One of the most pressing issues today is the security lapse that has gripped the country since the onset of the revolution. If you are elected president how will you tackle this issue?
This is a priority for Egypt and not just for its citizens; it’s vital for investments as well as the return of tourists and revival of the tourism sector. It is one of the most important issues and actually the solution is quite straightforward if the will to restore security exists.
First of all, there must be a complete restructure of the security apparatus just like the way all of the state’s institutions are in need of restructuring. There must be a change in the philosophy and doctrine of the Ministry of Interior whereby their primary goal is the protection of the Egyptian people and not the regime.
We also need to raise the level of competence of the police force. The ministry has a huge budget that is mainly spent on importing tools of oppression and riot control such as tear gas and the like. Alternatively, these funds should be directed to the import of forensic technology for instance. We must equip the police force with the tools that allow it to do its job and not have to resort to methods that infringe on people’s rights and freedoms.
The central security forces that were used to crack down on protesters should be re-utilized in other services for the citizens such as in traffic control or for nightly police shifts whether foot or vehicle patrols. Back in the day, these shifts used to play a vital role in maintaining security within the neighborhoods.
The method by which police officers are recruited and trained must also be re-examined. We have a system where entrants to the Police Academy study law for four years. This is not logical in the sense that there is no reason for a police officer to also hold a bachelor’s in law. Those wishing to study law should go to the designated institution. The academic period should instead be two years for training in addition to some subjects covering criminal investigation law and human rights, for example. Shortening the period will also allow us to increase the number of entrants into the force.
There are also many examples where the leadership in the force are implicated in corruption cases and human rights violations. In many cases, they relied on these illicit practices as a source of income and so it will be very difficult to rehabilitate them. Therefore, the only option is for the ministry to be cleansed from these types of rank so that they do not hinder the restructuring process.
In terms of foreign policy, how do you envision the future of Egypt’s relations with the United States, Israel and African countries?
First of all, when looking at our relations with the United States ,we shouldn’t tie it to our relations with Israel. The US is a superpower — the strongest economy in the world — so we can’t afford not to have ties with it. The US has actually helped Egypt on numerous occasions, and so our relations must be maintained.
The problem in Egyptian foreign policy is the lack of vision when it comes to defining the country’s national interests and security: Where do we agree and disagree with other nations. There is wide room for agreement with the US and very narrow room for disagreement. Furthermore, when there is a disagreement severing ties is not the solution — dialogue is.
At the end of the day, formulating foreign policies is dependent on national interest, and ours are to a great extent aligned with those of the US. We should work to build a cooperative framework whether in economic objectives or regional politics. There are, of course, disagreements with US policies pertaining to Israel which I think can be solved by dialogue.
I believe that the main problem with Israel’s relations with the Arab world and not just with Egypt is that Israel is advocating a land for peace solution. This solution is one where Israel has nothing to offer. We [Arabs] are the ones who will give the land and provide the peace. What will they give in return? Nothing.
The world must realize that the presence of an ideological or religious state in the region will push all the surrounding countries in the same direction in order to protect their identities. We have nothing against the Jews and Judaism as a religion, but we have a problem with the Jewish state and the Zionist ideology that claims that this land is for Jews only.
In my opinion, the solution is for Israel to become a secular state and not a religious one. They should recognize that anyone who is born in their territories is entitled to full citizenship and rights. The entire region must be secular and all citizens should enjoy all rights.
In the past few weeks, tensions between Egypt and Israel have started to rise. Israel’s increasing rhetoric is that Sinai has become lawless and is being used to launch attacks on Israeli lands. They have also issued a warning to all their citizens not to go to Sinai and to evacuate the area immediately if they are already there. Most recently the Egyptian government has cancelled the natural gas export agreement. What do you make of all these developments?
Well, first of all, the Egyptian government was not the one who canceled the gas agreement. This was due to the dispute between two companies who are in charge of the export process. The Israeli partner failed to adhere to its obligations and so the Egyptian partner exercised its right to cancel the agreement as is stipulated in the contract. This is an economic dispute and not a political one.
What Israel is trying to do is to turn these economic issues into political ones. They are trying to portray their mistakes and violations as mere reactions to wrongdoings from our side. They are trying to exert pressure on the Egyptian government in order to derail the transitional process.
I think that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the media have a role in exposing to the public and the international community that Israel’s rhetoric is baseless. The truth of the matter is that there is no aggression from the side of the Egyptian government. We should not leave the international arena for Israel to paint the pictures it wants; we should explain to the world what is really happening and expose Israel’s actions.
