Heikal speaks to Al-Ahram: The full interview

Ahram Online , Saturday 21 May 2011

In an extensive three-part interview with Al-Ahram, Egypt's top political commentator and longtime critic of the Mubarak regime talks about the ousted president, US Mideast policy, the January revolution, and the future of Egypt

You just returned from a quick overseas trip. How does the world view us now? How do they define the Egyptian revolution? What are the positives and negatives?

On 27 April, I was attending a dinner hosted by Lord David Owen, the former British foreign minister, and his wife Lady Debbie in the main dining hall at the House of Lords in Westminster. This coincided with the royal wedding and there were many international figures present on the sidelines of the event. I was bombarded with questions. Everyone was fascinated with the Egyptian revolution; they talked about the landmark of Tahrir Square and the historic atmosphere there. There was great admiration for a people they had lost faith in taking remarkable leaps forward. There was also an inclination to view what took place as part of a general phenomenon, but I disagreed.

There were many questions about the youth, the military council, Field Marshal Tantawi, plans for the future, and I responded at length. For everything I said, however, I made it clear that I am only expressing my personal views as a distant observer.

How did you view what took place in Egypt?

I believe the Egyptian revolution succeeded and the goal is almost accomplished, but we are not at the point of victory yet. We’re at the threshold; we have opened the door to the future, but the question remains: Who has the courage to go through this open door? The greater challenge is to achieve final and absolute victory.

What is needed to achieve victory?

We lack many things. Society has not changed yet. It is true that it removed all the obstacles and opened the door and its youth and millions of others were able to get very close to their goal, but there remains the power of all that was wrong and crooked. This must change on the ground; namely achieving the goals of freedom, democracy, aptitude, fair distribution and the sovereignty of law. This means renewing one’s life in every way to parallel one’s history, epoch and age; to define one’s goals and future; to decide on the necessary tools and marshal moral and monetary power to achieve them.

How do you describe the fall of a regime many believed was terrible?

Simply put, the regime made the common mistake of those who rely on violence. When the police force grows to 1.24 million people who have access to all forms of technology, the result is excessive force that created a great illusion for the former regime about its true influence on the ground. Force is often arrogant and overestimates its influence. Here, I reference Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch to help understand what occurred in Tunisia. The tyrant was feared by everyone, but the people broke the fear barrier. The regime there was like the one in Cairo but on a smaller scale. When the people came forward, the tyrant fell quickly, just like the patriarch in Marquez’s book.

Do you still hold to the opinion that there is a “contagion” in Sharm El-Sheikh, or is the counter-revolution being directed from other locations through other players?

Just by having [Hosni Mubarak] in Sharm El-Sheikh under these circumstances caused much suspicion. Without doubt —and it became evident later —this presence cast a long shadow that reached Cairo. I don’t think Mubarak is the only one responsible for the state affairs; sometimes I feel that the people of the Orient have excelled in producing tyrants. But also I have never known in the history of nations that revolted against their rulers an example where they dealt with the ruler as we have in Egypt with former President Hosni Mubarak.

In history, there are three ways of dealing with a former ruler. In the case of the kings of one of the most prominent European families, after revolution the kings were put on political trial, were all sentenced and their sentence carried out. In some cases there were executions or house arrest. Some countries that chose not to execute or put on trial were satisfied with exile, such as the case of some monarchies in southern Europe like Greece, Italy, Spain in the days of Alfonso XIII, and even Egypt with King Farouk. In Egypt, after the 25 January Revolution, we acted in a way that was unprecedented historically and politically.

How do you view what took place and how can it be explained?

To begin with, the former president went to Sharm El-Sheikh, where he used to live before, at the same location of power, at the same house, on the same site, with the same protocol. When it was revealed that over there the man was moving about, communicating, going out and casting his shadow over what is taking place in Cairo, no one took notice. Then it was reported that the man was travelling back and forth between Tobok and Sharm El-Sheikh; they said he left the country and then they said he didn’t; and the debate was endless as were the trepidations. Finally, it was announced that he was under house arrest.

Suddenly, the man was addressing the nation in his voice and he had not signed an official document denoting his resignation from the presidency. More restrictions were imposed on him; his sons were arrested, his health worsened and he was admitted to hospital where he was interrogated by prosecutors.


