Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh can be said to be the most serious opposition in town. He is about the only prominent political figure that was against the two regimes ousted by popular protest in Egypt, those of Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, as well as the increasingly inevitable future regime of army head Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Abul-Fotouh, a former presidential runner who left the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011 and who is head of the Strong Egypt Party, argues that the problem with two past regimes, and the next one, is more or less the same: compromising democracy, albeit at different levels, to serve political hegemony that is based on the "impossible eradication of the other."
On 25 January 2011, Abul-Fotouh, with long decades of political activism behind him and heavy Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya affiliations, was in the forefront of the masses that went out against — and eventually toppled — Mubarak.
Less than two years later, he lobbied for "conditional" support for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate who was filed to block Abul-Fotouh’s presidential chances, against Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
In a few months, he was calling for early presidential elections to end Morsi’s rule after one year of his four-year term.
Abul-Fotouh supported the 30 June 2013 anti-Morsi nationwide demonstrations, but immediately challenged the announcement of a political roadmap on 3 July without the public having had say on the matter. “I had suggested a referendum on the roadmap, so that we would not be going astray from the vote of the people who had brought Morsi to office in the first place.” This did not happen. Rather, the roadmap was "imposed" by the authorities that executed the ouster of Morsi.
Today, Abul-Fotouh is set to decline a proposal tabled by his supporters, who are not at all confined to the membership of the Islamist-oriented Strong Egypt Party, for him to contest El-Sisi, who increasingly seems set to ascend to the top executive job with the announced support of the military institution along with old and new liberal parties.
“I am not set to take part of any political cosmetics here. The decision would be announced through the secretariat of the party. But this is where I stand,” Abul-Fotouh told Ahram Online.
Cautious on El-Sisi
Neither is the leader of the Strong Egypt Party inclined to jump the gun in accusing El-Sisi of political opportunism, voiced by others, designed to reverse the limited democratic gains of the January 25 Revolution. In his words, he does not directly associate the head of the military with the security crackdown bordering on political persecution that members of his party were recently subject to when they tried to lobby for a "no" vote in January's referendum on the revised constitution.
What Abul-Fotouh is focused on is rather the current political fix of the clearly uncontested candidacy of the head of the army who had removed an unpopular, but elected, president and whose nomination was advanced by a televised statement of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces against the backdrop of leaks suggesting that “there is a trend within the national military institution that wants to steer clear from political engagement.”
The involvement of the military (or rather re-involvement, given that it was the military who ruled the country for around 18 months after Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February 2011) would not just bring back unfortunate memories of the mistakes of the post-Mubarak transition, but could actually lead to new mistakes that would risk the image of this “national military institution which is the most crucial body in the state today.”
The engagement of the military in politics is something that Abul-Fotouh has long opposed. Upon the toppling of Mubarak, Abul-Fotouh was at the forefront of calling for civil engagement in state management, and he underlined the need for a limited transition “of six months as was originally prescribed” that should have led to a presidential race with no candidates from the military.
Later, during the hype of anti-Morsi opposition, Abul-Fotouh declined to join the National Salvation Front (NSF) that assembled almost all the Morsi opposition, on the basis that the NSF tolerated — and in some quarters solicited — the intervention of the armed forces to have Morsi removed.
“The people are perfectly capable of imposing their will; this they did during the January 25 revolution, after 18 days of fully peaceful demonstrations and despite the attacks … and they could have done it again with the 30 June demonstrations,” Abul-Fotouh argued.
He added that while it could have taken more time with Morsi than it had done with Mubarak, and while it might even have not managed to pull enough strength before the end of the Morsi four-year term, yet public pressure was perfectly capable of at least forcing a change of the Morsi style of rule pending “a new appointment at the ballot box” at the end of his term. “And at that point I could safely say that the Muslim Brotherhood would not have gained more than 10 per cent of the vote … and we would have safeguarded the democratic path.”
