Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Interview with Dr. Essam al-Haddad, Presidential Advisor

Essam al-Haddad, with Hulsman (L) and Schleiffer (R)
Essam al-Haddad, with Hulsman (L) and Schleiffer (R)

The following is an excerpt from an interview I was privileged to be a part of with Arab West Report. We visited the presidential palace in Heliopolis to meet with Essam al-Haddad, President Morsi’s advisor on foreign and security affairs.

Visiting the palace itself is a strange experience. The walls are covered with anti-Morsi graffiti and lined with barbed wire due to recent clashes in the vicinity. It is a good symbol of the current state of Egypt. An Islamist occupies the top office but faces significant backlash, as the state appears to be breaking down, unable to maintain the respect necessary for such a vital institution. Can you imagine if the White House was similarly afflicted?

Here is Haddad’s take on this, including his explanation on why the conspiracy against Morsi has not yet been brought to light:

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: The amount of violence against security which was not experienced before, has reached a level where security is now responding but with tear gas and water cannons. But for each rule there are exceptions. Our position is that there is no tolerance for violence against peaceful demonstrations and there is no tolerance for violent demonstrators who are attacking either other people or institutions. So the balance is very tight.

However, if there are any documented incidents of violation, we are taking this very seriously on two sides. First, it has to be investigated and those accountable need to be brought to justice. Second, strategic measures need to be taken to ensure it won’t happen again within the ministry and within the officers. And in this case we would say that we have experienced that the level of restraints, self-restraints by the police is not seen in the Egyptian public for years.

And I invited you to come here to see how we are operating within Ithahadiya [Presidential Palace]. By night on Friday Ithahadiya is attacked by Molotov cocktails and graffiti on walls and everything. Nobody is doing anything to them. So because they are not allowed to carry bullets, the police force, they are only allowed to use tear gas and water cannons. So this is what is going on in the police. But if things are going more violent from some of the violent demonstrators then they have to take action. The rule is using the acceptable level of force in order to stop this from going on.

Any violation of these acts, whether those who have been here in Ithahadiya or anywhere else, will be investigated and those who have been considered accountable will be brought to justice. This is the rule we are working on. Going back to the other side where we have experienced women harassment, huge women harassment at Tahrir Square, there have been claims that these had been organized by the FJP and the MB. This is nonsense, complete nonsense. We have information now that these people are paid by the day, sometimes by hour to demonstrate and to do whatever damage in any part they are and we even know that the fee reaches nearly 1000LE for a day and if they are wounded they could get up until 1500LE, so it is a good job.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: If you have this information why don’t you bring them to charge?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Because this information is not 100% on record. Like drug trafficking, you can see that this person is giving that person an amount of drug to be used and he is selling it and he is getting the price. If you don’t have the license from the public security…

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: But you could simply arrest the perpetrators, because there are groups who are fighting them and they could testify evidence, because, again, this is where there is a credibility problem. I have no reason to doubt you at all.

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We had a revolution 2 years ago. The dictatorship has been there for 30 years with all its levels of corruption. And people are now experiencing a totally new atmosphere that they are free to do whatever they want and there is no security apparatus enforcing law on them. And they feel this as an opportunity to do whatever they want.

I have been to South Africa for nearly five years after the Apartheid rulers. I was not in Johannesburg, but in Cape Town. I was not allowed to go outside the five-star hotel where I was staying without having a stick and without being warned. When I went around the streets of the five-star hotel everyone was holding a stick. And this was five years after the Apartheid regime.

You don’t have a complete change in such a short time. I always say, you need nine months to have a baby. Can you have a baby in less than nine months? Sometimes, maybe. But you need two years to start to speak two words. And another ten, thirteen years to be mature in order to be a responsible person. This is traditional of course. You cannot expect that after a full collapse and a full blown over of the regime, things would go back to normal immediately.

And you have a counter revolution going against you. But what I can say, we know very well where we are going. And we expect that this time will come and we are determined to carry on building our institutions. And carry on in the reforms we are trying to make in order to make the environment more acceptable and attractive for investors. This is how we want to do it.

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The issues we mentioned thus far are all issues for which you need consensus building. How would you find a consensus in Egypt to address all these issues that are of major importance to Egypt because a consensus will help to address this?

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes you are right, it is important, we are trying our best. Mr. President has invited for dialogue, once, a second, a third time. His invitation was that everything could be discussed, no constraints. You can discuss whatever. But what we are seeing from the other side is that we will not sit unless you are meeting this condition. So, it is a conditional dialogue. “No we will not sit with you ‘cause you are not credible enough”, “no we will not accept this, no we will not accept that.”

Our experience is that, not only experience, our information is that there are elements who are not willing to enter the dialogue, but they are only willing to delay the democratic process. This is their point. Whenever there is an election, they say this is not the right time for an election. If there is a referendum, they will say that this is not the right time for a referendum. If there is any sort of action building democratic institutions in order to go forward there is a sincere trial to hamper and to obstruct it.

