In this interview, Dr. Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, the member of Parliament for Luxor of the Freedom and Justice Party, discussed the current phase of the revolution in Egypt and the slow process of nation building through a legal process.
"The legal process—it is a good process, because it gives people freedom and justice, but the problem with the legal process is that it takes a long time," he said. "And sometimes, too much time with the legal process becomes very oppressive again, and that's why it made people revolt in the streets, because they want to quick fix to the problems Egypt has been suffering for decades."
"So, first things first. We have to be done with the parliamentarian elections–that is likely to come in a few months–and then right after, we really need a municipality elections that is likely to move services to the people of Egypt to be done in a very different way–in fact, in a better way. Then the cycle goes on, and once the cycle completes, I think we will be able to see a better alternative for the Egyptian people."
As to the question of how the government can support the process, Mr. Dardery said, "The government needs to do the best it can to provide the services, regardless whether the NSF [National Salvation Front] agrees or not. The government itself has really to cleanse its own departments from the corrupt elements–each minister cleanses his or her ministry from the corrupt elements; the people will feel the change."
"The government has to play it fairly," he continued. "It should not really side with one side or the other, especially in the coming parliamentary elections."
About US-Egypt relations, Mr. Dardery said, "Egypt now is a democracy, and the popular voice is very important in Egypt in the coming years. This national pride is very important for Egypt and the Egyptians, and both Egypt and the United States of America have joint interests. If they can succeed in serving each other's interests, I think it's likely to play a better alternative than the days of Hosni Mubarak."
"The Egyptians in the past during Mubarak suffered from an inferiority complex. I think they'll be able to get rid of the inferiority complex during the revolution, and we hope that the American administration and the Congress and the American people get rid also the superiority complex and start dealing with Egyptians as equal citizens."
The interview was conducted by Nur Laiq, Senior Policy Analyst for the Middle East Program at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Nur Laiq: Dr. Dardery is a prominent parliamentarian. He is the member of Parliament for Luxor of the Freedom and Justice Party. He is also the director of the Luxor Islamic Center for Global Dialogue and a member and spokesperson of the Freedom and Justice Party's Foreign Relations Committee. Dr. Dardery headed the Foreign Relations and the Freedom and Justice Party's first delegation to the White House last year in April, is a key advisor to President Morsi on tourism.
Dr. Dardery, the question that I want to start with relates to how people's expectations have changed after the revolution, and how the attitudes of state employees hasn't, how the revolution hasn't filtered down. This particularly, in a weak way, we've seen in the second anniversary of the revolution, as it was met not with so much with celebration but rather with violence and protests. Could you talk a bit about the events of the last week and about this current phase of the revolution?
Dr. Dardery: Let me first thank you Nur, for inviting me, and thanks for the IPI to give me this opportunity to be able to speak with a larger number of people so that we can get to know one another firsthand.
Concerning the expectations of Egyptians after the revolution: many, in fact if not the majority, all, of the Egyptians expected the end of all the troubles by the beginning of the revolution. We all expected—because we didn't believe that Mubarak will ever fall down—so we expected that once Mubarak falls down, then all the problems go with him and will disappear once he disappears from the political scene. That was very much unrealistic, it is more much like a Utopia, concepting of a very imaginative alternative, and that is what created the setback. When people do not see their services being delivered as expected or as dreamed of, when the changes they expected to see in a short period of time did not happen, this created a setback in the minds and hearts of so many Egyptians.
Then, in a political process in the two referendums that took place in Egypt, they decided to take the legal course of action in relationship to the problems Egypt has been suffering for decades now. The legal process—it is a good process, because it gives people freedom and justice, but the problem with the legal process is that it takes a long time. And sometimes too much time with the legal process becomes very oppressive again, and that's why it made people revolt in the streets because they want to quick fix to the problems Egypt has been suffering for decades.
