El-Erian to Masrawi: The Brotherhood Would Oppose the Army if It Adopts the Notion of ''Constitution First''
|Wednesday, June 29,2011 13:09|
|By Sami Magdi|
It was around 9 am when I arrived at 20 Al-Malik Al-Saleh Street, in the district of Manila Al-Roudah, where the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is. This headquarters of this party, which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the central office of the group itself before the launch of its new premises in Mukattam, East Cairo.
Once I got out of the car, I caught a glimpse of Dr. Essam El-Erian, vice-president of the party that represents the Brotherhood, coming from the back street. I waited until he entered the party's headquarters on the second floor of the building, and I followed him. After a few seconds, he brought me inside to immediately begin the interview.
The interview began with a question on the vision of Dr. Essam El-Erian regarding the future of Egypt in light of the current situation. He replied in a very optimistic and confident tone: ''Talking about the future of Egypt begins by talking about the past and the present, and by all measures, the future will be better for several reasons: first, the blessing of Allah Almighty, which clearly contributed to the success of the revolution on January 25, as well as the role of the army, the unity and cohesion of the people and the unity of political forces which we hope will continue and overcome the current divisions."
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood warned of a counter-revolution and what he called “attempts to drive a wedge between the people and the army, or between some political forces and others, pointing out that the forces of the counter-revolution are made of the remnants of the former regime and some businessmen who have their own interests to bring failure to the revolution, as well as regional and international powers that do not want this country to be built on sound foundations". These forces – says El-Erian while referring to an article in the “Newsweek” magazine entitled “How the U.S. Lost in the Revolution of Egypt” –financed the former regime, and established bases for their own intelligence devices in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. He also said: “Let us not forget Israel, which is “the biggest loser because of the Egyptian revolution.”
El-Erian called the breakdown, lack of security, the failure of the police to return to work at full capacity until now, and the collapse of the police force in the revolution, a defeat, which is similar to that of 1967, and he said: “The Egyptian police were defeated in the revolution and its defeat is similar to the military one that took place in 1967. In fact, the police were led by the State Security Investigation (SSI) that has become - during the last ten years - fully dedicated to serve the idea of ??inheritance of power from Mubarak to his son.”
In a challenging clear tone, the vice president of the FJP emphasized the impossibility of changing the path set by the constitutional declaration regarding holding the parliamentary elections in September this year, then the election of a Constituent Assembly to develop the new constitution. He said: “The country has a straight line to abide by and a clear road map to follow, but there are those who want to obstruct the progress that would go according to this line. The road ahead is going to be a proclamation of a Constitution that is based on a process that gives it official legitimacy of sovereignty. There is nothing that can stop that path; neither a hundred million signatures or demonstrations, nor any effort to cancel the result of the referendum. What is approved can only be abolished by a new referendum, which is kind of impossible, because this would mean returning to square one.”
He added: “Among the slogans of the revolution was that “the army and the people are one hand”, and we (the Muslim Brotherhood) criticized the military a lot and are still doing so, and we will tell the army - if it violates the Road Map set out by the Constitutional Declaration - that we bid to differ and we clearly say "no" to any such attempt. If the army adopts the notion of “Constitution First”, we will be the first to stand against that."
El-Erian said that the essence of the referendum is the constitutional declaration, despite some changes in the articles that were approved in the national referendum.
El-Erian also said that the only way is to have an agreement among the various political forces and parties to avoid any differences, adding that the ''features of the final status of the document that would be governing the actions of those forces in the next elections should be defined'', together with discussing all proposals and security concerns as well as economic development matters.
Reflecting on the issue of security, El-Erian said: “I live in a popular area called Nahya – Bulaq in Cairo, and I work in a charity hospital in this region. Before January 25th, fights and confrontations used to take place between thugs every week, and I say that all this has greatly lessened after the January 25th Revolution.”
Dr. Essam El-Erian said that exaggeration and spreading the news and fears of lawlessness is taking place due to the media, which is working to amplify things. He said: ''There are certain media outlets that want to inflate worries and concerns among the public. They work every now and then to create new scarecrows; they started with that of the Brotherhood, then the scarecrow of the Salafis, and then igniting concerns about the economy and security, while arriving lastly at the provocative debate of “the Constitution First”. El-Erian said that in each period, there is a cry being spread out by the media that is owned by a group of businessmen. “I do not know what drives them to do so. Are they afraid for their economic interests? Do they want to offer loyalty to the ruling junta, as they offered loyalty before to Mubarak and his regime? Are they playing the same game they played before when they funded the former regime in return for interests at the expense of the Egyptian people?''
