Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Abdul Munim Abu al-Futuh
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- You may differ or agree with him, but you must under all circumstances respect his rich political experience as one of the pillars of the Islamic movement in Egypt. He recently turned 60, yet he is probably the youngest among the contenders in the presidential elections. He stands out among them on the basis of entrenched popularity in Tahrir Square that nominated him more than once to head a national salvation government that did not materialize for unknown reasons.
Dr Abdul Munim Abu al-Futuh, the Secretary General of the General Arab Federation of Physicians, rejects being described as an Islamic candidate. He also rejects the position of his group, the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] which revoked his membership and announced through its General Guide that it was not supporting his candidacy because of its wish not to provoke the West. He says that this argument is meaningless after the revolution, stressing that the Egyptian people are the ones who will decide the President of Egypt.
Abu al-Futuh believes that Egypt’s features in “the Second Republic” will be shaped on the principles of liberty, justice, and real citizenship. He emphasizes that despite the confusion which marred the management of the transitional period by the Military Council [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF] he rejects defaming or insulting it.
The former MB leadership figure cautions against prolonging the transitional phase because this would lead Egypt to economic collapse and a revolution by the hungry in addition to exposing the country to a major security breakdown. He says that the 19 March 2011 Referendum places the election of the President of the Republic ahead of drafting the constitution, contrary to the claims by some political forces demanding that the presidential elections should be held only after the promulgation of a new constitution that spells out clear and specific prerogatives for the president. The potential presidential candidate rejects this because he believes it would lead to “quick-cooking” of the constitution, as he puts it.
Abdul Munim Abu al-Futuh says that he was not surprised that the Islamists won more than 70 percent of the seats in the Egyptian parliament. He said this percentage will decrease in subsequent elections until it reaches its natural size. Commenting on the rising star of the Salafis in the domain of public work, Abu-al-Futuh believes that their entry into the political process is a gain for Egypt because it will make them more moderate, pragmatic, and respectful of realities whereas their extremism would increase if they are excluded.
The text of the interview follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were a witness to political life in Egypt for over 40 years starting from the setback of June 1967 and until Hosni Mubarak stepped down a year ago. You saw the ends and beginnings of the rule of three presidents. How do you see the features of Egypt from this historical perspective as it stands at the threshold of the Second Republic?
[Abu al-Futuh] After the revolution and the sacrifices made by the youths for Egypt’s sake, the youths proclaimed a spontaneous slogan expressing the feelings of the Egyptian people, their suffering, and their desire to get rid of the hardships of 60 years of tyranny which involved dense corruption in the last 35 years. This magnificent spontaneous slogan proclaimed by the youths was for a life of liberty, social justice, and human dignity. The Egyptian people will not accept any alternatives in their future to these clear objectives.
Whether the enemies of Egypt or the enemies of the revolution accept it or not, Egypt will move to a modern democratic State that builds its educational and economic renaissance in a democratic free atmosphere in which all Egyptians enjoy rights and freedoms. Human dignity will not be achieved without real citizenship. Citizenship means equality in rights and duties. Equality in economic, social, and political rights is what Egypt must move to.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you evaluate the current governance system in Egypt with its three sides: SCAF, the Government, and parliament? How do you see the future of these three sides after the end of the transitional period at the end of next June?
[Abu al-Futuh] These are not three sides but three constituents of power because there is also the judiciary authority. To start with, SCAF’s performance during this year was characterized by slowness, confusion, and bad management. There is a lot of evidence for this. But I am against those who try to defame or injure SCAF and turn confusion, slowness and bad management into accusations of treason and betrayal of the revolution. This does not mean it should continue. This shows the importance of ending the transitional period for the executive authority and SCAF, whether by the election of parliament which has been completed or by electing the president as soon as possible. This is a matter of national security and of Egypt’s economy. Continuation of the transitional phase for a longer period exposes us to an economic challenge that would push us into an economic collapse, a revolution by the hungry, and a major security breakdown. I mean by security here security on the national level. The quantity of weapons which entered Egypt due to the absence of the army from the borders, and the narcotics and smuggling of benzene and fuel is because the borders are not secured since the army is preoccupied with internal security and assumes the work of the police. This is why the transitional period should be ended quickly so that the army and its commanders could return to their principal and only task, which is protecting Egypt’s security, and so that a civil authority would take over to run the country and stabilize it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some have proposed different ideas on the speed of transferring power from SCAF. In your opinion, what is the best route for crossing this period?