Mr Heikal added that the crimes that caused the revolt against the man and his regime are beyond what the general prosecution can investigate. These “political crimes” include the assault on the spirit of the republic, staying in power for 30 years, amending the constitution to allow a succession scenario, expending the country’s resources and wealth as if it were personal property, acute negligence on issues that are imperative —such Nile water and sectarian strife, cooperation with Israel at the expense of the interests of the Egyptian people, ordering the forging of the people’s will in election after election, violating human rights by making Egypt a destination for torture, and conspiring in clandestine operations to achieve illegal political and financial gains that harm Egypt’s reputation, national security and stature.

The people’s charges against Mubarak are numerous, but can he be held accountable before law?

All this is beyond the powers of prosecutors and current law, which was passed or drafted during his term in office and under his authority to implement what he wants. The political charges, not legal ones, must be dealt with politically. I cannot possibly imagine that Mubarak’s trial will be based on whether the price of selling gas to Israel was below world prices or not.

Many people sense the man is being prosecuted for the wrong crimes and the reflex reaction is to treat him harshly and address him with disrespect. Then we are told he fainted during questioning and repeatedly said “God is Great.” At such moments, even I, who monitored and opposed his policies, could not help but sympathise with Mubarak as a human being, a father and a husband. The revolution that ousted Mubarak’s regime was not against the person but against a politician under whose rule all this transpired.

There are three choices: immediate retribution (and I believe it’s too late for that); a public people’s trial, although I feel this is untimely since the country should not be distracted from focusing on the future and this step can be deferred to the next parliament; or conditioned exile.

Why did you choose this time to assert Mubarak’s minor role in the October 1973 War?

Talk about the air strike was exaggerated and intentional fabrication to give a legitimate foundation for an entire regime, built on one incident that was completely taken out of context. This issue must be discussed objectively. I will give you my perspective, not opinion, because I was there as a witness and monitor.

First, the performance of the Egyptian Armed Forces throughout the October War was exemplary, especially in the planning and preparatory phase led by several senior officers. Second, the original plan of operations included an air strike by 12 to 18 jetfighters, simply because the range of the Egyptian jetfighters at the time could not go farther than the Sinai Peninsula. This meant that any air strike against Israel was limited to enemy troops at the Bar Lev Line and the straits behind it.

Third, using nearly 140 jetfighters after 6 October 1973, instead of 12 or 18, was proposed by President Sadat as a psychological effect. The move was heatedly debated by most of the leaders of the October War, including Field Marshal Ahmed Ismail, commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces during the war. Sadat argued that he wanted to restore morale after the 1967 strike by Israel, and wanted the pilots to recover confidence in themselves by starting the war. He also believed that an air offensive at this intense scale would inspire the troops ready to cross to the West Bank of the Suez Canal.

And so Sadat got what he wanted. But something happened later and no one should forget or overlook it, namely that Israel found out about the war more than 36 hours before it started.

Is it true that Israel knew when zero hour was?

Absolutely. It was informed by one of its spies (and I don’t accuse anyone in particular). What actually happened —according to secret documents and investigations by the US, Israel and Europe —is that Israel was informed 36 hours before battle when the 6 October War would start, and that it would be a joint operation simultaneously on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. Also, that it would be at 6pm with the last light of day, and this was correct information until Wednesday, 3 October 1974. But zero hour changed from 6pm to 2pm by agreement between Field Marshal Ismail and Damascus to resolve a dispute between the leaders of both armies about when to launch the attack.

After receiving this information, Israel thought about carrying out a pre-emptive strike but changed its mind because —supported by advice from the US —it believed it could sustain a first attack (by the Egyptians) and then respond. This would be instead of initiating an attack and losing its entire political premise, because the world would view this as a war of aggression following occupation by aggression.

Although Israel decided to let Egypt carry out the first strike, [Tel Aviv] quickly moved to limit its losses through preventive measures, primarily withdrawing its fighter planes based at Al-Maleez Airport, which targeted by Egypt. Also, removing any valuable equipment at Om Khosheib communication centre and sending the armoured unit stationed in the straits behind the Bar Lev Line to defensive positions. Egyptian Special Forces, led by the martyr Ibrahim Rifaie, sabotaged the napalm pipelines that Israel planned to empty in the Suez Canal to turn it into a wall of fire. This was critical in securing the crossing even though Israel knew about the war plan. There was also a highly organised and efficient surprise raid on the barricades of the Bar Lev Line.


