The meeting took place on February 25, 2013 at the Presidential Palace. This meeting was initiated by Cornelis Hulsman of Arab-West Report (AWR). It was, of course, pleasing to hear after the interview that staff from the Presidency follows the reporting of AWR and respects the style of reporting.
Present: Dr. Essam Al-Haddad, Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer (Professor Emeritus, AUC, Associate to Arab-West Foundation), Ms. Mary Lai (Chinese businesswoman, member of the Center for Arab-West Understanding), Mr. Ehab Gouda (Egyptian businessman working with the Chinese-Egyptian Friendship Association), Mr. Jayson Casper (researcher with AWR), Ms. Eline Kasanwidjojo (assistant researcher with AWR), Mr. Marc van Oudheusden (board member of the Stichting Arab-West Foundation) and Drs. Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-Chief, Arab-West Report.
The transcript was edited for language reasons. The office of Dr. Essam al-Haddad verified whether this was done accurately. Between brackets sometimes some explanatory formulations have been added.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: We will make a full transcript of this meeting. This is about your view of what is happening in Egypt.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: To start, Bism Allah al-Rahmān al-Rahīm
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: I fully appreciate and understand that you are not media-oriented people who just would like to create a media attraction by getting some words from peoples’ mouths. You want to really send a clear message to those who are concerned about what is going on here. That is why actually I made my quick response and said it is a good opportunity [to meet with you] because I feel that we are not reaching out enough to people who would like to see information on what is going on in Egypt now.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: First question is the coalition government that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had promised before the elections of President Mursī, but it didn’t happen. There is no coalition government. And the continuous stories that you hear are about non-Islamists, whoever they are, feeling they are now excluded.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Well, let me put it clearly. There is no FJP government neither coalition, or no coalition. There is no FJP government, because the government which has been formed according to the promise of the President during his elections was that the government will not be headed by an FJP member or a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member. So there is no FJP government. It is a technocrat government. Dr. Hesham Qandil (Hishām Qandīl) is neither FJP nor Muslim Brotherhood, and he formed a government on a technocrat basis. The issue is that the number of ministers in the first and second formation that are related to FJP is very limited. The reality is that the FJP and the Muslim Brotherhood have been excluded; excluded completely from any political or governmental position within the government for the past thirty years. So the reality is that they have capabilities, they have the opportunities, and they have now a majority of support. So for any political decision to be made and any sound government to be formed, you cannot ignore such a power in reality. They are a presence on the streets and in political life. Because the criteria was to choose from those who are really having the capabilities to fill the positions then they were choosing from across the country.
The issue of non-Islamists and Islamists. I don’t think this is something which is reflecting the truth because who is in the government? There are technocrats from different backgrounds. We have three ministers from the FJP and MB in the first round and seven ministers out of thirty ministers now. So it is very clear that they are not a majority. Other ministers are from previous civil service within the government and have not been affiliated with any of the previous establishments of the previous regime. Claims that the Brotherhoodization or Ikhwanization exists is creating something out of nothing. We have to admit that the full exclusion of all Islamists from all sorts of meaningful institutions across the country has been a way of ruling the country for the past sixty years, not thirty years, for the past sixty years. So if these people are now represented this is a right of each Egyptian person to be included in whatever change, particularly after the Revolution.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Various editors-in-chief, including for example Hānī Shukrallah of Al-Ahram Online, have been replaced. Many who replaced them have a Muslim Brotherhood background.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Well, I totally do not accept this. Simply because Ahram Online, which Hani (Hānī) Shukrallah was the Editor-of-Chief of, is the most hard, the hardest news agency working against the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP. And if you go through any research and check their articles it is unbelievable the way they are creating some articles and they are totally against the government and totally against, not just as opposition, but as propaganda even. On the other hand, when these changes were made, they were made on criteria which where agreed on by a majority of a selected group of journalists and they made the appointments [CH: in the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Shūrá Council]. So if you mention to me who is related to the Muslim Brotherhood I am grateful to you. I know that the Minister of Information is related to the Muslim Brotherhood. But actually all his appointments where based on criteria which were put forth by a number of journalists and according to these criteria they made the new appointments. And if you see now actually the spectrum of the Egyptian media, it is, whether it is press or TV, or whatever it is and this has a research done by Safwat Al-Alem (al-‘Alam)--think he is in American University, 94% of Egyptian media is now against the government. So if you are saying that there has been an Ikhwanization of media or appointing of Muslim Brotherhood members in media and 94% of media is working against the government and 76% of the official government media outlets, there is something unusual if they are appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood to attack them. Either they are picking the wrong choices or they are shooting their own feet. I do not think they are that stupid.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: This is a report by Safwat Al-’Alam?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, yes.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: We will look for that