[Abu al-Futuh] The transitional period should not be ended in just any way, as in calls for a transitional council or a civilian council. The proper way is to go by the road map stipulated in the Referendum of last March 19 to transfer power through the formation of a parliament then of the Consultative Assembly and the election of a president. But the time frame for these elections should have been reduced because there is no one who conducts parliamentary elections over four months then holds the Consultative Assembly elections and elects the president immediately afterwards. In this event, the executive role of SCAF ends just like its legislative role ended before, and it returns to its natural place. A civilian authority takes over and there will be an elected civilian parliament. They lead the country and are responsible together with the judiciary for shouldering the responsibility and running the country inclusive of the promulgation of a constitution because the constitution will not be drafted in a month. Those who want to “quick-cook” the constitution and draft it in one month prior to the presidential elections are depriving society of its right to discuss this constitution, debate it and accept or reject it. This requires at least six months to a year. This is what the referendum stipulated, namely that the constitution should be drafted in six months.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you evaluate the performance of the Government of Dr Kamal al-Janzuri?
[Abu al-Futuh] Al-Janzuri’s Government is weak but it is temporary and I am not changing it now because this would result in some confusion in performance. It does not make sense for a government to remain for two months then we change it after the election of a new president and form a second government, and then form another government after the promulgation of the constitution. This is not proper because there is no country that forms a government every three months. The present Government can continue during this transitional phase. As I said to Dr Al-Jan zuri we want the Government to preserve the services and security and we do not want it to say Toshki, Sinai, and such major projects. All this is required, but Al-Janzuri is not the one who carries it out. He speaks as if he is staying for five years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the desire of the parliamentary majority to form a new government at this point in time?
[Abu al-Futuh] There is no room for such talk under a presidential system in effect, where the government is formed by the Head of State whether SCAF at present or the coming president in the future. This is unless the system of government is amended in the future to become a parliamentary system in which parliament is entitled to form the government. But even under the existing system there has to be accord and harmony between the Government and Parliament to avoid obstacles to the daily performance of the economy and services.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about parliament? How do you evaluate its performance?
[Abu al-Futuh] Even though it has been a short period and we cannot issue a judgment yet, what assures me is that it is elected by the Egyptian people, whether its majority is Islamist or Socialist. The people chose it and we must respect it and enable it to perform its duty.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the start has shown early conflicts and strong differences within the Assembly?
[Abu al-Futuh] The existence of conflicts, differences, and contradictory views demonstrates the vitality of parliament. We do not want a parliament that says “Amen, Amen”. I would have wished that the percentage of the opposition in parliament was more than 40 percent so that the majority would be above 51 percent or a bit more. This would have given it more vitality because it would not give the big majority such a feeling of comfort and lack of interest in listening to the opposition. If they can get the decision they want, they would say “why should I listen to the opposition?” The more effective the opposition is the more pressure it can exert on the majority to improve its work and performance in the interest of the nation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The start of the sessions of the new parliament coincided with several events like the Port Said incidents and the clashes in the vicinity of the Interior Ministry. How do you assess parliament’s performance in dealing with these crises?
[Abu al-Futuh] It is natural that parliament should form a committee to investigate such incidents. But what counts is what the investigation will lead to. Parliament has supervisory and legislative powers it must exercise, not merely just finding the truth. After it is proven that security was to blame, for instance, parliament has to take action like dismissing the Interior Minister or exerting pressure on the executive authority to refer individuals to investigations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You announced months ago your intention to run in the presidential elections. The door will be opened within days for candidacy for this important position at the head of authority in Egypt. In your view, what are the prospects for the success of the coming president under the confusion and anarchy prevailing in the Egyptian scene?
