Amr Moussa, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the new constitution in Egypt, predicted that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will run for the presidency "in response to popular demand," confirming that his vote "would go to [Sisi]." Moussa advised the Muslim Brotherhood to abandon violence and join the political process through the formation of an opposition front. He said he expects the intentional forces opposing the temporary government to accept "reality" and advised the Egyptian authorities to file a complaint against Qatar with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
As preparations for the referendum on the constitution — which began on Tuesday [Jan. 14] — intensified, Moussa expressed his confidence that the constitution prepared by the constituent assembly would pass. In an interview with Al-Hayat, he confirmed that he stands at the forefront of those supporting Sisi running for president, considering the latter's candidacy a "popular choice." He went so far as to rule out the possibility of Sisi not entering the presidential race, saying, "We must adhere to the popular opinion that wants [Sisi]. This is what he has been commissioned with, and there is no escaping it."
He downplayed potential Western reactions in the event that Sisi becomes president, saying, "Let the West say what it wants, and let the East say what it wants … and the Brotherhood too. The people say 'We want Sisi,' so we must submit to this." Yet he stressed the need for "fair elections under international supervision, so no one can doubt [the results]." He pointed out that the European Union had sent an observer mission to monitor the constitutional referendum, in addition to the presence of Egyptian civil society groups and the international press.
Regarding the form of competition in the presidential elections, Moussa stressed the need for a competitor for Sisi. He noted some of the figures that had proposed running, including former candidates such as Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi.
While Moussa touched on the issue of reconciliation with the Brotherhood, he threw the ball in their court and advised them to give up violence and join the ranks of the opposition, "in conjunction with trials against those who stood behind the violence and killings that occurred in the recent period." He added that "the constitution that is being put to a referendum does not exclude any political segment, they [the Brotherhood] must give up violence and form an opposition front." He said, "On our path to reform we need an opposition, but it must be [formed on] a peaceful political basis."
However, he noted that there was an "absence of evidence that suggests the group is working to remedy its past mistakes." He said that "the Brotherhood now has an opportunity. It must review its position, starting with putting an end to violence. They are losing popularity every day. Do they think they will defeat the army? They will not be able to defeat the masses. The people's interests are threatened by the actions of the Brotherhood — they must wake up. The new constitution presents them with an opportunity; they should benefit from it." Moussa defended the military intervention to oust former President Mohammed Morsi, saying that this step "prevented a civil war in Egypt. It was not a coup."
He defended his preference for holding parliamentary elections before presidential elections, saying, "Egypt now has a president, thus the post is not vacant. However, we are facing a legislative vacuum and therefore we need to elect a parliament that can select a government. This will send a message that Egypt has entered the phase of stability. And the new government must begin its work by building Egypt both economically and socially. The [new] constitution is clear in many regards, and ensures three important things: rights, freedoms and citizens' interests relating to education, health, the environment, the elderly and the disabled."
Moussa told Al-Hayat about the most difficult issues they faced in [drafting] the constitution, saying that the issue of Islam's relationship to the state and policy, the articles pertaining to the army, and the demands for allocating parliamentary quotas to laborers and farmers were the most problematic topics. [Other contentious issues included demands] to allocate parliamentary quotas to Copts and women. He added that "the provisions relating to the president, his jurisdiction, and the manner in which he will manage the state and his authorities took a lot of time during discussions." He predicted a heavy turnout at polls for the referendum on Wednesday and Thursday [Jan. 14-15], and said that the constitution could pass "with up to 80% of voters supporting it."
Regarding criticism directed at the constituent assembly given that the draft constitution allows for civilians to be tried by military courts, Moussa noted that "in the past, civilians could be tried in military courts in normal and political cases. Moreover, the Brotherhood's constitution [said that civilians could be tried in military courts for] anything that harmed the armed forces. This [wording] was broad and could be loosely interpreted. We needed to resolve the issue, so we specified [that civilians can only be tried in military courts in] cases that involve attacks on military bases, installations or weapons, in addition to attacks on officers or soldiers while they are performing their official duties."
