Before the much anticipated presidential elections in Egypt, the leader of the Strong Egypt Party, former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, declared that he would not participate in the coming elections, because of “the climate surrounding it.”
In an interview with As-Safir, Aboul Fotouh explains the reasons behind his decision, and talks about the nature of the current stage in Egypt. He warned that “the country is likely to witness a popular explosion,” if the “course is not corrected.”
The full interview follows:
As-Safir: Why this early withdrawal from the electoral race?
Aboul Fotouh: We haven’t withdrawn. From the very beginning, we refused to take part in the presidential elections because of the climate surrounding it. I mean the repressive climate, which has resulted in the arrest of 21,000 political activists of different affiliations in the last seven months, not to mention the death of thousands, while 50,000 people were injured. Many media outlets have been brought under control or shut down. The media has become the voice of one opinion, and those who disagree with it are considered fifth columns and members of a dormant Muslim Brotherhood cell. They are accused of being traitors and collaborators, among other claims.
Since the coup on July 3 [which led to the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi], the atmosphere in the country became authoritarian, which is incompatible with democratic elections. On the other hand, the fact that the military institution appointed a presidential candidate — regardless of my opinion about him — indicates that the elections are just for show and the matter is already settled. This is especially true since the idea that he is the savior and redeemer has been widely propagated. Regardless of the identity of this person and my opinion about him, this matter remains a fraud. There are no elections without a democratic context. Thus, taking part in these elections is fraudulent, and we do not accept this upon ourselves.
As-Safir: What you deem as a reason for not participating in an election that others believe is a legitimate reason to participate — to resist what you call tyranny and to expose it?
Aboul Fotouh: Expose what? This repressive climate is already unveiled, and it is not a secret to anyone. Our experience during the referendum on the constitution was enough. We were the only party that voted “no” to the constitution and we had already said “no” to the constitution of Morsi. The result was the arrest of many of our members during the pro-constitution propaganda.
While we were banned from holding any conference or event to put forward our opinion to the public, the pro-constitution propaganda was in full swing and got full official support. This was just a prelude to the elections, while the military institution has nominated a candidate. Our party appreciates the military institution, and we have always called to not involve the army in politics. Those who hate Egypt and the army, will seek to involve it in politics. We are talking about the only orderly army in the region and therefore throwing it in a political venture has grave consequences, not only for Egypt but for the entire region.
As-Safir: You are implying that the events of June 30 and July 3 are different. Don’t you see them within the same context?
Aboul Fotouh: Of course they are not. We participated in the June 30 events. We were the first to call for a referendum on early elections. We held 16 conferences in various governorates. We were the ones who invoked popular will and pressed peacefully for early elections. We were in favor of escalating popular pressure to reach civil disobedience, so as to avoid a more sinister event, which is a military coup. Some of what happened later on in Egypt was even worse than what happened during the era of [former President Hosni] Mubarak. The accelerated event that happened on July 3 was a poisoned advice given to the army, which the National Salvation Front should be held accountable for, as its leaders demanded the army to issue the statement [ousting Morsi].
As-Safir: But what is the difference between what happened on July 3, 2013 and the events of Feb. 11, 2011? Aren’t they similar?
Aboul Fotouh: Of course not. On Feb. 11, the army went to the streets after the collapse of the police force and upon a decision by Mubarak. The army stood on the sidelines. When the rebels laid siege to the presidential palace, Mubarak stepped down and did not abduct or arrest anyone, like Morsi did.
As-Safir: Do you still consider yourself part of the political Islam movement?
Aboul Fotouh: I am against this term in the first place. I personally believe I am a part of the extension of civilized Islam. In my political performances, I am inspired by the values of Islam, such as justice and freedom. I think this term [political Islam] is incorrect. Religion should not be involved in a political or regional conflict.
As-Safir: Whatever name you see fit for this movement, how do you see its future after what happened?
Aboul Fotouh: Indeed, this movement exists on the Egyptian scene. The Islamic dimension is much bigger than the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group. What is being said today about the Muslim Brotherhood is useless. I disagree with their principles and I separated myself from them even before these events. Nevertheless, I continue to consider them a national faction, and excluding them will only complicate things and will not result in any solution. What is the equivalent political group of the Muslim Brotherhood? Escalating hatred against the Muslim Brotherhood is risky and ought to stop.
