By Shaimaa Badawy and Kareem Salaha
Less than a month before President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi completes a year in office, leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) and prominent politician Mohamed Abul-Ghar said that president succeeded in forming distinct foreign relations for the country, and denied the viability of judging the performance of Al-Sisi at the moment, as his term did not complete one year.
Abul-Ghar, previously a prominent academic rights defender and opposition figure in the Hosni Mubarak era, denied the existence of any problems between the government and political partiesconcerning the parliamentary election laws. He pointed out that parties and political forces want a fair and democratic election law for the parliament to be representative of a larger spectrum of people.
The elections were scheduled to take place in March, but the electoral districts law was ruled unconstitutional. Al-Sisi has announced parliamentary elections will be held in the upcoming period, but not during Ramadan, which will start in mid-June.
The main issue from the government’s view was the flawed law distributing individual parliamentary seats over electoral districts. The number of elected individual seats in the initial law issued by the president was 420, out of the total 567 seats.
Political parties saw further problems, which would lead, in their opinion, to an unbalanced and unrepresentative parliament. They argued that this would give less space for political entities in the political process, to the advantage of more powerful and wealthier candidates, mainly politicians from the Mubarak regime.
Abul-Ghar anticipated that the former members of the dissolved National Democratic Party would acquire the largest number of seats in the next parliament as a result of the existing election system, which “opens the door to Mubarak’s men to return to the political arena”.
Abul-Ghar further tackled the issue of the popularly deposed Muslim Brotherhood, saying that “only the people can decide whether to reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood”, pointing out that the people revolted on 30 June and demanded the Brotherhood’s removal from power.
“So, in order for reconciliation to take place, there must be a memorandum of understanding between the Brotherhood and the people by a public referendum,” he explained.
Abul-Ghar also anticipated the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood from the next parliament as a result of their current absence from the current political arena and theirnon-recognition of the legitimacy of the existing system. He expected the Salafis’ participation to be only at 10% of seats.
The politician noted that political funding will control in the next elections, and while all countries in the world follow this system,it is nonetheless governed by rules and laws, such as the budget of each candidate. He added that candidates in Egypt use political funds without laws or restrictions, and he expects further exploitation of religious slogans in the upcoming elections.
He pointed out that the ESDP currently numbers 14,000 members, explaining that party financing usually comes from outsider’s donations, and not from membership fees; which do not exceed EGP 10.
“The party received large amounts of money in the form of donations at the time of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, from businessmen and entities opposing the policies of the Brotherhood,” he stated.
Abul-Ghar emphasised that the government should stayaway from the parties and let them work freely without any restrictions so as to revive political life and impose real democracy. He stressed that the businessmen will form pressure groups in the next parliament, and opposed the idea that businessmen should get leadership positions while simultaneously managing their own projects and investments.
He further noted that the lack of transparency led to msny problems in the state’s economic policy, in addition to the lack of clear feasibility studies for economic projects in the country, such as the Toshka, Suez Canal and the new capital projects.
As for how successful the government is in achieving economic development in Sinai, Abul-Ghar said that since Mubarak took office and until now, there has been no real economic development in the peninsula. He nonetheless asserted that it is not fair to hold Al-Sisi responsible yet, as development in such areas requires many years and occurs through different phases.
He added that exempting Morsi or Mubarak is not the parties’ business, but a matter of the judiciary.
Abul-Ghar asserted that the parties’ position towards murder of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh was clear, as a message was sent to the presidency demanding investigation of the incident, noting that the presidency responded and suspended the interior minister.
He pointed out that he has had strong ties with Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, and with all his family members for a long time; however, he did not participate at all in initiating or funding the party. “Sawiris offered to fund the party before, but we did not agree to that; but at the same time, we do not have any disagreements this period,” said Abul-Ghar.
Abul-Ghar said that the crisis of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is complicated, and it needs one of three solutions; forcible military power, foreign policy capabilities, or pressure on banks and companies participating in funding the dam, to overcome the crisis in a short period.
Regarding his evaluation of Ibrahim Mehleb’s government, he said that it is an active government working continuously and with great effort. However, Mehleb does not have the ability to take political decisions, which are usually issued by the presidency.
Abul-Ghar said that the government was extraordinary successful in achieving its political goals in the Economic Summit that was held last March in Sharm El Sheikh. He added that he received a call from former prime minister Hazem Al Beblawi, where he assured the success of the summit, and the world’s recognition of the current regime’s legitimacy.
Abul-Ghar concluded the interview with a clear message to Al-Sisi, saying: “You succeeded in creating distinguished relations with the African countries, China, and a number of Gulf countries. You must, Mr. President, care about real feasibility studies for the projects that will be implemented in the country to save the economy; most importantly the projects of Suez Canal and New Cairo.”