This is causing serious trouble for us as the Freedom and Justice Party, because we're assumed to be the people running the show in Egypt now. We are the government, and we are not providing the services so people come at us on a daily basis, if not hourly basis, saying why didn't you do this, why didn't you do that. That is not all in our hands, and it is very important for us as Egyptians to know that this is going to take some time. It is going to change not only the leadership of the organization or of the institution providing services to the Egyptian people, but it's going to take some time to change the mindset of the employees. It is going to take some time, the laws and regulations, so it requires really a change in the people's mindset.
NL: The revolution, as you said, will take time to filter through state institutions, but one way forward might be through local government accountability and local elections. This was part of the Muslim Brotherhood 2005 manifesto, but there hasn't been much movement in the last two years in terms of actually having local elections. What are your thoughts on this?
DD: I agree with you completely in local alternatives, because all politics is local, and unless the municipalities and local governments make the difference in the lives of the Egyptians, it is going to take a very long time. But what happened was because of the political instability. In fact, when I was elected as a member of the Parliament, I expected to serve my full term five years, but then the judiciary–the corrupt elements of the judiciary–intervened and dissolved the Parliament. So that set backed the whole local municipalities alternatives for some months to come.
Before we get the Parliament elected, it is very difficult to talk about the municipal elections. In the Freedom and Justice Party's platform, we're having a program that will make the local governors being elected now and during Mubarak's and Sadat and Nasser's time, they are appointed by the central authority in Cairo. We would really like them to be representatives of the people of the governorates in which they live. So we would like them to be elected from the people who are living in these governorates.
This requires a change in the law and also a change in the mindsets of the people. The municipality is the one that is responsible for providing services to the local people from motor to energy to all other services. It is like a chain, you have to do one thing first and the other one second. So first things first, we have to be done with the parliamentarian elections–that is likely to come in a few months–and then right after we really need a municipality elections that is likely to move services to the people of Egypt to be done in a very different way, in fact in a better way. Then the cycle goes on and once the cycle completes I think we will be able to see a better alternative for the Egyptian people.
NL: To move from the local level just back to the national level and the issue of national dialogue. At this moment more than ever, it seems imperative for Egypt to actually have an all-encompassing national dialogue. What can the government do even when the opposition is acting as a spoiler? What can the government do since it has the responsibility to make sure that even the minority does engage? What can you do to move this process forward of the national dialogue?
DD: As a member of the parliament, I cannot really speak for the government itself but what I think the government needs to do is to keep pushing for the national dialogue even if the so-called National Salvation Front is refusing to dialogue with the government. I think they have to keep the door for dialogue open. Any time the National Salvation Front changes its mind to have dialogue, they should be welcomed.
Second, the government needs to do the best it can to provide the services, regardless whether the NSF agrees or not. The government itself has really to cleanse its own departments from the corrupt elements –each minister cleanses his or her ministry from the corrupt elements, the people will feel the change. Until today, the same old people of Mubarak's regime are still there in the ministries themselves. We expect the government to really do these changes very fast so that the people in Egypt can feel the real change.
Also, the government has to play it fairly. It should not really side with one side or the other, especially in the coming parliamentary elections. It has really to do it fairly, whether the Freedom and Justice Party or opposition should not really matter, it should treat all Egyptians equal under the law. If this is done in the right way, it is likely to convince–and this is what matters most–is the Egyptian people. If we succeed in convincing the Egyptian people that these are fair elections and it is going to produce a government that is responsible for people. If the government does not meet the needs of the Egyptian people, it is likely to be changed once its term is over.
If we can do this, we are going to really push Egypt into the democratic course that is likely to produce better alternatives for Egyptians, and that's what the revolution came to achieve: dignity, freedom and social justice, and we really need the government to do the three. The dignity of the Egyptians and the freedom of all Egyptians and the social justice to the Egyptians because until today the rich are still on the top. We would like the government to do the minimum and maximum range of salaries so that the majority of the Egyptians live in a way that all can get the basic needs. The difference in salaries really has to be minimized, so the gap itself has to be minimized to a reasonable stage so that Egyptians can feel that they did the revolution something worth doing for and then they would be able to move in the right direction, inshallah.
