Daily News Egypt interviewed Mahmoud Abaza, the former head of Al-Wafd Party from 2006 until 2010, who is one of the most prominent supporters of the current reform of the party.
In his house in Zamalek, Abaza lay out his analysis of the current political scene, and his vision for the future of politics in Egypt.He also explained his view of what is going in the corridors of the current political scene and his analysis of the economic and social policies five years after the 25 January Revolution.
How do you evaluate the current political scene in Egypt?
The political scene and the Egyptian situation in general have witnessed a violent jolt as a result of overthrowing two regimes through two revolutions. The first regime fell on 25 January 2011 after it lasted for more than 60 years, and the other fell on 30 June 2013, after allegations that it is became an alternative to the former regime.
The lack of growth and development of political life over the past 30 years has led to the political recession and turmoil Egypt is going through at the moment. This was accompanied by the lack of vision and main objectives as the political situation did not have a compass to determine its direction.
When can parties recover and reformulate to fit the current political system?
The old parties are in a state of crisis and new parties are not established yet; therefore, they suffer from a lot of problems. The major problem is the lack of a ruling party, thus there are no opposition parties and there is no division between the majority and opposition. This caused a state of political fluidity.
Did the regime deliberately close the door for parties to practise politics?
I do not believe that the political ruling regime has deliberately closed doors and legitimate channels to parties lately. However, the political momentum that prevailed in the country made everyone so averse to talk politics or be politically active.
What do you think about those who are calling for security at the expense of freedom of expression?
Historically, the periods after revolutions tend to witness a lack of public freedoms to create a balance between stability and freedom. After revolutions, societies believe it is necessary to go back to a system in order to achieve stability and development.
What do you think of the Protest Law?
The Egyptian Protest Law limits the constitutional rights of all people. However, what had happened was an overuse of the right to protest by some citizens, which led to a large segment of the public becoming repulsed by demonstrations and accusations deeming the state as being weak.
Do we have a civilian alternative capable of winning the presidential elections?
I refuse to make a distinction between civilian and military presidents. Winston Churchill had a military background and Mohamed Morsi was a civilian. The true standard lies in the balance of the political system and its adherence to the Constitution, not the background of the president.
The current scene lacks public figures that are able to contest in the presidential elections. Maybe over the upcoming period, individuals who have the support of a wide segment of the public may appear.
Until 2010, the parliamentary, presidential, and local municipalities elections’ results reflected the will of those who implemented it, not that of the voters.
What do you think about reconciling with the Muslim Brotherhood?
Reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood could be summarised in the words of Prophet Muhammad when he brought Islam to Mecca. He said: “Go your way, for you are free.”, after he had destroyed the statue gods and made sure the Ka’ba was rid of them.
What I mean here is that reconciliation is possible, but only after the dismantling of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking apart their political, jihadist, and social arms, and after they completely vanish as an organisation or brotherhood.
The Egyptian state rejects the existence of an internal, parallel organisation that has external financing sources, a secret movement, and political ambitions that defy the modern principles of democracy and freedom, as well as the devolution of power.
If the Muslim Brotherhood would have stayed in power for more than a year, the idea of a modern civil state based on the principle of citizenship would have vanished.
Al-Wafd did not realise that the Muslim Brotherhood would only be its partners in opposition and that as soon as the Brotherhood claims power, it would not look after or consider anyone. The so-called Fairmont agreement is living proof of that, since this is how all secret organisations work.
How would you explain the government’s recent weak performance?
The current Constitution balanced the distribution of power between the president, the government, and the parliament. However, the balance has not been applied in real life yet and is only ink on paper so far.
We are still suffering from the severe concentration of power in the president’s hands which has been going on for decades now, even though the Constitution says otherwise.
What about the government’s economic policies?
The government was mistaken in how it dealt with some economic issues. The way it dealt with the US dollar crisis shows that the government did not benefit from past experiences. This has recently led to great confusion in the local market.
The crisis of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) Law occurred due to its timing, not its content. Price increases, the shortage of the foreign currency, and the current economic suffocation hinder the VAT Law’s application in the current period.
The Civil Service Law as a whole is good. The state’s administrative apparatus needs detailed restructuring and the work in governmental institutions needs to be organised.
What is the government missing that hinders it from performing better?Unfortunately, we are not good at managing crises and the government does not know how to prioritise. I know that the government is supposed to implement the changes it promised, but it should have implemented the VAT Law earlier or delayed it to a later point.
We also do not know how to objectively plan. The economic conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh a year and a half ago did not succeed, and this proves the government’s lack of prioritisation. It should have conducted legislative and administrative reforms first in order to ensure the conference’s success.
What is needed to get out of this crisis?
To solve the current crisis, we need to come up with political solutions, not technical ones. Solutions might be known, but we do not know how to implement them due to the lack of channels for dialogue between the ruler and the people. Solutions are a policy, because policies are capable of organising and setting priorities.
I call for reviewing the current economic legislation, and passing new laws that allow and encourage direct foreign investment, as well as the application of the one-stop shop policy.
How do you evaluate the performance of the parliament?
I do not want to judge it now. But what boggles me is how feasible it is to form coalitions or electoral lists when the members of these coalitions are either at each other’s throat in the parliament or sit far away from each other.
What do you think of the interference of the military in everyday issues that should be addressed by the government?
The reason the Armed Forces Engineering Authority intervened in some construction, economic, and civilian matters is that nature hates emptiness, and so does politics. When institutions are forced to halt or are unwilling to carry out their own work, it is necessary to resort to an institution that is ready to do the job, even if it lacks technical expertise. However, this needs to be temporary, not permanent.
We are going through hard times and we must endure some exceptions, as long as we are aware and realise that the current situation is unsuitable for a foundation that can be built on. Hence, it is necessary to correct the situation first.
What do you think about the continuous issues within Al-Wafd party?
They are suffering from the same confusion witnessed by the political scene in general.
I have three important notes. The first is related to the disastrous financial management of the party—which wasted EGP 90m of the party’s money in the bank, and another EGP 4m annually, which are the revenues of Al-Wafd newspaper. The newspaper registered losses worth EGP 20m.
The second note is my objection to the political direction of the party due to the lack of clarity and stability. The party has witnessed hesitation and troubles during the last period.
How would you evaluate the party’s performance and role in the recent period?
The party lost its political and financial credit after it once was the national independence and freedoms party. The party’s unclear and inaccurate vision and direction, as well as internal disputes and divisions are the reasons behind that.
One of the party’s constant underlying principles Makram Ebeid’s statement: “National unity does not take place in a society that neglects its weakest and poorest segments.”
How does that impact the future of the party?
Many of the party’s pioneers and cadres left it during the past period—the party’s management is responsible for that.
The party lost the opportunity to become the nucleus of a wide civil coalition during the political transition after the 25 January Revolution. On the contrary, it only gained more internal disputes.