Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tarek Heggy: “The revolution is not over. It is necessary for the practice of democracy”

Interview with the Islamic Egyptian dissident who sides with the Coptic minority

Marta Petrosillo* Rome

Tarek Heggy is an intellectual who has always alternated his managerial career in the oil industry with teaching and writing for several publications. Several months ago, he was discussed as a possible candidate for the Egyptian parliament as leader of a new liberal party.

Aid to the Church in Need has spoken with Tarek Heggy about the riots in Tahrir Square, the recent elections, and the upcoming Coptic Orthodox Christmas, in relation to which the Egyptian intellectual does not rule out new attacks on the Christian minority.

Mr. Heggy, what was your reaction to the lively participation of Copts in the revolts?
In Tahrir Square, for the first time since 1952, the Copts demonstrated outside their cathedral, after years of political negativity and being holed up in churches. This attitude is the result of the progressive Islamization of Egyptian society and the leadership inaugurated by the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Shenouda III, who took office as the sole representative of the faithful. But finally, on 25 January of last year, the Copts left the cocoon.

After the massacres at Nag Hammadi in 2010 and Alexandria in 2011, should the Copts expect more attacks on Coptic Orthodox Christmas?
Violence against Copts will not disappear without a series of constitutional, legal, and administrative provisions. It is necessary to define the relationships among Egyptians based on the principle of citizenship, and then the government must commit to the protection of the Copts and their churches. And I do not really think it will happen soon.

The Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, however, have vowed to defend the Christians during Christmas functions.
I have no confidence in the fact that Islamists understand the modern acceptance of citizenship. So I do not believe that an Islamic government can be one hundred percent just in their treatment of non-Muslims.

Abba Eban said, “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Does this also apply to the Arab Spring?
The opportunity that we missed this time was to fully complete the revolution. The riots stopped just after the overthrow of the tyrants, but they should have continued up to the complete collapse of the regimes.

The creators of the Arab Spring did not win the parliamentary elections.
In the Egyptian case, the revolt of January 25 was initiated and led by the sons and daughters of the middle class, who were not inspired by any religious ideology. Unfortunately, the fruits of the Arab Spring were gathered by the army and the Islamists.

How do you explain that in the first two rounds the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood received 60% of the votes?
Many voted based on their religious affiliation, and that is due to the high rate of illiteracy and lack of education. The official Islamic institutions have also played a key role in supporting both the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Do you think the Egyptians are ready for democracy?
Practicing democracy is the only way to go. Egypt has definitely become a democratic country, and not an Islamic republic. Although mistakes are inevitable.

In July last year, in an interview with the BBC, you said that you have complete trust in the army. Do you still feel that way?
No, I admit I was wrong. My statements were related to the relief felt in seeing that, during the riots, the soldiers were deployed in support of the population and against the regime. I do not doubt the intentions of the army, but I think that they are unfit to lead post-Mubarak Egypt.

Some months ago there was talk of you leading a new party. The formation, however, did not show up in the recent legislative consultations.
I have not yet made a decision on the matter. I will do so only when the new Constitution is ratified and the new president is elected. Personally, I have always maintained the necessity of rolling out the Constitution before the elections. It is more rational to know the rules of the game before you start playing.

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