[Abu al-Futuh] The bigger part of the state of confusion is due to the absence of an elected president and consequently the absence of a government that expresses the people, whether it is formed by the president or parliament. Consequently this confusion will definitely decrease and even disappear with the emergence of the legislative authority and the coming of the executive authority represented in the president. The public will rally around the executive and legislative leadership they elected and will monitor their performance. If they perform well, we shall help them and stand on their side. If it defaults, we shall criticize it and stand in its face. I have great hope and confidence that Egypt will definitely move through democracy to better conditions. The [election] results achieved might not express the real situation, but there is no solution except to allow the wheel of democracy to turn. This is why I did not agree with those who demanded postponing the parliamentary elections until we build the forces of society because this would mean postponing the parliamentary elections for 10 years. [I supported the concept of] holding elections even if they bring a majority that does not express the realities, but there is no way except democracy. In the coming elections the majority will be 60 percent instead of 70 percent and later 50 percent, until each current gets its natural size. I was not surprised by the fact that the Islamist current obtained 70 percent in the first democratic elections for parliament. But when there are elections after four years, this percentage will decrease because new powers will have emerged to deduct from the stocks of these forces and enrich political life. The elections that will come after this also will show stronger powers that deduct from the stocks of the existing powers until the situation stabilizes in its natural dimensions. This is what happened in all democratic countries. The proof is that when a State like Spain started its democratic experiment in 1984 there were 74 political parties. Now Spain has only three or four effective parties.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] One of the most important surprises in the parliamentary elections was the appearance of a new Islamist current on the public work arena, namely the Salafis. How do you see this?
[Abu al-Futuh] Irrespective of whether you disagree or agree with their concepts–and I can differ with them sometimes–it is a gain for Egypt that they should enter the political process. This makes them more moderate, pragmatic, and respectful of realities. But they would become more radical if they are excluded.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A caricature was published on across Facebook after the revolution depicting the end of Egypt’s rulers throughout history. Anyone who looks at the end of Egypt’s last five rulers–King Farouk and Presidents Muhammad Najib, Jamal Abdul-Nassir, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak–will think a thousand times before contemplating to run for this position. Have you not felt fear from these endings? What do you intend to do to avoid their dramatic end?
[Abu al-Futuh] Absolutely not, because they were not elected by the Egyptian people. Consequently, linking their end with the end of those who will be elected by the Egyptian people would be an affront to the Egyptian people themselves. Those were rulers imposed on us, and so their end should have been like this. But when the Egyptian people elect a president it will definitely be their duty to help him and protect him as long as he is performing his duty. But if the elected president deviates from the national duty, then he should be toppled and go to hell because he is not sent from Heaven. This is the meaning of the joke which says that the Egyptian people are chanting from now “Down with Egypt’s next President”. This joke demonstrates that the people who came out to change their country will not leave the nation to anyone under any name. You are a citizen who came to serve the people, whether as a head of State or in parliament. You serve the nation and perform your duty, so we the Egyptian people hold you above our heads. But if you deviate from the national duty, we shall come out and bring you down again as we brought down those before you.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mean that democracy is what will protect any coming president from the dramatic ends of the former presidents?
[Abu al-Futuh] Democracy as well as his national performance, and his sincerity and truthfulness with his people. This is because no blank check will be given to Egypt’s ruler even if we elect him. We shall give no [absolute] mandate to anybody and we shall continue to monitor and observe him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mentioned that the presidential elections should be held before the constitution is promulgated. Is it proper for the bright future we hope for Egypt that the President of the Republic should rule according to powers that are not clear or specific?
[Abu al-Futuh] Holding the presidential elections before the constitution is what the people decided in the referendum. It is not true that the elections are going to be held without clear authorities for the President because we conducted the parliamentary elections on the same constitutional basis. This is the temporary constitution represented in the Constitutional Declaration and its 62 articles. It applies in the present phase and it clarifies the powers of the president.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But you have described these powers as broad and flowing. What is your comment?
[Abu al-Futuh] The President’s powers are always like this. It is a temporary condition until we draft the constitution. But drafting the constitution before the presidential elections means continuation of SCAF for a year at least, something which would mean more economic collapse and worse security breakdowns. The issue is not that we need a president but is about the continuous perils that we shall face unless we end the transient political situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some civil powers and parties have demanded promulgation of the constitution before the presidential elections so that we do not have to re-elect the president after the constitution is drafted?
[Abu al-Futuh] This demand is not relevant because it is in contradiction to the referendum. Even some of the powers which speak about this say there is a referendum you must respect and they raise the red banners whenever we speak about the constitution. We say the referendum and its outcome must be respected and we must implement what it stipulated about the presidential elections being held before the constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are some who say the opposite of this and who interpret the Constitutional Declaration to say that the constitution should be before the presidential elections. What is your comment?