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Please let us know, because this was reported to us.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: If we will find it, we will send it to you.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: I have not seen it myself, because this is not my domain, but I would be happy to see it.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Yes, because it is important to see the truth.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad : Yes, because 94% of the media at large and 76% of the public media, of the state media.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: People argue that the Constitution has been rushed through and was accepted with a rather small minority and therefore not representing as large of a segment of society that certainly the Constituent Assembly had wished.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Well let’s come back to figures actually. When the first referendum on the 19th of March  was made, it was made over two days and it was accepted that anybody would cast his vote in any place across Egypt not in his own constituency. So it was just after the Revolution, everybody was so enthusiastic. It was made over two days and no restriction on location. How many casted their votes during that referendum? Eighteen million. Now, after all this, calls for boycotting and for not allowing this referendum to go through and all this actions we have more than seventeen million voters on one day on restricted location bases. So these two measures have even affected the turnout. I myself stood, I stood for three hours to cast my vote and this was nearly nine o’clock in the evening. So and even when the doors were closed and still there were people not able [to vote] at eleven o’clock. So the turnout is not that low at all. It is nearly 30% of the voters which is not unusual in a referendum and the number of yes within this 30% was nearly two thirds, 64,2%. I mean I think for a referendum with this turnout, you cannot ignore such a referendum. And you cannot say that this is not accepted by the Egyptian public. Yes, we used to have referendums before with…
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: I remember referendums with 99%, so everybody voted.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Whether he is alive or not. [This referendum] is free, it is fair, it is observed, and it is lawful and with all the restrictions we have, this turnout is very good for a transition to achieve this.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: We have been asked to make a report on the process to come to the constitution, that will be published in Germany, in three languages, German, English, and French and Jayson has been working on this. And we should have this ready, inshā’allah, in less than a month because they would like to see this before the elections.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Ok, good. I hope that on writing this report you have to appreciate that this was the second Constitutional Assembly to be formed, the first was dissolved. And this Constitutional Assembly faced the risk of being dissolved as well because of a [pending] Constitutional Court decision; which was another reason for why we should not allow this to happen, otherwise we would negate the transitional period and this would really increase the risk of instability in the country. We would like to stabilize the country as quickly as possible and also to build our own institutions. So within this second formation of the Constitutional Assembly everybody on board was selected by a full group of opposition and non-opposition [representatives]--the full spectrum of the Egyptian society from extra right, liberals, actually secularist, whatever, to the extra left and Islamists. Because we have three dimensions now in Egypt, not only two dimensions. I do not know where they put Islamists? Is it right? Or is it left? Or is it a third dimension?
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: In the West the Salafis (Salafīs) would be described as right and the Brotherhood as right-centered, if you use the Western terminology.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: And where would the Wafd be?
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: The Wafd would be in somebody’s pocket.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: So I mean every single person was really nominated and it was announced in Al Wafd Party (al-Wafd) [building]. Number two is that it has been discussed for nearly five and a half months and only on the last two to three weeks have we experienced the withdrawal of a number of [representatives].
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: But you were meeting regularly for five months?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, regular meetings. Discussing each item. Not only that. Article 219 of the Constitution has been accepted and signed by the group, the committee which was discussing this article including Mr. Amr Mussa (‘Amr Mūsá) and including a Coptic leader and they have signed on the article. So they have gone through a process of a real discussion, real consensus building, however on the last three weeks they were withdrawn. And, I prefer [to mention] this, they did not withdraw, they were withdrawn through pressure through whatever forces in order to make sure that this constitutional assembly would fail.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Could you clarify that? What you were referring to that about, “they were withdrawn”?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: They were subjected to pressure.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: By whom?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: By different forces outside the Constitutional Assembly.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Can you allude to that?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Let me put it this way, there are a number of forces who are really totally unhappy with the democratic process of Egypt after the Revolution. Either because they are part of privileged [former] regime who have vested interests which is really on high risk at stake now or they are part of the elite who feel that there are newcomers to the scene who are not wanted to be there, I mean they are totally unacceptable by these hard wing. I am not condemning or pointing at anybody, but I am saying that there are forces who are trying to do this, and it is very obvious and clear--anybody following what is going on in Egypt would read it and see it. It is not the process, it is not the substance, and it is the mere existence of these newcomers to the democratic scene. Because they have been there for sixty years without this rage without the Islamists, how can they sustain such a thing? But there are of course opposition forces who are very liberal in their way, who are really accepting the democratic process and who are willing to compete and willing to convince the Egyptian population that they are more plausible than others, which is ok. This is what we are looking for--to have a realistic opposition who are really appealing to Egyptian people in order to convince them that their alternative is better than that alternative and that this is how the democratic process will carry on.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: I know Ayman Nūr (Ayman Nūr) stayed on with the dialogue, were there any others who stayed on? I mean others outside the Islamists?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Not only Nour (al-Nūr Party).
