[AWR: this interview was recorded, transcribed and translated by Diana Maher Ghali]
C.H.: Egypt is currently deeply divided, including Islamists and liberals in the sense that many Islamists and Liberals primarily operate in their own circles. This also applies to many Christians. How would you be able to unite all Egyptians, regardless of their background, to rebuild the country?
A.A.: First of all, your words that Egypt is divided are not right. Egypt has pluralism, but is not divided and the basis of pluralism in Egypt is political, not sectarian or religious, like many other countries. Pluralism in Egypt is political. There is pluralism, but in ideologies. If pluralism’s basis is in politics and ideologies, it means that the community is vibrant and this is normal, especially after the Revolution and in light of freedom and democracy. It is normal that there is pluralism in formations, thoughts, and opinions. It is something positive in the Egyptian community; there is no division in the Egyptian community. The Christian brothers after the Revolution left the “ghetto” [Diana: he means that they came out of their isolation] they were in before the Revolution. They became present in the Egyptian community, participating in political parties; they are present in the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and other parties, doing their work. Christians went from protesting inside the church to protesting in their community, the community of all. The nation belongs to all Egyptians, whether they are Christians or Muslims, men or women, Islamists or they have Islamic, leftist, or liberal ideologies. This is the state of our community: I believe it is a positive and a vibrant state and does not engender any division—this expression is not accurate. This is my opinion.
C.H.: When I go in circles of course these people who are crossing the boundaries are definitely there, but there are many who are not and who are afraid and they lock themselves up in their community. How would you unify them? How would you be a president for all?
A.A.: The President of Egypt, as I said…I said that the most important trait he should have is seeking and achieving the independence of the nation, meaning that the strategic decisions of the presidency seeks the interest of Egypt only, not the interest of a specific political party, or any foreign body; the interest of only Egypt and the Egyptians. This, in itself, will unify Egyptians because it means that the icon that brings them together and whom they elected to be their leader, is seeking to protect their interests. The second most important trait is that this president is reconciled with religion. Egyptian people, Christians and Muslims, are religious from the time of Pharaohs; they are a religious people, they love religion. We do not have extremist secularism in Egypt as there is in Tunis or Turkey, which is why it cannot be imagined that a president who is against religion or who is secular will rule Egypt. There is no way the Egyptian people are going to elect him. The third important thing is that this president seek to deepen the meaning of citizenship, so that citizens may feel that they are equal before the law and that the basis for any Egyptian to apply for any position is his qualifications not his gender, faith, or political orientation. When the Egyptian citizens find that their president respects citizenship and not only theoretically like before when some call for citizenship then discriminate against people for their religion, Christian or Muslim, or geographic locations. Cairo residents enjoy more services and benefits than those of Upper Egypt. When the president protects citizenship with honesty and righteousness the Egyptian people will gather around him. The fourth trait: when there is justice with the presence of a real independent judiciary, it will make the citizens, whose rights were violated by any means, to refer to the judiciary to take their rights. Then the nation will be independent and will grow and develop.
C.H.: People are asking questions because of your background with the Muslim Brotherhood. You have been for 25 years a member of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood. You have left the Brotherhood. We have confusing statements that are coming, Ahmad Usāmah, Press spokesperson of the campaign that supports Abū al-Futūh’s running for presidency, says that several Muslim Brotherhood leaders support you. At June 14, 2011, you responded that you froze your membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, and will fund your campaign from donations from ordinary Egyptians. Who funds your campaign now? How independent are you from the Muslim Brotherhood? In January 26 – Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī, a prominent cleric widely known to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood, is quoted, ‘I support the candidacy of our brother ‘Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Al-Futūh’. How do you see this?
A.A.: There is no confusion on this matter and there is no need for misunderstanding. I stated from the beginning that when I run for presidency, I will run as an independent, not representing any political party or power. My administrative, organizational, and activity-related independence does not mean that a person should give up his ideologies. I’m still proud of my progressive, enlightened, moderate Islamic ideologies and that has been known about me for 42 years. I work in public activism with these ideologies and visions, which fight extremism, violence, and seek to build the nation and rapprochement of all citizens in the service of this country and therefore there is no confusion on this issue and there is no way that someone can say that there is a tactic between two persons. This is not true. I’m really independent. I have no administrative or organizational business with the Muslim Brotherhood now. The theory of the Muslim Brotherhood is like the rest of the sincere political powers that seek to serve Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is a part of Egypt and they should have a role like salafīs, the Egyptian Bloc (al-Kutlah al-Misriyyah), and other political powers.
