Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, former presidential candidate and leader of the newly formed Strong Egypt Party, is not somebody who is easily intimidated or co-opted. In his student days, he famously embarrassed President Sadat with confrontational remarks at a public gathering. And his rebellious streak is something he has maintained to this day, despite five years in prison during the Mubarak era.
Born in Al-Malek Al-Saleh, a middle class neighbourhood in south Cairo, Abul-Fotouh graduated with honours from the medical college of Cairo University, and would perhaps have become a professor at the same college had it not been for his political activities.
He is the a member of the Egyptian Doctors' Syndicate and current head of the Arab Doctors' Union, at which he personally supervises relief missions to African and Islamic countries. He writes regularly for the Egyptian and Arab press about current affairs and has compiled these articles in a book entitled Innovators, not Squanderers (Mogaddedoun la Mobaddedoun).
A member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau from 1987 until 2009, Abul-Fotouh says he has no intention of rejoining the group. He says his new party aims to build on the momentum of his recent presidential campaign, during which about thousands of young people worked together to promote him as Egypt's future leader.
There is something in his demeanour that reminds one of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, but he denies any similarity in policies. Egypt, he said, does not have to imitate anyone, for it can do better.
Do you favour a merger or alliance between the Strong Egypt Party and other Islamist currents?
I am not against alliances, but I am against mergers. I wouldn't be happy to see parties such as Al-Wasat, Al-Hadara (Civilisation), and Egyptian Current merging. Not that I am against it, but the country could use a bit of diversity. This was clear during the election campaign. There was a sense of national harmony which we will turn, I hope, into a national alliance with those who are close to us in terms of ideas, visions, policies, and goals. We want to present a new model for pluralism, one that is far from George W. Bush's famous phrase, "If you're not with us, you're against us." Merger is not the only type of unity. Coordination, cooperation, and alliance are other possible ways.
What is your position on the upcoming parliamentary elections? Is it true that you want to rejoin the Muslim Brotherhood?
The parliamentary elections are not our immediate concern. We [Strong Egypt] have a longer-range goal and we want to use our time to forge a successful alliance. I will not rejoin the Brotherhood. We are an evolved element of the Islamist current in Egypt. We have a national project based on several points:
We believe in national unity and in making our own decisions without foreign influence. If this doesn't happen, then the revolution has failed.
We side with social justice and we do not want to see the current consumerist patterns to persist in the economy. In Egypt, 70 per cent of the people are poor. The economic system should move on from consumerism to industrial and agricultural output. All the Islamic and non-Islamic businessmen in this country have been acting as if consumption is our ultimate goal.
We support freedom in the broadest interpretation of the word. It doesn't make sense that God gave man the freedom of faith and then we, the mortals, take it away.
We have to hold on to our religious values, whether Muslim or Christian. Egypt knew religion 7,000 years ago and as a nation has great respect for faith, all of which are things we cannot ignore.
How do you see the shape of the future state and what is your position on the civil nature of the state?
Egypt has always been a constitutional and civil republic, and it will continue to be so. No one wants a religious state. The nation wants a president, not a preacher. It is true that people need preachers. But the role of the president is to run the state. Therefore we have to separate party questions from religious matters. This is my definite position on the issue of the civil nature of the state.
How do you relate to the presidency? Is there a chance you may accept an official function?
There has been no communication between me and President Morsi since the end of the elections. We supported him against Shafiq, for Morsi represented the national line while his rival represented the deposed regime. Our support for Morsi was solely for the country's benefit. There is nothing going on behind the scenes between Morsi and me and he hasn't offered me any position.
Once the constitution is written, do you want the country to hold presidential elections?
If it weren't for the current conditions, I would have said that it would be best to hold presidential elections after the constitution is written. But under the current circumstances, we wish to see the president remain in office and finish his term. This is better for country's future.
How do you evaluate the recent decisions by President Morsi?
The recent decisions were good but insufficient. I wish President Morsi would do more to convince us that he is independent from the Brotherhood and that there is no control or hegemony by the group over the presidency. I am not satisfied so far with his political performance, but then again not enough time has elapsed for a proper assessment. There is an air of ambiguity and the nation has the right to know the reasons why certain political decisions were taken. The president should speak to the nation about everything. It is true that the performance of Morsi shows that he is a public servant working for the people. But he needs to speak to the people as well. Speaking to the people would help them through these difficult times and would bring him support.
What do you think of the IMF loan?
We are going through a delicate economic phase, but borrowing is not the right way to emerge from the bottleneck. It doesn't make sense to continue to follow the same style and policies as the NDP. There are many options for borrowing. We have a project that offers other alternatives, such as restructuring taxes and restructuring subsidies to ensure that they get to the right beneficiaries. We have a comprehensive economic project which could spare us borrowing. So why should we borrow?
Do you intend to run for a president in the future?
When the next presidential elections are held, and if I still think that I am the right man for the job, I will run again.