essam al-Arian - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Q) Do Mohammed Mursi and the Freedom and Justice Party respect the principle of the sovereignty of law?

A) Regrettably, Hosni Mubarak’s regime succeeded in dragging the judiciary into politics to the extent that the judiciary, through its rulings, interfered in complex political matters that should have been handled by politicians. This was a ploy to undermine political life so that rival powers did not have the opportunity to handle important political dossiers, something they grew accustomed to over time; since the judiciary has been dragged into politics throughout (the past) 30 years.

The judiciary and its rulings have to be respected, but the judiciary ought not to be politicized, and should not resort to rulings that lead to civil disturbances as long as there are other legal possibilities to make the situation more flexible and easier, and to overcome the current complicated situation. This is a widespread popular demand, not just the demand of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Thus, I believe that the president is trying to spare the country from constitutional dilemmas. We need a constitution that expresses the will of the people, and not one that is made by the elite. The situation cannot revert to how it was before the January 25th revolution, the government drafts laws, and the People’s Assembly passes them. Yet now, after having elected a parliament that legislates and issues laws, people have become angry and dissolved the People’s Assembly!

Q) Does this mean that President Mursi and the Freedom and Justice Party are fighting a war against the judiciary, on the grounds of what you consider to be the unnecessary involvement of judges in the political game?

A) The Egyptian people have staged a revolution, and they want to achieve its goals. The Freedom and Justice Party is part of the people, and President Mursi has been elected in accordance with the people’s will. The most important aim of our revolution is that the constitution expresses the people and the popular will; this is our aim. Therefore, anyone who conspires against the constituent assembly in order to undermine the president and parliamentary institutions, or to introduce a made-to-measure constitution in the interests of a specific group, will only make the situation more volatile, and the people will not stand for this. We are a part of the people. We want to remove the judiciary from politics, this would be best, however if it continues to intervene then we wish that judges would side more with the people, and have a greater understanding of the people’s demands, rather than abstract texts.

Q) Some people are afraid that President Mursi and the Freedom and Justice Party’s behavior will lead to the collapse of the state of law?

A) We have been the first to defend the judiciary. President Mursi and I were previously imprisoned for 10 months because of our stance in defense of the judiciary and judges. Throughout this period our prison term was repeatedly renewed. Therefore, we are certainly not in conflict with judges, and we want to have an independent judiciary. However, we say very clearly that there are other sides seeking to exploit the judiciary in a manner contrary to popular will. This is harmful to both the judiciary and the people. You, as an observer, hear conflicting interpretations of judicial rulings every day. It would be better and more appropriate if judges adopted interpretations in their rulings that helped to achieve the will of the people, because they have a great deal of flexibility in this respect.

Q) Is there any intention to strengthen the Supreme Constitutional Court in the new constitution?

A) This is not my business; I am only a member of the constituent assembly.

Q) But you are aware of the intentions of the Freedom and Justice Party?

A) This is the business of the entire constituent assembly.

Q) Some people are still apprehensive about the final formulation of constitutional articles, especially Article 2, which concerns the link between Sharia law, legislation and public freedoms. Is the Freedom and Justice Party still committed to the documents issued by Al-Azhar and the Democratic Alliance?

A) Yes, the party is committed, but the dialogue within the assembly ultimately leads to results and agreements that may differ from those outlined in the two aforementioned documents, but only through a consensus.

Q) Has there been any dispute with regards to the text of Article 2?

A) With regards to Article 2, a consensus on the text was reached within the subcommittee, and others have now begun to look into it. I can’t say that we completely agree on the text as it appeared in the 1971 Constitution; some people want to add to it, others want to remove certain parts, and we are still in discussions, but we are closer to a consensus.

Q) According to the supplementary constitutional declaration issued last month, five different sides have the right to object to any of the text within the constitution, is this true?

A) We are completely against this declaration, as no one should be able to object to a consensus text that has been agreed upon and voted through by the appropriate body after being ratified by the people. This is unacceptable.

Q) Don’t you mean before the people ratify it?

