George Ishaq: The revolution continues

Basil El-Dabh
10 Min Read
George Ishaq, one of the founding members of the major oppositional movement Kefaya during the Mubarak regime, joined the council in August 2013. (PHOTO BY HASSAN IBRAHIM)
George Ishaq speaks to the Daily News Egypt. (PHOTO BY HASSAN IBRAHIM)
George Ishaq speaks to the Daily News Egypt. (PHOTO BY HASSAN IBRAHIM)

Protesters as part of the Kefaya Movement, and subsequently in Tahrir Square on 25 January, presented a number of demands pushing for governmental reforms. What is the status of these demands today?

The revolution still continues, because we haven’t achieved anything except for the election of a president and the election of parliament; and the parliament is now dissolved. So our demands are still what they were before. I always say that [the] Kefaya [Movement] still has its demands, which were issued in 2004. Our demand is a new constitution, the cancelling of the emergency law, a new government, and full participation from political groups. None of these have been achieved yet.

If we do not achieve our demands, we will create another Kefaya.

You and other revolutionary groups have continued criticising state security and the Ministry of Interior. What needs to be done to reform these government bodies?

State security is still there. My telephone is under [surveillance] 24 hours a day. When you ask the Minister of the Interior who is [monitoring] our telephones he says he doesn’t know, and we then discover that the office of President [Mohamed] Morsy monitors phones. Essam El-Erian himself said that they record conversations with the general prosecutor. This is nonsense. It’s not fair.

What does the country need to do to address corruption?

Corruption is in the county’s roots now. There are many powerful people who profit from corruption, so they will resist changes to laws…we haven’t seen any new measures with higher penalties [for corruption].

When I was in Kefaya, [fellow member] Abdel Wahab Al-Messiri wrote two volumes detailing corruption, and it was ignored by the government.

Why did you decide to join Al-Dostour Party?

Because the party is centered around the younger generation. This was very important. The members of Al-Dostour Party are part of the younger generation, and the leader of the party represents the younger generation. I’m very proud of them.

Members of Al-Dostour Party and other groups have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of not being cooperative with other factions, especially in the Constituent Assembly. Do you agree?

The Constituent Assembly is illegitimate, because it is not representative of Egypt. What happened in the assembly divided our community between Islamist and non-Islamists, which isn’t fair because the constitution should be for all people, not for only liberals or only Islamists. So we are against what happened and the agendas included [in the draft]. There are many faults in it.

You have repeatedly said that the current draft constitution is oppressive towards women. What women’s rights need to be protected in the constitution?

Equality. We talk about equality. I met [Ennahda leader] Rashid Al-Ghannouchi in Tunis and [we discussed Quranic verses relating to women].

The most important thing that Al-Ghannouchi told me is that equality of women is extremely important in Islam, as is the freedom of belief. He said they were interpreting the Quran in modern terms.

I always tell Muslim politicians to read Al-Ghannouchi’s book about the freedom of Islam. It’s brilliant.

What are the next steps you and Al-Dostour plan to take to campaign against the draft constitution?

First of all, we want to change the constitution. Morsy himself said before the election that he would reform the Constituent Assembly, and he didn’t. We would like to put the vision of all the Egyptian people into the constitution, because no one can write it by themselves. That’s a red line that we don’t accept.

So, we will demonstrate and we will further discuss the issue with the president. All doors are open now, because the constitution is the main issue in our life now. After that, we will think about the [parliamentary] elections. If we obtain less than 250 seats in the parliament, we will lose much hope. So we have to coordinate with all the different elements to promote a unified list of candidates in all 27 governorates. Now we are preparing a list of groups for every governorate. We cannot accept that [civil parties] run strong candidates against each other. If your candidate is supported in his area, we will support you.

Will you run in parliamentary elections again in Port Said?

Yes. I was there during Eid [Al-Adha] and people on the street told me they made a big mistake by not choosing me [in the previous election].

The election was a fraud, or as I call it “soft fraud.” Members of the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] at the polling stations told people before voting to not give their vote to me or any kafir (infidel).

If the current government offered you a post, would you accept it?

No, I’ll always be in the opposition movement. The opposition movement is very important for the government. After the revolution, they offered me minister positions many times and I refused them all, because I want to be free. I want to be the conscience of the people and speak without inhibition.

In the past you have distanced yourself politically from the Church. What is the reason behind this?

I don’t want the Church to be involved in political issues, because it is very dangerous on both sides. If you accept the Church to be involved in politics, then you accept Islam to also be involved.

We suffered from this in the period of Pope Shenouda III. When Sadat said “I am the president of a Muslim country,” this scared Christians and they retreated under the umbrella of the Church, because they felt they could protect themselves under the umbrella of Pope Shenouda. When I was involved in the Kefaya Movement, people couldn’t believe how a Christian could be involved, because all the Christians had disappeared [from political life] after Sadat. On 25 January we broke the instructions of Pope Shenouda, who told us to not protest in Tahrir Square. The demonstrations were first inside the Church, now they’re in Maspero. That’s a very big change.

Do you think the next pope will have the same political role as Pope Shenouda?

He can’t. Pope Shenouda was a very charismatic person. Nobody can do what he did. I advise the next pope to be a spiritual authority. We don’t need his political input as much as we need spiritual guidance from him.

There are a lot of reports that since the revolution, many Egyptians, especially Christians, have emigrated from Egypt.

We have to face what happened in Egypt. After Morsy won the election, many Islamists intimidated women and Christians. [If Christians don’t feel secure], then it’s a disaster, and I always say you have to face the problems of Christians in an organised manner.

For example, in Beni Suef this week, a group of Christians went to another village to pray and were attacked. This is unacceptable and I’m going with a group to Beni Suef this afternoon to resolve the issue.

In your opinion have there been any successes in President Morsy’s term in office?

The security [apparatus] is the same and the economy continues to slide. Even the garbage collection he keeps talking about isn’t happening. The only success he’s had was limiting the powers of the [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces]. He hasn’t done anything else.

Members of your party have also accused the Muslim Brotherhood of taking up practices of the dissolved National Democratic Party. Is this a fair comparison?

Of course. For example, they appointed Hassan Al-Prince deputy governor of Alexandria, even though he isn’t supported there. Now, the people have been demonstrating against him.

They [the MB] are very stubborn and soon they will replace current governors with their own men.

When will you become part of the government, and not the opposition?

When I get the rights of farmers, workers, and all Egyptians and I feel like I am truly living in a democratic nation.

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