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Egypt: ‘Not much has changed since 2011’ – Mohamed Anwar Sadat
The Reform and Development Party, headed by Anwar Sadat – named after his uncle and former president Sadat – was legalised just after the revolution in 2011. At the time, the growth of new parties provided hope for a multi-party future.
But the reality has been far from that, and Sadat dropped out of the 2018 presidential polls after openly saying he didn’t believe “there would be equal chances for the candidates”.
Since then, Sadat has maintained a busy, albeit low profile, as an MP representing his party.
Ahead of the 10th anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, he spoke to The Africa Report.
*Interview has been lightly edited for clarity
The Africa Report: We’re coming up to the 10-year anniversary of the revolution. From your vantage point, how far has Egypt come or has it come at all?
Anwar Sadat: Well honestly, not much has changed since 2011, especially when it comes to the political and the civil society files. Maybe when it comes to stability, yes, things are far better. Egypt is now back to normal when it comes to the economic reforms. A lot of things have happened. I mean, success stories happen and the government has been performing quite well.
But the political file, the human rights file, we still need a lot to be done.
Now, you potentially had a chance to make a difference back in 2018 for the election, but you bowed out of it. Do you regret that move?
No, I don’t regret it.
Actually, the way the parliament was structured, run and managed meant there was a lack of understanding. I’ve been trying hard to protect my right as a parliamentarian, as the head of the human rights committee, but it was very difficult at the time.
So I don’t regret it. Hopefully with the new parliament now, where we have two chambers, the Senate House and the House of Representatives, hopefully we will see a much better performance, a much better, let’s say accountability, for the government – balance of power, separation of power. But it’s still too early because they just started a few days ago. So we would see what will happen.
You do have a reputation of being a ‘clean politician’, but when it comes down to really pushing for reform in the parliament and just through your party, it’s a lot more talk than actual action. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Well, you see, as a political party we have been trying to make a change. As I said, political life is not easy, but at least now we have a chance, we have representation in both chambers.
Hopefully our parliamentarians, for whom we are running a lot of training programmes for, so they could be in the position to practise their rights and use all the tools to give a message of hope to the people who will follow and who will listen to their performance and attitude in the coming weeks and months.
So we are trying, as I said, and we will see what will happen, you know, but we have to be optimistic. This is a new parliament with the beginning of a new year. So we know that life is not easy, but we have to keep trying.
We hear a lot of reports about journalists, NGO workers, human rights lawyers and even social-media performers who have been targeted by the government for different reasons. But the government has consistently denied such violations. As an MP, what can you do about that?
Well, I think the government and the security apparatus have realised that the time has come, that there has to be an […] understanding that all these violations, abuses, cannot go on like this. There has to be a kind of reevaluation of the situation.
I have personally tried this from my own experience, [when] I was mediating […] for one of the human rights organisations. It went very well, successful because for the first time, I can see that people in the government are willing to listen and to try to work a way out, which happened. So, I believe that we will see a much better situation when it comes to human rights in the coming months.
We will see also the release of some journalists, activists and politicians who have been detained. I’m quite optimistic, simply because our government has felt that our partners, either European or even the new American administration, [can no longer] tolerate this kind of violation.
So we have to revise our position and we have to somehow try to fulfil our commitment, which our constitution clearly states in most of the articles and also the international agreements [UN Human Rights Conventions], [of] which Egypt is committed [to] or has signed.
But I believe that within the coming months we will hopefully see a much better situation. And this might also help in making Egypt’s image different to what most people have been witnessing in the last couple of years.
Because what we’ve seen, especially since the arrival of the coronavirus, is the reluctance to let go of an image versus the reality.
And I think this is now starting to catch up with the country because there is a peak in cases and information is coming out that, in fact, it hasn’t been as properly controlled as one would like to think. Well, I agree, but this is honestly happening in most countries, in most of the world, you know, it’s happening.
But again, as I said, we all have been through a difficult time with the coronavirus. I think we all have learned the lesson that the time has come and we all have to come together, we all have to help each other and we all have to make this life better, easier, for most of us so we can carry on seeing our close relatives.
