London/Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat a few hours after the announced establishment of the Salafi al-Watan party, formed at the hands of Salafi leaders who have left the al-Nour party, Dr. Yusri Hamad, Vice President of al-Watan, confirmed that the party is open to all Egyptians, including Copts, and does not object to the nomination of female candidates from its ranks. He denied that Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail or any of his supporters had joined the party, pointing out that their presence is merely part of an electoral alliance. The Salafi leader also called on the Freedom and Justice Party to improve relations with Arab states and for President Mursi to apply the principles of transparency and openness when dealing with the Egyptian people.
The following is the full test of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the al-Watan party?
[Hamad] Al-Watan is a political party with a Salafist reference that is trying to diversify the sincere cadres that want to seek a way forward for Egypt and rebuild the county with the participation of all who have national integrity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why was this party announced at the present time?
[Hamad] Of course, we were founding members of the Nour party. We have a political and administrative viewpoint that we tried to implement within that party, however some differences of opinion occurred and we tried everything to reach a consensus but in the end we found that there were two opposing viewpoints that could not be resolved, so we took the decision to leave. As for the timing of the announcement of the party, this was following the formation of the leadership that will participate at the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Our choice was either to implement our vision or that of the other faction; therefore we left to form a new party to implement our vision in terms of choosing sincere and suitable cadres for participation at the forthcoming elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most important principles that the al-Watan party is based upon?
[Hamad] Firstly, our reference is Islamic Sharia law, and that is the general model for all Salafist parties. However we embrace the idea that the party should be a partisan institution based on choosing the best cadres and elements to build the country and its institutions, and the al-Watan party also opens its doors to all sincere members of the homeland. We will not be exclusionist; rather we extend our hands to everybody and refuse factionalism. Therefore we will ensure that all party members will be present on a unified list so that we can choose the best cadres to participate in parliament and state institutions. We are not antagonistic towards the rest of the political forces and will look for suitable common ground for cooperation. We have also spoken about women’s rights and dignity and the importance of women playing a role. At the same time, we are also extending our hand in national partnership to the Copts because Egypt was not built by any one faction or entity; therefore everybody is invited to participate in the country’s construction and development.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean that your party would accept Egyptian Christian Copts as members?
[Hamad] Of course, without a doubt.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even though al-Watan is specifically an Islamist Salafist political party?
[Hamad] The Salafist reference means that we believe that state-building and reform must be based on two things; modernity, in addition to the traditions and values that are present and which distinguish Egypt from other countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In this case, don’t you think that these two factions, namely Islamist Salafists and Copts, being members of a specifically Salafist political party would make the implementation of Islamic Sharia law an unrealistic dream?
[Hamad] Islamic Sharia law is something that benefits all life and there will be no opposition on this between the two lines [Salafists and Copts] who will move forward and are no different from one another.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the controversy that has been aroused in the Egyptian and Arab street following the announcement of the al-Watan party? Do you think this is because it represents an alliance between two Salafist trends, namely those from the Nour party and Sheikh Abu Ismail’s nascent political party?
[Hamad] Perhaps the more urgent questions, in many people’s minds, is why cadres left the Nour party in the first place, as well as the nature of their vision for this new party. This is something that has provoked excitement, particularly as the Salafists have only been active in politics for two years. Some people are of the view that there has been huge development in Salafist political rhetoric over a short period of time until ultimately one faction emerged with a different view based on bringing together all people of the homeland in a unified entity to run this country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the al-Watan party be more extreme than the Nour party and other Salafist parties?
[Hamad] The issue of [religious] extremism or radicalism is an issue within an individual’s character; what we are talking about is utilizing all members of the homeland, as well as the logic of increasing and choosing the most qualified cadres, so long as they do not deviate from Egyptian traditions and value.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the role of the so-called “Hazemites”, or the supporters of Sheikh Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail?
[Hamad] Sheikh Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail is not a political party, nor is he a member of the al-Watan party. He is not one of the party’s founding members; rather his presence represents the nucleus of an electoral alliance for the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said that you would continue to coordinate with the Nour party, how can you hope to achieve this when you will be fighting over the same parliamentary seats?
[Hamad] We are followers of the same approach, despite our difference of opinion regarding our political vision. Our brothers in the Nour party may each have a different viewpoint despite the fact that they were brought up in the same house. In the end, we must cooperate for the benefit of this country and the Nour party is the closest political faction to us, so long as this cooperation is based on clear and consistent standards.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the al-Watan party seek to confront the Muslim Brotherhood or the liberal political forces?
