In Search of Egypt’s Fifth President: Salim al-Awa

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A man walks in front of campaign election poster for presidential candidate Mohamed Salim Al-Awa in Cairo 29 April 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Abdel Rahman Youssef

Published Friday, May 18, 2012

In the third installment of the series of interviews with Egypt’s presidential candidates, Al-Akhbar sat with conservative Islamist candidate Salim al-Awa.

Abdul Rahman Youssef: How do you explain the fact that no Islamist group has announced its support for you, even though you have been a reference for all of them on many issues?

Salim al-Awa: As I have explained before more than once, the Islamist groups have exercised their freedom in not supporting the best candidate according to how they have defined their political calculations.

ARY: Will you let the members of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) remain in their posts if you win the presidency, particularly those who have exceeded the legal age limit?

SA: This issue is tied to the law of the armed forces and will be resolved according to the established rules of the armed forces.

To be clear, not all have exceeded the legal age limit, but the presence of any member on the council is tied to the importance of what the armed forces gains from him.

In the event that someone exceeds their legal limit, they should be dealt with according to the firm rules of the armed forces.

ARY: What will be the fate of Marshall Tantawi after the end of the transitional period, and likewise, the rest of the members of SCAF?

SA: Every one of them will go into retirement or a job that the state might need, and if any accusation is raised against them, it will be investigated and justice will run its course without exception.

ARY: How do you envision the role of the National Security Council in the forthcoming constitution? What will be its makeup and powers?

SA: It has the most important role in planning the defense of the country and the advancement of the armed forces.

Its membership must include experts in politics, war, and engineering, in addition to members of parliament who can keep state secrets but also be the watchful eye of the parliament over the progress of the military and handling its requirements.

ARY: How would you rate the performance of SCAF as of late, and do you think that it will hand over power as scheduled?

SA: SCAF has done well in matters it has been thanked for and made errors in matters we have pointed out. We have demanded that they correct the errors where it was involved, and we believe that it will hand over power on the announced date.

ARY: Do you support the military budget announcement? Do you support the presence of military economic ventures independent from the government, and why?

SA: Not everything that is known should be said. What does no harm to be announced will be announced, and that which must be kept secret will be kept secret, but remaining within a framework of harmonization between the military and the national security council.

ARY: What is the political system that you prefer? What should be the limits on the powers of the president in the coming constitution in your opinion?

SA: I prefer a presidential-parliamentary system of shared powers. The president should have the powers with which to manage the affairs of the executive authority under active supervision by the parliament in a way that helps and does no harm, that builds and does not destroy, and that pushes forward and does not cause disruptions for any reason related to parliamentary disputes arising from party prejudice.

The powers of the president in the coming constitution must obtain the approval of the majority of the people.

ARY: Do you support working with the provisional constitution or reviving the 1971 constitution?

SA: It does not matter which, because either one will get the country through the transitional period to a constitutionally stable state.

ARY: How do you read the crisis of the constitutional committee, and what do you think is the appropriate period for drafting the constitution?

SA: It is a crisis that has led to the return of the parliamentary majority and its lowering to the level of cooperation with the rest of the popular and political groups, which is a blessing in disguise. It has proven that the parliament, no matter who the majority in it may be, cannot monopolize the future of the nation.

ARY: Do you accept the second article of the constitution with its present wording or do you think it should be amended or have something else added to it?

SA: The current wording is enough for those who know what Islamic law encompasses in terms of guaranteeing the rights of non-Muslims and in fact the rights of humans, animals, and all substances.

However, if our brothers the Copts and the people of other holy doctrines would be more comfortable with adding their rights in matters concerning religious issues, I have no objection to this addition.

ARY: If your people demonstrated against you and you lost the public’s support, how would you handle it? What do you see as the appropriate methods for dealing with strikes, protests, and demonstrations?

SA: First of all, the forthcoming constitution must guarantee freedom of demonstration and protest and places where it is allowed to do so without permission or a permit on the condition that they adhere to non-violence and do not disrupt the interests of others or clog or block up the road.

In fact, there should be punishment to deter destruction or damage of the property of citizens or the state.

Second of all, if the people protest against the president, then he must listen to their demands, and if they are right, they must be granted.

If not, help them see their mistake, and if they do not desist, leave them to the law without any harm, intimidation, or any kind of mistreatment. Treating the people fairly is a binding principle for any president.

ARY: What do you see as the most important characteristics for your vice president and how will you choose him?

SA: He should be qualified, devoted, and known for his honesty in general, so that he will not cheat or be deceptive nor try to benefit financially from his important position.

ARY: How do you see the relationship with Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah?

SA: I think that we must deal with everyone in a way that maintains the interests of Egypt and does not harm anyone else.

It is important to clarify that cooperation does not approach religious issues. Each has his own doctrine, and we should not interfere in the internal affairs of each other’s communities.

ARY: Do support the construction of Hussainias in Egypt or opening the door to Shiism?

SA: This is something clear and we will never allow for it to be transgressed.

ARY: How will you deal with the Camp David accords? Are you in favor of arming the resistance in Palestine?

SA: I adhere to what the Egyptian state has signed on to and I respect it as much as the other party (i.e. Israel) respects and upholds it.

For every transgression by them, there will be an appropriate response from us to let everyone know that [we have the same rights as them].

As for funding the resistance in Palestine, the answer is self-evident, because how can you face an armed enemy when you are unarmed?

ARY: Are you in favor of exporting the revolution to the countries of the Gulf, and do you support the call to arm the rebels in Syria?

SA: I am in favor of upholding what is right and just. Revolutions are not the only way and cannot be produced for export, but always there must be something local produced by the people there who have been denied justice.

The Syrian rebels know better their needs, and they have their own sources of arms, but states must work with each other through admonishment and not through plots or conspiracies.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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