Egyptian NASA scientist Essam Heggy discussed at length his view of the political situation in Egypt in a two-part interview on the London-based Al-Araby TV. Heggy, who served as an advisor to Interim President Adly Mansour, resigned against the backdrop of the "Kofta Device" scandal - a machine, developed by the Egyptian army, which was purported to cure AIDS and Hepatitis C. In the interview, Heggy said that he had taken the position in the President's Office in order to fight ignorance, not to become part of it. He discussed plans to challenge Al-Sisi in the 2018 elections, as part of a proposed "presidential team." Heggy criticized the Egyptian media, saying that it spreads ignorance and extremism, and said that in the January 25, 2011 revolution, the Egyptians had shattered the barrier of fear, and that the next time they take to the streets, they would shatter "the barrier of frustration." The two parts of the interview aired on July 28 and 29.
Following are excerpt
Essam Heggy: The State's General Budget is unconstitutional, because it cuts the health budget and the education budget, at a time when we are purporting to be fighting terrorism and extremism. How can you fight terrorism without education? With media? With songs? If the state thinks that it can fight a person who sets out to die, by producing a song that shows two people praising state officials one after the other... Is that how we will vanquish terrorism?
I'm not surprised that our region is the world's number one exporter of terrorists. You see these terrorists everywhere. Some people say: These are foreign nationals who live and study abroad. That's true, but the ideas that control them come from here, and especially from countries with oppression and military authoritarianism, where the rulers torment their own people. As a natural outcome of all this, these countries become the exporters of extremist ideology, and other countries, which are not actual exporters of this ideology, promote it. The ignorance we face in our media is the best propaganda for extremism in the world. It's very unfortunate to see our government officials appear on TV after every terror attack - in France, in Germany, or in the KSA - and say that they condemn terrorism. Condemning?! Have you seen what is taught in our schools?!
The deliberate spreading of ignorance throughout Egypt is the reason that Egypt has been ruled incessantly by tyrants in recent decades. The ignorance that I thought I was coming to fight, when I left my life and my work, and went to work at the Egyptian President's Office for a year... The last thing
I said to President Adly Mansour when I resigned was that I had come to fight ignorance, not to become part of it. It was when the "Kofta Device" [supposed to cure Hepatitis C and AIDS] came out. No person should agree to participate in the spreading of ignorance under the pretext that the people cannot handle the truth and must be told lies.
If you ask anybody on the street about the country's problems, he'll tell you, but he cannot see any solutions. It is the job of officials who receive monthly salaries, and who have the administrative and legal authority to do this - but they don't. Education is one of the pillars of democracy.
I was wrong in my assessment that we could progress from the June 30, 2013 [revolution], to the modern state we had been demanding. I'd like to make myself clear. I was among the people who took to the streets on January 25, 2011, demanding a secular state. What we got was a religious state. Then, on June 30, 2013, we took to the streets, again demanding a secular state, and what we got was a military state. There's no need to beat around the bush. This is a military state. When I worked at the President's Office, all the officials, high and low, came from the Republican Guard, or from the various branches of the armed forces. There is nothing wrong with this if that's how we think it should be, but we should at least acknowledge that.
If Egypt was moving on for the better, I would have said that all the bad things I had witnessed were merely isolated incidents, which do not reflect the good intentions that are present. But in light of what has become of us, I realize that these were not isolated incidents or tactical errors. There was a real intention to prevent the Egyptian people from determining its future.
When I worked at the President's Office, I met people with whom it was an honor to work. I don't want to make generalizations, because it is just like accusing people of treason. There are many honorable people there who work day and night, hoping that the President's Office would move forward. But this hasn't happened. This caused them frustration, just like any Egyptian citizen.
But there are other people in the President's Office... I was there during the transition period [between Morsi and Al-Sisi], and not a single person among the high-ranking officials believed in the January 25 revolution. That was two years ago. Whenever there was any discussion about the January 25 revolution, the activists were mocked. Whenever they would come to meet President Adly Mansour, he would get information about them prior to the meeting, and as you can imagine, anything they said in the meeting was deemed unreliable.
Interviewer: So the President was supplied with false information about...
Essam Heggy: For example...
Interviewer: Who provided the information?
Essam Heggy: The security agencies. The men were always described as extremists or drug addicts. The women were presented as immoral. When the President receives a report that he is about to meet a group of morally and ideologically corrupt people - regardless how he feels about the revolution... When you meet with such people, you attribute zero credibility to what they say.