He explained that "the issue of the defense minister being selected and appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is imperative in light of the current conditions in Egypt. Moreover, this is a transitional provision that applies for only two presidential terms." He stressed that "this article does not mean the defense ministry is immune [to the authority of the executive branch], as it will be subject to the [standard] rules relating to the formation of a government and withdrawal of confidence."
He said that this article was "to protect the army, amid fears for the military following Morsi's year of rule, which saw clashes between [state] institutions." He said, "I think that all of the articles relating to the army in the new constitution are more flexible than those in the Brotherhood's constitution, which gave the military more privileges."
He pointed out that the draft constitution "opened the door to public freedoms and did not exclude any citizen, even [members of] the Muslim Brotherhood. It anchored [the concept of] citizenship and provided for the criminalization of racial or religious discrimination. It stressed the existing freedoms of belief, opinion and thought, and guarantees freedom of scientific research and artistic creativity, and this is something very important. In addition, it touches on the arts, and there are articles related to culture and the diversity of culture — not a single culture. Even if Arab-Islamic culture is the fundamental one, there are other cultures that should be recognized."
He added, "We addressed the rights of the elderly, the disabled and unskilled laborers, as well as citizens' rights to insurance, social security, and health insurance. Moreover, [we] increased the education budget to 7% of Egypt's gross national income (GNI), and increased health care to 3% of GNI. All these things represent a development from what was in place — the new constitution gives rights to all."
He added that "the constitutional chapter on local administration is one of the most important chapters. We opened the door for the selection of governors and mayors either through appointment or election. This brings an end the historical centralization in Egypt, and [represents] decentralization." He indicated that "the constituent assembly took some of the articles from the US constitution. In a first for the Arab world, the constitution [allows for] the punishment or dismissal of the president."
Regarding his own political future, Moussa noted that he was content with what he had accomplished in the constituent assembly to amend the constitution. He indicated that he would "be present in the heart of [Egypt's] political process, but would not hold a post. The country is sinking, and we must be present to help in providing what we can." He also noted that "the challenges the next president will face will be huge, and there must be people standing behind him ready to give advice."
The conversation then turned to the future of the opposition following the departures of Hosni Mubarak and Morsi. Moussa noted the difference in the way the two regimes dealt with opposition forces. "Mubarak realized that there was an opposition, and he tried to encircle it and restrict it. Yet the Brotherhood believed that this opposition did not exist."
He spoke about his meeting with Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat el-Shater, who is currently being held in relation to a number of cases, [that took place] several weeks before June 30, 2013. He said, "[Shater] was downplaying the protests. He said that 'the protests would be insignificant, the opposition is weak and has no [unified] entity. We do not really trust them.' He ruled out the possibility that the people would revolt."
Moussa pointed to the unrest within the National Salvation Front, which was formed before the overthrow of the Brotherhood rule. He noted that the parties in the front "were in agreement against the Brotherhood, but they had different views on how to deal with [the group]." He predicted that "the next few days would see the emergence or a new elite that can lead the political scene, because the people are unable to accept a dictator. Sisi is not a dictator. He's a nationalist ruler who proved his nationalism on June 30 and the period that followed, and prevented a civil war. And when he is elected, there will be a constitutional framework that he will work within. He will be [elected] for a presidential term of four years, and he only has the right to run for one more term." He downplayed fears that a new dictator would be produced, saying that "the country's new constitution protects the country from this."
Moussa said that "the Americans wanted Political Islam — their friend — to come to power in Egypt. They were looking forward to the Turkish experience being emulated in Egypt. But they will concede to the reality in the future." He advised the interim government to file a complaint against Qatar with the Gulf Cooperation Council, saying, "We have to explain our position to them. No GCC country has the right to attack a country like Egypt, in light of the difficult circumstances we are undergoing. I believe that a solution can come through the GCC."
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