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Al-Masry Al-Youm met with presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who expounded on his criticism of political deals surrounding presidential candidates and his positioning as an Islamist candidate in the map of political support from established parties, particularly Salafi-oriented ones. The paper published its Q&A with the presidential hopeful on Sunday.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: What do you think of news that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood have agreed on Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby as a consensus president?
Hazem Salah Abu Ismail: In this case, he would not be considered a consensus president, but rather a “conspiracy” president who is being marketed to political currents by those in power. This agreement is not the result of popular agreement but rather dictations to political currents.
If Arab countries are actually interfering in the choice of the president, then we are faced with a conspiracy organized by internal and external elements. I am for the idea of having a consensus president, but the conspiracy in question would not constitute a consensus on a president.
There is a difference between a candidate who people agree on after announcing his candidacy and one who gets prepared behind the scenes. We are aware there are foreign pressures on SCAF to hinder the success of a presidential candidate who has an Islamic frame of reference. These pressures were translated in advice to Islamist parties to agree on a non-Islamist candidate for the presidency.
Al-Masry: Does that mean there is a deal between SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis to support a non-Islamist candidate?
Abu Ismail: I wouldn’t call it a deal but some sort of security negotiation. The Freedom and Justice and Nour parties are being subjected to political coercion, but I’m not angry at them despite the mistake they are making by responding to those pressures. There is a difference between acting free of pressure when working to liberate your country and exercising politics within set limits. We used to act within limits under former presidents [Anwar] Sadat and [Hosni] Mubarak.
I would have been happy to get the support of the Nour Party and FJP, though.
Al-Masry: How is your relationship with the Brotherhood at the moment?
Abu Ismail: It is good and was never shaken at any point. We are not communicating now because I don’t want to embarrass them, knowing they are exposed to enormous pressures in their choice of a candidate to support in the election.
Al-Masry: Is it true that your attack on SCAF following the breakout of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes is the reason why Salafi leaders are keeping their distance from you?
Abu Ismail: On the contrary, our relationship is excellent. The 19 November incidents were the only success for the revolution. They caused the handover of power to be put forward from 2013 to 2012. I told SCAF they had only 24 hours to determine a date for the handover of power, and so they did.
My relationship with Islamist groups is excellent and will remain this way. They will not be negatively affected even though I know how much pressure they are exposed to.
Al-Masry: Do you have information that they are exposed to pressures or are those merely personal conclusions on your part?
Abu Ismail: It is obvious, for how would Jama’a al-Islamiya announce that it supports a non-Islamist candidate unless it was being subjected to pressures from the SCAF which, in turn, is exposed to pressures from the West?
In closed rooms, SCAF must have complained about having been oppressed like the Egyptian people over the past decades. It must have said that it wants to leave power and that it is subjected to enormous pressures by the US, and solicited the help of the Brotherhood, Nour and Wafd parties to leave power safely.
Al-Masry: It is said that Salafi leaders will meet over the coming days with presidential candidates to learn about their platforms and then announce their support for one of them. Is this true?
Abu Ismail: Salafis have not decided on this matter. They are meeting together and examining the issue. I am also communicating with them, and we discuss several affairs, but not the presidency. I will not, however, ask them to support me. All talk about their meetings together to discuss which candidate to lend their support to is new to me.
Al-Masry: Will the success of the Brotherhood and Salafis in parliamentary elections improve the chances of Islamist candidates in presidential elections?
Abu Ismail: No. Parliamentary elections were based on platforms, and so the people chose the Islamist wave. But there are fewer candidates for the presidency who receive greater attention from the media, and so personal evaluations will play a major role in the choice.
However, this does not mean that popular inclination to Islamist ideas will not have a great impact on the voters’ choice. But an incompetent Islamist candidate will not be chosen by the people just for being a Muslim, as was the case in the parliamentary elections.
Al-Masry: Are you coordinating action with the other two Islamist presidential candidates, Mohamed Selim al-Awa and Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh?
Abu Ismail: How would I coordinate with my competitors? You must be asking if two of us will give up their candidacies and support the third, which is possible if Islamist bodies intervene for that end.
Al-Masry: Would you give up your candidacy for another presidential hopeful?
Abu Ismail: They are both worth such a move, but I have not considered the idea. It never occurred to me. I reject the idea of deals whereby I would give up my candidacy on the condition that I become the other candidate’s deputy and vice versa. The interest of the candidate should not be at the expense of the country’s.
How can I eliminate a candidate to improve my chances? A person who runs for the presidency should not submit to any pressures and should not give up his freedom. He should not be at the mercy of another, for how is it going to be like if I agreed to be a certain candidate’s deputy only to discover he was not fit for the position?
American President Barack Obama did that. After he won the presidency he appointed Hillary Clinton — who was his competitor — as his secretary of state.
Al-Masry: Should the constitution come first or the elections?
Abu Ismail: First, I would like to say that it is not in the interest of the country to prolong the interim period any further. We should not have fears of the president’s powers because [Field Marshal Hussein] Tantawi already has them. All we have to do is compare between giving an elected president those powers for a month or two until a constitution is written and leaving them in the hands of the SCAF, which has constitutional powers as well as arms.
Al-Masry: Which do you prefer, the presidential system or the parliamentary one?