NL: Since we're talking about the government, we've seen in the last two weeks thousands and thousands and thousands of protesters out on the streets talking about how they feel that the Muslim Brotherhood has this majoritarian mindset when it came to the constitution process, and also is, on the one hand, in terms of the politics, they're unhappy with the government, but on the other, when it comes to the economic issues, there's this unhappiness about the lack of stability and also the IMF loan and the austerity cuts that they'll cause. What is the thinking inside the Freedom and Justice Party about this perception of it among the people protesting?
DD: One thing: I would like to congratulate the government for the fact that those thousands and thousands can go through the streets of Egypt on a daily basis and even can get as close as they did to the presidential palace. That's a plus, as long as it is peaceful, and we would really like to emphasize the importance of peacefulness, because that is a characteristic of the Egyptian revolution. It was always salmiya, salmiya meaning peaceful. We would like to keep that unique characteristic of the Egyptian revolution.
This is what we think of the constitution. It is very unfortunate that the liberals and the Coptic Church left the constitutional assembly at the last 15 days of the drafting of the constitution, but the constitution at the end of the day was presented to the people of Egypt, and 63.8% of the Egyptians approved of the constitution as is. But this constitution is not made of stone. It can be changed, and whoever gets elected to government has to be able to really practice the will of the Egyptian people, and if there is a need, we have to be able to change it.
The IMF and the austerity measures that are likely to be taken, the Egyptian government is talking about–if we succeed in getting rid of the corruption. There are billions of Egyptian pounds that are wasted through the corrupt means of the government. If we succeed, we may not really have serious austerity measures, because that will help the IMF with putting an end or trying to minimize as much as possible the corruption. I think Egypt can move with a better formula in the right direction.
NL: Actually, talking about the IMF, amongst a lot of the unhappiness I heard on the streets of Egypt and the anti-American sentiments, this really related to the IMF loans, and this feeling amongst people that it would bring them an unfair deal. But I'd like to shift to the issue of the US, because since President Morsi assumed office, Egyptian relations the United States seem to be fairly stable. You, of course, led the first delegation to the White House in April 2012. In what ways have the Muslim Brotherhood presidency changed this relationship, and what can you tell us about its future?
DD: The anti-American sentiment will come again if the national pride of Egypt is wounded. The Egyptians after the revolution are very much different than the Egyptians before the revolution. It's very important for the United States decision makers to know that they’re not dealing with Hosni Mubarak anymore. They’re not dealing with one man, it's not a one-man show. Mohammed Morsi is just been elected president who's serving the interest of the Egyptian people. Egypt now is a democracy and the popular voice is very important in Egypt in the coming years. This national pride is very important for Egypt and the Egyptians, and both Egypt and the United States of America have joint interests. If they can succeed in serving each other's interests, I think it's likely to play a better alternative than the days of Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptians in the past during Mubarak suffered from the inferiority complex, I think they'll be able to get rid of the inferiority complex during the revolution, and we hope that the American administration and the Congress and the American people get rid also the superiority complex and start dealing with Egyptians as equal citizens. During the first delegation that I led in April of last year, when I was sent by the president of the Freedom and Justice Party, at that time President Morsi, he recommended us to share with the Americans that it is very important to build strong relations between Egypt in the United States of America based on the mutual understanding and mutual respect. And made it very clear that we're committed to respecting international agreements as long as they do not violate the national interest of and the national security of Egypt's itself.
Based on these two principles I see the relationship between Egypt and the United States can move in the right direction if the United States administration and Egypt meets on these two principles–the mutual understanding and mutual respect. Egypt is not really planning to go one-sided in the coming years, its planning to go with relationship with all other countries based on the national interest of the Egyptians. I'm very optimistic about this relation. I think more dialogues of this sort and others sorts of dialogues, we will be able to create a better way of understanding one another and we can both push the Egyptian and American agenda forward for the benefit of both countries.
NL: Dr. Dardery, thank you very much for this interview. It's great to have you at IPI.
DD: Thank you very much for having me. I am really happy to be part of this meeting, thank you.