After the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)’s candidate list won the most seats in the Egyptian parliamentary, there’s talk of the party possibly forming a new government, and questions as to whether it would do that alone or in a coalition. There is talk, also, Dr. Khairat Al-Shater, Deputy Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), is the most likely candidate for the Prime Minister post in the next phase. Thus was the beginning of the interview with Al-Shater, which dealt with a lot of Egypt’s internal affairs as well as its relations with the outside world, especially the United States and Israel.
Al-Ahram: In the light of expectations of the FJP forming a coalition government led by the FJP itself, the Egyptian people are wondering as to who will be the MB’s ally? What are the parties that you expect to be closest to you? Will they be different from the ousted Mubarak regime’s allies?
Al-Shater: Interaction, in the next phase, will clarify this. Do not ask me now who will cooperate with us, and who will not. We extend our hand to all. Whoever responds by joining a comprehensive or partial strategic partnership, or by just cooperating with us in any way, I will cooperate with them, and we will try together to make it work, and we will build trust, with time. But, if you’re asking me to divide the world from now, I cannot do that. We reach out to all. We cooperate with Europe, Asia and the United States and other nations.
Al-Ahram: Do you have a particular economic outlook on how to take Egypt forward economically, in the coming period? Do you have a plan with specific elements or points, to rescue the Egyptian economy from its current plight?
Al-Shater: Our specialized experts are ready to deal with this issue. We do have many visions for the economy. But generally we realize that we are facing a very critical, difficult year. After that, there are ideas and plans for the medium and long term.
Al-Ahram: What are the features of those plans and ideas?
Al-Shater: There are many ideas that will be announced in a timely manner.
Al-Ahram: You spoke of a coalition government, when do we expect the launch of this government, especially since there is talk that you are a candidate for Prime Minister of Egypt?
Al-Shater: All this talk is premature. We do not have any candidates as yet. If the government will be formed after June 30, it means we still have a long time. No one knows what will happen before that date. But it is both natural and logical that the majority party, the FJP, will form the government.
Al-Ahram: What about the timing of the formation of the government?
Al-Shater: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), according to the road map, until now, states that the government will be formed after June 30. But the political conditions in the coming period may need to accelerate this step, according to the political repercussions in the next phase.
Al-Ahram: How do you prepare for the timing of taking power with foreign parties?
Al-Shater: As I said, we are extending our hands to all. We are ready and willing to cooperate with all countries. We offer cooperation. Whoever extends a friendly hand, we will reach out to them even more, to work together for the benefit of Egypt.
Al-Ahram: Is the regional situation or role has become clear enough to you now or are there still mysterious issues?
Al-Shater: Both international and regional scenes are clear to us, and so are the positions of various other parties – very clear indeed. But talking is one thing, and action is something else. When we get more into the action, issues begin to emerge even more clearly. Some countries are still wary of us, and we send messages to reassure them, and try to start relations with all parties. We are not at war with anyone. All that concerns us is to build our country, in the next stage, to exit the current bottleneck, and seek to achieve a ‘renaissance’ of Egypt.
Al-Ahram: Are there certain Ministries the party is determined to take?
Al-Shater: This is pretty premature. If the formation of the Ministries will be on June 30, we have time for many interviews. You know that alliances and consensus involve balancing many issues; but the point is to bear responsibility fully, regardless of the details.
Al-Ahram: How do you see the role of Al-Azhar, especially since there are indications that emerged recently, that Al-Azhar Institution is politically active and is beginning to move towards having a political role?
Al-Shater: We believe Al-Azhar has a key role to play; and we are happy for it to take its natural place on the religious level primarily, as a beacon of moderate mainstream Islamic thought. So, a major global role awaits Al-Azhar, both in Egypt and abroad. Indeed, Al-Azhar’s role is required strongly in Africa and Asia as well as former Soviet Union countries. We hope it will focus on its primary role, but by all means it should express its views on political issues, because indeed Islam is religion and state.
Al-Ahram: What is your response to suggestions of putting revolutionary legitimacy above the legitimacy of the parliament?
Al-Shater: I wonder … How long will the revolutionary legitimacy last? The basic foundations of legitimacy will always be of the parliament, of democracy and the people. At first, the people revolt, and then decide to move to permanent legitimacy. This is done through the ballot box. This is the natural, logical progress of things. Revolutionary legitimacy must be completed, in the end, by transforming into institutional legitimacy. It can never remain a revolutionary legitimacy indefinitely. But the Egyptian Revolution is not over yet, not until it has achieved its objectives. Thus, the revolution’s ability to mobilize must continue until the power is fully handed over to the elected civilian authorities. The success of these authorities lies in that they achieve the objectives, dreams and aspirations of the people. The transition from revolutionary legitimacy to parliamentary or popular legitimacy does not mean that the revolution is over. However, the parliament is a major first step on the road to permanent legitimacy. Needless to say, there are still other steps that must be taken. Hence, we are not at the end of the line; the issue will take some time.
Al-Ahram: What about the demands being made for holding presidential elections now, not in the middle of the year?
Al-Shater: We have no problem with this. I think the road map or timetable announced by SCAF is realistic, because it opens up the door for nominations, submission of applications, election campaigns, presentation of candidates’ programs, and then the actual elections, voting etc: the process should take four or five months.