How did you interpret the news about Osama Bin Laden’s death? Could this assure Obama’s bid for re-election, or could it be detrimental if Al-Qaeda decides to take revenge?

Osama Bin Laden’s assassination is an important event and deserves closer scrutiny. First, I would like to state that I do not sympathise with the man, reject his ideas on principle, and disagree with his position. But his story is the tragic epitome of a nation that was deceived and diverted from its goal, manipulated in the wars of other parties, and then used to malign its own religion. After that, they were killed in cold blood by those who misled, used and manipulated them.

I was in London and Paris after the assassination, and heard many details that I believe are true, [based on trusted sources]. The US killed a man it knew was about to die from kidney failure … He had one of his kidneys removed in Saudi Arabia back in the years when he was a respected citizen there. Then, in the eyes of the US, Al-Qaeda became the primary suspect behind the 11 September 2001, catastrophe … which was one of the most bizarre terrorist attacks in modern history.

While being pursued in the mountains of Tora Bora, Bin Laden developed kidney failure and army doctors with Pakistan’s intelligence agency (ISI) decided that he needed regular dialysis … So, in 2004, he decided to find a secure location to hide instead of the mountainous bases of Al-Qaeda. And as a result of the war on terror, Al-Qaeda had become more of a fear factor than a genuine threat, while many elements in several countries adopted the infamous name. As the leader of the group was losing his health, Al-Qaeda became the bogeyman in a psychological war where more taped recordings were broadcast on news channels than actual jihadist, suicide or terrorist operations on the ground. Anyone could call themselves whatever they liked.

Bin Laden began looking for refuge in Pakistan and sought far away locations, with the help of Pakistani intelligence, to find treatment facilities for him. A plot of land in Abbottabad near the Pakistani army’s Supreme National Military College was chosen, and was close to the city’s hospital. But the pursuit by the US made the Pakistanis cautious with Bin Laden, although some senior intelligence officers remained loyal to his safety.

The Pakistani military doctor who was treating Bin Laden asked to be relieved of his duties in early 2005, and Bin Laden’s third wife, Najwa, went in search to find a Muslim doctor willing live with Bin Laden and supervise his healthcare. She secretly called a doctor in Lebanon, another in Jordan and yet another in Syria. She was unsuccessful in her search, as her husband’s condition continued to worsen. In 2007, Bin Laden was in critical condition and needed dialysis twice a week, and to remain under medical supervision even if it were rudimentary. A dialysis machine was bought in Karachi and placed next to Bin Laden’s bedroom, and dialysis exhausted him more than other patients because his time in the mountains had weakened him. On the day of dialysis, he would become tired and dizzy the entire day, and stay in bed with his eyes closed and not speak.


Mr Heikal said that since June 2010, the CIA, with the help of Pakistani elements, began surveillance of the house built for the man in 2005. In the summer of 2010, the CIA was able to find an entire floor in a house near the area to watch Bin Laden’s house from a distance. From that moment on, everything that went on inside the house, including dialysis twice a week, was known in detail by US surveillance.

Recent reports about confessions by Bin Laden’s aides detained in Guantanamo, in which they revealed his location, admitting that there is courier who conveys his orders to them and transmits information to him, are highly exaggerated although based in fact.

In the last few weeks, Bin Laden’s condition was quickly worsening and there was a general sense that his days were numbered, and that he was likely to die of his illness within three or four months.

When Washington decided to kill Bin Laden it had other goals and plans, correct?

First, President Obama’s popularity is waning and the election season is almost here. The president wants another term amid fears that the party will nominate someone else for the presidency if Obama’s chances seem slim in November 2012. There were rumours that Hillary Clinton could be a candidate, especially that opinion polls show she is more popular than the president. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is contemplating a new and capable candidate, such as General David Petraeus, commander of the war in Afghanistan, who is popular in political and military circles.

Second, conditions in the US are worsening and an inflated defence budget is the main target for expenditure cuts because of its high toll on the US economy, most prominently the war in Afghanistan costing more than $1 trillion, which must —and quickly —be cut to help the economy. But finding the proper pretext to withdraw partially or entirely from Afghanistan is problematic and requires an intelligent solution ahead of withdrawal in summer.

Third, since Obama has a drive for re-election, demands by the people that must be met, and cuts in war expenses, Bin Laden’s immediate death addresses all these issues. It would raise the president’s popularity —and indeed it did, from 44 per cent to 56 per cent —and gives cover for comprehensive or partial withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Fourth, killing him was necessary before he died of kidney failure and in order to meet all the needed targets.

