Despite Egypt’s biased parliamentary laws, weak political parties, and unequal power opportunities, Haitham Aboul Ezz Al-Hariri was successfully elected as a parliamentary member in October in Alexandria.
The politician, 39, is the son of renowned late leftist figure and socialist struggler Aboul Ezz Al-Hariri, who had opposed the regimes of former presidents Anwar Al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood until his death in September 2014.
Like his father, Al-Hariri seems to be popular within the large Moharram Bek constituency in Alexandria.
Al-Hariri is considered a young voice amid the elder generation ruling Egypt. A participant in mass demonstrations along with civil forces from 25 January 2011 to 30 June 2013, Al-Hariri strongly advocates social change in his speech, with strong referral and recognition of the 25 January Revolution’s demands.
Daily News Egypt spoke to the new MP, who was in Cairo last week attending training sessions on parliamentary affairs, a requirement for all winning candidates.
You faced tough competition in the constituency of Moharram Bek, a lot of political money was used, and other candidates. Yet, observation reports confirm you won fair and square. How did you do that, especially since your “revolutionary” speech is not always welcome by the public?
My family’s history played a huge role in that. Both my father and my mother have fought for socialist values and acquired strong reputations for their years of work with the public and a history in defending people’s rights.
Therefore, voters knew who I was and where I came from. Moreover I had been engaged in the public sphere through the Syndicate of Engineers and other community engagement activities. Thus, I am positive that the people felt I was an honest person and did not need to buy votes.
How is it that you are facing trial?
I will appear before court on 23 November among somewhat controversial circumstances of the lawsuit. First, the issue dates back to 12 June 2013, ahead of the mass uprising that took place at the end of that month. However, my name was only added to the lawsuit when I announced my intention to run for the parliamentary elections in January 2014.
On that day, activists were rallying in Alexandria to obtain people to sign the Tamarod petition that demanded the downfall of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. They were confronted by Muslim Brotherhood supporters and there were some clashes, resulting in a police report and investigations. One party, Tamarod, was acquitted of charges while pro-Islamists were referred to trial.
My name was added in blue ink on a printed sheet of the initial court referral order, where I had not been included. My name was added in blue pen ink along with the Muslim Brotherhood suspects, whom ironically had accused me of incitement against them.
I was sentenced to three years in prison in absentia, considered a fugitive by the court. That is why I will appeal against the verdict and demand that the court follow parliamentary protocols when investigating a parliamentary member.
I understand the risks involved but I would rather not be cornered in any way.
Is it true that the 25 January Revolution has become “unpopular”?
First, whenever I speak, I state that my background is in both popular uprisings: the 25 January Revolution in 2011 and the 30 June uprising in 2013. What is happening now is that you have different aspects that are pushing people to hate, not the revolution, but what the revolution has done to them in terms of inconveniences. The media, which was free and objective to a large degree right after 2011, has taken the complete opposite path after 30 June.
The 25 January Revolution is not what people are currently refusing but rather they are not accepting revolutionary movements; they cannot handle any more political instability and you see how oppressive the state is through its security bodies.
Is that why Egyptian youths are disinterested in politics and are rather support the “revolutionary” solution?
Look, the youths thought they could change the world in 18 days. We all shared those dreams at the time but now this is unrealistic utopian talk. Naturally, there is frustration now that they see the deep state has returned. Back then, security forces killed Khaled Said and it never stopped after the revolution. We have seen numerous arrests, extra-judicial killings, and forced disappearances and throughout, the media is distorting the image of revolutionary icons.
I just do not think demonstrations can be the best solution for the time being.
What do you think of the current government’s performance?
I think many institutions are malfunctioning, such as the security system, definitely the media, as well as real issues emerging from bad economic policies and biased laws in general, including the parliamentary law, which I maintain despite my electoral victory.
What about the president’s performance?
Well, in theory President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is speaking in favour of the people. However, there seems to be a significant gap between what he says he wants for the people and what is actually happening on the ground. This is despite the president’s specialised advisory councils that include competent experts in different fields, some of which I personally know. Now, where exactly the problem is, this is a question that should be directed to the president.
On foreign policies, where does Egypt stand? How do you view the handling of the latest unfortunate terrorism crises; the Russian plane crash and Paris attacks?
Let me say that both those incidents make Egypt stronger in countering terrorism. Now there are two ways to deal with terrorism. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, we have not changed our approach to terrorism, which is by trying to locally contain some Islamists currents through security, which is a very superficial way to deal with the problem.