The Muslim Brotherhood leader accused all the candidates who declared their intention to run for presidency of “living in the illusion that Mubarak is gone, and that a new Mubarak will come to fill in his place.” He said that “they should know that the new president is required to walk in the streets and markets and bear the insults from his critics at all times." He also accused some constitutional scholars such as Tharwat Badawi, Ibrahim Darwish and Noor Farhat of trying to impose themselves on the revolution. He said: ''In Egypt, we have skilled tailors for drafting and tailoring laws and constitutions who served Abdel Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, and their history is well-known.” He added: “I saw Tharwat Badawi in the office of Rifaat Al-Mahgoub together with Ibrahim Darwish, while Nour Farahat was working in the office of Fat’hi Sorour as a lawyer handling cases of prostitution and drugs.” El-Erian said that these people were assistants to Fat’hi Sorour and Sufi Abu Taleb, and then they became servants of the old regime. Now, they want to impose themselves on the revolution and the new system. Addressing these people, El-Erian bluntly said: “I tell them “You should be ashamed of yourselves and you should stop trying to destroy the country in the name of the Constitution and the law.” They should know that their files are not hidden and that the history of each of them is known to everyone and is well-recorded.”
El-Erian believes that the fear of the Muslim Brotherhood's control over the next parliament and that the Constitution could be manipulated by the “mood” of some people is justified, yet he stressed that the Constitution must be made by the people. He said that this is what the FJP seeks. He said: “We are meeting in the political coalition that is being formed and the coalition will issue a reference document for the preparation of the electoral coalition and its program for the government if it wins the elections." El-Erian added that this coalition includes parties from all existing forces; Islamic, nationalist, liberal, old and new. He said that the FJP did not forward an invitation to the Free Egyptians Party as the latter announced that it will not attend this coalition and even boycotted the Wafd Party because it has put its hands on the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
El-Erian stressed that he does not see any reason to fear for the basic principles or the Constitution because the disputes and fears voiced by some people are merely “political” in the first place; as some people (and political forces) are afraid of having no representation in parliament. He said that he assures them that the Muslim Brotherhood does not want to grab power or rule. He said he believed that there is no justification for such fears, and added: “The only solution for those forces is to stop speaking so much and move instead towards working and going down to the people in the provinces, because 20 percent of Egypt is in Cairo, while 80% of the country is in other places that should be addressed.”
El-Erian said: “We – the Brotherhood – are not asking for power, because power in such times of crisis is not a gain, and the alternative is to power a broad coalition that bears the responsibility to represent the public, and hence, this collective broadly-representative power could address the people and communicate with them. That is our ambition as Muslim Brothers, and thus, we do not aim to get more than 30 or 35% of seats in parliament.”
Regarding proposals to have some constitutional articles, and the debate on the civil state and state identity, Dr. Essam El-Erian said that the people should be the authors of the Constitution, calling for everyone to sit at one table to say what they want. He said that the Muslim Brotherhood says that all parties and factions should sit at one table and reach a consensus, then throw that to the people and see how the people will decide about these proposals. El-Erian said he believes that there is no dispute that the State should be for all Egyptians, with a democratic political system and the Islamic Sharia as the reference. He said: "Those who opposed Islamic law before the referendum have now returned and agreed to the principles of Islamic law - and these principles are to ensure and guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. This very same idea has been expressed by Pope Shenouda himself, as he said that Islamic Sharia gives him what he wants regarding the personal status (i.e. marital) law."
Regarding adding a paragraph to the second article of the Constitution that allows for non-Muslims to resort to their own rituals and laws in family matters, Dr. Essam El-Erian said: "The party that is allowed to add new clauses, phrases or paragraphs to the constitution is the people, and thus, the Constituent Assembly is the entity that would decide on all such issues." He also pointed out his opinion that there is no harm in adding such phrase or statement in the event of it being approved."
The vice-president of the FJP also expressed his concern regarding certain regional and international parties attempting to evade or abort the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak. He said that he senses that the army also feel embarrassed "because Mubarak was the one who raised these people leading the different branches of the armed forces, and thus they see him as the one who served the country and fought for it", and that is the reason why the military junta does want to see Mubarak facing trial. Yet, El-Erian said that the biggest and the most serious charge against Mubarak, which is as strong as capital treason, is that he sold Egyptian decision-making, and handed it over to the Zionists. El-Erian said that this trial will open many files.
El-Erian spoke about the government, and said that the FJP supports a system that is mixed between parliamentary and presidential. He pointed out that the Constituent Assembly is the entity that would be in charge of reaching an equation of a consensual parliamentary system that is strong and at the same time retains the presidential powers and makes a reasonable positioning of the status of the Constitution.
In response to the inquiry about the position of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding having a woman or a Copt assuming the post of the presidency of the republic, El-Erian said that "no one has the right to withdraw the right of any Egyptian citizen – man or woman – from exercising his/her rights, even if this was not stated in the Constitution".
