Egypt's new experiment in democracy remains nebulous; still subject to evaluation by all actors on a fluctuating political stage, with some forces ebbing and others rising. Liberal forces have emerged to confront the rise of the Islamist current since last year's revolution. Upcoming legislative elections may be the first real test of these self-styled 'civil' forces.
There are also economic problems, along with new methods of managing foreign policy and Egyptian national security. In an exclusive interview, Essam El-Erian – presidential adviser and acting chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – gives his perspective on the latest twists and turns in Egypt's topsy-turvy post-revolution political scene.
Ahram Online: Much has been said recently about the upcoming parliamentary polls, with rumours that the FJP will win a majority of seats. Do you feel there are new electoral factors at play that will distinguish the upcoming polls from past elections?
Essam El-Erian:Of course there is change in Egypt, and there is a desire by all political forces to strongly contest all parliamentary seats. There are alliances being created today that will ensure fierce competition for every single seat.
It's illogical, for example, that 20 parties would join an alliance unless they intended to field candidates for every seat, not just a handful. In the end, this means that all political forces will compete with one another, which is a political requirement.
I believe this [talk of electoral alliances] is too hasty by the opposition, and thus we are reacting to it. We did not start this; we saw that all of the opposition – or at least some groups – want to field candidates for 100 per cent of the seats.
AO: Your recent statements that the FJP was likely to remain the majority party have been viewed as political muscle-flexing. Are you concerned at all about the kind of impression you're giving?
EEE:This is not muscle-flexing. If you're the main contender and believe other candidates want to contest 100 per cent of the seats, how can we say we will contest any less than that? That doesn’t make sense.
AO: How do you feel about the National Movement Party (NMP), which is considered the party of former presidential rival Ahmed Shafiq?
EEE:There is no such thing as 'Ahmed Shafiq's party.' Don't be fooled by this term. Today, there is a Constitution Party, which we welcome, and the Misr Party, which we also welcome. We welcome every new party that enriches political life.
AO: Will the previous parliament – suspended by the military – be reinstated? There has been talk that two thirds of the assembly will be restored, while the remaining third will face fresh elections.
EEE:That's up to the courts. It's a matter for the judiciary to decide.
AO: Why is there concern about the decisions of the Constituent Assembly (tasked with drafting a new constitution), especially regarding rights and freedoms?
EEE:The first draft on rights and freedoms was widely published, and it is the best chapter ever on rights and freedoms in any of Egypt’s previous constitutions. In it, we accomplished something that the Arab world, even the entire world in general, has never done.
AO: Why do political forces believe that the constitution will be a Muslim Brotherhood constitution? Why are some nascent parties, such as the Constitution Party, drafting a parallel charter to what they describe as the 'Brotherhood's constitution'?
EEE:There is only one constitution, which is being drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly. Efforts by others are welcome, however, and everyone should submit their proposals to the Constituent Assembly.
AO: There has been some criticism following recent demonstrations against the notorious anti-Islam film, which neither the FJP nor the Brotherhood participated in. There is also concern about a clampdown on future protests.
EEE:We don't participate in particular demonstrations for political or logistical reasons, but this should not be understood to mean that we are opposed to demonstrations in general.
Peaceful demonstrations are a guaranteed right, for which Egyptians paid in blood during the 25 January Revolution, and this can never be compromised. It is a fundamental right, which will be guaranteed in the new constitution.
AO: There is also talk about a new US 'framework' to evaluate Washington's relations with Egypt, especially after the US president described Cairo as 'neither ally nor enemy.' Can you comment?
EEE:After the revolution, everyone realises that Egypt's foreign relations are different from those before the revolution, when a despotic regime was in power monopolising all decisions.
This is no longer the case. Now, the citizenry is watching closely and the elected president must take popular sentiment into consideration, and keep elections in mind. The US president is also doing this; all elected presidents are mindful of the public will.
Secondly, Egypt today must restore balance to its international relations and foreign policies in order to be open to the entire world, and not be exclusively limited to a specific country. Egypt’s foreign relations must serve Egypt's principal interests – not the interests of other parties.
AO: Economy experts have acknowledged the difference between the previous government's position on the World Bank loan and the current government's position. Some believe an interest rate of 1.5 per cent is low, while others don't understand the conditions for securing this loan.
EEE:There are no conditions; the prime minister said as much. The IMF did not place any conditions on Egypt. All that is required is for Egypt to submit a plan on how the loan will be used and rectify the budget deficit, which is an Egyptian demand, not a foreign one.
The budget deficit must be addressed and economic reform must be implemented to deal with the current imbalance.
AO: On foreign policy, it appears that Egypt's contacts with Iran have become closer after President Morsi came to power.
EEE:There is no such thing as closer ties with Iran. There is such a thing as Egyptian foreign policy based on Egypt’s interests.
AO: But don’t you agree that there has been a change in Egyptian policy vis-a-vis Iran?
EEE:Of course it has changed, because Egypt’s interests have dictated as much.
AO: Are there conditions attached to the restoration of relations with Iran?
EEE:I don’t know.
AO: How do you not know when you're the president’s adviser?
EEE:I'm the president’s adviser, but not in an executive capacity. Foreign policy is the president’s responsibility and the responsibility of the foreign ministry.
AO: Haven't Egypt's relations with Palestinian resistance faction Hamas also become warmer since Morsi assumed the presidency?
EEE:The same thing applies here. All foreign policy is in the hands of the president who formulates these policies.
AO: What about the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia? What is the nature of relations there, in light of these new policies?
EEE:The president's first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia to deliver a clear message: Egypt isn't aiming to export its revolution, but the country's political weight, strength and success can be of help to the entire Arab nation.
AO: Has Egypt's recent initiative on Syria brought any new results?
EEE:I believe the Egyptian proposal will now become the key initiative to achieve the necessary breakthrough in the Syrian crisis and halt the bloodshed. But this will require international and Arab support to succeed.