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Because it does not get reported, that is why I am asking.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: That is why his party was vandalized and was attacked by the Black Bloc, giving him a warning signal. So it is as if is either you go my way or the high way. So this is how, and all this violence actually.. The Egyptian population has not experienced so much violence by any means. We had the violence of some of the Islamic extremists groups during the nineties, some of the violence of the Nasserists during the eighties against the Israeli’s and so on, these were attacks against targets. But this actually now, is using the demonstrations and then vandalizing different institutions, different public institutions, state institutions, party institutions, this is something totally new to the Egyptian awareness and the Egyptian feeling and Egyptian culture. This is why the refusal is so high to such actions, but unfortunately the opposition, part of the opposition is maintaining a political cover for such violence and this is losing them ground.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: There is a problem between the presidency and Egyptian security.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Your headquarters were not being protected.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Yes, so the security forces are absent, they have withdrawn in Lazokhly (Lazūghlī Square), [location of the Ministry of Interior Affairs] but you will not find them elsewhere in Cairo and, I do not know where they are in Egypt. You see tensions, you hear people speaking about tensions. And not just anyone, prominent people.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Let’s face the facts. The security apparatus has really collapsed after the Revolution. On the 28th of January, 2011, the security apparatus in Egypt has completely collapsed. So building it from scratch is impossible and reforming it is not something easy. What we are trying to do is trying to provide them with whatever confidence needed in order to operate and embark on a security reform program which would really change this security apparatus from serving the President to serving the population. From using whatever instruments and techniques in order to get whatever they want into applying law and rules in their own ways, from ignoring human rights completely and covering it, to respecting human rights and being accountable. From being accountable to the President, to being accountable to the People’s Assembly, so this is a whole cultural change. It needs training, it needs the intake, it needs the degree of cultural change within the whole apparatus and you can’t have this in a few months. This takes time.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Is the security part of the reform plan?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, this is one of the most difficult programs we are embarking on. And we are here, actually trying to seek external expertise. We are in contact with a number of countries, they are willing to help and to provide technical assistance and training and information how this could be done and we are going on that road, yes.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: The press had reported that you have been in contact with Iran. Are there other countries besides Iran that you have been in contact with, ‘cause that would be good to mention for the sake of the press.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: This question incents [sic] a misleading question, I’m sorry for that. You are asking other countries besides Iran?
