Security will not endure a president who lacks legitimacy even if he is son of the president
Interviewed by: Nahed Nasr
Will Gamal rule Egypt Mubarak with a US backing?. What is the weight of the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition in the scenarios of the presidential transfer of power?; will Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Copts in Diaspora destroy the US- Egyptian relations?; what are attitudes of both the US Democratic and Republican presidential candidates towards pending files in the Middle East ?; and finally, is the Egyptian society conservative or liberal?
These questions and others were offered to Dr. Amr Hamzawi , a professor of political sciences, a specialist researcher in Middle East and Islamic movements affairs, and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington . He worked as a teacher in the Faculty of Economy and Political Sciences in Cairo University and in Free Berlin university.
How does the current and forthcoming US administrations see Gamal Mubarak?
Hamzawi: Gamal Mubarak is an effective political player and he has coalitions with a clique of businessmen with whom he changed the structure of the Egyptian elite. America wants to maintain a positive relation with the effective players in the political scene. This doesn"t mean that the current or coming US administration prefers implementing the scenario of Tawreeth (hereditary transfer of rule). Egypt is going to face a moment of a transfer of presidential authority, a moment which will be soon. What concerns the United States is maintaining positive relations with Egypt due to its regional importance, and that the coming president maintains Egypt "s stable foreign relations and regional coalitions; i.e. Egypt does not change overnight like what happened in Iran . For this, the United Nations is open in its relations with everyone. Though it is a subpoint, the United States prefers the presidential transfer of power takes place closer to democracy " it wants elections and a constitutional administration not chaos and tanks in streets " .
What is your view to scenarios of the presidential transfer of power in Egypt , regardless of the US calculations?
Hamzawi: I think that we have been suffer from a big and aggravating political retreat since parliamentary elections. We face a pressing social moment and continuously deteriorating social and economic indices despite the improving pace of the Egyptian economic performance and foreign investments. The security services will not disappear until it settles the issue of the presidential transfer of power in Egypt . This is because the Egyptian political elite fears any political openness that may " confuse managing the moment of the presidential transfer of power". There is a deadlock inside the Egyptian political elite because it does not want to throw all its cards in one scenario. If the hereditary transfer of rule scenario is proved to be compromising stability or that it spawns president who lacks legitimacy, other scenarios will be sought. The substitute will be form the military establishment or with a military past like Omar Suleiman or any other figure although Suleima"s old age mayn"t be to his interest. There are also civil substitutes. Constitutionally speaking, the amendments allow the Egyptian political elite to seek an alternative for the scenario of transfer of power if it wants. The current ambiguity is on purpose. The United States realizes that the presidential transfer of power will be a different moment for the Egyptian society and politics because from the first time since 1952 we have more than one scenario for the presidential post.
What are the possible dangers emanating from implementing the scenario of the hereditary transfer of rule?
Hamzawi: This scenario is unpopular. It would have been clearer, had Gamal Mubarak been accepted by wide sections of people. This isn"t due to Gamal Mubarak"s character alone. It is also attributed to his clique of businessmen who- people think- only express themselves. Also, people don"t know what is Gamal Mubarak"s role. Does he play an executive or party role?. There is also a space of doubt inside the military establishment over this scenario. Thus possibilities for his success are limited. Maintaining ambiguity is the optimum solution until it comes.
Where is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood towards the possible scenarios for the transfer of rule in Egypt?
Hamzawi: The presidential transfer of power will be run by players from the ruling elite. The weight and effect of any player outside the ruling elite will be very limited. There is no opposition player-neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor others- that can change dynamisms of the Egyptian society with even a relative weight that may affect Egyptian politics. It will be tailored inside this elite group.
Does this mean that the presidential transfer of power in Egypt will be surprise-free?
Hamzawi: Yes and in a constitutional way as well. Because since 1954 no transfer of power in Egypt has been unconstitutionally held. The only possible surprise may take place if the scenario preferred by the elite- the president"s son- is found out by security services to be a risk because lacking popularity poses risks because it will be the first time for Egypt to have a president whose post is illegitimate.
