In Search of Egypt’s Fifth President: Khaled Ali

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Men walk past campaign posters of presidential candidate and lawyer and rights activist Khaled Ali in Cairo 7 May 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Bisan Kassab

Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

Al-Akhbar continues to to publish interviews conducted with Egypt’s top presidential candidates leading up to the May 23 vote.

Bisan Kassab:The future of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) members after the transitional period ends is on the minds of many Egyptians, given that some political forces have tried to propagate the idea of granting them a “safe exit” in return for handing power over. What do you plan to do if you become president?

Khaled Ali: I will form a judicial committee under the leadership of the head of the Supreme Judicial Council to investigate all the crimes that were committed during the transitional period. This committee will have the right to interrogate both civilians and members of the military.

In any case, I will form a new cabinet and the head of SCAF, Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, will be one of the ministers removed from office.

BK: Why do you avoid describing your program as socialist? Are you afraid of the word’s negative reputation?

KA: I’ve always tried to avoid the word to simplify matters. The public at large always demands things like free health care, state intervention in the economy and restoring the public sector without classifying these demands under the rubric of socialism. So I wanted to do the same and fulfill these demands without using the word.

BK: Don’t you think that the word socialism sometimes has a negative impact and that avoiding it is politically advantageous?

KA: I am a leftist and I say so proudly. That is how I identify myself all the time. I don’t run from the label.

I admit however that the left in general has been affected by an incessant hostile religious propaganda and accusations of irreligiosity which often associate leftists with heresy in a highly religious society.

BK: As a leftist, one would have thought that you would favor a parliamentary system in the new constitution, in line with your Marxist background. But you said otherwise. Why is that?

KA: Yes, I said I support a mixed semi-presidential system in which the president has the right to appoint the prime minister, otherwise what is the point of all this effort in creating my electoral agenda.

A parliamentary system will not allow me to implement any of the items on my agenda since the arbiter would be the parliamentary majority. This majority, of course, has a completely different direction as the Islamists control both houses of parliament.

Perhaps Egypt needs a parliamentary system but not now.

BK: I think you agree that your program is barely “half-socialist.” What is the difference between you and Gamal Abdel Nasser? You know that he was reconciled with what he called “national capitalism,” at least theoretically.

KA: The difference is the times, the political climate and the international environment. Under Nasser, Egypt faced international conflicts and wars.

That is one of the factors that doomed democracy and that, naturally, is what I will try to address. Human rights, the elements of a civil state and the rights of women and Copts all occupy a prominent position in my electoral program.

BK: You speak diplomatically about the Nasserist period, perhaps because you have succeeded in attracting some Nasserists?

KA: Many Nasserists have openly joined my campaign while others told me they support me but can’t publicize their support to avoid political embarrassment.

BK: Why don’t you concede your candidacy to Hamdeen Sabahi as demanded by many of his supporters who warned against splitting a certain voting bloc between the two of you as it will contribute to the victory of candidates who hold opposing views, especially that there is a clear convergence between your programs?

KA: I took the initiative to try and unite the campaigns of a number of candidates who support the revolution in favor of one candidate while the rest withdraw their candidacies to him in return for agreeing to a united electoral program.

The initiative included Hamdeen Sabahi, Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Hisham el-Bastawisi, Abul Ezz al-Hariri, Ayman Nour (whose presidential bid was later disqualified by the Supreme Electoral Commission based on a court conviction issued against him before the revolution) and myself.

April 26 was set as a deadline for finalizing the agreement. I was fully prepared to withdraw but it did not happen.

Now, the situation is different of course and withdrawing is out of the question even from a purely legal point of view. Politically, my candidacy at this point is not solely in my hands. Volunteers in my campaign have spent time and effort throughout this period for the sake of this candidacy.

BK: It appears that you are counting on the votes of workers after the left let you down.

KA: The left did not let me down if what you mean is that leftist political forces did not lend me their support. The problem is that the situation is confusing and complicated.

For example, some leftist groups decided to boycott the elections under the principle of no elections under military rule. Personally, I think they are right but my candidacy is also the right position to take, a position that represents a kind of “resistance,” so to speak, because the electoral campaign itself contributes to raising awareness about social demands and economic rights.

Joining the presidential race has meant that some candidates have raised the ceiling of social promises in their electoral programs.

As for the left, I stress that it did not let me down as illustrated by the fact that members of the the parliamentary body of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party released powers of attorney on my behalf to enable me to run in the election even though the official position of the party was to nominate one of its members, Abul Ezz al-Hariri. But they wanted to support my democratic right to run.

Still, may be all of us, including myself, are responsible for the lack of coordination among us.

BK: In any case, you are counting solely on the votes of workers as a voting bloc. But don’t you think that, like other poor people, they have become a fertile ground for Salafist ideas as the state’s social role declined in the past decades and Salafis attempted to fill this void through their charitable projects?

KA: I am not just counting on workers but on segments of the middle class as well who received severe blows under Hosni Mubarak.

As far as workers are concerned, the only thing I can do is address myself to them and hope that they will vote for a different discourse this time around.

I think I would have swept all my opponents if I were half as lucky as any of them in funding my electoral campaign. For example, my campaign could not provide more than 200,000 advertising banners all over Egypt. That is of course a very small number. The average number of banners in parliamentary campaigns is a million.

Despite that, I was able in less than a month to gather 21,000 signatures even though I was late in declaring my candidacy. Other candidates who had announced their intention to run a year earlier failed to get the powers of attorney and had to buy them by exploiting people’s poverty.

BK: Do you expect fraud then?

KA: Of course, I expect all kinds of fraud, both indirectly like using religious propaganda and buying votes and directly like forging the election results under the auspices of the Supreme Electoral Commission in its current state, as article 28 of the Constitutional Proclamation grants it immunity against any challenge to its decisions. These conditions make fraud likely despite the judicial oversight of the elections.


The Israel Question

One of the issues absent from Khaled Ali’s program is his view of the Camp David Accords. Ali said however that it is no longer acceptable to keep parts of the Sinai demilitarized after all this time has passed since the last war with Israel. He also stressed the need to open up the subject of the Egyptian prisoners of war from the 1967 June War (Six Day War) that were killed by Israel.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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