Do you have more details about the assassination itself?

That night, the man was exhausted with illness and sleeping on his bed. The attack team reached his bedside where he was lying 13 minutes after the first helicopters landed. The man was not alert, and his fourth wife, Amal Al-Sada, from Yemen, was with him. When he came to, in his bed, and finally realised there was commotion around him, he was shot with dumdum bullets, which explode on impact. The man’s head exploded as he was getting out of bed, and before he completely realised what was happening. After that, every document and CD and recording in the house was confiscated, and Bin Laden’s body also taken.

Part 2

There are many concerns and fears in this phase about the future. How do you explain these feelings after a revolution, which by all accounts has been successful, although, you believe has not yet been victorious?

Let me be precise and concise. A distinction must be made between the state and its legal, institutional and administrative entities versus a political regime, which is chosen by the free will of the people to manage civil life according to various phases of development, needs and rotation of power, based on the right to elect.

The state must exist on the map as long as there are people living there. Often, change affects the status or existing order of a state, which has happened repeatedly throughout history, including Egypt’s recent history where between 1952-1954 the country transformed from a monarchy to a republic. The state continued to operate, although the regime had changed.

As for reassurance, stability and a sense of security and tranquillity; these will not be achieved by simply holding elections, unless they have a strong foundation and a constitution is drafted – as we have done many times. What provides people a sense of reassurance, stability, security and tranquillity is clear, exact knowledge of what awaits them: exactly what, when and how, one step after the other.

What’s needed is: First, a state capable of providing the basic daily needs of its citizens in terms of security and food. Second, a state led by an authority that can manage and organise. Third, a transition plan for state institutions, the presidency and national security council (currently represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)), government, larger council of state secretaries and constitution. Fourth, a political life that vibrantly motivates ideas and parties to create a new leadership. Fifth, a constitution written in a free environment by free people. Sixth, elections that resuscitate the political system. Seventh, elections for a presidency that will carry out newly-delineated, legitimate duties.

This would all be implemented according to a plan of action, not just spoken words, but rather in a clear, precise, organised and convincing fashion through a referendum to the people in an interim period where the state carries out its responsibilities. The people will decide on a clear agenda for an interim regime in power for no longer than two years; a bridge into the next phase.

Organising security, demands and interests are at the core of the structure of the state. This must be carried out by a comprehensive, legitimate system, which is based on a permanent constitution and a free political life.

Would you agree that this has already started, to some extent, with the referendum on the constitution roughly three months ago?

I was very surprised by that referendum. We voted on amendments to the ten articles in the constitution, although the amendments had already fallen apart and no longer existed. While the referendum was a remarkable event, that constitution was dropped in its entirety the next day. Then there was the constitutional declaration in an attempt to revamp it, but I do not believe this will achieve stability. This declaration included articles which cannot be implemented, for example, when we say “guaranteeing justice;” how will this be implemented?

I believe it is time that SCAF announces a national agenda. Some might say that they already did, to some extent, when they took power, but this was before matters became clearer and was self-restricted by an unnecessary deadline. Others could also say that SCAF has already issued a constitutional statement with many articles, but that declaration was about legalities, not a plan of action.

Today, we are waiting for parliamentary elections, but I don’t know how they will take place. There will also be presidential elections, but I don’t think they will result in anything new. A question we have not answered is: Why did the people call on the army at this moment? Simply because they realised that the army is the highest power in the country, and instead of being a tool in the hands of the regime it sided with the revolution, which needed to do what needs to be done.

Since matters are not clear-cut we fumble through because there is no organised quasi-institutional plan, but this will not do. There is a vision that the interim period is one of biding time, negotiations, compromises and postponement, but this is incorrect and is, in fact, a problem during a period which requires intense efforts and lengthy consideration to achieve the goals of the revolution.

I am talking about an interim period that should not last longer than two years in order to efficiently establish a political regime capable of running the country, through the direct authority of the people and by the people’s free will. We must remember that democracy is a way of organising life.

Some claim there is a conspiracy, quoting Condoleeza Rice’s former statements about creative chaos and a New Middle East.