Israel does not want Egypt to be ruled by a democratically elected government as this will threaten their interests. They prefer to have an illegitimate regime which will make it easy for them to exploit this regime’s weak foundations for their own benefit. That is why they are supporting any person who will take Egypt back to the corrupt system that existed.
What about our relations with our African neighbors?
Egypt of course had an important and historical role with the African states, and we must work to regain this position with particular emphasis on the Nile Basin countries. This is a priority that is related to Egypt’s water and national security.
Egypt has a lot of experience and off-the-shelf projects that the Nile Basin countries could implement with our help. All the water that exists in the Nile Basin is only 8% of the actual rainfall in the region, and the rest goes to waste. So if we improve the tools by which these waters are collected, then we can easily double the amount of available water.
There must be a regional institution that handles all the aspects of the Nile Basin countries and manages this vital resource for the benefit of all the basin countries equally.
We should also help them with meeting their energy demands. Their need for energy is actually what forces them to build dams and to cut down forests. This has a negative effect on the amounts of rainfall and so we should help develop alternative ways of producing energy.
Mind you, that water will be more valuable than oil in the future and conflicts will arise because of it. So it’s in all of our interest that we cooperate with the Nile Basin countries to hedge these future risks.
How do you envision the future of the military institution in post-Revolution Egypt? Is it possible that the military be subject to civilian oversight in the near future?
The military is part of the state and is not separate from it. Of course they had a special position within the state as they have been the ones ruling Egypt for the past 60 years. They had a political role since the time of Ahmed Orabi so almost 200 years ago.
We must deal with this issue in a logical and politically savvy manner. We cannot rush the transition or jump straight from one type of system to another. There must be a dialogue and a transitional period by which this could be achieved; at the end everyone will be working for the benefit of the country.
Without a doubt, it is in the benefit of Egypt and Egyptians that the military remains strong with their ranks maintained. They also must have some degree of autonomy so as to be isolated from politics. These issues must be put up for dialogue so that we can pin down the articles that not only govern the relationship between the military and the state but also between state institutions of all types.
We have problems pertaining to the relations between the legislative, executive and judicial authorities in general. The separation of authorities is something no one can dispute, but we also cannot have complete separation and have each authority act an island of its own. There must be a degree of cooperation and complementation.
All of these issues must be resolved through dialogue that is in the national interest and the interest of Egyptians. This dialogue produces laws and constitutional articles that are then used to govern the relationship between all state institutions.
Do you think that there is a lack of trust between the Egyptian people and the judicial authority in the same sense that there was a lack of trust between the Egyptian people and the previous regime?
There was a crisis of trust between the people and the previous regime, and this is why the revolution happened to overthrow this regime. The problem, however, is that the regime is still there and so the crisis has not ended. We must work to restructure and cleanse all of the state institutions for this trust to return and to achieve the goals of the revolution.
We all know that corruption existed within the judicial branch during the previous regime, and we have repeatedly called for this branch to be cleansed. There are many loopholes that allow the executive authority to control the judicial authority. This is simply because the law organizing the judicial authority is corrupt and does not provide it with the degree of independence it requires. This must be changed.
We are currently in the midst of drafting a new constitution, but the political majority is trying to dominate the process. How can we guarantee that the Constitution will protect the rights of minorities and be in the interests of all Egyptians?
Under normal circumstances it is only natural to have a political majority and for this majority to form the government. It can also be expected that when people vote for a majority in Parliament, they could very well vote for this same majority in the presidential elections.
We are, however, in extraordinary circumstances and in the midst of a revolution the aim of which was to overthrow a dictatorship and build a democratic state free of corruption. We are in the process of rebuilding state institutions and the beginning of the second republic.
This can only happen through cooperation between all the political forces with no talk of majority or minority. Everyone must take part in drafting a constitution that will build a state and system of governance based on the values and principles of the revolution.
This actually needs a period of at least five years where all political forces are working together. After this period is over, it will be only natural that political forces will differ, and at that time this will not be a problem.
If a single faction tries to dominate the process and overtake all of the state’s institutions, they will without a doubt fail and the power struggle will continue without progress. This is something that the Islamists have actually started to realize.
After initially trying to take over the process thinking that they can go forward on their own, they have now discovered that this simply won’t work. They have started to rethink their strategy and have returned to the discussion table with the different political forces to reach a consensus. I hope that this return is a genuine one.
If the new constitution turns Egypt into a parliamentary system, how will you as a president be able to implement your electoral program?
