Interviewed By Wafaa Abdel Bary
What is your mission during your first year in office, and what is your plan to improve the Ministry’s performance?
My first year’s mission encompasses restructuring the Ministry, laying down the legislative plan and general guidelines, and pushing through several urgent legislations. In addition, the Ministry is working on a mission to restore looted money via appointing, supporting and organising a government-sponsored public committee. The Ministry will also revamp the Human Rights agenda, as it is handled by the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). In addition, the Ministry will pursue the independence of the NCHR from the government and build bridges with the other Human Rights organisations.
What are the most important draft-laws the Ministry is currently preparing?
Under this cabinet, we have two levels for legislation; the first one pertains to short-term urgent legislation while the second is concerned with long-term draft laws.
Granting the mentioned committee real authority, such as those mentioned above, addressing urgent obstacles in the field of investment, and amending labour laws to improve the conditions of employees [are priorities]. In addition, there is a new law that I proposed titled Equal Opportunities and it is intended to prevent favouritism, nepotism and cronyism. An Equal Opportunities Officer (EOF) will be appointed to monitor the Government and the various authorities. The EOF will perform several duties, such as investigating kindred relationships in governmental posts, and the ratio of employment based on nepotism to qualifications as well as the portion of employment for women and handicapped. The EOF will not be an individual, rather an entire authority preparing reports to be published to the public and submitted to the Government.
The EOF’s specialties may be included under the NCHR, and I am giving this project special attention to be able to finish it in the coming two weeks then submit it to the cabinet. There are other urgent draft-laws purposed to organise land ownership, which is an issue that is in need of rapid legislative treatment. Regarding lands, if we continue using the old legislation, we may be surprised by encountering new lands owned by unknown or imaginary parties that do not adhere to any real authority. As a result, the state’s treasury will lose large amounts of money to authorities of unknown roles and identities.
When are you expected to conclude the Legislative Plan for the Ministry?
It will take some time, but not more than six months.
How will the military be addressed in the new constitution, given that it represents approximately 20 percent of the national economy and has 35 services and manufacturing factories? Will the Constituent Assembly absorb the budget of the military’s into the general budget?
First of all, these resolutions are not new and the military will be addressed the same way it has always been in the old constitutions. The military’s projects are necessary and useful to the state and putting them under the Central Auditing Organisation (CAO)’s monitoring or including them in the public budget does not mean harming the Armed Forces and the military. However, doing so increases our support for the Egyptian military and raising its combat skills.
How is the recovering money dossier coming along? What are the most important projects intended to commence in the coming period?
First of all, Egypt must recover its dignity and stolen rights before its money; this is of a great priority. Second of all, the looted money is of large amounts. For instance, around EGP 13 billion were discovered by coincidence and without any effort whatsoever. The money belonged to some political figures from the former regime and was discovered without research. Therefore the siphoned amounts of money cannot be tolerated or forgotten.
In addition, we’re in desperate need of recouping every pound possible. For instance, providing liquidity for infrastructure and social welfare in addition to suppressing further theft and or corruption attempts. Furthermore, we’re currently attempting to acquire $3.5 billion in loans from the World Bank or with other countries; we are also trying to obtain several facilities, loans or deposits which all amount to $6 billion. These sums can be obtained within a few months and we can avoid borrowing from neighbouring countries. I would like to add that the World Bank officials offered Dr Hesham Qandil’s cabinet all methods of assistance regarding all the smuggled money. The methods include several mechanisms such as freezing, tracking and coordinating with several foreign authorities.
We understand that a money-recovery committee will be reappointed, who are the nominees and what are the selection criteria?
There are several characters who have already worked in this field before. They also volunteered to handle this issue and gained further experience in dealing with it. The nominated characters have experience in combating embezzlement, and they will be announced next week. The committee to be appointed will include diplomats, judges, deputies of the related Ministries, such as the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MPIC), the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, there will be civil representation such as deputies from the banking sector. This wide representation will help the committee in fulfilling its needs, and help it manage its mission supported by knowledge and expertise. The money-recovery dossier is not only a judicial case; it is rather a diplomatic, public and financial case with many other factors to be considered.
Is it possible that the committee will include Hossam Eissa, the prominent lawyer, since he worked in this field and possesses wide relevant experience?
Perhaps, if he meets the required criteria.
What are the most important dimensions of your plan to restore this money, and what are the new methods you plan to employ in this issue?
From my perspective, given my evaluation of the former governments, I believe their attempts lacked true political willpower. However, today we possess that willpower now that the new cabinet is formed and first civilian president is elected. In addition, the civil society did not have an opportunity to participate in this issue in the past despite its important role in cooperation with the Government. Furthermore, the committee did not enjoy wide privileges within which it could operate, such as diplomatic privileges. The privileges include allowing the committee to independently address states and authorities as a representation for the Egyptian political entity.
