Strong Egypt a 'serious oppositon party,' says founding member

Dina Ezzat , Monday 11 Mar 2013

Prominent member of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh's 'Strong Egypt' party tells Ahram Online that time may be ripe to 'consider possibility of holding early presidential elections'

Strong Egypt Party

Mohamed Osman, a pharmacist by profession, will run in the 'Strong Egypt' party's internal elections this week. The party was born out of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh's presidential campaign after the former Muslim Brotherhood member finished last year's presidential contest in fourth place.

Osman, too, is a former Brotherhood member, who took part in the 25 January 2011 revolution from the outset. Shortly afterward, he cut his ties with the organisation that he joined as a teenager to join Abul-Fotouh's presidential campaign.

By next week, Osman is expected to be a member of the party's parliamentary affairs committee and political bureau. The party elections, Osman told Ahram Online, will be instrumental in determining the party's future plans and political trajectory.

Osman, for his part, shrugs off accusations by Strong Egypt's critics – who have derisively dubbed it the 'Soft Egypt' party – that the party has lacked a decisive position on the ongoing political crisis that began last November with President Mohamed Morsi's controversial decree temporarily overriding Egypt's judiciary.

"On the contrary, we have taken firm positions when it really counted; we stood firm against Morsi's 22 November decree from the beginning; we also declined to offer support to the draft constitution," Osman contends. "We were the only party with a strong Islamist affiliation that demonstrated against the decree and opposed the draft constitution."

Osman also says Abul-Fotouh's appearance at one of the president's recent national dialogue sessions represented an attempt by the party leader to "inject some seriousness into the debate in hopes of finding an exit from a worsening – and bloody – political dilemma."

Osman also argues that the party's relatively flexible position on some issues aimed at easing the ongoing state of unprecedented national polarisation.

"We act upon what we as a party think will best serve the purpose of uniting – rather than dividing – the nation and encouraging the presidency to compromise rather than dig in its heels," he said.

Osman went on to argue that the party's decision to take part in upcoming parliamentary polls had come "within the context of our role as a serious opposition force that would not sit idly by while the ruling [Freedom and Justice] party and its allies took over parliament and then afterward complained about the 'monopolisation' of Egypt's political stage."

"If you're in the opposition, you're expected to act accordingly and not just complain about the regime's actions," he added. "We believe we can offer an alternative; this is the role of any serious opposition – to offer an alternative to the policies to which you take exception and take it to the people and win their support."

Osman went on to stress that Strong Egypt was "not party to" the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) umbrella group, which emerged in the wake of Morsi's 22 November decree. Strong Egypt's distance from the NSF has opened it up to charges by some quarters that the party is a closet Morsi supporter.

"How can someone say that Strong Egypt is a Morsi supporter in disguise when it decides to take part in elections, while refraining from saying the same of the [Salafist] Nour Party, which abruptly went from being a supporter of the president and his party to reaching out to the NSF?" Osman asked.

Osman also emphasised that Strong Egypt had not isolated itself from the rest of Egypt's opposition.

"We coordinate with like-minded opposition parties and groups with whom we share our views," he said. "At times we agree, but we have different bases of support. We act in line with the policies that we share with this support base and with our own reading of the situation."

Osman insists that he remains as close to Egypt's leftist and liberal currents as he was during the 18-day uprising in early 2011. "What brought us together then was our faith in a better future for Egypt," he said. "We still share this faith, but we have different views on how to get there."

When asked if it was still possible to "get there" under the leadership of President Morsi, Osman said: "It's getting more complicated…I think the time is coming to consider the possibility of resorting to early presidential elections."

When asked if Morsi should be held responsible for the violence that has marked recent political confrontations, Osman asserted: "He's the president; he's in charge. Ultimately, political responsibility lies with him."

Osman concluded by stressing that Strong Egypt had "never disassociated ourselves" from its Islamist affiliation.

"We merely said that we offer an Islamist scheme that is inclusive of other views," he said. "But it isn't the Strong Egypt party that will decide the scope of the president's responsibility, but the people. The people will have the final say in the matter." 

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