Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

A final straw

Was presidential advisor Essam Al-Erian pressured into resigning from the presidential advisory council following his remarks on Egyptian Jews, asks Amany Maged

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In the latest episode of the unravelling presidential advisory council, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Vice Chairman Essam Al-Erian has joined the train of those resigning from the body. Mohamed Esmat Seif Al-Dawla, Amr Al-Leithi, Sekina Fouad, Farouk Goweida, Ayman Al-Sayyad and Seif Abdel-Fattah have all tendered their resignations at various points over the past couple of months. Al-Erian’s resignation brings the figure up to seven out of an original 14 advisors.

On Monday, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali announced that President Mohamed Morsi had accepted this latest resignation, which triggered another bout of controversy around the contentious Al-Erian whose recent call to Egyptian Jews in Israel to return to Egypt drew a hail of criticism from all parts of the political spectrum.

Al-Erian denied that his resignation was connected with these remarks, made in an interview on Dream TV two weeks ago. Rather, he insisted that his decision to resign was prompted by his recent appointment as head of the FJP bloc on the Shura Council.

As majority leader in the upper house of parliament he now had too many other responsibilities, not least of which were the legislative business that had to be attended to and the need to coordinate between the FJP’s political bureau and the party’s parliamentary body, he said.

His decision to resign as presidential advisor was taken in consultation with other FJP leaders and on the basis of the heavy pressures facing the Shura Council committees at present, Al-Erian said. He added that the FJP would still have representatives in the executive just as it had in the legislature, but the times during which a single man could combine positions in both branches of government had passed.

Shortly before tendering his resignation from the council, Al-Erian denied press rumours that he had also resigned from the FJP. In a statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, he said that some media outlets had republished news reports that had appeared in October, citing him as saying that he could not continue as vice chairman of the FJP or as presidential advisor at a time when he was about to be investigated on charges of slander against TV presenter Jihan Mansour.

The president had rejected the resignation he had tendered at that time in order to alleviate any embarrassment this incident may have caused his office.

 FJP officials have denied that their party’s vice chairman had been forced to resign from the council. An FJP source said that “Al-Erian has been honest with himself. He felt that he would not be able to perform his duties properly in the presidential advisory group and as leader of the Shura Council majority bloc at the same time, so he tendered his resignation from the former in order to undertake the heavy responsibilities of the latter. He realised that it was difficult to combine his duties in both the legislative and executive branches.”

“The rumours that the FJP forced Al-Erian to resign as an advisor to the president are totally unfounded. All that happened was that on Thursday [3 January], the FJP executive bureau met with the vice chairman to ask him to clarify his statements with regard to the Jews. He explained that these remarks had reflected his purely personal opinion and did not express the views of the party.”

However, it is difficult to deny that the FJP firebrand and his controversial remarks have been troublesome for the presidency. On one occasion, Al-Erian suggested that the president’s office had been listening into the telephone calls of former prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud.

The president’s office was then forced to send Refaa Al-Tahtawi to the prosecutor-general’s department to convey assurances that the office was not equipped with eavesdropping devices.

Then came the case of Jihan Mansour, whom Al-Erian accused of receiving funds from other political forces in order to attack the Muslim Brotherhood. The TV presenter filed charges of slander and defamation against the FJP vice chairman, who then filed a counter-suit against Mansour, accusing her of slandering him during a press conference she had held after making her deposition in the investigation into the charges against him.

However, Al-Erian’s remarks on the return of Egyptian Jews have proved the most awkward of all for the president’s office. In the course of the ensuing outcry, various political forces insisted the President Morsi had to remove Al-Erian from his office.

Among these forces was the Egyptian Jihad Organisation, a spokesman for which described the FJP vice chairman’s interview with Dream TV as “shocking” and said that the only way to mend the mistake was for Al-Erian to resign from the presidential advisory council and to apologise to the Egyptian people, whom he had gravely insulted.

The Jihad spokesman added that Al-Erian had caused considerable embarrassment for the presidency and the Islamists as a whole, and that his statements had undermined the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.

“The whole of the people, whether Islamists, liberals or Nasserists, reject such statements and will never permit the return of the Jews,” the Islamist leader proclaimed.

Israeli public radio suggested that Al-Erian’s recent resignation was a response to the outcry he had stirred up by his remarks calling upon Israeli Jews of Egyptian origin to return to Egypt and predicting the demise of Israel within the space of 10 years.

Despite FJP officials’ repeated denials that he was forced to resign, most analysts agree that Al-Erian’s invitation to Egyptian Jews to return to Egypt was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 They also believe that this resignation marks the beginning of the end of the presidential advisory council, which had been formed in fulfilment of a presidential pledge to include other political forces in government. Observers predict that no efforts will now be made to resuscitate this body following the wave of resignations.

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