This is what we see so in order to archive consensus within this environment, it is not that easy to reach a 100% consensus. But you have to reach out and to open the door and whoever will be joining you will carry on with them. And those who are sending their own agents inside the country and playing outside and sending money, there is more than country and business man who are intervening in our country to avert whatever is going on.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: There is a credibility problem. What countries are you talking about? When you are talking about foreign countries intervening, especially since that is a phrase that has been used over sixty years, so it has a very negative, when I hear that it is like I am hearing…

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Mubarak.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Mubarak or Qadafi. Is there any way you could clarify that? What countries are intervening? I understand why you do not want to, but just asking whether you can.

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We do not want to spoil the relations with this country, because this is a brotherly country, which is scared of what is going on here. We prefer to keep it calm. And to avoid it, with the hope that they would realize that intervening in the internal affairs of Egypt is not at ease.

Please click here to read the full interview at Arab West Report.

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Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Why did the Brotherhood Protest at the Palace?

Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it
Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it

From my new article in EgyptSource:

Politics in Egypt has degenerated into the question: Who do you trust? A more critical question right now is: What was their plan?

President Morsi addressed the nation late Thursday evening and tied Wednesday’s violence at the presidential palace to undefined ‘political parties’. If the vagary was intended to present the clashes between supporters and opposition neutrally, his overall point was clear in labeling the ultimate culprit as the old, corrupt regime. Surely he was not implicating the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet it is undeniable the recent violence would not have taken place if not for a decision made by the Muslim Brotherhood to protest at an opposition site.

So, why did they do it?

Of course, the size of the protest, eyewitness reports putting the number at “hundreds of thousands,” was important enough for the Brotherhood to argue it was no more than 2,000 people. The threat, though, was the increase, and the permanent presence of a sit-in Morsi’s doorstep.  As the clock ticked toward the date of the referendum, it would be a constant reminder of the standing refusal of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

This is the best reading of the official Brotherhood announcement of their stated intentions after clashes began. IkhwanOnline announced it rejected violence and went to the presidential palace to ‘protect legitimacy.’ Egypt Independent reported a Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau decision to hold a sit-in at the presidential palace, while Essam al-Erian called on the people to “flood to squares in all governorates, especially at the presidential palace, to protect legitimacy.”

Already convinced there was a conspiracy to unseat them, it appears they could not allow a picture of popular support for the opposition

But was their motive more sinister?

This is the key question, and though the article weighs possibilities, it cannot be determined from located public or reported statements. Certainly if others have found them I would like to know.

Now, of course, their public discourse denies anything, claiming they were the victims. Their rhetoric, though, is telling – indicating a great conspiracy against them, their paranoia it exists, or their invention thereof:

The day of the clashes IkwanOnline collected round-ups on the events from newspapers around the world. They chose to headline this article, however, quoting a detail from the New York Times. “Wealthy and Christians Demonstrate at Ittihadiya [the name of the presidential palace],” it read.

Meanwhile, al-Fajr reports former Brotherhood parliamentarian Sayyid al-Atweil told the Islamic channel Hafez that Copts led the armed thugs in their confrontations. He claims to have seen Copts entering churches carrying weapons. Earlier, the Freedom and Justice newspaper reported Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy Coptic businessman and financier of the liberal Free Egyptian Party, was also being investigated for inciting insurrection.

And as mentioned above, President Morsi stated the violence was tied to ‘political parties’.

May Egypt traverse these waters safely. Please click here to read the whole article at EgyptSource.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Presidential Palace Clashes

Flag Cross Quran


Protect Egypt. Protect her from descending into social and political polarization. Protect her from leaders who risk mixing the good of the nation with particular agendas. Protect her from her own people, who have turned violently against each other. Protect her from apathy, as many look on from afar.

Perhaps above all, God, protect Egypt from manipulation. Following the deaths of several and the injury of scores, each side blames the other as the propaganda multiplies. Establish the truth of the recent clashes and expose all wrongdoers and opportunists. No free state of liberty can be built on anything but transparency.

Draw back each party from their entrenched positions, without compromising any notion of conviction. There are values and virtues on all sides, surely mixed with the blinders of partisanship. Liberate their minds from prejudice and generalization; replace rejection with a will to dialogue and consensus.

But where there is evil, God, stamp it out. Raise men who will act from simplicity of heart and humility of spirit, but with the power of discernment between right and wrong. Spare the rod from striking the guilty too harshly, that they in their remaining good intentions may be redeemed.

May there be no winner in this standoff, but rather a renewed commitment to work together for the good of all. The goal is a constitution that honors all Egyptians. As difficult as this task may be, it must not be impossible.

God, their conflicting non-negotiable principles appear irreconcilable by human standards. Even if all are called to seek your wisdom, they seek it differently. If as a lowest common denominator in finding your will jointly, may they seek you in each other. May they not cease from wrestling until they secure a blessing from their opponent.

Heal the divisions of the people, God. Bring leaders to discussion even as they rebuke one another. Bless the president and give him wisdom. Bless those who stand in opposition. May these men advance the cause of Egypt and not retard it. May the people do likewise.

Forgive the nation her sins, God. Lead her to repentance. Lead her to peace.