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Scenarios of change in Egypt

Professor of Political Science and member of the Damir Front Hassan Naf’ah [Professor Hassan Nafaa - Egyptian Politics/YouTube]

An interview with Professor of Political Science and member of the Damir Front Hassan Naf’ah

  • The current regime in Egypt is the worst ever; I have never seen a regime this brutal.
  • We did not expect this decline; the opposition is pathetically weak.
  • There are three scenarios for change, including a coup against Sisi and the revolution.
  • The Brotherhood has so far been the real opposition and it can return to power.
  • I would have wished to see [Abdel Moneim] Aboul Fotouh inside the Damir Front but there is complete rejection of any Islamist.
  • I reject any repression of the Islamic political trend; Rabaa Al-Adawiya was a massacre and its perpetrators should be prosecuted.
  • We dread the “deal of the century”.
  • Egypt has not regained its role yet and its performance has been bad in the crisis of the Renaissance Dam.

Cairo University Political Science Professor and Damir Front member Hassan Naf’ah has described the regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as “the worst ever seen” by Egypt and “the most brutal, the most failing and the most repressive”. He never expected such a decline in Egypt after Sisi seized power.

In an exclusive interview with Arabi 21, Naf’ah said that the civilian opposition is “in its worst conditions and that it is both pathetic and laughable at the same time because of its fragmentation, disunity and inability to confront Sisi and his regime.” He also considers the Muslim Brotherhood to be the real opposition thus far, despite everything to which it has been subjected; he expects it to return to power once more. The opposition in exile, he insisted, “stands on one leg.”

As for the possible scenarios awaiting Egypt, Naf’ah ruled out revolution at this time. That would be the most difficult option; instead, he would put his faith in elections provided that they are free and fair, and that the opposition is united. Nevertheless, he did not rule out an internal coup against Sisi; there are, he stressed, circles within the regime opposed to what he is doing.

The political science professor also rejected the way that the Islamic trend has been repressed, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. What took place at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square was a “massacre” and he called for the prosecution of its perpetrators.

The interview also covered several other topics, including the recent UNESCO elections, Palestinian reconciliation, the declining Egyptian role and the siege imposed on Qatar.

Q: How do you see the conditions in Egypt at the moment?

A: I have never seen Egypt this bad at any time in my life. The horizon is blocked on every level, whether with regard to freedom of expression, or dealing with the opposition; or the condition of the media and the press and the freedom to write, even to the extent of shutting down libraries. Not only that, but restrictions have also reached the stage of preventing people from travelling abroad and treating passengers inappropriately. This happened to me personally, when I was questioned and subject to a body search; my mobile phones and other communication equipment were checked. This sort of conduct exceeds all normal limits. No privacy is left whatsoever.

Read: 6 policemen jailed for torturing inmate to death in Egypt

Q: Is this due to bad political conditions or to the incompetence of the regime?

A: I believe this is due to the incompetence of the regime and its extremely ill-informed attitude. It is not due to the political conditions. I have not seen in my lifetime a regime in Egypt with such incompetence and political insensitivity. This is worse than the Mubarak regime, despite all the corruption that it was known for. At least that regime had some rationality and knew how to employ the competence it had and knew when to be severe and blunt and when to be flexible, the exact opposite of what is going on at the moment.

Q: Can things continue this way?

A: Theoretically this is an unsustainable situation, especially in light of the incompetence of this regime, which may embroil itself in a folly that leads to its demise. However, the problem is that the opposition — the supposed alternative government — is completely blocked.

Q: But is there an opposition that is capable of restoring rationality to this regime and stopping its practices?

A: Up to now, there is no real opposition. All the efforts made in this regard have been unsuccessful, regrettably, and were doomed to fail. It is incapable of mobilising the people on the street or proposing a genuinely competitive candidate. We can, thus, say that there is no real alternative capable of assuming power and running Egypt’s affairs.

Read: Egypt renews detention for 236 football fans again

Q: What about what has been said regarding the intention of the opposition to nominate a civilian candidate to stand against Sisi?

A: We hope that the opposition can unite and find a strong candidate to confront Sisi. Even if such a person was not successful, there would at least be a real election battle. The opposition would emerge stronger and be in a better position to challenge Sisi even if he was re-elected. So far, though, the opposition is still fragmented.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Berlin, Germany on 12 June 2017 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Berlin, Germany on 12 June 2017 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

Q: Does this mean that Sisi’s regime will persist and that he will win a second term?

A: At the moment, it looks that way. This is the reality on the ground and all the signs point that way. It is a weak opposition, as I have noted; the people are incapable of mobilising; and the regime owns the tanks and is in control.

Q: Does this mean that there is no hope of getting rid of this regime apart from an internal coup perhaps?

A: This is likely and cannot be ruled out. If the sensible men within the regime and the military establishment see that this man could be leading the country down the wrong road towards more chaos, it is almost inevitable. It would be possible for these men to make a move in order to save Egypt from a destructive scenario. This is all conjecture, of course, and not based on inside information, although there are certainly those who refuse to accept what is going on. Yet, mobilisation very much depends on such individuals and their influence, as well as the extent to which Sisi has a grip on the military establishment and controls decision-making therein.

Q: Can one say that there are wings within the regime that reject Sisi’s actions?

A: I believe that there are wings there that are not pleased with what is going on in the country. These can be both civilian and military. The civilians are represented by the elite surrounding Sisi, perhaps also some officials, as well as military personnel. All of them refuse to accept what is going on, but what matters is the balance of power between these wings and Sisi’s wing.

Q: And how do you see Sisi and his performance?

A: We are standing before a regime that is an enigma. The problem is that we find ourselves before someone who has no competent characteristics. He has no political experience or prior expertise, or a sufficient level of education to enable him to carry out his tasks. Personally, I am astounded by the level of ignorance and arrogance of the regime. We are facing a seriously dangerous situation. I believe that the Egyptian people have been deceived into thinking that Sisi had something to offer. However, this has not happened and the people have abandoned him.

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Q: In your opinion, what awaits Egypt?

A: There are three possible scenarios: an election, revolution or a coup against Sisi. Looked at in isolation, I believe that the election scenario would be best, because it is the safest. However, this is difficult because it is unlikely that we would see a free and fair poll. It already looks as if efforts are being made to ensure than genuine contenders are excluded, leaving a single candidate in the race who happens to be Sisi. The weak opposition is unable to unite and field a serious candidate, so this scenario is already compromised and may just fail.

Q: What about the second scenario?

A: The second scenario is a revolution. This is more difficult because there is no longer a real revolutionary environment, either because of the regime’s grip on security or the non-existence of a true revolutionary vanguard to mobilise the people on the street and the silent majority. Above all, no revolutionary objectives have been accomplished thus far. As a result, the people on the street simply do not respond to any revolutionary calls.

Q: And the possible coup against Sisi and the process of change from within the regime?

A: This scenario is likely in the light of Sisi’s bad performance; his government’s clear failure in all departments and concern about any sudden developments such as a revolution by the hungry and the consequent turmoil. The sensible men within the military establishment may make a move. This is linked to a number of things, including the existence of a military elite that is aware of what is going on. What also matters is the extent to which such a group is able to move and influence the army in contrast to Sisi’s control of the military establishment and the extent to which his grip is tightened around it.

Clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Egyptian forces at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo, Egypt [Diariocritico de Venezuela/Flickr]

Clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Egyptian forces in Cairo, Egypt on 14 August 2013 [Diariocritico de Venezuela/Flickr]

Q: It would seem that all three scenarios are rather difficult to activate. Is there any alternative?

A: The alternative would be for the status quo to continue and for a mockery of an election to be held. This would mean that Egypt would persist in its crisis. We would never know where things could take us should this difficult situation continue.