Al-Ahram: Is it true that the U.S. asked you to reconsider your position regarding some of the potential candidates for the presidency, and that you promised to do that, especially with respect to Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh?
Al-Shater: This did not happen at all. All the material published in the media about this is not true. The Americans in their visit to us mainly touched on the issues surrounding the economic situation in Egypt, and how we will deal with it, with a focus on the political scene generally. But there was never any talk about any candidates at all.
Aboul- Fotouh Fortunes
Al-Ahram: The fact – as far as we can see – is that the electoral fortunes of Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh are improving. Let’s talk frankly. Will there be a change in your position, of not endorsing any particular candidate, in the light of facts that may transpire before the presidential elections?
Al-Shater: Well, if people choose Dr. Aboul Fotouh, by all means we will welcome him. We express our position, not that of the whole people. When we say we will not endorse or support any candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood, even former members, we are still steadfast in our position. However, the fact is that the people may well choose this or that candidate. That is entirely up to the people. No-one can impose his will on them.
Al-Ahram: Does this mean that there is no MB veto against any potential candidates?
Al-Shater: What veto? There are ballot boxes. Each citizen casts his or her vote. It is not our right to put a veto on anyone.
Sources of Corruption
Al-Ahram: Are you going to resort to some special control mechanisms of your own to dry up the sources of corruption, especially in the coming months?
Al-Shater: Certain parts of Egypt’s system of corruption control are strong and useful. Those will be activated, because they had been put on hold. We do not need to find new mechanisms, unless old mechanisms prove unsuitable. If this does happen, we will not create new mechanisms especially for the Muslim Brotherhood, but for the state. We are not talking now about the group, the movement or the party. We’re talking about the State. This is a different matter.
Al-Ahram: Will there be a change in the Egyptian foreign policy under a parliament with the FJP holding more than 40% of the seats?
Al-Shater: To start with, we are determined to achieve the greatest possible degree of cooperation in the common interests of different countries, as a general principle. This requires seeking out commonalities, within the framework of which we will cooperate to serve and achieve the common interests of all parties. We know that international relations are not based on wishes and dreams only, but on the reality that exists in one form or another. But perhaps the change will happen with the perception that Egypt has long since lost much of its regional, Arab and international role, as a result of past practices of Mubarak and his dubious affiliations with various parties, and the ‘standards and principles’ he lived by. Thus, our focus will be on restoring to Egypt its influential role, on the regional and international levels.
Al-Ahram: What about relations with Israel, especially since there is talk of changes in the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty?
Al-Shater: We have announced clearly that we as Egyptians will abide by the commitments made by the Egyptian government, regardless of our reservations regarding anything else. There is an obligation attached to all things relating to conventions in general, not only Egypt’s Accords with Israel, including oil and gas agreements and so on. They are all linked to institutions and not individuals. If there are different points of view, there are, inside each Convention or Agreement, mechanisms to modify their terms or duration etc. Hence, if one of the parties has a vision or if any group or party propose any kind of change, we will abide by the institutional rules and mechanism. If there is a commitment to a referendum, that is how it is going to be. If things are subject to a PA decision, the matter will be referred to the Assembly. The issue is not linked to the party in charge at any given stage, but to specific relevant mechanisms.
Al-Ahram: There are fears among many people, especially since the FJP will take over governance while the economic situation is deteriorating drastically in Egypt, which makes Egyptian foreign policy decisions more vulnerable to external pressures and influences. Is it possible that you will give up some of the core principles and constants in order to obtain foreign aid?
Al-Shater: The FJP’s basic leaning is to form a coalition government, because we know that the challenges facing Egypt are too large and complex for any party or faction to face alone. In the coming period, there must be as much integration and cooperation as possible, with alliances and coalitions among the various political stakeholders and actors in the Egyptian arena, in order to overcome the challenges and problems that abound, and to establish a solid renaissance over the medium and long term. Thus, there is no possibility of power monopoly. It simply is no part of our strategy, nor our culture today. But then you want things in black and white, while the situation needs a much deeper careful look. For, whilst Egypt has economic problems, it is blessed with great resources and prodigious potential as yet unexploited.
In fact, there was a kind of extravagance in the management of these resources. Remember: there was a huge system of corruption that prevailed for so long. Now, I am not saying that corruption will be uprooted overnight, because parts of it permeate the country’s culture and education too. The issue will take time, but at least the main instruments of plunder prevailing in society will be destroyed and reformed, including plunder through irregular sale and allocation of agricultural, industrial, tourist lands and private real estate investment property and land. There were vast room for corruption in this area. We expect to eliminate some of the major sources of corruption not related to culture – because reforming the latter needs a somewhat long time – which will contribute to improving the economic situation in Egypt in the coming period. In any case, politics is the "art of the possible" and we will follow the homeland’s interests whichever way they point, unless they conflict with Islamic principles, which sets the general basic rules. We do not mean the minute details. I believe there is sufficient room for easy flexibility, without abandoning the fundamentals and constants of the Egyptian people in general.
*This article was originally published in Arabic at Al-Ahram http://www.ahram.org.eg/Investigations/News/126784.aspx and translated into English by Ikhwanweb.