C.H.: You mentioned on October 2, 2011 that you would appoint a Coptic vice president if you win the election and then the caliphate was mentioned, what is your --not clear--, in the Islamic circles, speaking about caliphates, what is your thoughts on the caliphate?
A.A.: What is the caliphate? [Yūsuf Habīb, freelance translator who attended the meeting, explains in Arabic what the English word "caliphate" means and what the question is] Caliphate is not a religious term, in all cases it is not a religious matter, it expresses the cooperation and unity of the Islamic countries, represented by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). That is it. But some of the ultra-conservative Islamists lent certain incorrect meanings. In addition, we are not thinking about these matters now: neither the unity of the Islamic world nor alliance, because we are occupied now with reforming the nation. What is the value of a unified world when it is ruled by dictators, corrupted, and diverted people? Of course it has no value. Consequently, we are occupied with building our nation, not unity, unity with who? [laughing] weak nation ruled by tyranny and corruption for 60 years! It is better to reform it and strengthen it before even thinking about cooperating with others.
C.H.: According to Hasan al-Bannā, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, God Has Given Muslims the right of sovereignty and hegemony, what does this mean?
A.A.: What is Hassan al-Bannā saying? [Yūsuf explains and Cornelis hands al-Futūh a booklet in which he starts reading the paragraph Cornelis referred to] Is this book written by Hassan al-Bannā? Ah yes “Who are we and what do we want” [al-Futūh reads a paragraph in the book and Yūsuf ask him about the meaning of what he read] That is not the meaning of the verse and when God Say “...you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.”
[Translator’s Note: This is the full complete verse, according to the translation of Sahih International: “And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed Allah is, to the people, Kind and Merciful.” (2:143)]
If he interprets that “you will be witnesses over the people” as “you will be guardians over the people” [Yūsuf said: “also dominance on people”] and dominance too, that is not true. Yes of course, if he wrote that text...I do not know where that text came from. Even if that text is of Hassan al-Bannā or even Ahmad Bin Hanbal, that text is unacceptable because God in the Holy Qur’ān never appoints a person to be a guardian over the other. Never. For more clarification, when Allāh told his Messenger, the Prophet and the Greatest human being in the Qur’ān, in the Holy Qur’ān: “So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller.” [88: 21, 22] Allāh said to the Prophet that his role is to advise only! Nothing else! Not dominance, not control, not a guardian of people! That does not mean that a person should come and interpret “to be witnesses over people” with the meaning of dominance and control! “To be witnesses over people” has the same meaning that God told the Prophet which is to be an advisor, wise, and give advice to people, not more. The greatest thing that came in Islam is human dignity, which opposes the idea that some human being like me can be a guardian or I become inferior to him because he is a Muslim and I am Christian for example. Or he is better than me? Or he is more religious than me? Who makes him better than me? If he is better than me to God then it is between him and God! We have no business in it and he may not be better to God because God did not call me and say that he is! So if he said to me that he is better to God than me, then I will tell him it is between you and God! There is no place in humanity that I am better than someone because simply for example I am a male and another person is a female. That is against human dignity. This is an offense to humans. For example, I am better than a Christian because I am a Muslim or I am better than someone because he is black and I am white, or the opposite. That is an offense to humans. God in the Holy Qur’ān protects human dignity and says, “And We have certainly honored the children of Adam…” This is in the Qur’ān!
[Translator’s Note: This is the full complete verse, according to the translation of Sahih International: “And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.” (17:70)]
God did not say for instance “We have honored women or men or white or Muslims or Christians” but he said “the children of Adam.” Such being a “human being”; being “children of Adam,” you have dignity, no one is allowed to violate it, and everyone deals with each other as humans on the same level and a mutual respect. I have no business if you are a male or a female, Muslim or Christian, etc. The rights and duties between humans are specified by rules without these biases. This is discrimination! Islam is against discrimination either because of religion, gender, etc. Unfortunately the West has come to incorrect conclusions that they got from ultra-conservative Islamists, these conclusions imply that Islam discriminates between men and women. For instance, they take the inheritance issue then they use this and say that it is discrimination because men take double what women take in the inheritance. They do not realize that this is about social duties, it is a social system, it is like you are the general manager and I am the deputy manager so you take more than I take, considering this a discrimination! No, it is not because you take this amount of money for the tasks you do and I take what I take for the tasks I do. So the same applies on men, they are the managers of their households, not meaning that he is dominating his house, but meaning that he is responsible for his household expenses. Because he is responsible for the expenses, then he takes a little bit more. Moreover, Islam is the first religion that established rules for women’s financial independence. There were some countries in East Europe that only 70 years ago did not consider women to have financial independence and their financial independence depended on their fathers until they got married then it goes to their husbands. But Islam founded that women have financial independence; she can buy, sell, and own property without anyone’s permission like men.