The pressing social economic situation which you have mentioned makes some think of a moment of burst or a near revolution?
Hamzawi: We are not close to any moment of explosion. The ruling elite tries to contain this pressing situation in files like subsidies and raises. Thus, it is fully aware of the situation and it uses sedatives to ease tensions until the moment of the transfer of rule comes. But the pressing question is: do we expect a political open-up in which the coming president rids us of the security administration in the political scene after 2011. I think that depends on the relative stability of running the presidential transfer of power. If the coming president lacks legitimacy, he will do some political openness to gain more legitimacy because it will take so long time to gain it through social economic situations. If a military leader assumes the post, I do not expect that he will do the same because it will depend on the popularity of military establishment that he is representing.
You play the role of a political analyst for the Muslim Brotherhood in some of your latest writings; do you want the group to have a bigger role in the political scene?
Hamzawi: The Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest social movement in terms of organization and weight and it should never be neglected because it is to our interest that all main powers in civil work merge into political activities. However, the problem is that the group has main problems like not separating functionally between Da’wa (propagation) and politics.
But it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks Sharia (Islamic law) rule, what is the nature of the separation you mean?
Hamzawi: Not every one of the Muslim Brotherhood thinks that way. The Muslim Brotherhood includes several wings: the first problem is that there is the big and powerful conservative wing and a group of moderate liberal-leaning voices like Dr. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and others, which are distinguished but individual voices. This multiplicity of wings was clear in the last elections. The conservative wing is imposing itself and thinks in a more religious and introverted way than the political wing. The lack of balance causes ambiguity in their attitudes. The second problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood could not deal positively with the suspicions of the ruling or opposition elite. It can"t succeed under government pressures and mistrust by the elite. The most important problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood challenges the constitutional framework of Egypt, leading to its failure. There is a constitutional text that bans parties with a religious source of authority. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has done nothing to deal with it to do a gradual reform. It only benefits from its designation as a banned group to gain legitimacy.
You Have a contradictory attitude towards the next US president candidate, but you prefer Obama, and you say again that both candidates are the same. Why is this contradiction?
Hamzawi: The US political circles agree that the democratization agenda preached by Bush failed. Consequently, it can"t be applied. The US image in the Arab world is negative according to polls. The result of the freedom agenda is limited. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt or Jordan turned into democratic states and they are key main allies. Hamas assumed power through elections. This means that Bush"s democracy agenda failed. This is actually jointly embraced by Maccain and Obama.
What are the differences between both candidates as much as the view to the relation with the Middle East is concerned?
Hamzawi: Obama is closer to embracing human rights and democracy issues while Maccin can use the military machine in case diplomacy fails as is the case with Iran . His campaign focuses on big issues in the region. Consequently, freedom and human rights are not on list of priorities. As for Obama"s campaign, it is fully based on multilateral diplomatic instrument, giving due interest in human rights, freedoms and encouraging positive countries to move towards human rights. The relation between Obama and Arab leaders will be gauged according to how far they respect human rights.
Will Obama"s win lead to a deterioration in the US- Arab leaders relations, with respect to the human rights file?
Hamzawi: Not in the short run. In his first term, the administration will be busy in solving big problems like Iraq , Iran and the Palestinian-Israeli peace. There will be no space for an unusual tension between America and its allies in the region. But after the first two years, human rights will hover over the relations and this will be clearly noticed in how far the relations are positive or grey. The United States can establish stable but not close relations, and the human rights issue will be the determiner. Consequently, the crises between the Egyptian and US administration will start after a period of time in which big issues are to be solved.
How do both candidates see the Iraqi file?
Hamzawi: The talk about withdrawal of forces is just election promises. Mccain"s declared attitude does not differ from Bush"s. he sees that there is a moment of military success and Iraq is stable and is better in security and political levels. Thus, there is no reason for a change of US policy until applying security plan is finished and the security file is strongly controlled. Therefore, we can- Mccain says- think of a gradual troop cuts. As for Obam"s declared attitude, he says that troops will be withdrawn in 18 months and Iraqi government will be given the right to endure its security and political responsibilities, so that the United States would have a limited military presence with a bigger Iraqi, regional and international role.