A) No, because the people are the ones who chose this assembly. If a hundred (original) members and fifty reserve members reach a consensus over the text, then it is not acceptable for an individual, even if he is the president, to object, as this means he is imposing his opinion on the people.

Q) But an individual could do so, on the basis of the supplementary constitutional declaration?

A) The aim of this declaration is to hinder the issuing of the constitution, or to impose a specific draft that the people do not accept.

Q) After parliament was dissolved by a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling, a new one must be elected. Is there a consensus over the new elections law?

A) We hope that parliament is recalled to prepare these laws, because it represents 23 parties. It is better that these laws are prepared through extensive dialogue rather than imposed by a body that legislates in the dark. We are still against the dissolution of parliament, which undermines the people’s will.

Q) Is there a legal solution to this?

A) There are many legal ways out. Some people say that only one third of parliament ought to be dissolved, and hence we hold supplementary elections for the independent candidates. We are in a real dilemma because rulings have been issued hastily without justification. The Constitutional Court used to issue its rulings after two or three years of deliberations, so why do they want to disturb the scene all of a sudden?

Q) But isn’t the dissolution of parliament now an accomplished fact?

A) No, we can replace one accomplished fact with another. I believe that the people still strongly reject the dissolution of parliament.

Q) Is there a legal way to recall the People’s Assembly?

A) There are ways. There are jurists who support the idea of dissolving one third and keeping two thirds. There are others who support the preservation of the People’s Assembly in its entirety. These jurists exist, such as Justice Tariq al-Bishri, and Justice Ahmad Makki. This is an issue that requires political dialogue, and we will find a legal way out, because the law is the same as medicine; when there is a critical case you can find medical solutions for it. We are in favor of keeping the current Parliament; we have said that in the past and we still say it.

Q) Until when? Surely we now need a legal way forward to a new parliament?

A) We have our legal evidence. Some people say that the ruling of the Constitutional Court should be applied to the next parliament, because laws do not apply retrospectively. Some people say that the ruling applies only to one third and this is a compromise. The fact that the Constitutional Court decided that the entire parliament should be dissolved; this is why we are in a dilemma. Is it better for the country to have some form of parliament even if it has some faults, or for legislative power to be in the hands of people who are not legislators or elected?

Q) Some people ask this question in a different way; they say: Is it better for the country to restore the parliament and defy a judicial ruling, or to respect the independent judiciary?

A) We are not defying the independent judiciary.

Q) But do you not consider the ruling to be clear?

A) The ruling is not clear; had it been clear, it would not have aroused such controversy.

Q) If the ruling is not clear, why have you not asked for an interpretation from the Supreme Constitutional Court?

A) The Constitutional Court has taken a political decision, not a judicial one, and is insistent upon its interpretation. There are other sides that we can interpret, such as the General Assembly for Legal Opinion [Fatwa] and Legislation. It would be best to respect the will of the people who want to restore parliament. Ultimately, rulings are issued in the name of the people, and for this reason some are proposing the idea of a referendum.

Q) Is this referendum idea still alive?

A) Yes, the proposal is still there. Even Mubarak did not dissolve Parliament via a unilateral decision, but he once put it to a referendum. If we assume that early elections are to be held, these should only account for one third of the People’s Assembly.

Q) In her last visit, the US Secretary of State was keen to visit both President Mursi and Field Marshal Tantawi. How do you interpret this situation?

A) This is something you would have to as the US Secretary of State, and find out what she meant by it. Egypt has one leader, and everybody, including Field Marshal Tantawi and the armed forces, considers the President of Egypt to be their elected representative; since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) handed over power on the 30th June 2012. I am against any foreign interference in the affairs of Egypt. I believe that the revolution erupted partly so that Egypt could achieve independence in its national decisions. We hope to see the day when Egypt dispenses with any grants or aid, and is capable of fulfilling its own commitments, including the financing and arming of its national army.

Q) But Clinton’s visit to the Field Marshal came after her meeting with President Mursi. Did this not arouse concerns or even anger from your party?

