Dina Ezzat asks Dr Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, for his reading of the parliamentary elections and how the results will impact the political landscape
Abul-Fotouh is just as sceptical of the political process that started on 3 July 2013 “away from the ballot box.” He called for early presidential elections following nationwide anti-Morsi demonstrations on 30 June in which the SEP took part, though the party kept its distance from the NSF because it was “unwilling to rub shoulders with Mubarak regime figures.”
Abul-Fotouh argues that had Morsi been removed from the presidential palace by the ballot box we would not have seen the near empty polling stations that have characterised the parliamentary elections so far.
The manner of Morsi’s removal, says Abul-Fotouh, marked the beginning of the marginalisation of the voting process that has climaxed in the first stage of parliamentary elections.
“What happened on 3 July is that the ballot box was sidelined. Instead of pressing for early presidential elections we had a statement read out by the minister of defence announcing an end to the Morsi presidency and the suspension of the entire political process initiated with the 25 January revolution.”
Abul-Fotouh contends that the 3 July roadmap was “lopsided” right from the beginning. “I take exception to the way Morsi was removed rather than to his removal. We should have insisted he agree to early presidential elections, no matter how long this would have taken.
“I don’t give any credence to arguments suggesting the intervention had to happen immediately to avoid widespread civil strife. What was needed was to hold early presidential elections and then we could have had a vote on every subsequent step.”
Instead, says Abul-Fotouh, Morsi’s ouster was followed by “a rush to have the constitution rewritten by a nonelected committee.” The constitution was then ratified in a referendum, only for calls to be made barely a year later for the constitution to be amended.
“What kind of message does this send to the public about the value of their votes?” asks Abul-Fotouh. The SEP leader argues that people now feel alienated from the decision-making process.
Though far from happy with the roadmap as it was originally announced, Abul-Fotouh is even more critical of the way it was subsequently changed. Legislative elections, it was announced, would be held before presidential elections. Not only was that order reversed, but parliamentary elections have been delayed until now “even when the constitution stipulated no longer than a six-month interval between the two elections.”
He is also critical of the atmosphere in which the poll was called. “The opposition — and I am not just talking about the injustice to which the Muslim Brotherhood is subject — has been systematically intimidated.
“Liberal figures like Amr Hamzawi, who was at the forefront of the opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and who was later critical of what he qualifies as the authoritarianism that followed the 3 July 2013 announcement, have also been vilified.”
Abdul-Fotouh says “the authorities” have managed to both sideline the masses and stifle the opposition. He refutes any suggestion that the SEP’s decision to boycott the elections was because the party is seen by the public as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a connection that would prevent its members from winning any seats.
The contention, says Abul-Fotouh, is a media fabrication and — “despite the extensive defamation campaign through the pro-regime media” — the public is aware of the many differences between the SEP and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We would have considered running in parliamentary elections despite our opposition to the 3 July roadmap had there been a semblance of a serious political process in which to participate. There is not, and we were not prepared to take part in a fictitious process.”
Days before the polls opened the SEP issued a statement calling on people to refrain from casting a vote “to protest the determination of the authorities, as represented in the presidency, to stifle political life and halt the creation of the foundations of a modern democratic state.”
Like many other political figures, Abul-Fotouh objected to the manner in which the road to parliamentary elections was being paved. He shared the concerns of other political leaders over the framing of election laws which appeared designed to allow the state to “select a made-to-measure parliament rather than to allow the people to elect a representative one.”
He has also criticised “the ongoing media campaign to tarnish the image of the opposition and of the January Revolution and its leaders.”
But, Abul-Fotouh tells the Weekly, his own position is qualitatively different from that of other opposition figures who think the best way to “fix the situation” is to work within the “boundaries that have been set.” They are boundaries, says Abul-Fotouh, that far well short of true democracy.
“During the referendum on the amended constitution SEP members were arrested as they attempted to canvas for a no vote. The results of the presidential elections were a foregone conclusion. Then parliamentary elections were delayed and delayed. Now they are being held under the shadow of intimidation, defamation and intervention.”
Abul-Fotouh warns that in the long run an “unrepresentative parliament” is unlikely to consolidate the “current authoritarian rule” which “has no faith in democracy.”
He expects the next parliament to be as disastrous as the 2010 People’s Assembly, the last to be elected under Mubarak, arguing that the backdrop against which the polls are being held, the profile of most candidates, the election laws and a low voter turnout, are indicative of “the deepening political crisis facing the nation.”
He continues, “The demands of the January Revolution were for democracy, social justice and freedom. The fact that the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood failed all these demands does not mean such hopes can be stifled indefinitely.”
The former presidential contender was a partner to the first-ever candidates’ debate, with Amr Moussa, the former leader of the committee that reworked the constitution following the ouster of Morsi, in the spring of 2012.
The leader of the SEP does not underestimate the support President Al-Sisi commands, nor does he question the patriotism of the military in general. What he does contest is their ability to meet the goals of the January Revolution.
He argues that the outpouring of apathy that has greeted parliamentary elections is an inevitable result of the way politics and politicians have been demonised.
“What elections and what parliament are we talking about when the opposition has been expelled from the political scene and 40,000 political activists in jail?”
When asked, on the eve of first round run-offs, for his take on the elections so far, Abul-Fotouh questioned the turnout figures reported by the Higher Election Committee.
“The real point is that we are faced with a regime that does not want a political process and is pretending to pursue one only to shore up its international legitimacy. This is not about people, which is why the people do not care about the process from beginning to end.
Issue No.1268, 29 October, 2015 28-10-2015 12:46AM ET