Which attitude is down to earth?
Hamzawi: The situation on the ground is completely different. First, Iraqi government can"t handle the security file, and security will collapse when US forces withdraw. Second, withdrawal can"t be achieved in 18 months because this requires a longer time in preparations. What will happen in the current war against Al-Qaeda Network that has lined up again in Iraq and Afghanistan . Also, America will not let go with the wind what have been invested in Iraq . Obama did not object to the security deal between Bush and Al-Maliki because he is convinced of the current US administration"s stance in administering this file. Fourthly, Iraqi government and various parties in Iraq topped by the Sadr movement and Sunni groups want a scheduled US troop withdrawal. These four elements confirm that Mccain"s attitude in its current form is not good to be applied on the ground because to succeed it must accept a scheduled troop withdrawal. As for Obama"s within-18-months withdrawal, it is only an election promise that can"t be applied. The reality on the ground prevents both Obama and Mccain from honoring their election promises as much as the Iraqi file is concerned.
But there are changes on the ground in the Iraqi scene. For example, Iraqi refugees call for returning home after Al Mahdi Army declared disarming, does not this reflect a stability in security situation?
Hamzawi: Most Iraqi refugees are in Syria , are poor and their life is unbearable. Thus, they want to return home especially with the signs of a security improvement in Iraq , hoping that the security stability may continue. But this is not certain. As for Al Mahdi Army, its is a repeated scenario as they declare disarming and backpedal on this. There is a state of instability in the Iraqi political process which requires rearranging cards to solve it. This because the political process is governed by a few number of parties. There is a state of imbalance in the political scene and maintaining it won"t lead to a solution and will restore the vicious cycle of instability.
Why has the United States failed so far in achieving security and political stability in Iraq?
Hamzawi: Because it committed post-invasion grave mistakes. These mistakes were exploited by Iraqi parties, but it is to the interest of America to achieve political stability in Iraq . Both US presidential candidates agree on this because they want to reduce burdens on US taxpayers.
Obama gained sympathy of the Arab public opinion for some time but his attitude towards Israel came to distort his image?
Hamzawi: Unlike Mccain, Obama visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. What both candidates say about the special relationship between America and Israel and the top priority of the security of Israel is for local consumption. Both campaigns run the foreign policy and they mainly focus on the US Jewish voter who affects election results. Obama"s statements are overblown because the US Jews traditionally vote for the democratic candidate, but there is a fear of Obama among US Jews and he will definitely lose their votes. Through these election overblown statements, he tries to reduce the expected losses. Also there is no effective US Arab presence in the United States and consequently, the cost of these statements is very limited . But the Arab opinion"s optimism towards Obama is true.
What makes us be optimistic?
Hamzawi: If this administration succeeds, it will mainly rely on diplomacy and we will consequently be relieved of the military risks from which we have been suffering since Bush assumed office and which will continue if Mccain assumed office too. Obama is an African American young president who talks a diplomatic rhetoric which contains a big space of humanitarian issues. He believes that other parties should take part in leading the world and he will achieve a qualitative shift in the US policy.
Indications in the US public opinion back which candidate?
Hamzawi: It is difficult to predict who will succeed. It is still a tight race. Obama expresses a hope for change while Mccain expresses a credibility in national security and he has honorable attitudes as a previous member of the military. However, what will determine the US elections is not foreign relations and Iraq file, but the economic policy because the US voters will elect the one who has better solutions for their suffocating economic problems .
Do U.S. Copts have weight and influence in the U.S. decision making process?