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Yes, because the press is only reporting Iran.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, but the press is not telling the truth.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: That is why we are sitting with you.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: There is no cooperation with Iran. I have been mentioned in the press and unfortunately it has been reported in the Times, the Times, which has its own checks and balances for making sure that news is properly reported. They have mentioned that I met the leader of the Iranian intelligence, which is totally untrue. That man did not enter Egypt to sit with me and I did not see him ever in my life. I do not know him, even. And the report was there that we agreed on security reform, to form the republican guards, all this stories out of the blue. My question is: Who is creating these stories? And why? You [Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer] help me, you are a professor in this.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: I want to hear it from you, that is why I am here.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The only way is to hear it from the source and you are the source, so…
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Could you mention those other countries?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: United States of America, Britain, Germany--those are the three countries.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Not the Netherlands?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: No, not the Netherlands. Those are the three countries, and Italy as well. Italy is also willing to do that. So these are four countries who are willing to help in security reform and we decided that there will be visits and media conferences. It is going on, but it is going on slowly, not at the pace we were hoping it to be on now.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Could you explain relations between President Mursī and the army?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: They are very good.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: I am hearing different stories.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, again you are hearing, [what I tell you] is the reality.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: One of my sources is your former colleague.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Well, if he has some sources of information, let me know. But, this gives a classical example of what effect the media is doing in all brains. My former colleague, who you are mentioning now, is following the media. If I follow the media by the day, you have nearly how many hours per week for talk shows? I think it is nearly thirty talk shows a day. 9% of them are against, and the level of fabricated news is so huge to the extent that you are living in another world. I get all the press every morning on my table and when I read them I feel depressed. Is this my country? It is totally unbelievable. Because it is very easy to focus reporting on the darkest side of a story and to ignore and not report any other story. The result will be, it is only dark. And we know as human beings that for everything there is a bright side and a dark side. So if you are looking at it evenly you will use the bright side and you will avoid the dark side. But the reality in the media is that it is only the dark side which is reported. The issue of the military, the President he is the supreme commander of the military forces, he has regular meetings with the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (SCAF). And he pays regular visits, and he has very good relations with General/Minister of Defense Sisi (al-Sīsī). Very good relations. I witnessed this, and I, myself, I have very good relations with other certain officers. We really take this as a joke, because this is not reality interpreted. There might be some retired officers or after the Revolution a number of officers who have been more engaged in politics and this had not been the case before. This would be a source of this dissent.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: You mean there is a political faction between the officers?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: No, I cannot say that. Because the military culture would not allow or tolerate faction at all. This is part of the military structure actually, even the statement which was done by the Minister of Defense, it was a long statement trying to portray to the public what is going on is not good for Egypt, to the extent that if this would reach a point, Egypt could collapse. This sentence was taken out of context: the military is warning the President. No, it was in total agreement.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: There is nothing entrancingly against the regime in that statement, but it seemed more directed from the other side.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Because you read it from the perspective of analyzing. But if you are using it as a media way in order to shock people, then you use it whatever way.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Because this is related also to the media talks about different militia. Squad 95 is mentioned, related to the Brotherhood, the Black Bloc, or recently Jameaat al-Islamiya (al-Jamā’āt Al-Islāmīyah) creating a group of fighters against the Black Bloc. Militia in Egypt, that is new.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: First, Brotherhood never had militia. at least in my own life. The al-Jamā’āt Al-Islāmīyah has made a complete reform in their mindset in their discourse and they reject violence by all means. Now we are experiencing a totally new scenario of the Black Blocs. And they are using violence and they are proud of using violence. I would say there are two elements here: there is an element which is pushing this group and using the level of anger of unmanaged expectations of frustration within groups of youth and trying to exploit this and use them in doing some sort of violent acts. So my assessment that yes, it is totally new to Egyptian culture to have such things, the Egyptian population is rejecting it by the day and I feel that it will have its own curve to fade down. It has been like this in Germany and it has been like this somewhere else, then they appear only during the gathering of G8 or the World Trade Organization and you know that they have a certain orientation within the political sphere. But here in Egypt it is trying to exploit the frustration and the unmanaged expectations of the youth and I again feel that there is an external element trying to push them.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Do you think there were Ultras supporting them?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Ultras is a way of supporting, like fans of a club.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: I mean Ultras who have been in confrontations with security: politicized Ultras.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Which Ultras do you mean? The National Ahly (al-Ahlī), Al Masry (al-Misrī)… Black Bloc is something totally different from Ultras.