Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

From academia to activism

Kifaya movement founding member George Isaac talks to Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

Born in Port Said, George Isaac began his professional life as a history teacher, eventually becoming president of the Association of Catholic Schools. A leading member of Kifaya [Enough], he served as the group’s coordinator. Long politicised, he fought against the British occupation and the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt. He joined the Labour Party in 1969 and took part in protests.

Isaac organised the first Kifaya demonstration on 12 December 2004. He is now a member of the National Salvation Front (NSF).


How do you view Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rule?

It has reached an appalling state because of the performance of the president, cabinet and the Freedom and Justice Party. We are caught in a gruelling economic crisis and face political disarray, accusations and threats to arrest opponents of the regime. I am reminded of the days when [Anwar Al-] Sadat put all the opposition in jail. I have asked of Morsi many times, where were you before the revolution, weren’t you in jail?

Now he wants to put the opposition behind bars. That’s ridiculous. In a recent speech he made yet more threats. It was terrible and upset people even more. We are going through a critical phase and I expect a serious conflict.


Could it result in blood being spilled?

I don’t think so, though it will be a serious clash. Morsi has succeeded only in dividing Egypt. MB leaders pay lip service to participation while we are demanding meaningful participation in the transitional phase. We have submitted ideas for dialogue.

We are confused by the terrible elections law, legislation that meanders between the Shura Council, Supreme Constitutional Court and the presidency. We don’t know where it will all end.

The president’s worst enemies are his advisers. His worst enemy of all is his legal adviser. He must be removed immediately.


Why does the NSF reject dialogue?

Because we have had very bad experiences in the past. President Morsi met with Mohamed Al-Baradei, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa and representatives of other parties, and a day later issued his constitutional declaration. What was the point of dialogue? There is no trust between the presidency and the opposition. What is needed is a national salvation government. The incumbent prosecutor-general must resign. He is loyal to Morsi, not Egypt.


What do you think of the court ruling reinstating Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud as prosecutor-general?

It is a serious ruling but I don’t know whether the president will implement it or not.


But the president says he respects the judiciary.

The president respects neither the law nor the judiciary. If he did he would have insisted his own group be prosecuted for what happened in Port Said, what happened outside the Constitutional Court and outside Media City. Instead the only people being prosecuted are those who took part in the demonstrations outside the MB’s headquarters in Muqattam. Yet it was MB members who attacked Bilal Mosque. The chairman of the mosque was explicit on the point. He said clearly the MB took over the mosque. They are the ones who desecrated God’s house.


The opposition, and the NSF in particular, are accused of doing little but talk. What is your response?

What do you mean?

That you are weak and have no presence on the street.

Who says so? We are everywhere in Egypt. The leaders of the MB want to spread rumours about us but they will fail. We are currently speaking to all parties and will soon hold a roundtable for dialogue.


How do you see the president’s discourse inside and outside the country?

Domestically, it is appalling as well as pathetic. It does not reassure the people but raises their anger and cynicism. Overseas he addresses those who offer to help him regardless of the fact they can’t actually do anything.

Qatar and Pakistan are of no use to Morsi. I would like to tell him the only real help are the resources of his country, his people, a strong economy build by Egyptians.


What’s all this talk by the president about fingers meddling in Egyptian affairs?

(Laughter) I don’t know what’s up with the fingers thing. I’m very surprised. Everywhere he goes overseas he talks about fingers. It is a ridiculous subject. I don’t want to talk about it.


The president could be referring to the UAE, the European Parliament or the opposition.

I have no idea.


But the US and Qatar meddle in Egyptian affairs. Can they be stopped?

Of course not. The US supports Morsi and Qatar gives him money. Some fingers are with you and others are against you.


Many Egyptians ask who is ruling Egypt.

And everyone knows the answer. Khairat Al-Shater rules Egypt through the MB’s Guidance Bureau. When it was rumoured Al-Shater would become prime minister my response was why. He already rules Egypt. He doesn’t need the title because he’s Egypt’s invisible president.


Are you calling for new presidential elections?

There is no other solution. But before holding early elections we must revise the disputed constitution. After that we can hold transparent parliamentary elections followed by presidential elections. You know the tailors who wrote the constitution insisted on adding a clause that Morsi should remain in power for four years.