C.H.: On April 27, 2011, You called creating the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) a “risky gamble” as it would mix proselytizing and politics. What is your opinion about this now? Is the FJP mixing proselytizing and politics?
A.A.: I said that da’wah (call for religion, usually used for Islam) groups, whether it is Islamic or Christian, official or unofficial, should not be engaged in party politics. I do not mean giving an opinion in politics, because that differs from party politics, which is an important part of the general political activism. When the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Jam’iyyah al-Shar’iyyah (the Sharī’ah Association) call for democracy that is political activism which is acceptable but party politics, meaning competing for power, that is not their work—it is the work of a political party. As for the mixing between the Muslim Brotherhood group and the FJP, there is a tremendous mixing that I do not support or accept, not only now but from many years ago I did not accept mixing da’wah activities with party politics. Again, I do not mean giving an opinion in politics, which is broader than party politics. The MB and the FJP activities are mixed; you can see that when a MB figure makes a statement about the FJP; it happens a lot—daily. That mix exists and it is unfortunate and contradicts with what the MB had announced.
C.H.: What kind of government does Egypt need in your opinion? One with a strong president (such as France, USA) or one in which the parliament has a stronger role?
A. A.: I support the existence of a president who has specialities, strong specialities, and I support the mixed parliamentary-presidential system, not only the parliamentary system because in the parliamentary system there has to be various parties which we do not have now. Which means three or four parties competing and that is not here.
C.H.: How strong should Parliament be in your opinion in overseeing/supervising the executive?
A.A.: The parliament specialization should continue to be following up and monitoring the executive power because the parliament represents the people. This will result in improving the executive performance as long as it is being monitored. The parliament’s role will be known to be a legislative and supervisory role. I support that the parliament should have a supervisory role over the executive power.
C.H.: What should be the role of the President and Parliament in overseeing the budget of the army? Would the army and police take orders from the President to maintain internal security?
A.A.: Everything…the army is one of the power tools like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That is why the parliament should observe all these power tools whether it is the army, foreign affairs, police, etc. The army is not above the power, it is a tool. But how we go with this with the parliament budget? These are details. It can be through a committee, like the committee of defense and national security, media committee, etc...these are details, but everything should be under the knowledge of the parliament. That is how it is done in the democratic respectful countries.
C.H.: Is it true that the previous Minister of Interior removed around 500 officers? Members of Parliament of the Freedom and Justice Party speak about sacking another 3000 officers. Do you agree? Who would replace these officers? What is your view about restructuring the police?
A.A.: Reforming or restructuring the police authorities cannot be done that simply. Not only by laying off people, but also it is a whole process. You restructure the political forces by referring to the police academy and changing the beliefs, cultures of the policemen, and their presence in the streets. Preparing the police in order to serve the people and the respect of law. You lay off the corrupt people gradually when you dissolve the police forces and then you set priorities. First, lay off the corrupt, then step two and three, it works that way. We must ensure the stability and the continuity.
C.H.: What thoughts do you have about the formation of the constituent assembly? Should they be fully elected by parliament, partly elected?
A.A.: The law does not enforce that the constituent assembly [that will draft the constitution] to be composed of members of parliament (MP) or from outside the parliament. The important thing is that it is composed of people that represent the whole community and all orientations (trade unions, workers, farmers, groups, etc.) If some of them are from the parliament, it is fine, but it cannot be much of them to enable the rest of the community to participate, which will lead to a consensus constitution. The second thing that can lead to a consensus constitution is presenting the draft before the society for a discussion and this discussion can take its time until the community reaches an agreement, then we can have a consensus constitution that everybody agrees on to put it for a referendum. The referendum that happened in the March 19, 2011 said that that the elections of the People’s Assembly and the Shurá Council come before the presidential election and in the presence of a civil parliament and president, the constituent assembly is formed to draft the constitution. Consequently, the constitution comes after the presidential election, according and in respect to the referendum so that the constitution is drafted after a civil parliament and president come to power and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) returns to its barracks.
C.H.: How should article 2 of the constitution function in your opinion? Especially since art. 2 was used in verdicts in courts where it concerns religious conversions.