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: I thought that too logically, but I thought of recruiting ground, so Ultras are getting politicized.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Maybe.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: So they could be recruited to the Black Bloc. It is an anarchist organization.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: And we have experienced that here in Egypt. The far left and the anarchists tried to stop the internet, hacking, and what we have experienced two days ago to block the metro line. They are using the exploitation of the youth frustration but it is a curve which would fade down, I am sure of that.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Security violence has been frequently mentioned. Could you comment on that? Excessive violence by security.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: The amount of violence against security which was not experienced before, has reached a level where security is now responding but with tear gas and water cannons. But for each rule there are exceptions. Our position is that there is no tolerance for violence against peaceful demonstrations and there is no tolerance for violent demonstrators who are attacking either other people or institutions. So the balance is very tight. However, if there are any documented incidents of violation, we are taking this very seriously on two sides. First, it has to be investigated and those accountable need to be brought to justice. Second, strategic measures need to be taken to ensure it won’t happen again within the ministry and within the officers. And in this case we would say that we have experienced that the level of restraints, self-restraints by the police is not seen in the Egyptian public for years. And I invited you to come here to see how we are operating within Ithahadiya [Presidential Palace]. By night on Friday Ithahadiya is attacked by Molotov cocktails and graffiti on walls and everything. Nobody is doing anything to them. So because they are not allowed to carry bullets, the police force, they are only allowed to use tear gas and water cannons. So this is what is going on in the police. But if things are going more violent from some of the violent demonstrators then they have to take action. The rule is using the acceptable level of force in order to stop this from going on. Any violation of these acts, whether those who have been here in Ithahadiya (Ithādīyah) or anywhere else, will be investigated and those who have been considered accountable will be brought to justice. This is the rule we are working on. Going back to the other side where we have experienced women harassment, huge women harassment at Tahrir Square, there have been claims that these had been organized by the FJP and the MB. This is nonsense, complete nonsense. We have information now that these people are paid by the day, sometimes by hour to demonstrate and to do whatever damage in any part they are and we even know that the fee reaches nearly 1000LE for a day and if they are wounded they could get up until 1500LE, so it is a good job.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: If you have this information why don’t you bring them to charge?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Because this information is not 100% on record. Like drug trafficking, you can see that this person is giving that person an amount of drug to be used and he is selling it and he is getting the price. If you don’t have the license from the public security…
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: But you could simply arrest the perpetrators, because there are groups who are fighting them and they could testify evidence, because, again, this is where there is a credibility problem. I have no reason to doubt you at all.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: This point is about the government not being in control, continuously. No licenses…
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: They are violating the regulations.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: I am seeing this within my own area. I see the daily changes. So you see Upper-Egypt previously green land, that has been gone. There is no enforcement of the law.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We had a revolution 2 years ago. The dictatorship has been there for 30 years with all its levels of corruption. And people are now experiencing a totally new atmosphere that they are free to do whatever they want and there is no security apparatus enforcing law on them. And they feel this as an opportunity to do whatever they want.
I have been to South Africa for nearly five years after the Apartheid rulers. I was not in Johannesburg, but in Cape Town. I was not allowed to go outside the five-star hotel where I was staying without having a stick and without being warned. When I went around the streets of the five-star hotel everyone was holding a stick. And this was five years after the Apartheid regime. You don’t have a complete change in such a short time. I always say, you need nine months to have a baby. Can you have a baby in less than nine months? Sometimes, maybe. But you need two years to start to speak two words. And another ten, thirteen years to be mature in order to be a responsible person. This is traditional of course. You cannot expect that after a full collapse and a full blown over of the regime, things would go back to normal immediately. And you have a counter revolution going against you. But what I can say, we know very well where we are going. And we expect that this time will come and we are determined to carry on building our institutions. And carry on in the reforms we are trying to make in order to make the environment more acceptable and attractive for investors. This is how we want to do it.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Yes this is all clear, but meanwhile things are happening in the country that are irreversible, like losing fertile lands, like destroying neighborhoods, or like brain drain. People are leaving the country--you will not get them back, they will get settled in other countries and they are gone, businessmen leaving. Damages done that will have a long term effect.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Let me give you a medical example, because I have a medical background. You have a patient with high blood pressure, internal bleeding, whose respiration is not going well and has a serious disease. And then he is even suffering from a fracture in his neck. What will you look first at? The ruling medicine is that you will look at the cardiac sounds, make sure that his heart is operating normally, measuring that his breath is operating normally and then you look at the fracture and after that at his whole health. So there is brain drainage, but there is no brain damage. There is a big difference between both. Yes we are seeing some brain drainage. But one of our plans is to start a program for brain recovery. But brain recovery to attract them back. That means that you should first create an environment which will attract them. The same for businessmen. We are trying our best to reconcile with businesspeople who have done nothing wrong and doing their best, but those…