[Abu al-Futuh] This is not true because the referendum held last March 19 provided for conducting the presidential elections then promulgating the constitution. The proof is what Councilor Tariq al-Bishri, the head of the committee which drafted the constitutional amendments, wrote that if the president was to come after the constitution then there would have been no sense to ask the people in that referendum on the specifications and conditions for running in the presidential elections. They would have been left in the new constitution. But because the presidential elections were supposed to be held first, these specifications were included in the amendments. There is even a clause in the referendum that calls on the president to hold a referendum on the new constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have spoken about your renaissance project in its Islamic concept and said that its two wings were liberty and justice. This is the same framework, approach, and terminology used by the MB group for its political blueprint. If you become president, to what extent will the lines converge and conflict with the MB and its party?
[Abu-al-Futuh] There are members in parliament from a party that has a majority, whether it is the Freedom and Justice, Al-Nur, or Al-Wafd. Definitely, the President of the Republic will be in contact with parliament. But the MB is a charitable organization that advocates for Allah like thousands of other societies. It abides by the law. Parliament on the other hand is a legislative authority and it is natural that there should be a relationship with the Head of State. It is a relationship for the sake of the nation, not a personal relationship.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We know how embarrassing this point is for you?
[Abu-al-Futuh] There is no embarrassment. This is parliament, whether it is composed of the Communists or the left or the Islamists. It must be respected because it came through popular will.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would the presence of a president and a parliament in ideological accord be better for the nation and its interests?
[Abu-al-Futuh] Definitely. I believe that what will rule the political process after the revolution are the nation’s interests and not the ideology of the president or parliament. If we leave the nation’s interests victim to political or mental ideologies this means we would be sacrificing the revolution. You may hold whatever ideas you want as a head of State–Islamist, leftist, Communist–but there are controls required by the nation’s interests and these dictate that the president whatever his ideology should cooperate with parliament. They dictate on parliament whatever the ideology of its majority to cooperate with the president. Consequently, the nation’s interests should not be the victim of personal ideologies or concepts. This is enshrined in the constitution and the entire world applies this. In France, where there is a mixed system, a Socialist president comes and a liberal party holds the majority. Despite this we find that everything goes naturally according to the constitution because these are countries that respect the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is noticeable that the Egyptian case is very unique in its dealing with democracy. What is your comment?
[Abu-al-Futuh] This is true. We are in a transitional period of birth labour and training on liberty and freedom. This is why you see those with one-track minds unable to talk with each other for half an hour after which they would quarrel. This is not disturbing because we are like an infant trying to learn how to walk. When he tries and falls, do we tell him to stop, in which case he might become afflicted with paralysis, or do we let him try and practice? We are now practicing on differing with each other and engaging in dialogue. Those who describe what is happening in Egypt as division and conflict are mistaken. This is a natural result because the Egyptian people have not practiced freedom in the past 60 years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You were one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the entry of the MB into public work, whether in professional unions or parliament, to settle once and for all a lengthy controversy which lasted for decades on means of change, “to return to the moderate, peaceful approach drafted by the MB’s first Guide Hasan al-Banna”, as you put it. Despite this, you were among those opposed to the MB having a political party even though such a party would be completing this approach. This requires a clarification from you?
[Abu al-Futuh] The issue very clearly is that the MB remains a group and engages in advocacy and in services, political and intellectual activities but not in partisan activity. I still believe that for Egypt’s sake and for the sake of religion, the MB group should remain detached from partisan work and should not form a party or have a party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is an incomprehensible contradiction that requires clarification?
[Abu al-Futuh] We must differentiate between the situation before and after the revolution. Before the revolution, we were all obliged to go in the wrong way. No one at that time could establish a party. The proof is Al-Wasat Party which continued to try for 15 years but took a license to incorporate only after the revolution. Consequently we were committed to an erroneous performance before the revolution. When the MB ran in the elections before the revolution, they ran as independents even though they are not independents, or they formed an alliance with another party like Al-Amal, the Liberals, or Al-Wafd. This was an unnatural situation. After the revolution I said that if the MB are allowed as individuals to form a party then they should do so on the condition that it should not be a branch from the MB. It should not be linked to the MB and the MB should not draft its policies or give it instructions. This meant that we as individuals in the MB together with other nationalists should form a party that is not part of the MB and that is not its political wing. This is an experience tried by the Islamic movement in Algeria and it was all negative aspects. Its negative aspects in Egypt will become evident in the future.