As-Safir: If the Muslim Brotherhood is as you describe it, then why did it fail the test of power?
Aboul Fotouh: The Muslim Brotherhood failed in selecting competent parties. I did advise their leaders not to employ their men because the time was not right. We do not live under a democracy stable enough to allow the majority party to arrive to power. We are in the process of establishment, which requires the contribution of competent people from all forces. It was only normal for them to fail.
As-Safir: You made mediation efforts to remedy the crisis, but to no avail. … Whom do you blame for the failure of these efforts?
Aboul Fotouh: It is only normal to hold accountable the only party in power. When Morsi was in power, I blamed him for the failure of the dialogue with the political forces. During the mediation efforts, both parties were intransigent indeed, but I mostly blame the party in power. When I blame the power, I also hold it responsible for the lives of the victims, whether from the army or the police, as they are part of the people. The power should be held responsible for the bloodshed of the people.
As-Safir: Don’t you see that your withdrawal from the presidential race will distance you from the political scene as a whole, and will discredit your party?
Aboul Fotouh: We are in favor of any [fair] popular elections, and we believe in invoking popular will to strengthen the democratic process. I asked President Adly Mansour to hold a referendum on the road map to test its popular legitimacy, but this did not happen.
As-Safir: Were the million-man marches not enough proof of the popular legitimacy and even a stronger indication than the ballot box?
Aboul Fotouh: Not at all. We cannot compare demonstrations — regardless of their size — to constitutional means. Nothing equals the ballot box, provided that elections are carried out in a democratic climate and in light of integrity of the electoral process.
As-Safir: You reject the presidential elections, so what do you suggest instead?
Aboul Fotouh: A return to the democratic path. [Reinstating] Morsi is not part of our cause, but we demand a return to the democratic path. Our refusal to take part in the presidential elections is a way to protest against the prevailing climate, which we deem unfit for holding real elections. Anger is building up among the youth. What proves this fact is the way they boycotted the referendum on the constitution. The youth can explode as it happened before. Don’t you see that the figures of the January 25 Revolution are now arrested, accused of being traitors, fifth columns and dormant Muslim Brotherhood cells, even those who strongly opposed the Muslim Brotherhood itself?
As-Safir: What will you do then?
Aboul Fotouh: We will peacefully exert pressure on the authorities, communicate with the popular bases, and prepare ourselves for parliamentary and municipal elections. We will wield political and partisan work in all its peaceful forms and will rely on the popular bases.
As-Safir: You are accused of always standing in a grey area, i.e., you are against the Muslim Brotherhood “but” … you are with the opposition “but” … always espousing half a stance. What is your comment on this?
Aboul Fotouh: We are not standing in a grey area at all. We have unchangeable principles: The interest of the country comes first. We support any individual or organization subject to oppression or persecution. In principle, we neither support nor oppose the Muslim Brotherhood. We have our own stance. We opposed the Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power, yet we do not accept what is happening now. We have our own stance and we want the people to understand this stance. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood attacks us because they follow an exclusionary policy, the National Salvation Front also practices exclusion. We do not support a party all the way, nor oppose it all the way either.
As-Safir: You did not name a candidate for presidency, what will be your stand in regard to the candidates?
Aboul Fotouh: As long as the environment is not suitable for holding genuine elections that reflect the free popular will, we will boycott the elections regardless of who the candidates are.
As-Safir: How do you analyze the situation in Egypt today and how do you perceive the future?
Aboul Fotouh: We have suffered the slippage of the January 25 Revolution, and the June 30 movement came as a revolutionary wave to correct the path of the revolution. What happened after July 3 was an attempt to revive the Mubarak regime, as if they were calling on the people to start another revolution. I see only two possibilities for the future: Either those in power correct the path, and by “those” I mean interim President Adly Mansour, Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, or a new revolutionary wave will erupt at some point. No one can specify a time for the revolution. I hope for the sleeping figures in power to wake up, because it is less costly than a popular explosion.
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