As for the question on the independence of the FJP from the Muslim Brotherhood and what is said that the separation between the two is only a matter of formality, Dr. Essam El-Erian, as deputy chairman of the party who was selected with Dr. Mohamed Morsi and Dr. Saad Katatni to be part of the leadership of the party, said that the party is independent administratively, financially and organizationally. He said that "the decisions of the party intrinsically arise from within it, but there are consultations and coordination with the group. The essential difference he said is that the party is working in the field of political competition as a political party, while the group is working in the broader areas as a comprehensive Islamic entity. He also said that the two (the FJP and the Brotherhood) are working according to an Islamic moderate reference.
El-Erian responded to the news of the declaration that the FJP is contesting in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 50% of the seats was made by the headquarters of the group (and not the party itself) and he said that this happened "because 70% of the founders of the party are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the fact that the timing of the party being established did not give the members the opportunity to run internal elections, and therefore, the members were committed to the decision that came from the group. He also said that the same thing applied to the appointment of party chairman and his deputy by the group, as they were not elected by the members of the party, pointing out that the phase of the party's internal elections will come upon the completion of the establishment of the party's institutions.
El-Erian also said that the FJP sees that there are two ways to handle the issue of exporting Egyptian gas to Israel, which he described as a crime committed by the former regime against all Egyptians. The first way out is "procedural"; i.e. re-consideration and revision of these agreements and the global gas prices and comparing this with the present deal made with Israel, and thus, we should study the consequences of stopping exporting gas in case the contract is cancelled. The second would be to treat it realistically said El-Erian, which would be stopping exporting the gas through shutting down the pipeline. He said that this solution is easier, and such solutions are employed by states at certain times. He said that this is a kind of interruptive measure that takes the form of a combat maneuver.
The vice-president of the FJP said that he believes the will of the people should decide on the peace agreement signed with Israel; so if the people decide to reject it, we must respect their will. He said that the Camp David Treaty is between the two parties, and all treaties are subject to review.
El-Erian was challenged with the idea that it is known that the Muslim Brotherhood raised the slogan "Islam Is the Solution" in any electoral process, and still, the FJP did not confirm or categorically deny that it would use the same slogan in the upcoming parliamentary elections. When he was asked about this issue, El-Erian said: "'Islam Is the Solution' was a slogan used in the era of challenging the former regime and proving the identity of the group; but I think that the party has a greater challenge to bear the responsibility for change with the other parties and political forces." He also said: "Let us remember that 'Islam Is the Solution' is not a religious symbol, according to the ruling of the judiciary on this matter. Deciding about the use of this slogan is a political issue. For our fellow Christians, liberals and secularists, Islam fully guarantees their rights, and the head of the Egyptian Church (Pope Shenouda III) said on ON-TV satellite channel that "Islam gives me my right in the field of personal status law."
El-Erian attributed the selection of the slogans for the elections to the "political coalition" that the FJP is part of, saying that the FJP is working to build this coalition as it represents all the political currents; liberal, Islamic, nationalist and leftist. El-Erian also hinted at the possibility that "Islam Is the Solution" might be used as a slogan, but he did not confirm the final decision on this matter among FJP members and those in the coalition. In his remarks on Dr. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a likely candidate for the presidency who said that he would receive the votes of all the Muslim Brothers, including the Brotherhood leader, El-Erian said: "I do not know how Dr. Abul Fotouh became sure that he will get these votes from those people." He also said: "I do not think that Abul Fotouh will continue till the final phases of the presidential race." He added that none of the names being put forward now are necessarily the ones who might reach the final stages of this competition, hinting that perhaps the next president of Egypt has not yet put his name down, and maybe he will be chosen by the broader political coalition that is now emerging, and perhaps this candidate will be a surprise for everyone."
Dr. Essam El-Erian insisted that the FJP has not yet chosen to support a certain presidential candidate. The goal of the FJP is to form a political coalition to win a majority of seats in parliament, and then to form a "government of national unity", and then comes the question of the selection of a president who receives a consensus.
El-Erian – who is a specialist in blood diseases and medical tests – diagnosed the problem (disease) of the current presidential candidates. He said that the flaw is basically their dependence on "charisma" and nothing else. He also said: "If charisma is a matter of irrationally enchanting ordinary citizens, which leads the candidate to the presidential seat, this would be truly irrelevant." He also criticized that those candidates rely on the media machine, and when they go to the countryside and the rural areas, they are not received well by the people. El-Erian thus concluded that the upcoming president must rely on the strength of his political support and his program, and not only his charisma.
At the end of his interview with Masrawi, Dr. Essam El-Erian sent a message to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, and said: "I address a message to Dr. ElBaradei here, telling him that we are waiting for your congratulations to us – which is highly overdue now – for the establishment of the FJP."