How do you view the defeat of the MB in syndicate and university elections?

It indicates a retreat in support for a particular current but it is no absolute indicator. Anyone who projects the results onto Egypt as a whole is delusional. Union and student elections address those who are knowledgeable and it is difficult to influence them. But in parliamentary election many people are influenced by bribes of oil, sugar and other goods.


Millions of Egyptians are demanding the army return. Are you one of them?

The army protects but does not rule. It would be difficult for the army to come back to power.


How can they come back but not rule?

The army has the right to protect the people from any danger, whether domestic or foreign. If matters become critical on the domestic scene and blood begins to flow the army must intervene.


Is this a result of police weakness?

Where are the police? They protect the regime not the people. The police need to be more cohesive. Unfortunately they are crumbling and the minister of interior appears to have no idea how to hold them together.


So why is he still in office?

Because he is doing what the president wants. The police prevent the opposition from reaching the Guidance Bureau but do not prevent the president’s supporters from reaching Media City. Outside the Guidance Bureau we found a heavy police presence. The streets leading to the Office were closed. Media City is only guarded from the inside.


Should we worry about a civil war breaking out in Egypt?

I don’t think so. Egypt is above that. It is something Egyptians could never condone.


What do you think about Qatar’s direct and indirect intervention in Egyptian affairs?

I have my concerns about any projects that Qatar is in charge of. Participation and contribution is one thing, monopoly another. The MB believes Qatar is its foremost supporter but the economic crisis is bigger than Qatar, bigger than Morsi.


Why is the president so intent on keeping Hisham Kandil as prime minister?

To be honest it’s a mystery. The only reason I can think off is that Kandil is playing a major role in the MB’s attempts to take over the state. He is allowing the MB to actively pursue this goal. There is overwhelming evidence that the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Ministry of Education and other pillars of state are being taken over by the MB.

There are rumours contacts are underway for a dialogue between you, the MB guide and Al-Shater.

Such a dialogue is inconceivable. Right now we do not know the difference between the party, the MB or the People’s Assembly. Can you tell the difference? We would love someone to explain to us the difference between these three.

No NSF member intends to talk with the MB.


What did you think of statements by Abul-Ela Madi about the involvement of intelligence in building a force of 300,000 thugs. Do you believe him?

He is my friend and I believe him. I want a clear explanation from the president about this issue. Abul-Ela Madi does not lie.


The NSF and opposition are accused of inciting violence and chaos.

Not true at all. Refer to NSF statements and our peaceful protests. But the fact, I’m afraid, is that those who use violence invite violence to be used.


The Conscience Front was formed to counter the NSF. What do you think of it?

It is nonsense. The Conscience Front declared it includes 12 people who denied they were even members. It is a political absurdity. Forget it.


What is the difference between your opposition to Mubarak’s regime and that of Morsi?

We are living in a clone of the Mubarak era. If there is a difference it is that things are, if anything, worse than in the past which is why I still say the revolution must continue.


You said “enough” to Mubarak. When will you say it to Morsi?

His performance has been so abysmal we are saying it already. If Morsi loved his country he would admit his mistakes, say he cannot achieve the demands of the revolution, step down or at the very least allow the people to decide in a fresh presidential election.


But he is the legitimate, elected president.

He was elected according to a constitutional declaration that has expired. New presidential elections should have taken place under a new constitution, but instead we got a constitution tailored to keep Morsi in power.


Do you agree there are attempts to convert the political conflict into a sectarian one?

Yes, but they will fail. These are old and obvious tactics. They belong to a bygone era. The public knows too well the agenda of this regime and its tricks.


Religious fanaticism has emerged in schools. There have been reports of girls’ hair being cut to force them to wear the veil…

I want to know where the minister of education stands on all this. These incidents and others are very serious. How can they violate the personal rights of children in this way? This is absolutely objectionable and there must be firm action. There are educators in Egypt who must intervene. They are the ones responsible for these issues


Will you ever be president?

Egyptians are equal citizens and it is the right of any Egyptian to try and become president of their country without restrictions. The choice should be based on competence, not religion.


Are you optimistic?

Very optimistic. Egypt is going through a difficult rebirth but it will succeed. No one will drag us back towards ignorance and backwardness.


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