Interview with Dr. Aly El-Samman 

by Abd Elhady Abbas for Al Akhbar

“I support the presidential candidacy of Gen. Sisi because it is a popular demand. To those who reject the army I say, please read our history carefully!” Dr. Ali El-Samman

Q. To what extent is security and stability necessary for economic growth in this coming period?

A. This is a serious question because the economy at this critical stage is quite dependent on security. Therefore, I cannot emphasize enough that security and economic recovery are inseparable. When you take the tourism industry into account, there is no denying that security is crucial. Tourism, upon which a major part of our national income depends, is still suffering.

Q. How, in your opinion, can we make sure that the Arab financial aid is used to further the development of Egyptian investment, instead of falling through the cracks of government expenses?

A. The support we are being given by the five Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Jordan – is highly valuable and we must always be grateful for having such helpful brothers. I recently attended meetings with some Arab ambassadors and mentioned that we would like to see more Arab investment in the near future. This is what we need most in the country.

We should think seriously of how to deal with investors and tourists so as to not to alienate them or chase them away. This is the role of the regulatory agencies, whose primary job is to fight corruption. Frankly speaking, such agencies are themselves in dire need of restructuring. In general, the fight against corruption is the duty of us all, not only the regulatory agencies. For example, we must not drive away investors by implementing laws retroactively. It is therefore important to draft the right laws to end corruption, and we must reconsider the role of each regulatory agency and its administration.

But if exaggerate in our fight against corruption, we may also intimidate public officials. We must not push things to the point to where our officials are hesitant and reluctant to take action. The phenomenon is now referred to in the press as “trembling hands”. This too can imperil our economic growth.

Q. What is your comment on the recent attempt by the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to disrupt life in universities?

A. Enough of this charade already! Campus guards must be allowed back. From the very beginning, my position was that the abolition of campus guards was a mistake, for it confuses the need for freedom and democracy on the one hand with that of stability and discipline within the educational system on the other. Those who advocate chaos and use confrontational language in their politics need to understand that there are limits. As soon as possible I would like to see campus guards back in place, working under university administrators, not under the Ministry of Interior.

Q. The patriotic position of Pope Tawadros II contrasts with the silence of the Americans over the burning of churches by the extremists. What is your take on that?

A. This is all food for thought. It used to be that when a church was attacked, the West reacted vehemently. Now more than 24 churches were set on fire by the MB, but that happened at a time of rapprochement between the West and the MB. As I have always said, the protection of churches is the responsibility of Muslims. The majority of people in this country are Muslims and it is their duty to protect minorities. The MB regarded Christians as political adversaries who side with their rivals – this is why they acted in such a violent manner.

I feel reassured today when I see Muslims taking to the street to protect their fellow Christians and their churches. Egyptians will never forget the utterly gracious position of the pope, when he said after the burning of churches: “if the aim was to provoke us, this will not happen.” He is a man of great prudence.

Q. Some say that al-Nour Party, despite being a newcomer to political life, is acting in a different spirit from that of the MB. Do you concur with this view?

A. No, I disagree with this view. We really have no times for those who play games. What we have here is a lot of doublespeak that we cannot afford, not when we are writing a new constitution. Later on, we can have a vote and see what is going on. But even in the worst democracies, you cannot allow a minority to manipulate the majority’s decision. Personally, I think that al-Nour is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

Q. At this critical period, do you think that Egypt needs a president with a military background?

A. Every situation has to be judged by its merits. At present, everyone would agree that our top priority is security, safety and stability. If we have this, we can revive the economy and improve the lives of our people. There is a popular demand for the nomination Gen. Sisi for president, and there are already millions of Egyptians who call for his nomination, perhaps even against his own will. Some feel very strongly about it, and many claim that he is the only one who can bring back a sense of order to the country.

I don’t like it when the media refers to the army as “askar,” as if we are talking about mercenaries. This is unfair. If we read our history we will find that the army, since Mohamed Ali, was dedicated both to the defense of the homeland and to its development.

During the period I worked with President Sadat, I saw the great men of the army working in the diplomatic and political fields. I remember men of great stature, such as national security adviser Hafez Ismail, and Kamal Hassan Ali was intelligence chief before his served as prime minister. Civilians are very capable as well. So the point is not which is better, but rather to accept the fact that there are men in the army who are fit for political and diplomatic duty.

Q. So, do you support the nomination of Gen. Sisi for the presidency elections?

A. Of course I do, for the simple reason that it is a popular demand. If Gen. Sisi declined and other men of army background ran for president, I personally would support someone like our former intelligence chief, Major-General Murad Muwafi, who suffered a lot under Morsi. In fact, by sheer coincidence I heard Muwafi, warning Field Marshal Tantawi, for whom I have nothing but respect, of the dangers al-Qaeda terrorists posed to Sinai.

Q. Does the military’s interest in the presidency obstruct the efforts to create a civil state?

A. The term “civil state” is one used as a counterpoint to a “religious state.” At the end of the day, the ballot boxes will have to be the judge. Can you imagine how many votes Gen. Sisi will get if he decides to run for president? There is a lot of public confidence in him, because of what the people saw after June 30, which I like to call “the surgical operation.” In a matter of days we had a government of technocrats running the country. Sisi returned to his place as minister of defense, and the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court began serving as interim president of the country.

Q. Why is Qatar offering the MB so much financial and media backing?

A. Qatar is a small country that is acting big. It has immense wealth, completely disproportionate to its tiny population. When it challenges Egypt, it is out of desire to play a role in the region.

Qatar wants to be part of the so-called “the Arab Spring” – which is better described as fall, or even winter. The Arab Spring has caused divisions in many Arab countries, but only Egypt stayed one piece. Thank God, no group or outside influence was able to break it apart. Egypt remained in one piece because it has a strong and unified army.

Out of spite, Qatar financed the demonstrations that took place in New York in support of the deposed president. The turnout was low and the Qataris had to bus people to the scene. But our dispute with the Qatari government must not be allowed to turn into a feud with the Qatari people who are our brothers.

Translated from Al Akhbar

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