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The issues we mentioned thus far are all issues for which you need consensus building. How would you find a consensus in Egypt to address all these issues that are of major importance to Egypt because a consensus will help to address this?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes you are right, it is important, we are trying our best. Mr. President has invited for dialogue, once, a second, a third time. His invitation was that everything could be discussed, no constraints. You can discuss whatever. But what we are seeing from the other side is that we will not sit unless you are meeting this condition. So, it is a conditional dialogue. “No we will not sit with you ‘cause you are not credible enough”, “no we will not accept this, no we will not accept that.” Our experience is that, not only experience, our information is that there are elements who are not willing to enter the dialogue, but they are only willing to delay the democratic process. This is their point. Whenever there is an election, they say this is not the right time for an election. If there is a referendum, they will say that this is not the right time for a referendum. If there is any sort of action building democratic institutions in order to go forward there is a sincere trial to hamper and to obstruct it. This is what we see so in order to archive consensus within this environment, it is not that easy to reach a 100% consensus. But you have to reach out and to open the door and whoever will be joining you will carry on with them. And those who are sending their own agents inside the country and playing outside and sending money, there is more than country and business man who are intervening in our country to avert whatever is going on.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: There is a credibility problem. What countries are you talking about? When you are talking about foreign countries intervening, especially since that is a phrase that has been used over sixty years, so it has a very negative, when I hear that it is like I am hearing…
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Mubārak.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Mubarak (Mubārak) or Qadafi. Is there any way you could clarify that? What countries are intervening? I understand why you do not want to, but just asking whether you can.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We do not want to spoil the relations with this country, because this is a brotherly country. Who are scared of what is going on in here.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We prefer to keep it calm. And to avoid it, with the hope that they would realize that intervening in the internal affairs of Egypt is not at ease.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Consensus building. We in the Netherlands have the Social Economic Council, that is where government and different major institutions of society all operate together in order to reach consensus about mayor issues and the government would consult them. I have been once a member of this council for the emigration commission that they had. It is a very nice way the whole structure they made consensus is interesting. Would you be interested if I would contact them and see what they could do for Egypt? It is a method of consensus building.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Let me add something else. The new constitution of Egypt has a clause to form a Social Economic Council, for this reason in particular. So whatever experience would be there would be very helpful. Norway has been very helpful with that. They have experience in coalition governments. They have tried and we have tried to build this consensus and to create this. To the extent that one of our experts trained some competitor within presidential elections in how to conduct a presidential campaign. Because we felt that we have to create a new Egypt together. We trust that every Egyptian has a very sincere feeling towards this country. So we identify our differences, but these differences should not contravene with the common ground we can build together. So let’s expand our common grounds. That is what our vision is. But sometimes we do not receive a hearing ear.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Continuously stressed in media reports that there have not been any measures from the government to deal immediately with problems of poverty and unemployment. Are you undertaking immediate measures? Because the media is saying you are not.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: First, the issue of social justice, the minimum and maximum wages, have been applied by the government. Minimum wage has been increased to a level which is doable, this is public, it is there. It has been ratified by the previous parliament and it is applied, but no one is mentioning this. The minimum wage now is 700 Egyptian Pounds, from 350 to 700LE now and they want to increase this to 1200 Egyptian Pounds. This increase would create a burden on the fiscal budget. The second measure is that all factories that have been closed after the Revolution have been revised completely. We have identified that there are 450 factories like that, which have been closed because of the unaddressed cases. This is in the private sector. More than half of them have been operating again, so there are back to operate, which means better working conditions. Third are the investors. In order to evolve you have to invest heavily. And again we have been trying to invest in the infrastructure. Takes time. Because if you start to build the road, it will take time and I do visit those streets.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman. What is the investing policy for investors? Because it is lacking flexibility.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Investors are always risk taking and risk calculating. Whenever they go to a new market they have to make a balance between costs and benefits and the risk level and so on. What is going on in Egypt right now is not a conducive environment and is not acceptable for investors. Despite that we can see that Samsung will open a huge plant in Beni Suef. And there will be a number of Japanese investments here as well. We have a long list of investors who are waiting to come. They are not saying it is conditional. They have a specific desire. What we need to do internally is to make sure that the redistributive side which is attractive for business and on the other side it has to be also not allowing corruption and not allowing the growth to be channeled/tunneled to a small circle. So we have to make sure that we are creating better growth and we are maintaining better redistribution of wealth across the country. And also the other side is the security side. We have huge investments that are hampered by security issues. Mentioning just one of them: Argium, a big fertilizer company, investing 1.8 billion dollars in Damietta Governorate. There are gangs trying to stop them every time they want to start. And if this factory starts the revenue of the Egyptian government will be at least 1 billion dollars a year. Political and criminal gangs.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Are those gangs criminal-criminal, or political-criminal?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Unfortunately both.
