I was recently interviewed for MENA (Middle East News Agency). I have requested, but not yet received a link to whatever is published.
Sherifa Zuhur, IMEISS Interview given to Ahmed Bahaa on June 5, 2014.
Q. After the official declaration of Abdelfatah El- Sisi winning presidential elections, do you think that the call for reconciliation in Egypt is in favor of him or against him?
**This question is not clear. Do you mean “the call for a reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood?” With the Ansar Bayt Maqdis and other groups attacking the government? Is there a concrete group calling for reconciliation?
- I do not believe that the issue of reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood – if that is what you mean — is first on the list of Egypt’s priorities at the moment. My sense is that a majority of Egyptians at present do not want any reconciliation with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and that it was the public which insisted (for most of autumn 2013) that the transitional government enact a ban, rather than the other way around. Therefore I don’t think those external observers, such as U.S. neoconservatives or think tanks, which have opposed the new government like Carnegie or Middle East Institute or those writing for CFR’s Foreign Policy have any reason to order the Egyptian public or government to “reconcile.” Obviously, there are also some Egyptians who have been involved in demonstrations at universities and who protest the exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they are not numerically large, nor can they claim a moral high ground after so many instances of unnecessary violence which hurt and terrified their fellow Egyptians.
Last summer, in the midst of the crisis at the end of June 2013, Field Marshal al-Sisi, then the Minister of Defense made at least three efforts to mediate with President Morsi and via him to the General Guidance Council of the MB. They rejected all of those efforts which might have resulted in a compromise government following new elections. In some areas of Egypt, such as Kafr al-Dawwar, Menya, and most notably the Sinai supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (or in the Sinai, their extremely violent allies) are still threatening others and trying to coerce them – in the Sinai, this remains an extremely volatile situation.
- How do you see the future of American-Egyptian relations in the light of El-Sisi’s as president and, will he focus on enhancing Egypt’s relations with Russia to put pressure on America?
A. I was asked about the announced Egyptian-Russian deal whereby financing was to be provided from the Gulf states a few months ago. After the usual round of reprintings, this particular story went silent.
President Putin was among the first of the world leaders to congratulate President al-Sisi on his electoral win. Apart from that gesture, I don’t think Egypt will overturn its long-term relationship with the United States for Russia, nor would it particularly pressure the United States if Egypt were to obtain weaponry or defense systems from Russia. Diplomatically, it is wise for Egypt to build ties of cooperation and friendship with many countries and not solely with the United States.
So long as US Muslim organizations filled with Muslim Brotherhood supporters or Americans who believe they and only they hold the key to democratic development are pressuring members of the U.S. Congress to hold off on approving elements in U.S. military aid to Egypt, we can’t be sure what either government will decide to do. Given that John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State is also very convinced of Egypt’s importance as a regional ally, I would be very surprised if Egyptian-American relations do not improve as the country carries out parliamentary elections and President al-Sisi embarks on his tasks over the next year.
- Will El-sisi succeed in fighting corruption which is represented in deep state or “Mubarak’s” state?
A. Egypt is no longer “Mubarak’s state.” I do not agree with the theory that the “deep state” lives on its own and has been unaffected by the revolution and subsequent governments. Also, no-one can say at this moment what will or will not be achieved. President al-Sisi’s (and I would appreciate it if you would kindly retain his title when you print my remarks, and not put “al-Sisi” alone) first and most difficult task is actually to restart Egypt’s economic engine. Promoting transparency, or preventing corruption is something that must be put into place in every department of every ministry. As the government is also a very large employer of many poorly paid functionaries, the issue of fighting corruption is also one of making certain that people – public and private employees – can make ends meet.
As for the high-level sort of corruption that you may be suggesting, which is very difficult even for countries like the U.S. to track and regulate, here too, guidelines and better practices must be implemented.
- How do you see the future of El-Nour salafist party in the light of the new constitution which forbids religious parties? And will it continue to support El-Sisi?
The al-Nour party has managed to subvert the intent of not allowing religious parties by promoting religious principles for social life, and declaring that political life will remain guided by a civil state. Its agenda is obviously similar to the da`wah of the Muslim Brotherhood and to convince others to adopt the same principles. But, here again, we see that the religious right in many countries are involved in politics usually supporting those who agree with their principles. I imagine the al-Nour party will continue to support the current government because they have pledged to do so. Many of President al-Sisi’s supporters who want Egypt to abide by its civil tradition are very concerned by the salafis, including al-Nour. Certain issues will probably divide them, once the as yet unelected legislative assembly begins to do its work.
- Do you expect that El-sisi will release the activists detained recently?
A. I do not know. I understand that the judiciary is fiercely pressing for its own independence. But I personally think it would be wise to
a) fine the al-Jazeera journalists for their lack of proper permits — if it was the case that they were in lieu of these, and drop charges of conspiracy
b) to provide amnesties to those protesters who have not engaged in violent actions.
Traditionally Ramadan has been a period when amnesties were offered in other countries, where admittedly, circumstances differed.