I have been receiving a lot of positive messages that the government and the different institutions will deal with most of our, let’s say, our violations, most of our restrictions. They will ease the situation and they will try to work out quite a successful programme to make Egypt sound and also well received from our partners in Europe or the States.
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The new executive by-laws for the legislation governing the operations of NGOs were just published on 14 January. Is this on the right track to helping NGOs do their job, like you were mentioning, without this fear of reprisal?
Well, this is the best you can get at this time. It’s not the perfect one, but at least it’s something that we can build on.
We still have to see how it’s going to be implemented. But, I think the government must also have realised that the civil society has to play a big role, especially in the poorer areas that need help. Not just [through] charity, but also [in] developing women’s issues, also political awareness, building capacity. So I think they realise that the role of the civil society has to be encouraged and has to be supported.
But of course, if you talk about the law or the executive by-laws, it all depends on how we are going to implement this and how this will be functioning. So we’ll have to wait and see in the coming months as to what the outcome will be.
There is some criticism that this new parliament was, in fact, rigged, and it’s actually doubtful that it will serve any purpose in its current form. What are your comments or response to that kind of criticism?
Well, I mean, both rigging and fraud happens every week. It happens everywhere, but now what we have is a parliament in place. And those who have any kind of criticism, they have been making appeals in court.
We have to go forward and this is the best you can have at this stage. Let’s try to give a message of hope to the people who have been voting for those parliamentarians.
Let’s try to make them feel that this parliament speaks for them and also talks about all their needs, problems, hopes. So this is actually what what I’m trying [to do] with others, to make a difference from the last parliament.
So we’ll have to wait and see. And I can tell you that we will see some very good independent voices in the parliament who will stand up and speak the truth and hold the government accountable and [they’re] doing their best to have this institution as a legitimate body. And we will see what what will happen.
In the history of Egypt, since the 1952 revolution and again in the 2011 revolution, these were moments when it could have been the the explosion of political consciousness of political parties, and in fact, one could argue the only time that really happened was under your uncle, President [Anwar] Sadat. Why do you think the Egyptian people don’t have this this culture of wanting to become more politically active as opposed to just being told what to do?
Well, most Egyptians believe that whether they join political parties or NGOs, or whether they vote for amending constitutions or in presidential elections, their voice won’t make a difference. You know, they have this culture.
Although they didn’t have a change in 2011, we have seen many people interested in joining political parties, to also establish NGOs, to be involved in volunteering work.
Partly scared, partly depressed, partly they don’t believe in political parties or politicians anymore. It’s a mixture of many things. But this has to change.
But, of course, I know that there has been a setback.
So most of them, they are not interested anymore in being part of any political movement or any political activities. We are trying to encourage people and to draw their attention and interests that this is for you, for your future, for your family. You have to be part of what is happening and you have to speak out.
We are trying. I know it’s difficult. People are not interested anymore in being part of the political life, especially [the] youth. They all are frustrated, they don’t believe that there are chances.
I think that we have to work this out as politicians and also intellectuals to encourage people to be engaged and to also play a role in the coming years because this is their future and the future of their families and their children. So we will see.
Yes, I know that this is a weak point in the political environment in Egypt. But I hope that people will understand and realise that the time has come, that they should be part of this political game.
You don’t think it’s because they’re scared of speaking up?
Well, partly [they] must be scared, of course.
Because you can’t have a political culture if you’re scared to speak up.
I agree. Partly scared, partly depressed, partly they don’t believe in political parties or politicians anymore. It’s a mixture of many things. But this has to change. Because the only way to go forward is to try to attract them, bring them back again so that their voices can be heard. We have no other choice.
Looking ahead to the next election in 2024. Will you be running again for president as the head of the Reform and Development Party?
Too early to decide. But of course, if I feel that there is free and fair elections; fair competition, why not?
It’s a might, but I mean it’s too early to have a final say. I am sure there are others who are considering, but everyone is taking a position of wait-and-see.