I apply my statement here also on the Salafis and Azharites [ulemas from Al-Azhar]. This is why I commended the position of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar when a group of Al-Azhar’s sheikhs said they would form Al-Azhar’s Party. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar said that this was not their work. He said that as Egyptian individuals they can form a party but that its name should not be drawn from Al-Azhar. It should become the party of individuals and not the party of the establishment. If they succeed or fail this is their party. Consequently, the MB should continue to be an educational and advocacy group that takes part in political activity in the general sense and not in the partisan sense. An example is the Sheikh of Al-Azhar moving to adopt a document on liberties. This would be a patriotic political act. This is the difference between the political and the partisan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The eighth Guide of the MB rejected your candidature for the presidency as well as the candidature of any figures affiliated to the Islamic current. He based this, according to his statements, on the MB’s desire to avoid provoking the West. Before the revolution, the Egyptian politician and thinker Mustafa al-Fiqi said that Egypt’s coming President must obtain American and Israeli support. To what extent do you believe that Western support is important for Egypt’s president?
[Abu al-Futuh] The talk by this or that [the MB Guide's and Al-Fiqi's] is irrelevant after the revolution. After the revolution, the Egyptian people are the ones who will decide who Egypt’s next president will be. This entitles all those who see themselves able to run for the presidency to offer themselves to the Egyptian people. Such talk might have made sense during Hosni Mubarak’s era but after the revolution and the blood of the revolutionaries there is no way to define any future for Egypt except through the Egyptian people. This includes the election of the president and parliament. The Egyptian people are the ones who decide, not the United States, Israel, or any other party. We should not insult our people and ourselves by saying that we shall not bring a communist president because the United States does not like communists. We shall bring the person we believe will serve Egypt irrespective of his ideology whether Islamist or leftist. This is to be decided by the Egyptian people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Accusations have been made that some civil society organizations are scheming to divide Egypt and that they have published different maps on this. Some exaggerated and spoke about an American project to divide the major Arab countries into mini-States in what is being described as Sykes-Picot II (the first agreement on dividing the Arab world was concluded in 1916 between British diplomat Mark Sykes and French diplomat Georges Picot with the backing of Federal Russia). On the other side we have statements by the Deputy MB Guide and others talking about the Caliphate dream. Do you not see that it is inevitable that there will be an Islamic-American clash, even though the appearances indicate otherwise? How do you see the future of Egyptian-American relations under the existing tensions?
[Abu al-Futuh] There is no connection between the Deputy MB Guide’s statement and the accusations made against the civil society organizations. It is ridiculous to talk about civil society organizations and dividing Egypt. Egypt is indivisible, and no one and no international power can tamper with Egypt. Egypt is indivisible by virtue of its historical, geographical, and human makeup. We do not have a sectarian, ethnic, or religious conflict. The sectarian seditions that occurred were the work of security bodies and have ended with the end of Mubarak’s regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This does not disprove that there is a scheme for division similar to what happened in Sudan?
[Abu al-Futuh] Dividing Sudan into North and South had its justifications and grounds and exploited actual conditions existing since 1952. But talking about dividing Egypt is like saying that you are dividing a human being’s body into two parts leading to his death. I think the division issue is frivolous. But there are enemies for Egypt who do not want stability, development, and freedom for it. This is because the world is not going to pat us on the back. The previous regimes enabled Egypt’s enemies to carry out their conspiracies against Egypt. Take for instance the example of an Egyptian President who comes out and says that 99 percent of the game’s cards are in the hands of the United States. It is as if he is telling the Americans “come right in and rule Egypt, for I am not its president but its clown”. To say that 99 percent of the cards are in the hands of the United States means that the United States is the power that rules. Consequently, we are the ones who enabled Egypt’s enemies to implement what they wanted. But after the revolution Egypt will be ruled only by its people or those who represent its people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think about the Caliphate dream mentioned by an MB leader recently?