I will not be able to because I simply won’t have any power to do so. However, I don’t think we will have a parliamentary system; instead it will be a mix between presidential and parliamentary. It could be a presidential system with certain restrictions and monitoring of the president’s executive power — he will be held accountable. Parliament will also have a role where the majority will form the government, and there will be articles that regulate the relationship between all the different authorities.
You are running for office with the support of El-Tagammua Party, which could be considered the biggest organization in the political left. There are, however, several other leftist candidates running for office. Don’t you think that it would have been better for the left to unite under one candidate to better his chances?
This, of course, would have been better because as I said earlier we are in extraordinary circumstances. We are in a period where there must be cooperation and everyone is working toward a vision.
I wish that we could have agreed on a national agenda for the next four or five years, which would have made it easier to agree on a candidate to implement this agenda and lead the nation during this period.
I hoped that this candidate would form a presidential council where each political faction is represented and decisions are taken with a majority vote. This way we would have guaranteed that this president and council work toward achieving and implementing the agenda that is in the national interest.
Unfortunately, we were not able to agree on this agenda, or a candidate or a council. We have to rely on the elected president to undertake this endeavor and hope that he will work for the people.
The most pressing economic issue we’re facing right now is the budget deficit. How do you intend to deal with it if you become president?
Solutions to the budget deficit are well known to everyone, but the main problems that we have in Egypt are with the mismanagement of resources, regulating expenditures and setting priorities. I think that Egypt’s resources are promising and can be developed — there is no problem with this. The economy will be a free market economy, but even capitalism is in crisis now, and there has to be a role for the state without defying the rules of the free market economy. The state has to run some economic tasks within the public sector.
There has to be a real cooperative sector, not run by the state like we used to have before but rather a sector that represents popular participation. The idea of participatory economy is emerging just like participatory democracy, which means a more effective role for citizens in society, in the development process and in managing the economic tasks.
But these are long-term solutions and economists say that covering the deficit is pretty urgent.
True, there is a crisis. However, I still say that there is mismanagement. The government is not trying to cut down on expenses or run the state resources in a more organized and scientific manner, and the priorities need revision. There are many aspects of unjustified expenditure, especially government expenditure. The state administrative body sucks away much of the expenditure whether in salaries or purchase of unnecessary material and equipment.
No effort is exerted to organize the investment process itself. When we get a loan, instead of turning it to investment energy to generate income that helps in settling the loans, we spend it in aspects that have no investment outcome. Borrowing is not meant to pay for the debt but rather to increase the state resources and consequently pay the debt and cover the budget deficit.
Over the last year, a considerable amount of foreign direct investments have fled Egypt. How can we get those investments back?
Investment needs true democracy that’s based on transparency, the freedom of exchanging information, effective monitoring to control corruption, a stable economic system and an independent judiciary so that investors feel secure so that if they are caught in disputes, they can get their due rights from independent judges who settle disputes fairly and rapidly.
Investment needs incentives. Unfortunately, the previous period has been one of turmoil — politics and economy are managed randomly rather than scientifically. The political struggle between different political powers has resulted in fears from investors that a particular [ideology] controls the country. The security vacuum and unrest, all of these are reasons for the fleeing of investments, but I suppose after the presidential elections all these problems will be handled.
Egypt, with its geographic location, human capacities, and resources, should be among the top countries attracting investments. Many investors are ready to come to Egypt because it’s a promising country, but most importantly, we should have political stability, security, an independent judiciary and true democracy in order for investments to return right away.
Some people think that the recent court rulings annulling some privatization deals could repel investors. What do you think?
The [rulings] are a repellent for corruption and should be encouraging to investors, especially since previously when they came to Egypt a big chunk of their capital was wasted on corruption, such as commissions, bribes, money paid for some officials in return for providing protection or facilitating business. Such things used to eat up a great deal from the capital. When we have transparency and binding rules, facilitation of procedure, democracy, supervision and anti-corruption measures, this should give a sense of security to investors, since all their capital will finance projects rather than corruption.
How can we provide the funding for services and infrastructure projects that respond to the urgent needs of people?
As I said before, when we are fighting corruption and managing resources well, we can do everything. Egypt is not void of resources and the world is ready to help, but money used to feed corruption. Supposedly when the president comes to office and the revolution reaches its objectives, such matters will be dealt with. Egypt has many wasted resources, for instance, billions spent on very high salaries for consultants who don’t perform any tasks; they’re people who have connections but no qualifications or experience, and get salaries as high as LE 1 million per month. If we save this money, we’re talking about billions, and this can help with the infrastructure etc. In the past, Egypt got huge funds and loans for upgrading the infrastructure yet those were wasted either in the pockets of corrupt personnel or neglected, and consequently the loans were canceled for not being utilized.