Hamzawi: U.S. Copts have organized relations with decision makers and have some kind of but very limited influence. This influence is related to two moments of aggravation. The first is the aggravation of the US Egyptian relations because the decision maker hears all critics. The second moment of aggravation is inside Egypt like what it happened in Abu Fana and Kusheh. However, the Egyptian administration tackles these issues like what did with Saad Eddin Ibrahim: it leaves the main issue and talks only about accusations of betrayal. I have some reservations on some of what the Copts are stirring but I am convinced that there is some kind of suppression in spite of the relative progress. Instead of handling the issue, the regime issues a bad rhetoric, rhetoric of the accusation of treason.
Why do you see has the regime turned again against Saad Eddin Ibrahim?
Hamzawi: Saad said that there is a personal enmity and I see that he is right. Saad does not represent a political or social movement and he has no weight. His relations with the US administration are strong but not to the extent that the US administration reshapes its strategic relations with Egypt due to Saad Eddin Ibrahim. What Saad says domestically and overseas is said and even more inside Egypt .
How do you see the US ambassador"s comment on the ruling?
Hamzawi: The US ambassador can only say this. Her comment may be touching national sovereignty but this is in case the Egyptian justice is independent. While they convict Saad in a fabricated case, others are aquitted. Egyptians know that our judicial system is not fair.
Does this opinion include some of the latest judicial rulings that stirred the public opinion?
Hamzawi: No comment because I did not read texts of the rulings but definitively when the executive authority governs the legislative and judicial authorities, this threatens public security, social peace, state establishments and it is against state sovereignty.
Why does the state launch public campaigns against Hani Sorour and Mamdouh Ismail and then have them finally acquitted?
Hamzawi: Because state-run media can"t ignore issues like that of the Ferry. A very positive change has happened on the level of the press and media. Al-Ahram and Channel 1 can no longer ignore the Egyptian public opinion " the official media can"t cover up the story".
Some accuse private media of propagating for businessmen instead of the ruling circles?
Hamzawi: The businessmen are not one block. The so called alliance between the regime and businessmen should never be generalized. It is to the interest of businessmen to invest in the media. Their success in this investment depends on the credibility that requires boldness, freedom and objectivity .
You are criticizing the current structure of the political circles and call them unpoliticized academics in spite of the big qualitative development in these circles from the past years?
Hamzawi: The Egyptian political circles have been run since 1952 by unprofessional politicians who can be divided into three groups: first: those coming from military establishments, second: the technocrats who implement the orders of the junta and, thrid: the businessmen. Neither the National Democratic party (NDP) nor opposition has any cadre. Consequently, the political life will be run by these groups.
Assess Egypt "s regional role especially in light of what happens on borders with Gaza?
Hamzawi: Egypt "s regional role is generally eroding. As for its role in Palestine , the Egyptian role is beyond the range of eroding. Egypt has neglected the US plan of dividing the Palestinian arena into an enemy and friend and evaluated the issue objectively and realistically. The intelligence service- not diplomacy, did so and America accepted the Egyptian performance there.
But it is still grey on the inter-Palestinian level?
Hamzawi: This is the best solution. Its is tied to the PA authority"s conviction that Hamas is a main player that should never be ignored and that Hamas should adhere rules of the political game, denounce the use of violence and abide by the lull with Israel. What can Egypt do is reaching temporary lulls as long as the horizon of a solution of the Palestinian statehood is still absent.
Away from politics, where is our society going to nowadays according to conservatives and liberals?
Hamzawi: This isn"t our time. Our society is overwhelmed by the irrational religious craze and there are no scholars or clerics who can wisely push for caring for big not trivial issues. At the same time, we are in front of a society whose economic and social disparities are horribly sharp while the government"s role is absent and the current social security networks are bad and alternative networks are of limited efficiency. Putting religious craze with economic and social disparities, where is the space for a liberal thought? It is a very limited margin?. Stop looking at readers comments in websites.
Liberal ideas have no future in Egypt?
Hamzawi: What we can do as journalists, writers and activists is to continue attempting to restore balance for a society that lost its balance for long years. However, seeing reality on the ground I do not see that we can restore this balance in the short run.
His latest published books "Human Rights in the Arab World: Independent Voices" in 2006.