[Abu al-Futuh] To make it clear, the Caliphate is not a religious term and consequently it is irrelevant. But it is natural if somebody calls for Arab, Islamic, or human unity because the world is inclined at present to continuity and adhesion. If the European countries have established a European Union, there is nothing against the Arab countries forming an Arab Union whether in currency, politics, economics, or any other domains for cooperation and continuity. But the Caliphate is not a religious concept. If what is meant by the Caliphate is cooperation among the Islamic countries this would be good. If it means cooperation among all the countries of the world or the African countries, then this is something good and serves Egypt’s interests. Egypt has been a pioneer in this domain in African and Arab cooperation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see Egyptian-American relations under the shadow of tensions that have marred it of late?
[Abu al-Futuh] I believe that the tensions are artificial and unjustified. They are a smoke balloon without value, weight, or justification. As for our relations with the United States or the rest of the world’s countries, the basis will be Egypt’s interests. It will be a relationship characterized by equality that serves the interests of Egypt and the other side. But Egypt will not be violated by any side whomsoever after today. We have interests as a State and we respect privacies. This is the basis for relations with any world country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You visited Gaza some days ago to head the meetings of the Arab Physicians Federation. Yesterday, the Israelis exaggerated in their intentions to aggress on Al-Aqsa Mosque. In your opinion, what is the means to liberate Jerusalem, which is the dream of every Muslim? As you are at the threshold of running for the presidency, does it cross your mind that Egypt might have the championship role in the Palestinian issue? What is the future of our relationship with Israel?
[Abu al-Futuh] Egypt’s role is not a championship role. For Egypt, Palestine is a matter of national security because it is on Egypt’s eastern borders. Any nationalist regime that is faithful to Egypt cannot but have a relationship with the issue of Palestine. Further, the international community, with post-revolution democratic Egypt part of it, has to compel Israel to respect international treaties.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the means to liberate Jerusalem as the dream of every Muslim?
[Abu al-Futuh] Israel’s respect to the treaties and the international resolutions on establishing a Palestinian State with its capital in Al-Quds al-Sharif [East Jerusalem]. This must be respected.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the role of the Arabs and Muslims in this?
[Abu al-Futuh] If there are real States for the Arabs and the Muslims then they must exert pressure to implement international decisions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Nile, scientific research, sectarian challenges, and the borders were mentioned as your priorities in Egypt’s national security and in its regional role. In your view, which among those is more serious and has top priority to identify it as your starting goal?
[Abu al-Futuh] There is no doubt that the Nile is Egypt’s artery of life. Our relations must return with the African countries and the upstream States. The African peoples welcome Egypt’s leadership of them. I have represented Egypt in many African organizations and they welcomed Egypt. But regrettably the former regime squandered Egypt’s interests because of the Addis Ababa incident [attempted assassination of Mubarak in 1995] like it squandered Port Said, which is part of Egypt, because of the “Abu-al-Arabi” incident [man killed by Mubarak's guards because he lunged at the motorcade during a 1999 visit to Port Said].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To what extent does concern about the extremities and the marginalized areas represent a strategic importance for Egypt?
[Abu al-Futuh] The extremities are an issue of national security for Egypt. The political leadership has not tried to strengthen the feelings of affiliation and concern among the Egyptians who live on Egypt’s borders. It made them live in a state of persecution and injustice that made them lose the feelings of belonging to the homeland. When I visited Sinai two weeks ago, I found that they felt great bitterness toward the regime that ruled for 30 years because of injustice and oppression. I told them that this did not come out of a vacuum but was intentional because they wanted you to lose your feelings of belonging to Egypt and turn you into agents for the Zionists. You rejected this because of your nationalism, to the extent that there are people from Sinai who live “bidun” [without], meaning that they are not allowed to carry Egyptian identity cards. They are not allowed to own property. All the security and police practices exercised against them constitute a threat to them and to Egyptian national security.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your testimony with the departed colleague Husam Tammam about the history of the Islamic movement in Egypt, you spoke about a deal which did not materialize between the Islamic current and President Sadat in the 1970s. Others before you spoke about other deals that did not materialize between the Free Officers and the Muslim Brothers after the 1952 Revolution. To what extent can you believe or disbelieve talk about deals between the Islamists and the military, which is continuing until this moment through talk about a deal after January 2011?