A.A.: Freedom of Belief in the Azhar document is not related to faith switching. Article 2 does not contradict with the Freedom of Belief. Islamic Sharī’ah has been there in the constitution since 1971 and the Egyptian people, including Christian brothers, approve of it. This article was even behind a solution to a problem between the judiciary and the church when the Egyptian courts handed down rulings sanctioning second marriages among Christians. Then Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III referred to the Constitutional Court which ruled [--text not clear--] because it contradicts with the Christian doctrine, the Orthodox. It is settled that the legislation is done through the parliament and there is no other body that can legislate except the parliament. Legislation is done under the observance of the Constitutional Court and the role of clerics—Christian and Muslim, is only to advise and give opinions and not to dominate, legislate, or monitor the legislation.
C.H.: What percentage of Egyptians is Christian and would you make public the figures of the number of Christians from the ID cards?
A.A.: I am not occupied with the number of Christians or the number of Muslims, because in a nation that has citizenship these matters are not important. Publishing information as information regardless of the way it is used. Wrong or right, it is the right for any citizen to obtain the information they need. It is not acceptable to hide any information from citizens. As for misusing this information to hurt the interest of the nation, it is another matter.
C.H.: On May 16, 2011, you stated that you support full rights of conversion to any religion, saying the state should monitor this and not Church or Azhar. How would you guarantee that conversions would be fully voluntary and how transparent would state monitoring be?
A.A.: I did not say “supervise” I said “enable” the state to protect the Freedom of Religion. It is not acceptable that if a Christian wants to convert to Islam, we ask the church and vice versa. It is a personal right. That is why the Azhar document that was signed by the Azhar, Pope Shenouda, Azhar’s Grand Shaykh, political party leaders, and myself is for the Freedom of Faith. It is not the role of the church, the Azhar or the state to supervise it.
C.H.: What is your stance on the proposed unified law on building places of worship?
A.A.: I am against these laws. People have a right to build places of worship. I am only with laws to regulate the building of places of worship like any other building, for instance a house, only to ensure that the building meet the technical requirements. Egyptians do not need churches or mosques, they need farms, scientific research centers, colleges, factories, houses; but churches and mosques are not needed. None of the Muslims or Christians complained that they do not have a place of worship. These matters are unnecessary. The interference of the state in these matters is the reason of all the tension.
C.H.: Marriage and divorce, if Christians want a divorce they cannot do this at the church, it will not allow them, so will they have civil marriages and divorces as in western countries?
A.A.: Marriage in Islam is civil, not religious—people do not know this. The religious marriage is only at the church, so if a Christian wants to get divorced in a religious or a civil way, it is their business. Christians have the right to have a civil law that enables them to get a civil divorce. That is not a problem for the Muslims, the state will solve it; it is a personal thing whether a person get married or divorced. If the church stood up against divorce, a person then should define their position from the church, whether they want to abide by the church rules or have a civil divorce outside the church. The divorce issue is a problem between the person and the church—it is not the problem of the state. The Egyptian law enables a civil divorce. If a Christian went to the civil registry and registered his marriage or divorce the law will allow them.
C.H.: How would you rebuild the economy? How to avoid capital from fleeing the country? What is your position on Islamic banking? Should this be the only form of banking in Egypt in your opinion?
A.A.: Having two kinds of banking has been settled in the whole world, even in the Netherlands and England, there are Islamic banks. But anyway banks after the financial crisis, two years ago, had decreased their interest and some interests even reached 0%. Our role is to provide all kinds of dealings to all people, it is a part of respecting the people’s freedom and not to obligate the people to take certain types of action, and that is what happens in Europe. The lack of investments in the country now is due to the security state not anything else. The gap between the rich and poor is due to corruption and the failure of administrating the country and the bad administration of the Egyptian economy made that huge gap. That is why we are calling for minimum wages and income. We want our nation to be democratic and developed. Some of the West thinks, “How are the Islamic majority going to operate?” They are people. We are going to operate like normal people.
Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad asked for Dr. Abū al Futūh’s opinion about relations with Israel. This was the response by email:
Israel is a reality and war is not in the interest of Egypt but in talks with Israel the interests of Egypt should have priority.
From left to right: Dr. Yousef Habib (translator, filming), Jenna Ferrecchia (AWR editor), Cornelis Hulsman (CIDT general director, AWR editor-in-chief), Dr. Abul Futuh (Presidential hopeful), Jayson Casper (CIDT researcher and writer).