The Egyptian parliament resumed its role at the beginning of 2016, following a four-year absence. MP Mohamed Anwar Sadat, a party leader and longtime participant in the public sphere, spoke to Daily News Egypt a few days ahead of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s statement, upon which the parliament will decide whether to renew confidence in the current cabinet or dissolve it, within 30 days of Ismail’s speech.
“Ismail gave a typical protocol statement, but by default the cabinet’s presented programme brings new changes based on new articles that were introduced in the 2014 constitution,” Sadat commented over the phone on Monday following the speech.
The parliamentary member is part of a special internal committee formed by the parliament, tasked with dissecting the programme’s chapters, to be later distributed among other internal committees for examination.
In the interview, Sadat provided his impressions of the parliament, which he views as being at an early stage, having not yet been put to the test in terms of performing its legislative role, as well as holding the government accountable. “The [parliament’s] monitoring role is major. People feel no one from the government or its institutions is ever being held accountable for any mistakes,” he states.
The leader of the Reform and Development Party himself criticised the functioning political parties. He explained his vision for unity between different independent and non-independent groups to achieve goals that he views as common between President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the government and the parliament, consisting mainly of developing a civil democratic modern state.
As for the parliament, Sadat is going to run for the presidency of the parliament’s internal Human Rights Committee. Sadat told Daily News Egypt that he is betting on the role of women and youth inside the parliament.
Going back to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime, how did you view Egypt then, and how do you view the Brotherhood currently and the potential for reconciliation?
The Brotherhood’s time in power was a harsh experience for Egyptians, I believe. Nobody denies that they were brought to power by free and transparent elections, but I wish they also had left power in such a democratic manner when people started calling for that.
Unfortunately, they did not listen and persisted in opposing all state institutions, whether the judiciary, police, army and even political parties and forces. As a result, it was natural for people to get angry with them, and call for army intervention to put end to a situation that would have developed into very serious conflicts.
The Brotherhood terribly mismanaged this country and squandered the golden opportunity they had when they obtained the majority in the parliament as well as the presidency.
Meanwhile, Egyptians are not open to the idea of approving the Brotherhood’s return [to the political scene] or allowing it to perform any of their activities, whether under the umbrella of a political party, or a group, given the ongoing violence and terrorists attacks that occur on an almost daily basis.
The Brotherhood is in a position that prevents it from engaging in any dialogue at the moment. They are witnessing huge internal disparities between the old and new generation.
However, one day there must be reconciliation and re-integration of the Brotherhood, based on their respect of the legitimacy of the regime in place and the constitution, as well as the rejection of violence. [This includes] not only the Brotherhood but all political Islamic groups, including Salafists, who despite being legitimately involved in the political sphere are facing hesitance [by the media, public and other political factions].
What do you think of pro-Brotherhood campaigning on the international level?
The Brotherhood is very successful in lobbying internationally and stirring compassion. They have capable professional public speakers. They are able to voice themselves and create an external lobby in Europe and the US, promoting themselves as victims of a military coup.
On the other hand, Egypt’s government, people and parliament are not doing such a great job. We are unable to explain the challenges and exceptional circumstances that we are facing.
What is the impact of these lobbies on Egypt?
Not substantial. They are not capable of launching large-scale plots right now, but the threat is that the sort of campaigning they do [abroad] distorts the regime’s image, which will be reflected in mutual cooperation programmes between Egypt and the foreign community in terms of their assistance to Egypt’s government and people. Still, their impact is minor in the face of the interests that govern relations between Egypt and its global partners, who view the country as being in the process of stabilising.
What is your evaluation of Al-Sisi’s political performance?
I support him as president, and I am convinced by his national efforts internally and externally. However, I want more openness to political forces, and the possibility of listening to different opinions, even those who contradict him, as long as they are made out of respect for the state’s highest interests.
For instance, with regards to the large-scale national projects adopted by Al-Sisi and the government: why not listen to the voices that are saying that the country’s financial resources are being drained by projects and that the priority should go to smaller-scale projects that could achieve quicker gains for the people.
Some supporters of the president discredit and distrust the people of differing opinions, and that is against the benefit of us all. We all have the same goals and their success is ours.
This is a recurrent demand. Do you believe the parliament will help?
I hope so, but until now the parliament has not really begun participating in the management of state affairs. It will have a more engaging role after the formation of its internal specialised committees.
How do you view political groups that are not inside the parliament, such as the opposition or other independent initiatives?
