CAIRO: On Oct. 3, 2006 opposition MP Talaat El Sadat appeared on Orbit’s “Al Qahira Al Youm talk show and said that not a single bullet was fired by former president Anwar Sadat’s bodyguards during his assassination to protect him. Less than a month later, El Sadat was imprisoned when a military tribunal found him guilty of defaming Egypt’s armed forces.
After spending close to a year in prison, El Sadat is still forthright about his ideas. He spoke to Daily News Egypt about his time in prison and his newfound support for military rule in the future.
Daily News Egypt: How would you describe your experience in prison?
Talaat El Sadat: It was a very bitter experience, especially when you know that you were the victim of injustice and that you had not committed any crime that would warrant a military tribunal. The fact that the ruling was passed without even listening to the defense and simply throwing someone in military prison made it more painful.
How is it possible for a man of the law to find himself handcuffed, facing a military tribunal for a crime that does not even exist in the military court system? I don’t even belong to the military establishment. I am a civilian and a lawyer. I consider myself a veteran lawyer, eligible for the position of head of the Lawyers’ Syndicate.
It is a very bitter feeling for me, my children, my wife and the people that have elected me. Someone compared the shock of my imprisonment to being in a coma. No one thought I would be jailed so quickly, without getting a chance to defend myself.
How did you spend the 272 days in prison?
Parliament informed me of the issues being debated and I would respond. Among those issues were the constitutional amendments to 34 articles. I sent my point of view to the PA, but, unfortunately, they didn’t publicize them because I disagreed with every single one of them. Much of what I wrote exposed the corruption of the Egyptian regime. I also spent time examining a number of cases for my law firm.
The people who visited me in prison, whether they were Christian or Muslim, helped lighten the burden. It made me happy when a fellow Muslim brought me a copy of the Quran or when a Christian brought me a copy of the Bible. Resorting to God has also lightened my burden.
People from all over the country, including primary school children, visited me.
It was clear that the military authorities who imprisoned me didn’t believe that I had done anything against them. They often assured me they had “nothing to do with this situation and that they were simply following orders.
In PA sessions I often said that in order to have discipline and transparency in Egypt, our military should attain power. That infuriated members of the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, who accused me of wanting to instate military rule.
I responded by saying that this is the only substitute to the unprecedented levels of corruption in Egypt today. The military personnel who imprisoned me were extremely humane, especially because I am the first MP in history to be detained in military a prison.
After your prison experience will you be less outspoken in your criticism of the government?
Their problem with me is that I’m honest. I am not afraid of poverty or death. I am not looking for financial wealth, thank god. They investigated my whole life and found no scandals. I have no desires in this world. What I do is for Egypt’s sake; I have no personal interests to protect. And at this point, I recommend that the military take power.
Wouldn’t a military takeover contradict your stance as a voice for democratization and more liberal policies?
This was in the past. The stage we are at now doesn’t need that. We now need to cut corruption from the roots. Do you think the liberalism I have been calling for has a place in the Egypt we live in today? This does not work with the ruling party’s policy of me, myself and I – my policies, only my men in power, only my interests on the agenda.
The people? No. What are you going to do then? What sort of liberalism can I talk about here?
Would you agree that military rule may place even greater barriers on democracy?
I don’t care. At least I can stop this serial corruption. I can at least retrieve the cash transfers that left the country. I can get back the factories that were sold for peanuts. The people who received commissions from the sale of Egypt’s factories would face judgment. For example, everyone knows the story behind the sale of the Helwan cement factory.
Is it true that you are adopting the case of Egyptian talk show host Hala Sarhan and that you plan to bring up the case in parliament?
Yes, I have already submitted my queries to parliament regarding this case and the prime minister is set to examine it. This is a case of freedom of expression: Sarhan has fled the country because of her opinions. I have an obligation to defend any person who is punished because of their opinion.
Sarhan has come under fire because she allegedly brought female guests on her show who claimed that they were prostitutes, and these guests later claimed that the show was fabricated.
Sarhan hosts a program that has a team of producers and a director behind it. She is only the host. The guests said things that the Ministry of Interior couldn’t handle. The girl said that she was working for an officer from the Interior Ministry’s vice police. The ministry’s people went crazy over Sarhan because of that. I believe what the guest said. I am a lawyer and I know that such cases do occur – drug dealers work as informers for the police and the same goes for prostitutes.
I am not being overbearing on police officers, I am simply telling the truth. What did Hala Sarhan do to us to force her to leave the country? Was she supposed to get the Ministry of Interior’s permission before airing the program? Is this democracy? Is this freedom? Are these the open skies they talk about? This shows that the media is restricted. We are not exactly living in the most vibrant periods of democracy as they claim, maybe the most vibrant periods of dictatorship.
Have you ever considered keeping a lower profile in the coming days to avoid another jail sentence?
My wife, my children and the people who elected me know that I’m speaking my mind. But if you consider telling the truth a fault, then there is no hope for Egypt.