I think that is mixing issues and a misinterpretation of what Rice said about creative chaos; we focused on “chaos” and overlooked “creative.” The former secretary of state believes there should be no fear of societies becoming chaotic because the dormant energy within them can create new laws to regulate society once again through fusion, interaction and dialogue. I disagree with her on all this, but what Rice said in itself is not a conspiracy. For example, the Allies had two wars; first under the pretext of democracy and the second claiming world peace. The goals themselves are not a conspiracy, but these goals were always used as a cover up any contradictory action taken. The problem with the Arab mentality is that it is suspicious of everything.
We lived through a period lacking in security after the revolution, with many sectarian incidents and other events. Is there an explanation for that state of chaos?

No. Let’s be clear: The state of revolution is a state of transformation, which can only occur by taking apart the old and rebuilding anew, according to a model which everyone wants. During transformation, societies are naturally in flux and all the parties present – whether well-intentioned or not – are trying to manipulate this state of fluidity to reconstruct as they please. This is when chaos – the condition which accompanies revolution – occurs. This depends on the strength of the revolution, which has the right to hold the reigns and restore order.

There is too much procrastination in confronting internal and external forces, which are trying to shape this volatility to serve their own interests before matters are brought under control and things solidify. I believe one of the top priorities of the revolution is to protect itself by removing chaos from its ranks, and this is the role of the new authority.

Let’s detail the challenges obstructing victory; are these challenges insurmountable or threaten the goals of the revolution?

I cannot deny that I am worried, although I have read extensively about great revolutions, lived through some of them in modern history and was able to follow closely this great revolution in Egypt since the end of January, 2011. I know from history that revolutions are dissimilar and do not repeat themselves. They each have their own character, environment and circumstances. The current Egyptian revolution is also unique.

I also know that the next day after a big revolutionary event concern is expected and rightfully so, because the next morning is loaded; encumbered with burdens and concerns after such a historic event. There are five critical issues that challenge and obstruct the Egyptian revolution from transforming success into victory:

First, this is a revolution that does not have a united leadership. Second, it that does not have a guiding principle, which can be the baseline or a point of consensus. Third, this revolution had no alternative except to entrust the armed forces with establishing legitimacy in order to be able to continue its mission. Four, and most importantly, all the accumulated and suppressed problems were released [at once] after the doors of hope were flung wide open by the revolution.

This revolution took place in an important and influential country with a long history, in a critical geographic location, with a combination of a large population and cultural influence, which makes it of interest to a world, who used to be secure in the rules of engagement with you. Now, the revolution is revising these rules and preparing for a future it desires.

Can we also say that the youth and other sectors in society who revolted do not have the authority and tools to achieve their goals?

You cannot claim that anyone in particular generated the revolution because it is a joint effort; the youth went out as the vanguards and when millions joined them, this opened many doors. When the army refused to side with the old regime and said it stood with the people, it, too, became part of the revolution and, therefore, this distinction between the youth, the masses and the army is incorrect.

Is there a distinction in their ability to take decisions?

The issue here is regulating the relationship between the forces of the revolution. The three partners are unfamiliar with each other; the youth, the millions of people and the army, even if they all come from the same fabric - each has their own logic. Up until this moment this has been the dilemma: there is no format to coordinate expression and action. For example, when the youth took to the streets, attracted the masses behind them, continued their revolutionary state and made a demand to SCAF, it was met the next day. That was necessary then, but now we need a dialogue to regulate the relationship, which should not be limited to one party asking and the other complying. We lack the institutional means that engages and interacts between the three components of the revolution…

The problem is that the three axes are interacting with each other as independent parties; forgetting that the revolution brought them together and that a joint goal united everyone. We need an orderly transition. SCAF says it does not want to stay in power too long. I understand that and we don’t want them to stay long, but as long as they are in charge under these conditions there must be a structure for meetings, consultations, scrutiny, exploration and discussion. It should also allow for debate instead of one side making the demands and the other complying.

An immense and historic responsibility is shouldered by the three parties. The first party, naturally, are the forces of the revolution, including the youth and the masses. This is obvious, but should be viewed from a wider perspective. These blocs of people should send representatives to some kind of temporary, consultative or founding council whose legitimacy is recognised and represents the youth and all popular forces. In this way we can guarantee proper representation of different social forces: perhaps a quarter of members would be youth; another quarter those who helped mobilise the Egyptian streets, such as judges, university professors, politicians from political parties, groups and others; another quarter would be representatives from the echelons of production, such as workers, farmers, administrators and businessmen and the final quarter would be from the ranks of the military, who understand military issues, the requirements of national strategy and have experience in foreign affairs. This is just a suggestion for discussion.