A) We understand clearly that Egypt still is in a transitional stage, and in a period of transformation. This transformation will take time until everybody understands that Egypt has finally become a democratic country. This is an anxious period, and just as we look out for our interests as people, others are also looking out for their interests. The process of transferring power is not merely a formality, rather it is a process that takes time because the power issues in Egypt are complex, and many secrets were concealed by the former regime. Hence we are facing an extremely complicated situation, but these complications will be overcome over time, hopefully in the near future.

Q) Is it possible that President Mursi will meet the Israeli Prime Minister? Are we approaching a pivotal stage in the relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv?

A) This question should be addressed to President Mursi. If I were to answer it people would say: Why do you speak in the name of the president?

Q) But he ultimately came to power as the candidate of your Freedom and Justice Party?

A) We as a party, and before that as an Islamist group, have never received any Israeli official. However, I have no links to the presidential institution. Everybody has exerted pressure on him (Mursi) to declare that he is not a partisan president, and hence he is not a partisan president. If you believe he is the president of all Egyptians, then the question should to be addressed to him, but if you want him to be a partisan leader, let him declare this and he will be bound by the stance of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Q) We see constant indications from the Freedom and Justice Party about its desire and readiness to normalize Egyptian-Iranian relations, is this true?

A) Egypt’s relations with all the countries of the world should be normal.

Q) But this might arouse the apprehensions of countries in the region, and also the United States?

A) Only three countries in the world have severed their relations with Iran, the United States, Israel, and Egypt. All the GCC countries have relations with Iran, and they are normal relations; Iran’s highest trade balance is with the UAE for example.

Q) Hence are you going to work towards normalizing Egypt’s relations with Tehran?

A) The new government is responsible for optimizing our relations in order to achieve Egypt’s interests with all the countries of the world. We want good relations with China, with Japan, with Russia, with Africa, and with all countries. I believe that the Iranians have the right to explore mutual interests with Egypt, just as they do with the UAE.

Q) Have you conveyed reassurances to other countries about the future of relations between Cairo and Tehran?

A) We are not responsible for reassuring other countries, because they have their interests and Egypt has its interests, and there are no contradictions between these interests and our relations with Iran. Egypt’s decision is independent. I do not believe it is beneficial to have a sectarian prejudice, or Sunni-Shiite sedition.

Q) The Freedom and Justice Party and President Mursi himself have announced their support for the struggle of the Syrian people. How can this support be translated on the ground?

A) Egypt wants to quickly stop the hemorrhage of Syrian blood. This is what all political powers are saying, along with President Mursi himself. As for translating this on the ground, we are looking to do this by all possible means. However, I believe that dragging Syria into a civil war or into an armed conflict paving the way for foreign intervention is a red line not to be crossed, because it harms the entire region. The Freedom and Justice Party has announced this stance, and so has President Mursi.

Q) But some say that there is already a civil war in Syria?

A) No, the situation in Syria has not transformed into a civil war. I believe that this would harm the Syrian people themselves before harming the stability of the region.

Q) The Egyptians are waiting for the announcement of the name of their new prime minister. Have there been any new developments in this regard?

A) All government issues are in the hands of the president, rather than in the hands of a particular party, side, or group. Therefore, we are waiting for the president to announce the name of the new prime minister, and if he has the time to form the government, he will do so. Certainly the government will be one of national consensus, but it will implement President Mursi’s program because he is responsible for appointing the prime minister and the cabinet.

Q) Some newspapers have quoted you saying that the Freedom and Justice Party has nominated the deputy general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood to assume this post. Is this true?

A) This is absolutely untrue. Ninety percent of what is published in the newspapers is mere fabrication.

Q) With regards to the formation of the government, do you think this is up to the president alone, or should other parties be consulted to form a national coalition government?

A) This moment is a real test for all national parties and independent national figures. Either they are committed to the progress of the country passing through this transitional stage to the shores of safety, and hence they will stand together to shoulder the responsibility or remain in the honorable opposition; or they are seeking to carry out disturbances to provoke chaos. Ultimately, their stances will be recorded by history either way.

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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