Ms. Mary Lai: Can I just talk about the investments? I was in Beijing when President Mursī was there. I was representing the Sino-Egyptian Friendship Society, this is civilian diplomacy. We want to stimulate tourism and cultural exchange. We see a lot of Chinese who are eager to come. There are specific interests such as solar energy and the speed train, all this is very specific. We do not play around. But they are asking me about security and stability. We want to know how to cooperate. China has the interest and they have the resources. And we want to have a win-win situation. But you mentioned corruption and benefits going to a small circle. But we really want to create a win-win situation in which both countries could benefit from each other. We understand Egypt is in the transition period. How do you provide the way for investors?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: When we were in China, there have been huge problems of a Chinese investment of Teedar in Ain Zoghna. Thank God it was solved. We were insisting that we are sincere that we are trying the problems of investors in Egypt so this would come out as a success story which will also attract other investors despite of the fact that we are in transition. Now we are facing all these trials to derail the process and to create a media image that this country is not stable. Because you see that you need only 50 youngsters, give them that amount of money and send them there and they will do whatever you need. There is a serious counter revolution and serious external elements who do not want to see Egypt succeed. It needs transition. So we are determined to carry on, to build our institutions and remove all excuses of those who are saying this is not this and that. And to strengthen our security apparatus in order to make sure that they are really maintaining security across the country. And the stability of the economy itself, by the program which we send to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and we are adjusting it and adapting it in order to satisfy both the public and the IMF. This is how we are dealing with the whole situation. I must say the Turkish investments have increased a lot the past year. Qatar has increased the number of investments too even as Saudi Arabia, the Kuwaiti’s are ready too, and the Emirates are still making up their minds. But I read some good news. Turkey has really increased it by twofold.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman. IMF you have mentioned. Why was the signing of the loan withdrawn?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: You remember that there was a program and this program had to come out to be announced, so that the IMF would distribute this to their board and they would accept the loan and then would hand it back. However, unfortunately this program came together with the dates of the referendum. And when we started the announcement the media took out the program and again the program was having a number of elements to decrease the amount of deficit of the fiscal budget from 12% to 9%. So this program was on taxes, on value-added taxes and sales taxes. The media took it out and highlighted the issue of the numbers of the sales tax on some of the products and then they really amplified it to the extent of that we expected that this would cause sorts of unrest within the population. IMF is very well experienced in that--they know whenever the program is announced it has to be robust enough that if the social impact of the program is not tested it could fail itself. Our latest test has shown us that this program will not stand the social acceptance. And that is why we send the IMF that we would like to keep it on hold. Until we study more social impact, by having more engagement with the stakeholders. This is what happened in the past months. We had a great argument with the IMF in terms of let’s start. Because you know that we are determined to do that but also we have some limitations of what we can do and not do, particularly during this transitional time. They are helpful, but they say that we have our own monitoring and parameters, so there are 4 conditions: it should be a robust program, it should be minimizing the deficit by a certain percentage, and it should be creating an environment which attracts investors, and it should be also taking care of the most vulnerable segments in society. These are very good conditions, this exactly is where we want to go. The idea is that they want structural reforms within the budget itself. And these structural reforms are not easy to get, as in doing everything without increasing some prices. What we have been trying to do during the past few weeks, is making the increases on taxes on the companies/businesses, not on consumers, but on the business. And to measure the social impact to put it gradually on a timetable. We have prepared this program and it has been sent. We hope that they react positively and we will carry on forward. If we are lucky enough we can get it before the elections. They are very sensitive during election time, so if we are not lucky enough it has to wait.
We know that there are structural imbalances in the budget. And what they do not accept is that we are now actually seeing a number of the corruption and leakage is huge. Let me give you one example: The subsidy on fuel is nearly 100 billion Egyptian Pounds apart for another 30 billion Egyptian Pounds on food and other stuff. Out of this 100 billion, at least 30 billion is leaked, it is directly stolen: you send an amount of fuel to the stations and they have to distribute it to the public either there are virtual stations and we discovered that it has been exported outside the country by boat. This means a huge burden on the budget itself. In the past few weeks after the new Minister of Supply, who is of the Brotherhood, the previous one was not in the Brotherhood, he discovered this and now is he is putting criminal acts against some of the suppliers because he discovered nearly 50 ton liter a week, of diesel. Each liter is subsidized by 4 Egyptian Pounds. So you are subsidizing those who are robbing or cars which are luxurious. This is not what we want. We want adjustments within the taxing system, and we are sure that if we take these measures this will change a lot.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: I want to go to a question about the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. The Egyptian multiparty delegation met with the Dutch minister and we met with the Secretary General and they were willing to consider support to Egypt but they are waiting for a document with areas of priorities in which Egypt would be presenting what its needs are and for which they would like to obtain support. They were very explicit about this.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, thank you very much. I know how Holland is really advanced in such issues and I wish that this cooperation would go forward. I am in charge of foreign affairs and international cooperation. If any of these issues are not accelerated enough or going in the right direction, our role is to facilitate and to push it forward. If the Ministry of Agriculture is not cooperating enough, please let me know.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: I will because I have correspondence here.