I do not mind the presence of ‘civil alternatives’, such as the one presented by Hamdeen Sabbahi, supported by political parties and some activists, as long as it does not impose itself and respects the legitimacy of this regime and its constitution. Nonetheless, I do not think a majority of people are excited about such initiatives, also due to the fact that many still view political parties and some of these figures as untrustworthy or hopeless.
As for the example of Amr Moussa’s initiative aimed at protecting the constitution, I think it stems from the fact that members of the 50-member committee that drafted the constitution feared the claims made by some public figures calling for the amendment some of its articles. Thus, they want to guarantee the implementation [of the constitution].
However, this must not bypass the parliament’s authority, whose main role is to supervise the implementation of the constitution.
Even though those politicians have completed their tasks and are not currently directly involved in the political scene, we should not be on the defensive regarding their motives, and must instead work with them through dialogue and workshops, instead of adopting an attitude that has been widespread over the past couple of years, consisting of exchanging accusations and discrediting any civil initiative.
What is the current status of Egypt’s political parties and why have they been largely defunct?
There are several problems. Parties lack institutionality, funding, and qualified members.
Many are falling apart due to lack of consistency over clear ideology. Moreover, over the past few years following the 2011 revolution, political participation depressed amid a confusing scene.
Meanwhile, political parties are unable to fund themselves, except those backed by businessmen.
I would not necessarily place all the blame on the state—although the state was to blame under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Maybe some parties need to merge together.
Were you invited to be part of the parliamentary coalition named ‘Egypt’s Support’, previously known as ‘For the Love of Egypt’ coalition during the elections?
No, I was not; I simply have friendly relations with some members of the coalition. I work better independently, away from being directed by or committed to a group.
Does this mean ‘Egypt’s Support’ directs its members?
The coalition was based on the idea of voicing the ruling regime[’s wishes], but it needs to understand that the majority of the parliament does not oppose the government.
Nonetheless, the parliament needs a majority as it would be more effective for its work, and since no party is capable of forming a majority, the coalition was born, and this is permitted in the constitution.
It is not wrong, it just needs to be done properly to ensure the harmonisation of different members. Sometimes, we object to the way they manage the parliament or the behaviours of some members.
How do you view the administration of Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal, who is a member of this coalition?
He is making a lot of effort, and the experience is new to him. By his own admission, he is an “academic not a politician”. I cannot make a judgment yet.
When the parliament begins discussing the cabinet’s programme and state budget, we will really start to understand the size of the coalition’s influence in relation to other coalitions in the parliament, and the extent of the speaker’s objectivity.
At the beginning of your work as MPs, you formed temporary specialised committees to review laws. There was doubt as to how the selection of the members occurred–for example, the head of the Human Rights Committee was an MP publicly known to be hostile to such issues and the 25 January Revolution.
Well, the selection was not random; it was based on personal choice. The MP you mention is in fact running for the presidency of that committee. He registered and he is running against me for the presidency of the committee.
A few weeks ago, you published an article condemning the state crackdown on NGOs. Can you comment on this?
I am the head of an NGO [El Sadat Association for Social Development & Welfare] myself and an elected member of the board of directors at the general union for civil society organisations, so I have 14 years of experience, which tells me that NGO work is extremely important to the socio-economic development of the society, especially in areas where the government is falling short.
Wanting to regulate their work according to the law and ensure transparency in their funding should not translate into fighting, defaming and intimidating them—as is the current situation.
Political and civic education are needed, NGOs have a role in raising awareness. According to international protocols that Egypt has ratified and the constitution, they must at the very least be protected and encouraged.
Are there any legal articles stipulating the prohibition of human rights’ criticism of the performance of the state’s security entities?
No. NGOs are allowed to document abuses with evidence and demand investigations and accountability. It is not them who should stop, but the actual perpetrators of such acts. If the Interior Ministry is responsible for human rights violations such as torture, unlawful detention and enforced disappearance, they have to be stopped and NGOs must keep revealing [the facts].
What is your opinion regarding the latest European Parliament resolution that was critical of Egypt’s human rights, highlighting the circumstances around Giulio Regeni’s murder?
I think the case [of Giulio Regeni] raises many questions. I do not know why Egypt keeps spreading strange rumours about him and the case since it began, but we need more transparency. I was also sorry to see some of the local outraged reactions, which failed to take note of why the case was of international importance—and not interference in our internal affairs.
Egypt is bound by international protocols and agreements and the whole world has interests and people in this country. We have to face our problems and fix our mistakes, and we have to guarantee human dignity. This is what we should consider when looking at our future development, investments and lives.