It does not have to be a state and council on the constitution, it could be an all-encompassing national congress, or the like, in order for the formula to stop being one party demanding and another complying or not, where the masses are just spectators who approve or not. We need to organise the transition on a well-defined base.

Who is the second component of the revolution and what is their role?

It is SCAF that was legitimately entrusted with the responsibility to run the country. Although I am certain this council was unprepared for the burdens it was given, I have repeatedly said since 25 January that the Egyptian army is the strongest pillar of Egyptian nationalism. It played a prominent role in modernisation and construction in the country throughout history, and SCAF should be given a chance under these extraordinary circumstances. I believe now they have the chance, and action is necessary.

A distinction must be made between two entities. First, there is the state, the institution that is founded on a social order to safeguard what is shared by everyone, and second, there is a structured political regime chosen by their free will. The state must have an executive structure with a president who has state responsibilities. We are not the first to invent this. In France, for example, there is a distinction between the head of state and head of the republic. It is possible that during the interim period, the head of state could be one person or more, while the head of the republic is another matter.

We must admit that today the state is absent because there is confusion about how to establish permanent, institutional, legitimate leadership - namely the head of the republic - and a transitional phase. No peoples can live without a state. Personally, I would support the appointment of Field Marshal Tantawi as president during this interim phase, in light of circumstances, facts and appreciation of his direct actions during the transition crisis. If a presidential council is preferred I don’t think it would be difficult to find another two members to join him while he stays in charge of the Ministry of Defence and SCAF, which could then become a Supreme Council for National Security.

Alongside the presidency there could be a state and constitution council to prepare for elections, which would propose a new constitution. This would guarantee the integrity and legitimacy of the interim period. We must, without hesitation, separate the omnipresent state [on the one hand] and the members of its political and constitutional structure [on the other].

After World War II France applied this after the state was restored and General Charles De Gaulle became temporarily responsible for the presidency until legislative elections brought in parties and other political forces. I sometimes feel there is unnecessary and excessive sensitivity towards this issue. The people, the armed forces and the entire world are watching: there is nothing to fear. In response, I quote former US President Roosevelt: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

The youth and masses are the first component, the armed forces is the second, and the government is the third. What are your observations about its performance thus far?

I believe the executive power needs immediate support because managing the country is an immense task. There are a number of qualified ministers – whose names I will not mention – but there are others who are not up to par. This is something that should be handled forthrightly; this country right now needs the strongest, most efficient and active ministries more than at any other time.

What is important is a plan of action for the interim phase, step-by-step requirements and precision. This would transform the energy of the revolution into real action, guarantee a safe transition and exude confidence. The society must know what lies ahead without any ambiguity or suspense. At this critical moment, the country is subject to unknowns and surprises, especially since the economic situation is at a critical state, which means that everyone should pause.

A headline in Al-Ahram estimated Egypt’s economic losses in the first month of 2011 at about $70 billion. This is an alarm bell that we cannot ignore. While in Paris, I read a reliable report indicating that if Egypt’s economy continues down this path, the economy this year will suffer a two per cent deficit, which is a huge burden.

How do you expect the situation in Libya to end, especially that people have been killed and blood has been shed on all sides? What are the dangers of division?

I believe the Gaddafi’s regime has lost its legitimacy, but it still controls a capable army that is fighting on its behalf and tribes that remain loyal to it. When this ends we will face a critical dilemma because once Gaddafi loses legitimacy NATO missiles cannot build a new legitimacy. There are foreign forces trying to manipulate and hasten the demand for change, which is harmful to the movement for change.

The Arab League is at fault because instead of assisting the people of Libya we deferred the matter to the [UN] Security Council, which, in turn, handed over responsibility to NATO. Oil resources are always in the background, since they are the prize and target. This has harmed the Libyan revolution, destroying the country and tearing it apart. Unfortunately, this is similar to what we did in Somalia, Iraq and Sudan; I might even add in Syria and Lebanon, as well.

Part 3

Regarding the trials of the symbols of corruption in the former regime, did you expect corruption to have run this depth and broad?

There are three main categories of corruption. First, financial and administrative corruption. Second, strategic and political corruption. And third, corruption pertaining to human rights crimes, such as torture in prison and murder. I don’t believe you should put the future on hold in order to bring the past to account. There must be a separation, and we should create a special legal and political agency to investigate what took place, because this matter must be thoroughly investigated and reach a final, absolute and just result.