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: And I am serious about this. We would like these levels of cooperation expanding. And there is a sincere need to help Egypt and there is also the need of expertise.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The parliamentary elections are planned in four stages. Why are they over four stages, while the constitutional referendum was over two? And speaking about the lack about credible overseers, what are in your opinion credible overseers?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: It is only a logistical issue actually, because you need according to the Constitution there should be a judge for each ballot box. According to the Constitutional Court, you need to redraw the constituency numbers and borders. And this has been done. So it is a logistical problem not only that and to make sure that there will be those judges who would like to stop the process by abstaining from being involved in this would not hamper the whole process. And on the other side we have accepted all those who applied for monitoring the elections. Foreign monitors, Carter Institution, official EU delegation--whoever has applied has been accepted, so international monitoring is there. We would like to see free and fair elections. Because this is the new Egypt.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: The districts have been redrawn?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes, they have been redrawn the districts. Actually the opposition said before, that these constituencies were made for the FJP, and then when they redrew it they redrawn it for the FJP.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The last question is a Coptic question, the attack on a church in al-Faiyum. We are working on a report on the background. But the issue here is that there is no real rule of law and there is no united building houses of worship law. Is Egypt working on this? Because this was for years a question prior to the Revolution. What has happened with the proposed law?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: I had a meeting with three of the top Bishops of the church. We had long discussions actually on all the issues and I relayed to them the decision of Mr. President to give license for two churches and they did not believe it.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Which one?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: In Sohag actually. So they did not believe it. Actually we were trying to reach out to Coptic leaders. In order to alleviate their concerns and to address it in a way which would be common within the new Egypt, not in a bargaining way, we will not do this. We have discussed this very openly actually and very constructively as well. They are Egyptians and they have full rights. We together should work on how best to serve this country. And remember that the Constitution now has given in Article 3 the right [to Christians] to build their own worship places and the right even to make their own reference to their own religion in their personal matters and to choose their own leaders in whatever way they would like. This has never been there and they admit this. So we are trying to build a new relationship. Where citizenship is reality, to be able to be implemented. And their right has to be addressed in a way and I mean them very clear though. Don’t ask to change everything at once. Because we know there is a culture there and there are a lot of problems there. But let’s work together. Whenever there is a decision taken, you know Mr. President was asking, while he was giving these licenses: Is there any dispute over the land? Because this is the issue of the disputes, if there is a dispute, let’s solve it before we give the license. So we know there are problems, we want to in a way that it is inclusive and comprehensive in order to make sure that the public accept it and will not say that Mr. President made the election day on the 27th, but he gave up for the Copts in order so that they could give him his votes. No the reality is not that. Because we tried to avoid the real holiday, which is the Easter holiday of the Orthodox Church, but they said that the whole week before is also very important, that they would not be happy to see elections. So we made it two weeks before.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The Holy Week, yes.
Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: So in principle according to the Constitution, churches can be built, it is just a matter of land and public opinion?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Exactly and working together, not against each other.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: But is ten years of talk about a united law for building houses worth resulting in equal treatment for churches and mosques?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: They actually made their reservations on this. They said a mosque is different from a church. The church has its own needs and the mosque has its own needs. Let’s have a unified law for building public buildings and make a special one for mosques and a special one for churches. And this was their request, not to put both in one statement. They believe the church has a different role than a mosque. Because when a child is born he has to be baptized. This could be included in one comprehensive law for all buildings.
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Do you register Egyptians leaving the country and also the number of Copts leaving the country?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: I do not have any statistics on that, maybe you can work together on this. Well I know the figures of Naguib Gabriel (Najīb Jubrā’īl) are certainly not true.