[Abu al-Futuh] We would believe or disbelieve according to the facts and the manifestations of a deal. Deals are always concluded in secret, but any deal will have manifestations and evidence. If this is not manifest at the time, history will eventually reveal it and expose its parties and its details. When it is said that the Islamists at that time in the 1970s concluded a deal with the regime, as I said in my book, if there had been a deal between Sadat and the Islamists I would have been the second party even though I was young at the time. I represented the Islamic movement in the universities. If Sadat had wanted an agreement he would have made this agreement with me. I said this did not happen. But if Sadat or any other party said there was a deal, then they should tell me what it was, its sides, details, and results.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why should there be increasing talk about deals between the Islamists and the military all the time, whether in Sadat’s time or at the present time?
[Abu al-Futuh] One of the reasons might be political jealousy such as that which existed in the 1970s. The leftist and Nasirite currents controlled public activities in Egyptian universities in the 1960s and after the [ 1967] setback. This existed because of the absence of the Islamic condition. When the Islamic condition started to move and became active in the universities and attracted many supporters because of its nature, there was political jealousy among the other sides. These sides translate their political jealousy by circulating rumours about the existence of a deal. We want to tailor a personal democracy. If it brings somebody we do not like we say it is no good. If it brings somebody we like we say “this is democracy”.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] “Stop right there! Stop right there!” This is what Sadat shouted at you when you talked in front of him at his well-known meeting with university students in the mid-1970s. You were the Secretary General of the Egyptian Student Federation at the time. Now that time has taken its course, what is your assessment of President Sadat and his era in power?
[Abu al-Futuh] No doubt Sadat as a political ruler–specifically on the issue of liberties in particular and his violations of human rights–was less than [better than] those who preceded him and came after him. But concerning the position on Israel, it was the worst position because by the Camp David Agreement he exposed Egyptian national security to dangers we still suffer from until now. On the economic level, he was the one who started the disaster of al-infitah [economic openness policy]. His successor followed this up and worsened the disaster, and his son came and made the disaster ten disasters in the last 10 years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Now that you are nearly his age (at the time) and moving closer to the position he held, how are you going to deal with the revolutionary youths in this turbulent phase of Egypt’s history? What is your advice to the generation of the January revolution?
[Abu al-Futuh] The generation of the revolution will remain alert and a source of pride and cherishment for the Egyptians. I draw the attention of the brothers in the media that they should not defame these alert youths or confuse them with the thuggery network of Mubarak which infiltrates them sometimes and attacks the Interior Ministry or burns the Scientific Complex so that these acts would be blamed on these pure youths. These youths must preserve their revolution. I raise with them the slogan that the revolution is continuing until it accomplishes its objectives, peacefully and without attacking any utilities. Anyone who attacks a utility or disrupts traffic has nothing to do with the revolution from near or far.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You also spoke in your aforementioned testimony about how greatly influenced you were by the third Guide of the MB, Mr Umar al-Tilmisani, and about his connection to music and how some Brotherhood members mocked this. You said word for word “art was our most prominent point of weakness”. To what extent do you see that art is still a point of weakness for the Islamic current despite all these years that have passed on the Islamic movement? Why has no Islamic artistic movement emerged until now?
[Abu al-Futuh] It has emerged and there are indications for the start of an artistic movement. But I do not support the concept of the so-called “Islamic artistic movement”. I support the arts that respect values and express society. If it does not express society then it is not art. We cannot imagine a German art that propagates the merits of Nazism or glorifies and sanctifies Nazism. This does not express the German people who reject Nazism. It is unimaginable that there should be an Egyptian art that defames religious values, whether Islamic or Christian. If art does not accord with the values and guidelines of society, develops and improves them, does not become art. This is why we must remove restrictions on the arts and let society itself act as the restriction. Some want to impose the power of authority on the arts but this is not proper because the arts will not develop if creativity is banned. Creativity is nurtured by freedom, with society itself to control it and imposes restrictions on it. The people will not support artistic work that violates or undermines values. Such work will not find acceptance. But restrictions on it will be a threat to the arts and creativity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, if you are to direct a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, what would you tell him? In your opinion, to what extent has the Arab League succeeded in managing the Syrian crisis?
[Abu al-Futuh] The Arab League has not succeeded as usual because it is a weak league that represents governments that are weak overall. Consequently it was natural that it should not succeed. Bashar al-Assad will not stop spilling the blood of the Syrians. He has to depart and leave the Syrian people to elect the Syrian regime that represents them.