Leaving everything to the General Prosecutor’s Office is unfair because they are very busy, especially with security issues. We are asking too much of the general prosecutor and his staff, and unfortunately in Egyptian society there are thousands of spiteful and fabricated complaints, which is a natural phenomenon in a society that has been victimised. Everyone is willing to file a complaint based on truths, psychological reasoning, or imagination. This has happened in other countries too.

We have a problem when dealing with corruption and we need new methods of handle it. The crux of the problem is that the former regime behaved as if it would stay in power forever, because there was no organised force challenging its authority. Accordingly, most of its actions were confident in the belief that it could do anything and everything.

In truth, having Mubarak stay in power for 30 years without any challengers is a force to be reckoned with, which bolstered the regime’s self-confidence and was a temptation to all to serve the regime, its officials and symbols. Those who flocked to the National Democratic Party (NDP) were not interested in party ideology or its platform, but instead wanted to parachute into power.

NDP members used all kinds of methods to protect their privilege, especially clandestine “operations” tasked with confusing party enemies, maligning them and undermining their effectiveness. This included spreading rumours or tales to distract them, using advances in technology, coining phrases and slogans and leaking them to newspapers. Also, creating a new unit for quick intervention in charge of sending letters to newspapers, calling into chat shows, making specific comments on websites, which they called “counter waves”.

A British Labour Party leader was once surprised that the ruling party in Egypt —whose members frequently travel between Cairo and London —did not pay attention to ideas, but rather to the operations unit of the party. “In Egypt, they only care about Peter Mandelson and his friends who come to Cairo often,” the leader said.

All this directed political action in Egypt to a dangerous place. The NDP allocated a special unit of the State Security Agency (SSA) to monitor telephone calls, including those by politicians, political thinkers and activists. All the telephones were tapped on behalf of the NDP, separately from the work of the SSA —albeit using the agency’s facilities. It was not unusual for a leading NDP figure to say that they have documents against anyone who dares challenge the party.

A few days ago I met one of the pillars of the former regime by coincidence, and he expressed his surprise at how quickly the NDP collapsed as soon as the January revolution started. He told me, and I know how influential he was in the old regime: “Ahmed Ezz established an ironclad communication network within the party relying on an electronic network for contact between all the offices, for which he paid LE200 million out of his own pocket. He also established other means for emergency communication, but all of this evaporated the instant the revolution took place.”

All this, and other matters, is a form of political corruption that no one could be held accountable for. It created an alarming level of intertwining, entanglement and chaos in Egyptian political life, making it difficult to pinpoint its effects. There is also a form of moral political corruption that is even more dangerous. How can we hold anyone accountable for that type of corruption of political life in Egypt?
Is this corruption related to what you called ‘the drying up of the political river’?

This kind of political action in the country made dialogue appallingly shallow, which is extremely damaging, even within the opposition. For example, when I talked of “the guardians of state and constitution” for the first time about two years ago, many reactions at the time, and until today, described it as “unconstitutional” and that the constitution contains no such thing. In the past, I would give them an excuse for saying so; I would say, some of us do not know that meeting demands relies on the amount of pressure exerted to make it happen. When push came to shove, that constitution collapsed at the hands of the 25 January Revolution.

Were you worried when one of your sons was mentioned in complaints to the Prosecutor General?

There were two issues at play; rumours and reports that one of my closest relations was involved in the privatisation process, and that he partnered with one of the former president’s sons. First, I want to confirm without hesitation that no one in my family took part in any privatisation deals, and anyone who knows me is aware how much I detest the process, whether in principle or how it was carried out. I am someone who would have preferred that the public sector remain in the hands of the people, and would be accompanied by a private sector that can develop with freedom according to the standard rules of capitalism, based on new and broad development not just the mere transfer of ownership from public to private to be pilfered and not improved.

I am certain that none of my children befriended or partnered with anyone from former president Mubarak’s family, and even if they imagined such a friendship or partnership they would have been turned down because my views are public and well known. Nonetheless, I do wonder, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t have wanted to befriend or partner with the president’s sons? Everyone competed for this position and many sacrificed themselves under the feet of the president’s son, the president, his wife and anyone who is connected to them. But my children did not do that, simply because of my positions and the sensitive nature of what I always talked about, especially the issue of succession. My children chose to stay away and I said that if they tried they would never succeed. In all cases, they kept their dignity and maintained a good distance. I am certain of it.

