Middle East on a hot tin roof

13-09-2013 03:06 PM

Robeir al-Faris

Egypt, Syria, and the entire region are undergoing destiny-changing events that appear to be rushing at breathtaking speed.  A plethora of hot issues have surfaced; how these issues are sorted will determine the future of each country, the Middle East and, it would be no exaggeration to say the whole world.
Watani took these issues to Emad Gad, former MP, deputy head of Egypt Democratic Party, editor-in-chief of the quarterly Israeli Selections published by the State-owned Al-Ahram, and a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Dr Gad’s answers are simple and short but carried deep significance.

As a political analyst, how do you see the recent attempt on the life of Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim, and whether it could mark—as many in Egypt believe—the beginning of a wave of political assassinations by the Islamists?
An assassination phase was expected. The farther the Muslim Brothers (MB) feel they are from their dream of absolute power, the worse and more frequent their acts of violence. Regrettably, the assassinations will go on for a long a time. The terrorists will start with the politicians either in the government or in the parties, and then they will target journalists and intellectuals. The most dangerous phase, however, is that of random violence when the terrorists don’t target specific people but strike at all and sundry, destroying security and the economy.

In light of the atrocities committed by the MB-led Islamists against the Egyptian community, is talk about conciliation and inclusion still possible?
Conciliation as a principle is possible; it’s when we get into the details that the problems appear. For instance, with whom do we reconcile? Some people would make use of reconciliation to return the MB to the political scene, and this is not acceptable at all. How will reconciliation tally with applying the law, especially in crimes of incitement, murder, and horrifying civic unrest and roadblocks? Does it imply that anyone proved to be involved in a crime will be excluded from reconciliation? In all cases, the MB and its party should be questioned because it has been proved that they had weapons on their premises, and this is clearly banned by law.

What about the religious-based political parties?
Egyptians realise that these parties were the source of all the disasters we suffered and continue to suffer from even now; if we go on allowing parties to be founded on the basis of religion we would be repeating the same disastrous mistakes.
Do you think the rule of political Islam is over?
I can’t say that this is the end of political Islam, but only the end of the ideal that was the dream of the poor and needy. This model proved a complete failure, and has led to calamities in Egypt. However, there will still be remnants and supporters of the Islamist groups shouting their slogans. They can, however, never win any fair elections; the majority of the Egyptian people now totally reject them.

So the only hope is in civil parties; but these have poor influence on the Egyptian street.
True, civil parties are small and weak; they are also poorly funded.

Why don’t they merge into one big party?
The idea was proposed but it never materialised because of the personal interests of many of the leading figures in these parties. If we succeed in putting personal issues aside, the idea of a big, strong, civic party will be fulfilled. Otherwise, we will go back to the phase when clan loyalties and the rich and influential dominated the vote.  

Speaking about elections, which do you prefer for Egypt: an individual candidate system or a slate system?
The electoral system must combine both since the slate system lends an advantage to women and Copts who may not otherwise win a vote; and may also work to include the Islamists. However, individual candidacy may best fulfil the desire of the voters in a given constituency.

Could the Egyptian Democratic Party be now considered the ruling party?
No it can’t. Both the Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy and the deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa’ Eddin froze their membership in the party when they were appointed to the interim government so that the government wouldn’t be held responsible for the party’s political platform, nor would the party shoulder the government’s achievements whether good or bad.

Will you run in the coming parliamentary elections?
This will depend on whether or not the parties succeed in merging into one big party. If we fail, I won’t.

Why did you reject the idea that the Church and Al-Azhar should be represented in the constituent assembly that is rewriting Egypt’s [Islamist] constitution that had been rushed through overnight by the ousted president Muhammad Mursi?
If we are looking for a civil constitution, then I see that the Egyptian community should be represented through its various sectors not through its religious institutions. I strongly demand the removal of all articles in the constitution that lead to entrenching a religious-based system, because these ultimately lead to sectarianism.

Will the Salafis accept the removal of such articles?
If we really want a civil constitution we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed into accepting religious-based articles by any group or party.

Do you think Egypt’s next president will come from a military background?
There are figures that carry strong credibility with the people. The army’s Chief of Staff Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi definitely tops the list; he is very special and charismatic; if he runs I believe he’d garner some 70 per cent of the vote. I believe that if Sisi runs, the civil parties should nominate a strong candidate to run against him.

As editor-in-chief of Israeli Selections, did you observe the outcry in Israeli newspapers when Mursi left?
What was observed and documented is that the year Mursi ruled was one of the best ever for Israel, even better than the days of Mubarak, because Mursi had control over Hamas.

Why doesn’t the international community criticise the human rights violations Hamas consistently commits in Gaza?
Because they don’t care as long as Israel is safe; they used to criticise Hamas when it attacked Israel. But they just don’t care about the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of Hamas, or the Islamist group’s attempts at demolishing the diversity of the Palestinian people and ruining Christian schools. Even where Egypt is concerned, we didn’t hear a single word on the MB atrocities against Egyptians at Itihadiya (the Presidential Palace) in Cairo in November 2012 or the attack on St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo in May 2013. The international community only looks after its own interests and that of Israel.

How do you see Syria’s future should the US decided on a military attack? And would Iran intervene?
There is a state of general uncertainty about attacking Syria, especially with the Russian proposal that Syria’s Assad should relinquish his chemical weapons. However, attacking Syria may lead to one of two results. The first is that Syria would be divided into three smaller States that cannot peacefully coexist and will be always at war with one another: one led by the Alawite Bashar al-Assad; the other a Sunni State; and the third a Kurdish one. The other possibility is chaos after the fall of the Assad regime, with terrorists and al-Qaeda in command.
In case of a US strike Iran may execute a few operations but will be ineffective because US will not engage, it will just send drones or fire missiles.

Will US-Egyptian relations go back to being normal again?
This relationship is no longer what it was in the days of Mubarak, nor during the time of Mursi.

WATANI International
13 September 2013

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