The demonstrations in the streets have ceased, but they continue in the hearts and minds of the people. The relative calm we witness in the streets is not real. When the Egyptians took to the streets in the January 25 revolution, they shattered the barrier of fear, and the next time they take to the streets, and the next time they take to the streets, they will do so to shatter the barrier of frustration that they feel today.
The state believes that education and scientific research constitute a service it provides for free to the citizens, just like connecting homes to water, electricity, and the sewage system, and it controls this service according to what is left of its budget. Does the education system have a vision on how to move the country forward? No. Can you tell me how many times the President visited a school, since he took power? Zero. I'm talking about a real school, not about one of the schools attended by the sons of state officials.
Can you tell me how many officials in this great patriotic country of ours, where people like me are considered traitors... How many government officials send their sons to public schools, or even Arab schools? The sons of how many officials in this patriotic government were even born in Egypt? How many of them have dual nationality out of their own volition? I'm not talking about people like us who were deported and displaced because of their views.
Interviewer: When the "Kofta Device" came out, the media supported it. You were accused of treason as one of the people who rejected this device...
Essam Heggy: So was Dr. Bassem Youssef.
Interviewer: Right. You people were presented as unpatriotic. After all that, you demanded an apology. An apology from whom?
Essam Heggy: The state must apologize to the people for this lie. I don't need a personal apology. I haven't lost anything, and I have nothing to gain. The state should apologize and admit that this device was a mistake, in order to regain credibility and improve the value of science in the eyes of the people. When the people associate science with this "Kofta Device," and draw the conclusion that science cannot heal the sick, and that scientists are a bunch of traitors and spies...
When you crush your patriotic role models in all fields, why are you surprised if the role model in the Ramadhan TV series is a bully? This happens when you destroy all the true patriotic role models. You are engaged in around-the-clock media propaganda for ignorance and violence.
Interviewer: President Al-Sisi was Minister of Defense back then, and later he became President. Are you demanding an apology from President Al-Sisi?
Essam Heggy: Of course.
Something that affects 13 million Egyptian [Hep-C] patients cannot be forgotten just like that. It's like forgetting about the Sinai or the Aswan Dam. The "Kofta Device" [scandal] was no trivial matter. This was the first incident in which the state defied logic and truth. It was the beginning of the campaign of false propaganda.
Interviewer: If Egypt continues on this path, what will its future be?
Essam Heggy: It will have no future. Right now, Egypt is a state without a future. It's not just me saying so. The top state officials say so too. They are always reminding us of the glories of the past, always talking about the wars and victories of the past, as if our goal is to go backward, rather than move forward. Since the January 25 revolution, the youth have been demanding that we move forward, but some of the forces on the scene demand that we go backward - whether to the days of the Caliphate or to the days of Abdel Nasser. In order to resolve Egypt's problems, we must move forward. The honor of the Egyptians does not lie in the past, but in the future.
In the 2018 [elections], the Egyptian people will have more choices.
Interviewer: So there is an initiative to have a candidate in the 2018 elections?
The proposal talks about a presidential team. There are no names right now, but there is an entity that will develop a plan based on education and reconciliation. But let me tell you something...
Interviewer: No, we want to understand. So right now, there is no one person...
Essam Heggy: There isn't.
Interviewer: Will there be one person, or will it be a presidential team?
Essam Heggy: There will be a presidential team, because Egypt's problems require more than just one person.
Let me tell you, the alternative [we are offering] is to realize that the solution lies in education and in reconciliation. No country that is socially and ideologically torn can move forward. We must never believe that we are the enemies of one another. It's inconceivable for people to engage in seeking unpatriotic traitors. Anybody with an Egyptian ID can be part of this initiative.
No military power in the world can fight people who want to die. If someone steps out of his home, resolved to die today - not I nor a hundred tanks can deter him. The only way to eliminate the terrorism spreading among the frustrated youth is to make them want to live. If they have the will to live, they will lose the will to die. If you believe that when someone wants to die, you can simply kill him - ten others will pop up instead. Education is the most powerful weapon to eliminate terror.
If the military institution is truly convinced that ignorance, poverty, and disease are the leading enemies of the Egyptians, let it allocate part of its budget, or part of the aid it receives, to the fight against this number one enemy.
Interviewer: If President Al-Sisi runs again in the 2018 elections, do you think you will have a chance to win?
Essam Heggy: Yes. I believe that this team is capable of winning the elections. I believe that the Egyptian will vote for this plan.