Being a prominent political activist and one of the staunchest opponents of the Mubarak regime before the January 25 Revolution – as well as a former MP who fell victim to vote-rigging rigging in the 2010 elections and a potential presidential candidate – makes Hamdeen Sabahi’s take on the Egyptian parliamentary elections an insider’s reflections on the political scene in the country.
The sweeping victory of Islamist parties in the first two rounds of the parliamentary elections should not be a cause for apprehension on the part of Egyptians, said Sabahi.
“Egypt is a country distinguished by diversity and unity at the same time. This is part of its culture and no one can change that,” he told Al Arabiya’s Parliament Race.
Political Islam, Sabahi explained, cannot shape the Egyptian character to suit its ideological or partisan agenda, whether through a parliamentary majority or a president who adheres to the same line of thought.
Sabahi found it unlikely that the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, intends to effect such a drastic change, especially as far as the civil character of the state is concerned.
“As for the Salafi parties, they are new to the political scene and it remains to be seen what they will do.”
Sabahi pointed out that Salafis, like other extremist groups, are unnecessarily rigid and compared them to any solid object that either breaks or becomes more malleable.
“This means that they will either fade away or will start respecting the diversity of the Egyptian culture and will realize that they have become part of a democratic process in which they have no right to intimidate or discriminate like the statements of some of their leaders demonstrated that they plan to do.”
Regarding the application of sharia (Islamic law), Sabahi said that all Egyptians support the “principles” of Islam, which basically revolve around equality, justice, and human rights.
“As for the penalties dictated by Islamic law, these vary according to time, place, and circumstances. They can also be modified through the interpretation of scholars or through national consensus. Islam promotes flexibility in a way that serves humanity, and this is the main criterion.”
When asked if the upcoming parliament will be representative of the Egyptian revolution, Sabahi replied that those who were in Tahrir Square are not exactly the same people who won seats.
“However, the new MPs will have to be in touch with the people and aware of their problems and their demands to be able to serve them. Otherwise, they will lose touch with the people.”
Sabahi then talked about the role of the new parliament in drafting the post-revolution constitution and stressed that, contrary to what many think, the parliament will not write the constitution, but will instead choose members of the committee that will do so.
“This does not mean that this committee will be chosen to serve what a certain group wants, but rather according to what all Egyptians want. The constitution belongs to all the people – Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, from major cities and from Nubia and Sinai.”
Sabahi stressed that it is impossible to write a constitution that does not promote equality between all citizens and does not criminalize discrimination.
“The real mission of the parliament is to draft legislations that would achieve real progress in Egypt. This is the challenge.”
Sabahi argued that the victory of Islamist parties in parliamentary elections does not necessarily mean that an Islamist will get a majority in presidential elections.
“Islamists’ victory was the result of years of social work on the ground, but in the presidency it will be different. People will choose the candidate they believe is not involved in bargains and is not after political gains.”
Sabahi added that Egyptians would also support a candidate who has been around for a while, and not one who would make a sudden appearance right before the elections.
“Whoever will appear suddenly will be suspected of being pushed to the scene by a specific power whose interests are served by the presence of this person. People are smart enough to distinguish between who is sincere and who is not.”
Sabahi said that in the upcoming government he prefers a combination between the parliamentary and the presidential systems.
“This system would give the president executive powers, but would also make him accountable before the parliament, public opinion, and the judiciary if necessary
Being a Nasserist, Sabahi was asked whether at a time when Egypt is suffering from an economic crisis and when foreign investment and the private sector are badly needed, it would be a good idea to adopt a socialist ideology.
“I will offer a formula that I see as the best for all Egyptians. It is one that sides with the poor. No progress is possible without making the poor a priority.”
Sabahi added that he will promote national capitalism but will fight all sorts of corruption in which people use capital to abuse power and plunder national resources.
“It is not possible now to adopt the system applied during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time, but some things can be adapted to our time, like launching a large development project in which both public and private sectors take part.”
Concerning his stance against Israel, his strong opposition to the Camp David treaty, and his statement about stopping the export of natural gas to the Jewish state, Sabahi said that Israel’s war crimes and discriminatory practices against Palestinians, as well as the racist ideology on which it was created, make it unlikely for the country to engage in real peace.
“Of course I will never give gas to Israel while the poor can’t find gas in their homes and I will support the Palestinian resistance.”
Sabahi made it clear that his war is not with Israel, but with poverty inside Egypt.
“When I solve this problem and restore to Egypt the place it deserves, we will be on equal footing with Israel and only then can we start reconsidering everything else.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)