On 15 November Tarek Al-Awady, a middle-aged Egyptian lawyer famous for defending political prisoners, declared via a post on his official Facebook account that he will declare himself a potential presidential candidate in the upcoming 2018 elections. This announcement comes at a time when Egyptians are buckling under the weight of economic hardships, and elections seem a world away.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Al-Awady in his law firm in Hadaek Al Quobba in downtown Cairo to find out more about what has driven him to this decision.
Was there a specific moment or a decisive factor that spurred you to make this decision?
11 November was the decisive moment for me. It took all my sadness and frustration to new levels. I didn’t call on people to go to the streets that day, and when I was asked if I would go the answer was always a resounding “no”. There were unseen actors at play calling people to the streets, including the state and its media outlets. Still, it was very heartbreaking to see that everyone was waiting on everyone else, resulting in a state of nothingness. By the end of the day everyone was accusing everyone of failure, insulting and despising each other. Political activists blamed the common citizen for it all, and the day turned into a mass waiting, blaming, and cursing game. This was a stab to the heart.
Could we deduce that your initiative was an outcome of emotional impulse?
Absolutely not, I am a pragmatic man. I saw two options. The first was to surrender to this sadness and frustration and do nothing but wait for a coup. This option goes against everything I believe in, and in the aftermath civil society is usually removed from the equation.
The other option was to do something. For me the main goal is to bring about change. It is clear that any revolutionary path is blocked and futile and even if people had turned up in droves to protest, the day would have been disastrously chaotic in the absence of leadership to guide them.
In January these guiding forces were there. You could see Muslim Brotherhood, civil, leftist, and liberal forces, yet now they have faded into dust. Without leadership and direction the collective anger of the masses could devolve into extreme chaos, and that is a situation the country cannot afford to experience in these tough economic times.
So, I had to go for the other path, the political one. The political path for change is the ultimate channel for change even after the revolutions. We finally seek fair democratic process via fair elections.
How were the reactions to your initiative?
Many political forces as well as celebrities received my initiative positively. All of them praised the initiative and there was a consensus on the need to answer three questions: Are you ready to compete in internal elections among the ranks of the civil political powers? Are you ready to stand in a debate with other would be competitors or potential candidates? If these elections resulted in the success of another would be potential candidate, would you support him? I answered all three questions with a clear yes, this is the atmosphere Iwas trying to create in the first place.
Do you think there could be fair elections in 2018? Why would you compete if almost all the circumstances indicate that these elections could be another show of populism fiasco?
This mindset helps the authoritarian regimes. When you tell the world that you are not into supposedly rigged elections before they are even held, they would say “who knows?”
Also, it is much better to compete and expose rigging and corruption of the process than to stand still and curse the darkness. Finally there is no rigging without competition. If you want to counter rigging and corruption, you need to be there in the process and have your supporters.
If a political party invited you to compete under its umbrella, would you agree?
No, I prefer either to be independent or a candidate for the civil political force as a collective power. If all the segments of it reaches a consensus, creates a collective action plan, and sets a political agenda for the upcoming future they could break free from this idleness and seclusion from the political sphere.
There is a social collective feeling that the revolutionary forces are dead, do you think so?
No, they are not. They continue to exist in different ways. What has happened under Al-Sisi’s regime is that revolutionary forces have been dragged into small conflicts, distracting them from achieving the basic revolutionary goals that had originally brought them all together under one rallying cry.
Revolutionary forces are suffering from severe revolutionary and political fatigue due to many reasons, including the imprisonment of a large number of their members and leaders, and the suffering that has been brought down upon them by the iron fist of the state’s security apparatus. They also suffer from a deep-seated frustration as a result of their continuous failure in achieving any tangible success on the ground.
Do you think that the current pardoning of detainees and political prisoners means there is a change in the attitudes of the regime due to feeling the brunt of ascending popular anger?
This pardon is part of the nothingness and the absurd of the current political scene in Egypt. This is propaganda at its finest. If they were serious the pardon would have been a general one instead of the selective choices they made. To add further insult to injury while this pardon is taking place, the head of the journalists syndicate is being handed a prison sentence.
If the state was politically sound of mind they would consider that the Supreme Constitutional Court would in all likelihood rule that the notorious Protest Law is unconstitutional.
Do you think that the regime believes its affiliated media claim that the Egyptians didn’t respond to 11 November calls because they sided with stability?
The media affiliated to the regime has lost its credibility, robbing the regime of a tool that helps it shape and monitor the fabric of society. Now the regime pretends to do something, believes it and propagates it without considering real facts.
Do you think that the regime could make reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood?
I think that would be impossible, as both parties draw their legitimacy from their hatred and exclusion of the other. Reconciliation would strip either party of most of their credibility, but smaller-scale political interactions are in the realm of possibility.
What do you think of the return of Ahmed Shafiq, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi showing up in Tahrir Square?
I don’t think either of them will go through the political competition anymore. Throughout Egypt’s modern history, characters that vacate the political stage have not returned to try again, and if they did it would be a failure.
Do you think that Mohammed ElBaradei will play a role in the future?
I think that ElBaradei is not willing to compete as a potential presidential candidate, but I think he will still play the democratic godfather role once again. I never saw him as a president and I do not think I will ever see him this way. He has always been a wise and honest man with awareness and enlightened prophecies.
What are some of the actors that you think could play a role in Egyptian politics in the near future ?
I think Khaled Ali and Hamdeen Sabahy are going to play a role, or rather I really hope they do, particularly Khaled Ali.