In addition, there are other judicial privileges to enable it to address the judicial bodies in Egypt as well as foreign ones abroad. Moreover, there were only ten voluntary civil delegations, and they travelled on their own expenses without any governmental support. The discovery of the money abroad was the result of public efforts, accordingly we need to place these efforts on the right track. The civil society is the body which should be leading the work with the support of the government. The Government should hence provide it with the required political willpower and logistics, so that the world knows that the Egyptian public is the one demanding recovery of the money.
What is the timetable for the committee to conclude its mission for recovering the money?
Honestly, it is up to the committee itself to decide. But given my experience in this public effort, I can tell you that within a few months we will start to receive the frozen money that was discovered. At the same time we will be discovering new money. So the tracking, discovery, and recovery processes all continue parallel to one another.
Will opening this file affect Arab relations? Particularly because some Arab countries took intensive measures with the Egyptian citizens, and the EU refused to cooperate with Egypt on the matter?
I do not think so, because the Arab countries cannot possibly count on the former regime and they know that this page has been turned. Arab states know that it is the Egyptian people who have remained, and that keeping good relations with them is of more importance. On the contrary, I think that the coming period will witness support in this file from the neighbouring Arab states more than any other.
What are your new proposals regarding the Trade Zone with Gaza and Rafah?
First of all, this proposal belongs to me individually and does not represent the Government. However, I think that Prime Minister Qandil’s cabinet is currently studying my proposal, which is essentially related to developing the entire area of Sinai. From my perspective, I think that establishing Sinai will change the entire area, particularly because Sinai enjoys touristic, agricultural and commercial aspects. In addition, Sinai could become one of the most vital and important investment zones in Egypt and the world. I also suggest that Sinai become an international trade zone that is open from Lake Manzala in Eastern Port Said until Rafah, because this coast is of international importance. I was in Sinai myself a month and a half ago, and I was astounded by its beautiful nature, despite the fact that the area was neglected for the past 35 years.
Currently, we have several border problems with Gaza, which are represented in our commitment more than that of the other states. However, we are only committed to our interests and the agreements we signed, keeping in mind that the signed agreements do not prevent us from opening a trade zone with Gaza. On the contrary, opening this zone on a regular and permanent basis will solve several problems in terms of security and economy. That is attributed to the fact that trade would spell the end for the covert tunnels, as we will have provided Gaza with commerce, which represents an important portion of their economy to substitute the trade coming from the tunnels. Therefore, a lot of money will find its way to the public treasury, which could reach millions every year.
Does the military’s initiative of providing EGP one billion of its budget increase the likelihood of them approving your proposal?
I think my proposal is independent from that case, because the liquidity they provided is directed at supporting infrastructure projects and tackling the situations caused by the former regime. In addition, the funds will be used to establish large investments and for the benefit of the area’s residents. Furthermore, it will help Egypt restore its position.
How do you perceive the allegations of the Islamic current’s dominance over the other currents, such as the liberal, the Arab nationalist and the so-called Brotherhoodisation the state?
To me the “Brotherhoodisation” of the state is a humorous term, and I suppose, if the state’s ruler was liberal, allegations would have said “liberalising” the state. In fact, the Egyptian state is too big to be categorised under a political faction; even under the ousted president Mubarak, Egypt was not categorised. What we are witnessing is a transformation, and we hope that any winning party does not combat other entities because this is no time for combat; it is rather a time of consensus, until the democratic regime is restored. In addition, if we look at the Parliament, we find that the Muslim Brotherhood’s faction does not take over the Parliament, and hence the overtaking term does not apply.
Furthermore, even if the state’s president belongs to the Brotherhood, it does not mean that he acquired all powers in the state, because the age of the absolute powers has ended. Yes, there is no constitution to exercise oversight over presidential powers, but the people are monitoring the president’s performance, such as morsimeter.com, which monitors the president’s footsteps. President Morsy himself came from Tahrir, and he is aware of its powers and his duties towards it.
Regarding the political forces that criticise the President, and fear of the Brotherhoodisation of the state, even though these allegations are baseless, I ask them not to fear real confrontation. These forces should spread in the streets, intensify their campaigning to match the Muslim Brotherhood’s, and extend their grassroots to win people’s support.