Abu Ismail: The parliamentary system would be very dangerous to Egypt. Once the government is formed, half of Parliament will be disabled in practice because it will have interest in protecting the government instead of monitoring its performance and holding it accountable for its actions. We are in need of monitoring and accountability. We do not want MPs who will cover up the government’s mistakes. We want a free, strong Parliament.
Al-Masry: What would you do if you were elected president and then the parliamentary system was adopted?
Abu Ismail: If that was the will of the people, then I will not object. But the country needs an elected president immediately.
The armed forces will have already set its budget — which could account for more than half the state budget allocations — and the trial of ex-president Mubarak will have ended if the election is held on 30 June.
Al-Masry: How do you view FJP’s statements about giving SCAF a “safe exit”?
Abu Ismail: This would have been easy before 19 November. I called for a safe exit for SCAF before that date, but the situation has become too complicated after those clashes. The people need to be prepared for it. The mothers of the martyrs should have the say.
Al-Masry: Do you believe SCAF should have privileges in the new constitution?
Abu Ismail: Members of the military institution should be aware that theirs is an entity that serves the people rather than one which enjoys power over them ... in order not to turn back time.
I would rather pull out of the presidential race than agree on something that undermines the dignity of Egyptians.
My relationship with the military institution will be good. I will raise its status by limiting its role to military affairs. The military institution has been exposed to oppression over the past 60 years. Part of my platform is to allow them to give their opinion before any decision that concerns them is taken.
Al-Masry: Are you going to get the signatures of 30 MPs or 30,000 citizens to run in the election?
Abu Ismail: I asked all parties to support me, but I have not asked them directly for signatures. I prefer signatures from the public. Several people have thankfully asked to gather signatures for me. Regarding which MPs would give me their signatures, they do not necessarily have to be from the Nour or FJP. It will come as a surprise to everyone that there are liberal MPs who will give me their signatures.
Al-Masry: You previously said that you are a liberal Muslim. Would you comment on that?
Abu Ismail: I’m a Muslim — enough said. In Islam, you will find all good that liberals, secularists and socialists look for. Furthermore, the defects in each of the three are not found in the teachings of Islam. Liberals call themselves so, but they are not, in fact, liberal. They believe that their liberalism is one that calls for the state of law, a democratic state that has institutions and a constitution. But this is the liberalism in Islam. According to this understanding of liberalism, we are all liberals.
Western liberalism is where people are free of all restrictions, including those of religion and creed.
If a liberal is someone who thinks in a scientific way and considers national and religious dimensions, then I am one.
Al-Masry: What is your position on the trial of Mubarak?
Abu Ismail: I will retry Mubarak because he committed several crimes. He will stand civilian trial for some crimes and revolutionary trial for others. But his trial will be fair in all cases.
Al-Masry: What do you think of US aid to Egypt and campaigns for boycotting it?
Abu Ismail: It was the US that described the money it gives to Egypt as “aid” even though the word is not correct. The US does not give Egypt aid for its benefit. In fact, if Egypt refuses to take that aid, it’s the US that will have problems in the Middle East. The US delivers aid to Egypt to protect the existence of Israel in the region. So let us see if they can cut off the aid!
Al-Masry: Is US aid linked to the Camp David agreements?
Abu Ismail: I can’t say so because so far nobody knows the terms of the Camp David agreements.
Egypt is currently the strongest country in the region, and we don’t want any country to control our decisions, be they political or economic. Anyway, my success in the election will change many things and will determine who the coming US president will be.
Al-Masry: How is that?
Abu Ismail: Israel has a plan in place if an Islamist candidate wins and an alternative one if another takes power. If I become president, Israel will find that Obama should remain, but if another candidate wins, another president will become US president. I reached those conclusions in my past visit to the US.
Al-Masry: It has been said that you will ban beach tourism?
Abu Ismail: On the contrary, I have a detailed feasibility study that can multiply income from tourism eightfold. The platform focuses on developing beach and monument tourism and reviving other forms of tourism such as festival and therapeutic tourism. I also have plans to prevent European countries and the US from controlling the flow of tourists to Egypt, which threatens workers in the field with unemployment.
Al-Masry: Are tourists going to be allowed to drink alcohol?
Abu Ismail: I will not allow them to drink alcohol in public places and those who do will be punished in accordance with the law. State institutions should formulate regulations that make tourists respect society and its traditions, and this is not humiliating to them … Tourists will be allowed to consume alcohol in private places, such as homes, hotels and private beaches.
I will also issue laws to ban wearing swimsuits in public places, and violators will be punished because they will have challenged the society’s traditions, which stem from the Islamic Sharia.
Al-Masry: These statements could make you lose the votes of employees in the field of tourism.
Abu Ismail: On the contrary. I would like to reassure those working in the field of tourism that they should not fear for their incomes. My decisions will not be haphazard or rushed, they will come after careful and deep examination.
Al-Masry: Are you for keeping Article 2 of the constitution as it is?
Abu Ismail: No, because it lacks clarity and should be amended. Followers of other religions should have the full right to be governed by the teachings of their creeds.
Al-Masry: Are you calling for implementing the Islamic Sharia in full?
Abu Ismail: Islamic Sharia is not the product of anyone’s personal thought, and it should be demanded by Christians before Muslims. Islamic Sharia is the concern of the nation, not one candidate or another. Christians, too, ban the consumption of alcohol, adultery and usury. Nobody would say they reject the implementation of Sharia, at least not in public.
Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm