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Nafaa: ‘Sisi’s regime will fall when he amends the constitution’

Professor of Political Science at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa
Professor of Political Science at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa

Opposition parties and civil society groups in Egypt must prepare themselves to fight back when President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi changes the constitution to enable him to run for a third term, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa said.

In an interview with Arabi21, Nafaa said: “Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi would not be able to run in the upcoming presidential elections unless he amends the constitution. However, Al-Sisi’s success in this endeavour would be a clear violation of the Egyptian constitution.”

He called on Egyptian opposition forces to prepare for the upcoming presidential elections and to focus their efforts on utilising all available peaceful means in order to ensure the conditions are suitable for real and credible elections to be held.

Nafaa stressed that Al-Sisi’s re-election would be “invalid” and this would mean that “it will be only a matter of time for Al-Sisi’s inevitable fall”.

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The following passage is the text of some of the interview:

What are your thoughts about the Egyptian government’s summoning of opposition figures for interrogation?

I consider such practices as a new evidence of the regime’s weakness and failure to engage in dialogue with those who are politically different. I believe that dialogue is vital to reach a political formula that guarantees the creation of social peace.

What about the regime’s labelling of opposition figures and parties as ‘terrorists’?

I can say here that the regime’s approach is dangerous and will definitely fail to manage political life in Egypt. Linking terrorism to political opposition is a pseudo-American strategy entitled “the global war on terrorism”, which is a tool to exert the US hegemony over the international system or, rather, to regain its lost dominance.

However, what may be acceptable or justifiable from an American perspective may not be in favour of Egypt’s best national interest. Egypt is not the same as the US and does not have a global strategy that requires setting “lists” of terrorist organisations in preparation for waging a war to counter terrorism.

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It is true that terrorism poses a real threat to Egypt and to many other countries in the region. However, confronting such menaces can only be successful by using all available means and not by utilising security approaches only. Terrorism should not be used as a pretext to get rid of political opponents or to diminish their influence as is the case in Egypt today.

Al-Sisi declared that there will be no role for the Muslim Brotherhood as long as he rules Egypt, and that the Egyptian people will never accept the Brotherhood’s return to power. How do you see the future relationship between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood?

If Al-Sisi sees the Muslim Brotherhood as the main threat to his authority, why should he pursue all other opposition forces and seek to limit their influence? Al-Sisi is well aware that the real threat to his power comes from civil forces that demand the consolidation of democratic values in Egypt. However, he tries to use the Muslim Brotherhood as a scarecrow to intimidate everyone and push them to abandon their political roles.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in court on May 16th 2015 [file photo]

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in court on May 16th 2015 [file photo]

I have no doubt that true Islam can grow and flourish better within democratic states, not autocracies. So, I think that the biggest obstacle in the Brotherhood’s path is no longer its relationship with the regime but rather its ties with society. In other words, it can be said that reforming the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with society should be the main approach leading to the reconciliation with the regime, and not the other way around.

Do you think Al-Sisi will carry on with his second term without any problems?

I do not rule this out because the security services were able to tighten their grip on all the branches of power in the country. However, I doubt very much that the current regime can solve the difficult problems facing Egyptian society at this stage, despite its strength and tyranny, especially if it decides to carry on with its current economic and social policies.

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However, Al-Sisi’s ability to easily carry on with his second term does not rule out any tensions and problems that may lead to social strife, which will be manifested in “hunger” or “anger” strikes. No one can predict a specific timing for those expected crises or their repercussions, which are likely to be detrimental to everyone.

Press reports have previously talked about the resentment or unrest within the state institutions because of the state policies and Al-Sisi’s practices. Do you think that this is true?

Perhaps this is the case, and anyone can feel this everywhere. Once a person gets into any educational, cultural, artistic, economic or sports institution and meets persons who think he is trustworthy, they immediately start criticising the policies of the regime bitterly.

I think that the overwhelming majority of the citizens are angry at the policies of the regime for various reasons, the most important are the severe restrictions imposed on freedoms and the deterioration of living standards. However, this does not mean that the official state institutions will revolt against the ruling regime because they are ran by pro-regime figures that are totally loyal to the leadership. These figures have a vested interest in keeping the situation as it is.

In 2014, Al-Sisi stated that he will not allow the creation of parallel forces which will compete for the state’s sovereignty. What is the truth behind the centres of power which exist within the regime?

The existence of centres of power is natural, predictable and even inevitable within each despotic individualistic regime. No single man, no matter what his capabilities, can monitor every little detail within the state and society. Therefore, every dictator needs associates who are given vast powers and authority to run things.

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Al-Sisi did not rise to power by accident. He played a key role in fuelling the events of 30 June and overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood. He believes that he will be able to derive legitimacy from this “historic achievement”, which others consider a coup against a legitimate authority.

Al-Sisi is the founding father of the existing regime. He is being very careful not to share any of the power with anyone.

How would you assess the way the regime is fighting terrorism? Why has it not succeeded with uprooting it?

Terrorism has become a global phenomenon and no country, no matter how powerful it is, can claim to be able to prevent 100 per cent of terrorist operations. However, terrorism in Egypt is specific to the nature of the current political crisis, and unless it is resolved, the ability of the state and society to combat the terrorist phenomenon will remain very weak.

I can go further and more seriously to say that the Egyptian regime’s insistence on killing politicians and harassing civil society institutions will contribute to the creation to of a huge vacuum that allows terrorism to be active and to thrive.

Image of Egyptian soldiers [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Egyptian security forces [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Fighting terrorism by security means is not enough. Relying on these tools is not sufficient, especially in a society suffering from a state of void and sterility at the political, intellectual, economic and social levels, as well as the deteriorating living conditions and the educational and health services being provided too.

It has been two years since the Egyptian pound floated on the open market, what do you think of this decision?

I am not an economic expert to allow myself to comment on this aspect of the picture, but if I may comment on the subject from a political perspective, I can say that most of the respected economists whom I read their writings agree that the float of the Egyptian pound was technically necessary but delayed measure. However, before taking this action, it would have been necessary to study its expected effects on the poor, who needed a safety net to protect them from its negative effects, which did not happen.

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So, it seems to me that the decision to float the pound was an automatic response to the IMF’s policies and that the government did not do what it should have done to protect the hard-working classes from its negative effects.

Does the fact Egyptians did not react when the measure was taken mean they are satisfied with the regime’s performance?

The lack of reaction by people is a result of fear rather than complacency. I believe that the regime is establishing its current policies on the basis that the margin of liberties allowed by the Mubarak regime, especially during its last years, produced a political movement that eventually overthrew him, and is thus narrowing this margin or completely removing it.

Do you think the regime will amend the constitution?

I wouldn’t rule out that Al-Sisi can make constitutional amendments that allow him to extend his current term to six years instead of four, or allow him to run for a third term or even stay in power for life, because of the fragmentation and fear of opposition forces.

At the same time, however, we must remember that, in principle and categorically, the current Constitution prohibits any constitutional amendments of the kind referred to above, and when  carried out, they shall be null and void. The Constitution requires any amendments concerning freedoms and democratic principles to open up more freedoms, not to block them, and to support and not undermine the democratic foundations and attributes of the regime.

Al-Sisi, in my personal view at least, is not the kind of persons who can be satisfied with the title of “Former President of the Republic”.

Do you expect Al-Sisi to step down as a result of election results? How popular do you think he is now?

I have already said that I do not imagine Al-Sisi to live on as a “Former President of the Republic”.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi in Cairo, Egypt on 5 June 2018 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi in Cairo, Egypt on 5 June 2018 [Egyptian President Office/Apaimages]

It is true that all signs indicate that his popularity has been severely eroded, but the actual value of this popularity can only be measured through free and fair elections. Therefore, the opposition forces must henceforth focus their efforts to work in all peaceful means available to provide the conditions for holding real elections, and not a referendum or something similar to a referendum, as it happened in 2014 and 2018, and so that these elections would have guarantees of pluralism, fairness and transparency.

What if Al-Sisi manages to run, in any form, in the next presidential election?

El-Sisi will not be able to present himself as a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections unless he makes amendments to the current constitution. His success in this endeavour will constitute a clear and unequivocal violation of the content and essence of the constitution, which he has twice sworn to respect. Therefore, his election will be absolutely invalid. It will also bring his entire regime into trouble and its downfall will become inevitable and only a matter of time. How long will this downfall take? God knows.

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How do you think Egypt can escape its current crisis?

The current crisis in Egypt is confusing and very complicated. It has not recently emerged, but its roots date back to the January 2011 revolution and the mistakes committed by all the parties involved, which led to undermining the revolution twice: once by the Muslim Brotherhood, when they thought that the ballot box alone was enough to give them legitimacy to monopolise power. The second time was by Al-Sisi when he exploited the Muslim Brotherhood’s mistakes and the people’s fears to re-establish a more corrupt and despotic individual regime than the regime against which the people revolted in January and managed to overthrow.

In any case, it will not be possible in such a context to take Egypt out of its crisis only by saving the core revolution in its pure form. The Muslim Brotherhood should have enough courage to embark on extensive internal reforms that will allow it to engage as an integral part of the national movement.

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