These forces hold seminars and gatherings to gain more publicity and introduce themselves to the people, and to be well prepared for the coming elections. However, if these forces limit themselves to attacking and criticising without doing the work, and continue to spread the concept of Brotherhoodisation they will leave the street to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. By not going out there, they will lose communication with the Brotherhood, which in turn would strengthen the Brotherhoodisation even more! Truth be said, the street is no longer exclusive to the Muslim Brotherhood, it includes Salafists, Al Wassat Party, Revolutionaries Coalitions, and April 6 Movement, all working on the ground.
In addition, there are other young forces that do not belong to any Islamic or liberal currents, and you can call them “revolutionaries”. Regarding the Constituent Assembly (CA), its majority is not from the Brotherhood, and the only elections we held concerned with policy, as far as the Brotherhood is concerned were those of electing members from the reserve list to take place in a certain order. Voting takes place in a way that those who won largest number of votes in the Public Assembly and Shura Council joint meeting will surely be to the benefit of the Brotherhood.
The second scenario suggests replacement by consensus voting in order to keep the CA’s balance. In light of both scenarios, we resorted to voting, and voting by consensus outnumbered voting by replacement.
Numbers wise, the Brotherhood and the Salafists do not have high representation in the CA, plus the concept of majority has become ancient and insignificant. Regarding the constitution project, political factions that will vote against public interest, would be intentionally burning themselves.
What is your stance regarding the fact that the President possesses both the executive and legislative powers following his latest decisions which canceled the supplementary amendment to the constitutional declaration and his dismissal of a number of military leaders? And what is the proposed solution to address these fears?
First of all, the President possession of legislative power is a lot better than the Armed forces’, because this was a “joke’’ in the Egyptian state’s history! An unelected military council in possession of all the executive and legislative powers is considered a true disaster, not to mention its supervision of the constitutional formulation process. Therefore the new situation is better than the former one.
In addition, we have an elected President for the republic plus the CA, both are considered the working factors on the floor for the moment. Regarding the CA and its appointment, as of the Constitutional Declaration in Article (60) and the issued law, it is an assembly that is independent from the President that does not follow him. Therefore, the constitutional power is in the hands of CA.And I tell those liberal forces who demand that the President restructures the CA, that by this, you are in fact providing him with a wider span of authorities and giving him an opportunity to possess all powers. I do not really see what is wrong with the CA, it is elected, independent from the President and he cannot impose his ideas on it.
In addition, experienced individuals can join the CA because it is a societal organisation. The CA’s hundred members have doubled as well, because it included members from the outside as much as the ones from the inside, and they are entitled to attend all committees, vote, alter resolutions, viewpoints and propositions. One cannot even tell inside from outside members. Therefore, the moment the President possess legislative powers, this will be a result of the defect the Egyptian state has been suffering since the constitutional amendments until the present day. This defect was confirmed by the canceled supplementary amendment to the constitutional declaration because it delivered constitutional power to the Military Council.
Therefore, when the President cancels this constitutional declaration, all power in Article 56, including legislation power, are transferred to him, and that is erroneous and defective. Accordingly, the President is not to blame nor in a position of accountability.
At the same time, the President is required to assure society in this aspect. Moreover, I suppose that the President’s first statement included that the authority will only be used when necessary. For me, I consider this a sufficient example to reassure public opinion, plus it conforms to the regular constitution. For instance, in case of Parliament’s absence, the President is in charge of making decisions regarding laws.
After this, the moment the new Parliament is appointed, bills passed by the President are submitted to Parliament it for approval or retroactive cancelation. This rule must be applied to the President’s utilisation of power, and I think he will not object to this, because by the appointment of the Parliament, every legislative decision will be reconsidered.
What is your opinion regarding the propositions made by several political actors to prevent the President’s monopoly on power—which suggest temporarily reconvening the Parliament until the constitution is formulated, circumstances stabilise and then the Parliament can be reappointed?
I think this suggestion is correct and sound, because it will solve this legislative predicament for three months, within which the Parliament will exercise its power. However, the decision will face a violent conflict, which will obstruct Parliament’s work.
Obstruction will be represented by the fact that the Parliament’s majority is Muslim Brotherhood [members], and so is the President. Accordingly, they will bring up the possession concept, in addition to the current judicial resolutions, which represent a great obstacle before Parliament can be reconvened.
Even if it reconvenes without the dissolved third, with two thirds only?
In this case, we will be in need to the Constitutional Court’s interference. The court ruled to dissolve one third of the Parliament, then the entire Parliament. Therefore, it is up to the Constitutional Court—and I support committing to the judicial rulings, regardless of who is behind them.
What is the expected date for the parliamentary elections?
I think that the final constitution will be ready in September, after this we have two weeks to review it and call for a referendum. Then, we will call for the Parliamentary elections within 60 days. I think that by the end of year we will have an elected Parliament.