One of the problems for poorer people in Egypt is housing. What do you intend to do with the problems of unauthorized neighborhoods and providing housing for the poor?
We need to get out of the narrow valley in which we live. We need to build new urban communities all over Egypt, for if we redistribute the population over the total area of the country, we won’t have such problems as overcrowding. If we redistribute the population over the area and build new urban communities, the pattern of building will eventually change. New communities outside of the valley, with agricultural projects and highways, will help solve the problem of random housing.
The Sinai peninsula, for instance, is a vast land with an area that is bigger than entire countries yet not utilized at all. When it is developed, Sinai can absorb much of the population density, especially from unauthorized neighborhoods. The same applies to the Western Desert and lands on the border with Libya, south of the valley and south of the High Dam. Nubians who hope to go back to their land must be empowered and enabled to go back, own projects and land.
This should be done through a plan to handle unauthorized housing. Issues are connected; we can’t work on each issue independently; random housing can’t be dealt with notwithstanding the nature of the economic activity in the county because people create such places and live around the cities to be close to the work opportunities. Hence, by creating work opportunities elsewhere, we won’t need to oblige them to move out of their place, they will move according to their free will. The state should empower citizens to take the right decisions.
What about the privatization program? Where would you like to take it?
People knew that the privatization program was associated with corruption; the problem was not with privatization per se. Enterprises that were privatized, were sold at a much lower price than their real value, and we don’t know where the revenue went, but certainly some went in the pockets of corrupt people of the old regime.
There are two reports —one from the Minister of Industry and Trade and the other from the Minister of Finance — that contradict one another when it comes to the revenue of privatization. The former says that the revenue was LE 14 billion while the later says that the ministry received only LE 2 billion. So LE 12 billion are unaccounted for: We don’t know where they went and there is no data in any files.
This was the problem, not privatization. I’m not against selling the enterprises nor against the public sector. Things need to be dealt with objectively and when there is a reason good enough for selling or if it is in the best interest of the economy and society, we can sell. There must be guarantees that corruption is controlled, and the result of the deals are in the best interest of the Egyptian citizen.
What national projects do you propose to carry out to boost the economy?
I’m much concerned about the border zones. The old regime used to deal with those areas whether Sinai, south of the High Dam or the Western Desert with much skepticism about people’s allegiance and nationalism, hence these residents were given no chances to create projects, nor were they enabled to have real stable societies. The state used to deploy army or police forces to protect the borders.
I believe that this was wrong. Those regions should become stable urban communities, and people should own land and projects. This will help solve many problems in Egypt, especially that such regions have great investment potentials.
A place like the Western Desert, for instance, all along the North Coast and 50 kilometers into the desert, is unused arable land. If the local Bedouins are allowed to own land and establish agricultural communities in this area, this will solve our grain shortages and will create work opportunities and eventually help redistribute the population.
In Sinai, there are great mineral resources that can be utilized, enabling people of these areas to run their projects. They have comprehensive, applicable projects to establish new urban communities, industrial and agricultural and to develop fisheries. South of the Nile Valley is very fertile land and has great potential for tourism and agriculture, yet is all wasted. If the Nubians were enabled to go back to their old land and own it — which has been their main demand for the last 40 years — they can establish great projects. And I know they have [...] great ideas.
Only by changing our perception of how to protect the borders will we be able to build very big projects. Over and above, we will be giving the people self-confidence once more and boosting their sense of belonging. When they have property in their place of origin, we can’t treat them as potential spies.
Many economists believe that Egypt is not getting its fair share of tourism given its resources and qualifications. How can we boost tourism?
We have to double the number of tourist establishments and the number of rooms in Egypt. We have to upgrade the skills of people dealing with tourists; the performance of graduates of tourism and hotels schools have to be developed and better qualified. Egyptian citizens have to know how to deal with tourists. Unfortunately no attention was paid to all those aspects.
The government should deal with the Egyptian monuments and tourist sites with more respect and appreciation. Europeans create tourist sites around very insignificant monuments yet can attract tourists and promote numerous products. We have the biggest museum in the world, we have an enormous legacy of monuments, we also have long beaches. We have great resources that unfortunately were never properly utilized. All of this needs development and treatment; tourism has to be managed in a scientific way. et