I would have never discussed this issue if it weren’t for the fact that my name was used in this controversy. I would also like to confirm a few things. First, no one is above the law; no one has immunity preventing their interrogation and accountability if they make a mistake or transgress. Second, no one should overlook the political, historical and human nature of the phase we are in. In light of the fluidity of society right now, understanding is necessary and needed. Third, our public life has seen many historical events that have left their print on action and sentiment.

My final word on this is that no one is above justice and morality.

Do you think the Egyptian press was of the same calibre as the revolution?

My only concern about the Egyptian press until this moment is that historical cognizance has not yet reached some pages and satellite channels that broadcast concepts and values. I hope that mixing up issues stops, because I am worried without being pessimistic. I wish that at this moment all those in charge of the Egyptian press and media would abide by a code of conduct.

There isn’t much news anymore, but there are plenty of scandals; there aren’t many truths but instead tales to stir fear, etc. There are other stories that are too incredible to believe and are ridiculous exaggerations. For example, and I personally read this in documents submitted to official bodies, they tell us that Hosni Mubarak has an account in the Bank of Caledonia worth $820 billion. The wealth of the two richest people in the world, Gates in the US and Carlos in Brazil, amounts to between $50-60 billion, therefore $820 billion is difficult to believe.

Egypt’s national income is $220 billion annually, so it is unreasonable to say that Mubarak kept all of Egypt’s national income for four years and deposited it all in one bank.

Several political and religious movements emerged from the underground after being suppressed or banned by the former regime. What is the effect of their sudden emergence on democracy in Egypt?

I am very concerned because some people view the interim period as a phase of biding one’s time and postponing action at the level of institutions. This is a misunderstanding, because an interim period is not a time for waiting and laxity, it is a defining moment and specific phase. It is true that there are conferences for dialogue, but this should be coordinated with the capable authority of the revolution. Where is this authority? I am concerned because we have succeeded but are not yet victorious.

You harshly criticised the current presidential candidates, saying that Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei do not have the right political history and have no ties to Egypt because they did not always live here. The natural response by millions of Egyptians is, who are the alternatives?

This was a headline that misquoted me and I have reproached them. I did not say that Moussa and ElBaradei don’t understand politics or that they have no ties to Egypt. On the contrary, I know the value and advantages of both men. This is what I said exactly: one of the symptoms of the current crisis is that candidates have come from outside the domestic political arena —those who spent most of their lives abroad because of their diplomatic careers.

As for alternatives, we must ask ourselves: What makes a leader? It’s the interaction of ideas, presence, and competition over visions for the future. This will occur when we realise that the interim period is one of action, political activity, dialogue, presence by all forces and finding a framework for connecting the youth, the masses and the army. Once this happens, hundreds of leaders will appear. Hamdeen Sabahi and Judge Bastaweesi, Abdel-Moneim Abul Futuh, and others, have already become visible, and there will be more. What is important is for interaction and dialogue to continue within society to enable serious male or female candidates who can shoulder the responsibility to become visible.

ElBaradei did not appear on the political scene until one year before the demise of Mubarak; men are made through their interaction with history and their presence at the centre of events and opportunities.

But there were others who were at the centre of events, such as Ayman Nour, Hamdeen Sabahi, Sameh Ashour and others

There is a difference between rising within the ranks of a certain party and structure and climbing up onto a wide, open local, regional and international stage.

In January 2006, five years before the revolution, you talked about Baheyya and her famous blog. Did you ever imagine that the whispers of the youth in the virtual world, which many viewed as nonsense and musings, would become loud cries and a torrent that succeeded in changing reality on the ground?

I reference my interview with Al-Jazeera conducted by Mohamed Korayshan that was broadcast at the end of last year, one month before the revolution. At the end of the interview, I said that I have high aspirations for the youth on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. I was not only trying to spotlight Baheyya, whose identity still remains a mystery to me, but the new and influential virtual world.

Baheyya wrote better than any chief editor in Egypt at the time; she had excellent analysis, especially on the crisis of the judges. My point was to draw attention to other means of expressing opinion. Since then, many bloggers contacted me to tell me that after I talked about Baheyya they too decided to start blogging, and the phenomenon expanded. I am happy with this and I view it as a feature of the future, though it will not replace newspapers.

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