How will you overcome the former elections law’s mistakes, and the incorrect representation for the individual seats?
What is new and different from the former parliamentary elections is that we will submit the new elections’ law to the constitutional court to decide on its privileges or amend it.
What plans are your Ministry hoping to accomplish within the first 100 days?
From my perspective, I think the priority is now given to establishing the money recovery committee, restructuring it under a presidential decision, and issuing a law granting it with the sufficient privileges to commence operations. I already found a headquarters and necessary officials. I think this will be satisfactory for me during the first month.
During the second month, I am finalising a group of legislations and propositions, including the Equal Opportunities law, and a number of other bills and amendments. These propositions are simple and quick, and will help reduce corruption and adjust several circumstances in several directions, such as the State’s Properties Law, Investment Law and Law of Arbitration.
During these two months, we will have finalised formulating the final constitution, because it envisions new scenarios in the legal aspect. Therefore, I am currently preparing legislations in conformity with the new constitutional spirit, concerning establishing new authorities such as the Supreme Commission for Elections.
Accordingly, organising the elections will take place in light of a supreme independent commission to combat corruption, and works on issuing anti-corruption and amendment laws within the sanctions law.
In addition, several supreme councils will be established, such as a Supreme Council for Education and Health. The Supreme Health Council will pursue establishing a consistent pattern for the health system countrywide. In addition, a comprehensive health insurance system will benefit the Egyptian community and help develop hospitals. Hospitals will commit to not refraining from providing medical services, unless under contingent and necessary circumstances, such as accidents. All these are legislative alterations within formulating the constitution, accordingly when the constitution is announced, subordinate legislation will follow.
In a previous statement, you criticised the Government for being technocratic, what are the reasons? Do you prefer a government of a certain background or current?
Yes, this is true. I think we are addressing a political problem which is the primary problem. Therefore, a political government can solve the political predicament we currently suffer; hence an economic reform will take place. Politics is the locomotive, and if reformed, the economy will perform accordingly. I supported a political government composed of a wide public coalition. The problem is that such a wide coalition is crippled in Egypt, because it is difficult to combine the right and left power spectrums. We clearly failed in doing so within the past year and a half, and if different political forces were in harmony we would have not ended up with a government that is composed of mainly one ideology.
However, having a single ideology dominant is unacceptable at this stage, therefore the “technocrat” government which does not include quotas was the alternative that I did not support. Furthermore, it was necessary to appoint a no-quotas government so that we avoid one political faction’s majority in Parliament. For instance, when one political faction is represented by four ministers out of 35 ministries, a monopoly of power will be avoided. Therefore, a technocrat government is appointed in which I am willing to participate as a technocrat, not a politician or a representation of a certain political party, rather as a university professor. Therefore, I am occupying myself with my field of experience, ie legislation.
What is your opinion on quashing convictions against civilians tried by military courts?
From the most important aspects in the new constitution, is a clear article that prohibits trying a civilian before a military tribunal. Therefore, using military powers against civilians is an idea that soon will come to an end with the new constitution. The past year and a half left many in military trials. Therefore, organising the set-up committee, under the lawyer Mohamed Amin Elmahdy, will accomplish this mission. After this, all civilians tried before military courts will be pardoned, and a civilian trial will be granted to those who deserve it.
In other words, no one will remain convicted by a military trial because it opposes the concept of democracy and goals of the Egyptian revolution. In addition, there is an ongoing controversy that military legislation will be included under judicial bodies, but the CA refused this proposition because it implies extending military legislation to civilians.
When will they be released?
I think that the commission or this committee has been there for a month, and I guess that after another month they will have been released.
You mentioned your intention to appoint committees to start development projects; can you tell us about them?
Yes, we have started a research centre which will include a large number of legal experts, judges and young researchers. The purpose of the centre is to envision legal scenarios. One of the most important factors of reviving the state is a sound legislative system.
Putting legislative amendments regarding under-performing public facilities is one of the most important development projects, after Sinai of course.
Will there be coordination with the concerned authorities in regard to that?
Our role is limited to making the legislative plan, but coordination will take place with the Ministries of Justice, International Planning, Investment, in addition to universities, and research centres working in this field.
Would you like to address a message to the businessmen and investors?
The Egyptian state cares for all capital in both the private and public sectors. I invite them to establish projects which will contribute to the renaissance of the country and social welfare. This indeed requires putting public and private capital in harmony, in which the projects do not depend on one party on account of the other.
I also invite them to help us get rid of all forms of corruption. We also believe in a work timetable within a unified project’s framework which serves the interests of both parties.