In Search of Egypt’s Fifth President: Abul Ezz al-Hariri

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A man walks in front of campaign election posters for presidential candidate Abul Ezz Al-Hariri in Cairo 26 April 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Abdel Rahman Youssef

Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012

As the Egyptian presidential race rolls on, Al-Akhbar interviews eight of the hopeful candidates. First to talk was leftist Abul Ezz al-Hariri.

Abdel Rahman Youssef: Why don’t the leftist groups and their candidates unite in the battle for the presidency?

Abul Ezz al-Hariri: There is no real logic behind such talk, because we are not united and not just one thing. We are not one level, one history, or one set of causes. I present a vision that is liberal, progressive, nationalist, and democratic and a program to achieve it that is different from the others.

ARY: Are you for the peaceful exit of the military council?

AEH: I am for a legal exit no matter whether it is peaceful or not peaceful. Those whose positions have been sound may leave and those whose positions are wrong must pay. The military council’s period of authority is ending, even with regards to the military. It is no longer fit to perform its role because it has greatly exceeded the legally designated period. Marshall Muhammad Tantawi has been the Minister of Defense for 22 years and it is humanly impossible for him to manage an army of this size.

ARY: Do you suggest restructuring the military?

AEH: For sure. It will be restructured when we take the civilian sector off its shoulders, it returns to Sinai in a respectable manner, and the combat doctrine is rearranged once again to define where [the army] should point its guns, and when its prestige has been redeemed, and it is led by well-trained individuals.

ARY: Are you in favor of the military paying taxes on its own civilian economic enterprises?

AEH: Nobody in Egypt has the right to be exempt from paying taxes on economic enterprise, and the military establishment does not have the right to own and operate civilian enterprises. They must gradually be transferred to the public sector of the state, and any civilian business owned by the military must end, because the military is a defensive organization and its job is defense. Any mixing of the two creates huge potential for corruption and controlling the affairs of the country, and this will not do.

ARY: How will that be carried out?

AEH: By gradually putting an end to the militarization of the state. Governors of cities should be elected (not appointed) and [government] jobs should be awarded through competition. We do not want to be ruled by the clerics or the military.

ARY: What is your take on the crisis surrounding the drafting of a new constitution?

AEH: It has several aspects. Groups whose economic and social interests do not coincide with those of the Egyptian people want the constitution to be in their hands, and they are divided into two factions. The first operates in a civil framework, but it is parasitic and monopolistic. The other group is sectarian and religious, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. They want a constitution that sanctifies their position. However, among them there is an amount of dispute surrounding the ideas of using religion and economic interests, and therefore we find a battle over the constitutional committee and its formation. Talking about a new and complete constitution is a way of delaying the crisis. The solution in my opinion is for us to go back to square one on the condition that we begin by establishing a correct constitution.

ARY: What political systems do you support?

AEH: I am for a mixed system like France’s, and Egypt must go through at least twenty years on a mixed system.

ARY: What is your vision for the Egyptian economy? Do you support state intervention in the economy? Do you support the return of the public sector?

AEH: There is no shame in having a public sector. We must take back the public sector companies that were sold—or more precisely—stolen. The economy of the state must be managed on the logic of integration between the public, cooperative, and private sectors. There is no state that does not interfere in the economy in one way or another, because [the state] is not indifferent. Privatization is not predestined, and the private sector cannot promote development on its own.

ARY: Do you accept the principles of Islamic law?

AEH: The principles of Islamic law are the same as all religious laws. They complement the basic human principles that have guided mankind, universal principals like rights, justice, freedom, and equality. All of these of these matters are the same as those found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the problem is a matter of how to apply these principles and by whom they should be applied. Here some movements speak of a desire to add the word “rulings” to the issue. If they mean by this matters of inheritance, marriage and divorce, all that is already respected [by law], as we deal with that according to the Hanafi interpretation, since it is a moderate school of interpretation. Nobody has said anything about the definitive teachings, and nobody wants to change them.

ARY: How do you see Egypt’s relationship with Iran?

AEH: It is an even and equal relationship. Each one similar to the other and each with its own interest. Anything more than this and I would be depriving my country from being in cooperation with a non-hostile people. In the end, Iran is a friend of Egypt and the Muslims, they are not in contradiction with us in terms of religion. They have a shared enemy with us in Zionism, which is a racist cause. Irrespective of my opinion about the current regime [in Iran] right now, [Iran], like China, is expanding economically. If they make good products with the right prices they have the right to come and buy and sell [in Egypt]. However, I refuse for them to interfere in our affairs or force something on us, which has not happened thus far.

ARY: What is Egypt’s role in the Syrian crisis?

AEH: To support the Syrian people. As for the details, they depend on the situation. If our support is for the Syrian people and changing the present structure, it helps them. However, if Syria was exposed to aggression today by Israel or another country, we will be with them in Assad’s presence. The developments in the situation are what imposes a stance. The elections in Syria right now are a lost cause, and what is important is for us to look for a democratic framework.

ARY: Are you for the acknowledgement of Israel and normalizing relations with them?

AEH: No, I am not for making relationships with Israel or for there to be normalized relations between us as if they were any other country. In fact, we should cut off our relations with them.

ARY: How?

AEH: Meaning the absence of commercial interaction dealings with them or diplomatic or cultural envoys. They don’t like us and we don’t like them, and our military must return to our eastern borders in the Sinai.

ARY: What about the Camp David Accords?

AEH: It is an agreement to submission and surrender that violates [Egypt’s] national sovereignty. It should be adjusted for a transitional period until the Arab Spring is completed, its nationalist influences have reflected upon the national situation, and the international position towards human rights has progressed. We begin the countdown to the establishment of Palestine as a secular democratic state where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live together and the Palestinian refugees can return.

ARY: What is your view on the Palestinian issue?

AEH: It is an Egyptian and Arab issue in the national sense for every Arab country. The presence of Israel harms all Arab countries, because [Israel] has exhausted the [Arab] nation and made it weak. The coming generations will no longer be able to accept this situation, and I am with the Palestinian resistance in all forms of support.

ARY: How should the relationship between Egypt and the United States be managed?

AEH: It should be managed on the basis of parity and equality, and that is quite normal. We are not in need of American aid, and American weapons are imposed on us with specific conditions. With every dollar America gives us, it takes two or three.

ARY: How?

AEH: Whether in a direct manner or by taking defensive capabilities providing it strategic advantages in the region. They give us weapons at twice their price and give us aid only to take a large piece of it in feasibility studies, in addition to the fact that we were giving Israel, the strategic ally of America, gas at a price difference that equals seven times the size of the [American] aid.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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