Monday,19 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)
Monday,19 February, 2018
Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘Opening shot’

The presidential team initiative proposed by an Egyptian NASA scientist provokes wide debate, writes Mona El-Nahhas

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Egypt has become a nation with no future,” Egyptian astronomer Essam Heggy told London-based Al-Araby satellite channel in an interview broadcast on 28 July.

Heggy used the interview to unveil the presidential team initiative, a plan to promote education, equality and national unity, to be overseen by a “presidential council”. Part of the initiative, he said, will be to select and field a presidential candidate for the 2018 presidential elections. “And we will win even if President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi decides to run,” insisted Heggy.

The team preparing the presidential candidate’s election manifesto will include leading figures from the 25 January Revolution said Heggy, without revealing any names.

“Our priority is to formulate a comprehensive and realistic programme,” says Hala Al-Bannay, the former member of the Dostour Party who is the initiative’s manager. She added that the team working on the initiative had already received positive responses from political forces willing to work towards achieving the programme’s goals.

Heggy described the programme being formulated as moral and scientific rather than political and invited experts in various fields to contribute ideas to improve education and health services, economic conditions, the position of women and religious discourse. Heggy also called for a national reconciliation process and the release of political detainees.

“Our target is to move Egypt from a state of poverty, ignorance and disease to one of high levels of education and health care,” Heggy said in a statement posted on 2 August on his Facebook page. “I believe education and science offer the only way out of Egypt’s current problems.”

Heggy, who holds dual French-Egyptian nationality, has stressed that he will not be a candidate in the presidential election. His role, he insists, will be limited to offering help with the scientific file of the project.

The 41-year-old scientist graduated from Cairo University in 1997. He worked for the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) before moving to the French Space Agency (CNES)and then the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Heggy was awarded a PhD from the University of Paris in 2002 and in 2006 was granted French nationality as a distinguished scientist. He is the recipient of a number of international awards for his role in discovering water on Mars.

Following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Heggy served as scientific advisor to interim president Adli Mansour, resigning three months into the job. He has remained out of the spotlight since his resignation.

In 2014 he became the subject of media criticism when, as Mansour’s scientific advisor, he poured cold water over claims by a team of military scientists to have invented a device to cure Hepatitis C and AIDS.

Heggy’s criticisms of state policy mean he has not been welcome in Egypt for some time. In October 2015 Alexandria University cancelled a lecture Heggy was due to give on the discovery of water on Mars citing security concerns.

Heggy’s initiative, the opening shot in preparations for the 2018 presidential election, has been welcomed by some commentators and denounced by others.

Critical MPs have already called on Heggy to present the programme to Al-Sisi instead of waiting until 2018. MP Mohamed Selim went further, accusing Heggy of promoting foreign agendas.

Political expert Hazem Hosni used his Facebook page to welcome the initiative, though he questioned why it was being presented in an incomplete state.

“I do not know why Heggy has announced the initiative now when it seems far from complete, something which will detract from its desired impact,” said Hosni.

Medhat Al-Zahed, acting chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance, said the initiative was a positive move which had both legal and constitutional cover.

“It acknowledges prevailing dissatisfaction with deteriorating conditions,” notes Al-Zahed. “But while no one can object to fighting poverty, ignorance and disease people need to know the details of the programme and how such ideas are to be made into reality.”

Al-Zahed also argues the names of team members should be made public.

“Political forces need to know the political trends from which the initiative’s planners come before deciding whether or not they will join the initiative,” he said.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa says the initiative, if it can be padded out with details, could help prepare for democratic change. “People need to know what is meant by the ‘presidential team’ and other ideas proposed in the initiative. This will help people decide whether to accept the plan or refuse it.”

Asked about his expectations about the initiative’s chances of success Nafaa said: “There will be attempts to undermine the reputation of team members by accusing them of treachery and of acting as foreign agents and political forces close to the regime will denounce the programme.”

Some political party leaders have already started to attack Heggy.

“Egypt in the current stage needs Al-Sisi. He is the only person capable of unifying all its institutions to solve the economic crisis and fight terrorism,” Shehab Wagih, spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party, said in a telephone interview with Al-Araby TV. “Our party will back Al-Sisi in the coming polls in the absence of any other credible candidate.”

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