[Hamad] We have a centrist approach; we are calling for all Egyptians to be united based on the principle of participation, rather than rivalry, putting the country’s interests above narrow partisan interests. Although we are a political party, we do not believe in partisanship and dividing Egyptians into rival groups.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us where the al-Watan party has received its funding from?
[Hamad] We do not have any sources of funding. Our first step was to collect money from the al-Nour party defectors, and establish the party. Following this, some funds will be paid by the party’s financiers, and when the electoral campaign begins each candidate will be responsible for this issue in coordination with the other candidates if there is an electoral-list system.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your vision regarding your participation at the forthcoming parliamentary elections? Do you know how many candidates al-Watan party intends to field?
[Hamad] The issue that most preoccupies us at this moment is the cadres that will appear on the al-Watan party list, whether we are talking about individual or joint lists with other parties. What is important is the type of cadres that we put forward in order to ensure that the electorate can feel reassured about the kinds of candidates being fielded.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the al-Watan party put forward female electoral candidates?
[Hamad] We hope to put forward the best and most sincere candidates. Whether we are talking about men or women, what is important is that we choose the best cadres.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you form electoral alliances with other parties, will this include civil political parties?
[Hamad] I oppose this view because in the end party’s measure themselves against the people in terms of their principles or identity. They have their special programs, and this is what differentiates one party from another.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that there is enough time before the forthcoming parliamentary elections to communicate with the Egyptian electorate and mobilize support for the al-Watan party?
[Hamad] Firstly, amongst the al-Watan party cadres are those who have previously participated in electoral campaigns and even administrated governorates. We have an acceptable approach that is well known to Egyptian society, therefore the approximately two and a half months before the elections should be enough for this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don’t you think that when there are numerous political parties that have the same approach, this results in fewer votes for each? In other words, wouldn’t it be better for all Salafist parties to unite under one banner, rather than divide?
[Hamad] We are keen to achieve a certain state of cooperation amongst ourselves so as not to disperse the votes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are fears of possible restrictions being implemented by Salafists should they come to power. What is the al-Watan party view on such political, economic, social, cultural and ideological issues?
[Hamad] Regarding the economy, I, for example, am not an economist, so I am not responsible for speaking about this, but we are adopting national proposals and giant projects that can achieve an economic boom and create freedom from all investment constraints. However in the end, such laws are not put in place by any single faction, but as a result of a shared vision.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the party’s view on the issue of banks and tourism, for example?
[Hamad] In the past we put forward a very distinctive vision in this regard, particularly concerning tourism. Our view is that Egypt is not one type of tourism, there are many types of tourism in Egypt that are completely untapped despite the fact that these can bring in huge resources. However there is intellectual stagnation behind this focus on one form of tourism in Egypt, whilst some businessmen in Egypt are also trying to steer tourism in a particular direction to guarantee themselves quick profits. So the country has many sources of tourism that are not being developed, and this is not to mention the attention of businessmen who are essentially not involved in the tourism sector. As a Salafist party, we do not have any ideological inertia in this regard and we are trying to benefit from all forms of international experience.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you in contact with foreign countries who are seeking to apply their experiences in Egypt?
[Hamad] Let me first clarify that we, as a political party, are still in the process of formation, we have yet to obtain an official license and this party was only announced recently.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you rate the Muslim Brotherhood’s political performance, domestically and abroad?
[Hamad] In terms of foreign policy, I hope that the Freedom and Justice party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – pays attention to the important and influential Arab states that previously had good relations with Egypt in the past; however the degree of harmony with these states has since decreased significant. Perhaps the most recent problem with the UAE represents the deterioration in our relations with our neighboring countries. We must also pay attention to our African neighbors, which is something that we did immediately following the revolution. We were initially optimistic about this; however there has been inactivity in this regard and the issue has remained at a stand-still.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Brotherhood’s domestic performance?
[Hamad] I hope that a policy of openness is adopted with the Egyptian people. Dr. Mursi must issue short addresses to the Egyptian people to clarify the current situation and explain what efforts are being undertaken by the state, as well as the things that the Egyptian citizens truly feel, particularly in light of the presence of media channels painting a dark and grim picture. There must be complete transparency with the people until we are aware of what direction we are moving in.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What percentage of the vote does al-Watan expect to receive at the forthcoming elections?
[Hamad] Of course, everybody has their own wishes, but the most important thing is preparing qualified cadres. We will not be short-sighted regarding a victory at one parliamentary round; we care more for the party to have a real presence and strong base on the Egyptian street.