You will always find three aspects in the roots of terrorism and extremism: illiteracy, poverty, and tyranny. Those things characterise Middle Eastern countries that have such takfiri groups. Look at where Islamists and Salafists were winning the most in Egypt: the poorer, more rural areas.
Regarding the Russian plane crash, I think Egypt has done well in being open to coordination with Russia and other countries in investigating the crash. However, I also believe the foreign countries’ decision to halt flights to Egypt is a mistake because when you stop terrorism, you indirectly serve terrorism. On the other hand, Egypt must admit its security fallout at the Sharm El-Sheikh airport. It is not logical that our official response is constantly delayed and to finally come out to say that after the recent Russian confirmations of an explosive on board that “we will take that into consideration”.
Meanwhile, I think foreign affairs is the one thing where Al-Sisi actually achieved something concrete, whether it is in restoring the country’s leading strategic role, enhancing previously broken foreign relations, opening new sources for arms acquisition, or even changing the global image of a military coup that toppled a democratic regime on 30 June.
So, you do not think 30 June was not a coup?
No, neither was 3 July 2013. Those mass movements truly represented the people’s will, just like on 23 July, 1952. However, on 26 July 2013, when Al-Sisi asked to be “mandated to fight terrorism”, we started shifting away from the revolution’s path, just as we did when the Muslim Brotherhood “hijacked” the 25 January Revolution.
What do you think about amending the constitution, a claim made by many based on a speech by the president?
Before we speak of amending the constitution, we must first seek to implement it through laws and policies. Only then we can know what was good and what was not in the constitution.
The president said the constitution was drafted with “good intentions.” This is something that I agree with and do think the 2014 constitution achieved progress in rights and freedoms, health, and education, despite that I had reservations on some articles, in particular those about military trials for civilians.
Then Al-Sisi spoke about the powers given to the parliament, that “running states does not come through good intentions”. For some reasons, many said the president sought to amend the constitution but I personally did not make that link.
Actually, the president can submit his request to the parliament once elected with suggested constitutional amendments, according to legal procedures and the parliament will have its say. I would reject any changes that are against a civil democratic state, lead to reducing parliamentary authorisations or reinforcing the executive system over the legislative.
Where do you stand regarding your father’s political legacy, and how are people betting on you?
I am a socialist and my father’s son, who of course was my political mentor. So continuing down his path is something I hope to achieve and if I am able to, my gratitude goes to him. But I believe I still did not get my chance to prove myself, it is a little unfair to judge me now.
Why did you join Al-Dostour Party, which has no unified political affiliation and lies somewhere between social democratic and liberal? Why not the leftist Al-Tagammu Party, founded by your father?
I resigned from Al-Tagammu Party in March 2014, mainly due to internal conflicts and organisational problems. At the time, I did not want to join any political parties; I chose to be close to the people on the streets, the revolution. Even when my father founded the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), many of its members came from Al-Tagammu and I was afraid they would bring the same problems with them.
I was attracted by Mohamed El-Baradei’s call for Al-Dostour Party. The party has many passionate youths and I like the idea of having more than one vision, rather than a narrowed ideology. Actually, most party members have leftist tendencies. Now I am not with the party anymore but they are all friends and I believe they will overcome their issues.
Why is there no real presence of leftists currently in Egypt?
I would not agree it is not present. If you are speaking about political parties, then I must admit they are suffering. They have no financial means to grow and lack proper organisation and they need both to keep going. The lack of organisation is not exclusively a problem of leftist parties by the way; many other parties, such as the Free Egyptians, Egyptian Social Democratic, and even Al-Wafd parties have witnessed similar issues.
In reality, bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity are the four demands of the revolution and they all stem from the leftist current. Look at what people want; workers ‘rights, incremental taxes and so on and those leftist demands will form public pressure on the government against the ridiculous support to wealthy businessmen, for instance.
Briefly, what do you think are the priority policies in the upcoming parliament?
Freedoms and rights, namely laws like the Protest Law and Anti-terrorism Law. One of the most important laws in my opinion is that of transitional justice, which is still not there. I believe it provides a political solution to the current crisis through reconciliation, accountability, and finally forgiveness. This will allow different political factions to work together, including former figures of the regimes, Islamists, and other power centres.
Corruption is also a huge issue. Like I stated earlier, I believe the constitution has great potential. It allocates real budgets to education and health instead of the current system of lacking resources, which result in considerable waste of public funds. There is also a law related to constructing worship institutions and I intend to work more to enforce the concept of citizenship in Egypt.