Opinion: Sisi’s terrorism

Q: Is the opposition not aware of the seriousness of the current phase? Where does it stand on what is going on in Egypt?

A: The opposition certainly does realise this. However, it is trapped in an ideological ditch from which it does not seem able to escape. The only organised opposition so far is the Muslim Brotherhood despite what it has been subjected to, because it has the ability to work underground and that enables it to recharge itself quickly and preserve its organisational structure notwithstanding the blows it has suffered.

Q: What about the Tadamun (Solidarity) Front, whose launch is being prepared and of which you are a member?

A: I don’t wish to talk about an entity that is still developing and is still being formed. Discussions are ongoing but there are problems and conflicts. Whenever we take a step forward we discover that elitist conflicts exist. This is what has been precluding the launch of the Front.

Q: Are there any Islamic personalities involved in the Front, such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and others?

A: I am personally open to any current that believes in democracy. I believe that Aboul Fotouh is one of those who are open to democracy and I see in him a bridge between the civil current and the Islamic current. Incidentally, I voted for him in the presidential elections of 2012. I am enthusiastic about him. However, there are those who reject the presence of any Islamic current in the Tadamun Front. I want to see us not having early conflicts prior to uniting the civil current. Later on, we may discuss the question of the Islamic current.

Q: What about the Muslim Brotherhood specifically? What is the stance towards it of those involved in the Front?

A: There are members within the Front who strongly object to the presence of the Brotherhood. However, I believe that should there be reflections within the movement and should it declare a leaning toward democracy and not simply the seeking of power, then I believe that the situation would be different. What we are looking to do is to unite the civil opposition first and later on we may open up to the Islamic current.

Muslim Brotherhood members at the trial over the breaking up of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya protests, at the police academy in Cairo, Egypt on November 01, 2016 [Moustafa El-Shemy / Anadolu]

Muslim Brotherhood members at the trial over the breaking up of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya protests, at the police academy in Cairo, Egypt on 1 November 2016 [Moustafa El-Shemy / Anadolu]

Q: How do you view what the Muslim Brotherhood has been subjected to in terms of killing, repression and prison?

A: I reject all of what the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic current in general have been subjected to. No state based on the rule of law deals with its opponents in this way. I therefore condemn all these measures. I wrote in an article published in Al-Misri Al-Youm under the title “Thoughts about my detained friend” about ambassador Muhammad Rifa’ah Al-Tahtawi. Then I stopped writing for the newspaper because of the harassment to which I was subjected after that article. If the Brotherhood continues to be treated in this way it may just return once more via a revolution against Sisi, but this time it will be a bloody revolution.

Q: How do you view the massacre at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square?

A: I reject the Rabaa massacre once and for all. I have expressed this in writing. I also called for the formation of an independent committee to investigate the massacre and prosecute the perpetrators.

Image of anti-coup protestors gathered at Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in July 2013

Anti-coup protesters gathered at Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in July 2013

Q: And what about physical liquidations, death sentences and forced disappearances?

A: This, naturally, is unacceptable. I have never witnessed a regime with such brutality, one that liquidates its rivals in this manner, let alone the other methods such as murder and kidnappings in the streets, gagging opponents and demolishing their homes. This did not even occur during the Mubarak era despite all the corruption and security crackdowns.

Q: What about the calls for revolutionary alignment, as have been made from time to time, whether locally or abroad?

A: I would be willing to respond to any calls for alignment or any call for the safekeeping of the country. Therefore, when a call is made I respond personally because I am not affiliated with any party or any political faction. And I pay the price for this. Some people have attacked me for just appearing on some channels, including Al-Jazeera. I have been compelled not to appear and to restrict my appearance to Al-Sharq channel since it is not a Muslim Brotherhood channel.

Q: Since Al-Sharq has been mentioned, how do you view the calls by its owner, Ayman Nur, for revolutionary alignment and to what extent has it been responded to?