In a forward-looking approach, it is firmly at the doorstep of the army that Abul-Fotouh puts responsibility for averting what he sees as a looming political crisis that may manifest itself on the road to the next presidential inauguration. He says there is no 2014 race to claim, and that this year’s experience would be in sharp contrast to that of 2012.
“Then it was true race, which was inevitably spoiled by the intervention of political money” that redirected the chances of key contenders — Amr Moussa and Abul-Fotouh, who ultimately came fifth and fourth though they topped almost every single independent poll — and thus allowed for a state of polarisation between the offshoot of the Mubarak regime that supported Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical Islamists that supported Morsi.
“Today, the army has to openly commit that it would have no candidate and that it would not at all intervene in the political process,” Abul-Fotouh suggested.
According to Abul-Fotouh those who eagerly call for El-Sisi "to rule" are thinking that Egypt is a country that could be only ruled by "the baton." This is a way of thinking that he immediately dismisses as both unrealistic and previously tried and failed.
Egyptians are opposed to oppression: this is why they took ot to the streets on 25 January 2011, reminds Abul-Fotouh. “They were actually protesting the apparatus of oppression that was executed by the police that confined itself to serve the purposes of the regime in political confrontation with its opposition,” he said.
He adds that the tactics of oppression were not very effective for the survival of the Mubarak regime, which fell at the hands of the people when they united.
Unfortunately, Abul-Fotouh argues, the fall of Mubarak “was not the fall of the regime but rather a process of decapitation. The regime survived to contain the revolution” and is now trying to reintroduce the "state of fear" instead of the democratic state that the January 25 revolution demanded.
Presidential team proposal
“We could build a democracy. We would inevitably have hiccups on the road but there is no reason why we cannot build a democracy. There will be a cost, but we could make it,” Abul-Fotouh insists.
How to go to democracy from where the nation stands today?
Abul-Fotouh answers: “Let us think of possible alternatives to the scenario of El-Sisi’s rule. I had suggested the option of composing a presidential team (that I am not keen to take part in, although I am willing to help away from any official capacity) that could rule under the leadership of a neutral political figure … He would offer himself with his team to gain public consent through the ballot box and to run the state for the next four years, pending the evolution of a political atmosphere conducive to later presidential elections,” he said.
Abul-Fotouh would not exclude the participation of El-Sisi in this presidential team, by virtue of his post as minister of defence.
According to Abul-Fotouh, there could be no neutral head of the presidential team from among the figures of the NSF — not just because they were the direct opposition to ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, but also because the NSF has been directly involved in summoning the military from their “crucial responsibility for security in the country and of its borders into the political scene.” Some NSF figures, he also suggested, were willing to use the army to eradicate the Islamist political opposition.
Political solution needed
The full eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood is not a realistic goal to start with, argues Abul-Fotouh. “This is something that the state bodies know full well … The actual members of the Muslim Brotherhood are around a million people and if you add to each a family of four people or so, and a few sympathisers who are not organisational members, then we could end up with some 10 million people … To those we have to add other sympathising groups, including Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya,” he said.
Acknowledging the mistakes committed by the Muslim Brotherhood since the beginning of the January 25 revolution, “that they hesitated to join first and then joined with full force,” through Morsi’s ill-fortuned presidency, and admitting the crucial structural issues with the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abul-Fotouh is convinced still that there has to be “a political solution” to the current national political polarisation.
“This would inevitably include concessions, righting wrongs, reparations for those who have been killed — actually starting 25 January, given this whole long suspended file of transitional justice,” Abul-Fotouh stated.
He added: “We really need to move on; we need to attend to issues related to production and state-building. We have a country full of potential, and we could actually make it ... I have no doubt in my mind.”
Abul-Fotouh laments the great moment of opportunity that was missed after the fall of the Mubarak and the setback that changed the overall mood from one of pride and motivation to one of considerable scepticism. He, however, is convinced that the tide of frustration is bound to reverse, “sooner or later, with the will of the people.”