A: As I mentioned, I support any call that serves the interests of the country and serves its safekeeping. Yet, the problem with the external opposition, and Ayman Nur is one of its prominent figures, is that it stands on one leg. What I mean is that it depends on the outside and is far from the inside and is not interacting with it. As such, it finds it difficult to bring down the regime. Of course, the inside is the primary field while the outside is an auxiliary factor. The criticism levelled at the opposition on the outside is that it relies on the support of foreign countries, and so it is not engaged with.

Q: But you signed some of the statements issued outside, including those of the Egyptian Patriotic Front that is headed by Ayman Nur!

A: When I sign these statements, I endorse the content, especially given that I support any alignment that aims to safeguard the country and bring down the regime, but I do not necessarily endorse the mechanisms. I do not consider myself part of this or that team. What concerns me is the interest of the country.


Q: How do you view what happened during the recent UNESCO elections and the Arabs’ loss of the post?

A: Regrettably we can call that an Arab disappointment due to division and fragmentation. This has happened more than once where more than one Arab candidate stands. Consequently, Arabs fail and they lose the honour attached to such a post. The Arabs were closest to winning the post this time. It was division in which the media played an important role, especially the cheap performance of the Egyptian media. In truth, the Qatar performance was balanced and there was no transgression on its part. The claim that money played a role in favour of Qatar is baseless because money alone does not decide these things. There are other things that are much more profound such as the Qataris’ distinguished performance.

Q: Having mentioned Qatar, how do you view the siege imposed on Qatar by a number of Arab states?

A: A siege is, of course, totally rejected, as a matter of principle, but each party must bear its own responsibilities, whether it is the siege-imposing states or the state of Qatar. As for Qatar’s position after the siege, I can see that it is steadfast so far. Its performance has been more distinguished and more open to the world in contrast to the performance of the states imposing the siege.

Q: And what about Palestinian reconciliation?

A: All parties had an interest in this reconciliation and that is why it has been approved. Hamas wants to end the siege on Gaza and end the suffering of its people. The Palestinian Authority wants a united government headed by itself with which to regain control over Gaza. As for Israel and America, they gave the green light because America wants to be able to address other issues in the region so as to rearrange things therein. Egypt wanted to regain part of its role.

Palestinian Fatah movement leader Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Deputy Chairman of the Movement’s Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri (L) shake hands after signing the reconciliation agreement to build a consensus in Cairo, Egypt on 12 October 2017 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]

Q: Has Egypt been able to regain its role?

A: It has not been able to regain its role in the region because it is engaged in the policy of axes. It is in need of a leadership that pays attention first to the inside and then negotiates with Iran in order for Arab-Iranian and Sunni-Shia coordination to occur in order to confront the challenges facing the region due to Israeli and American plans.

Read: What is behind the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation?

Q: What about [Donald Trump’s] “Deal of the Century”? Is it about to be activated?

A: It is, of course, in favour of Israel, primarily. It begins with disarming the resistance. This is what Israel is seeking to achieve, but this will be opposed by Hamas. In order to stop this deal, the Palestinians need to unite and deal with Israel with one head, whether a resisting head or a negotiating head. What is more important is unity. This will be a very important factor in confronting Israel’s plans. In any case, it is a mysterious deal. I view any US-sponsored solution as one that serves Israel’s interest. We have to be cautious and have to be very careful.

Q: We move to the Renaissance Dam crisis and Egypt’s current position.

A: Regrettably, there is huge concern regarding this issue because Egypt has managed it rather badly, just like all the other portfolios. Egypt is facing a grave danger as a result. It must exert its utmost effort in order to avoid the path towards military solutions. I believe, though, that when any leader says that his country and his people are facing the threat of annihilation, he will not hesitate to resort to military force.

Q: In your opinion, has the Tiran and Sanafir Islands case been closed after handing them over to Saudi Arabia?

A: It was closed by the authority in Egypt but it will never be closed by the people and the national forces due to the seriousness of the matter and its importance for Egyptian national security.

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