ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Amr Hamzawy is a founder of the Egyptian Freedom Party. The party is a member of the National Salvation Front, the coalition of groups opposed to President Morsi. He joins us now from Cairo. Welcome to the program once again, Dr. Hamzawy.
DR. AMR HAMZAWY: Thank you very much, Robert.
SIEGEL: And let me ask you first: Are there any talks right now between the National Salvation Front and President Morsi to reach an agreement that would avoid the military stepping in on Wednesday?
HAMZAWY: Well, there are no talks between the president and the National Salvation Front. As far as I am informed, there are no talks as well between the army and the National Salvation Front. I mean, what we are having in Egypt right now is a population mobilizing for a clear demand. Now the president, I believe, has to respond by accepting early presidential elections and, in doing so, saving a place for his Muslim brotherhood in Egyptian politics.
SIEGEL: You're saying that if President Morsi wants to save a place for his Muslim brotherhood in Egyptian politics, then he'd better agree to an early election. Let me ask you about this. Do you think that what's happening now in Egypt is a repudiation of the Muslim Brotherhood, or is it more narrowly a repudiation of President Morsi?
HAMZAWY: Well, I hope we will not get to that phase of repudiating the Muslim Brotherhood for two reasons. One, in that case, we'd be risking societal peace and coexistence and...
SIEGEL: You mean there has to be some role for the Muslim Brotherhood.
HAMZAWY: Yes, of course. I mean, not a single Democrat would get out of her way or his way and tell you, well, eliminate them. I mean, what kind of democracy, what kind of liberal democracy is that? No. Of course we have to have a role in society and in politics, but we have to have a democratically defined role. I mean, Egypt is not out there to be dominated by one movement.
And we have to stick to what is a political demand, which is early presidential elections. They should participate. They should come back, presidential and parliamentary election, and be part of Egyptian politics. But the rules and regulations, the rules of the game, constitution, legally, will have to be redefined.
SIEGEL: You've been a pro-democracy advocate. You've been a human rights advocate. Don't you feel any ambivalence about the Egyptian military, however well-intentioned, putting an ultimatum to Egypt's first popularly elected president, however recklessly he and his party may have governed?
HAMZAWY: Well, you bet. I do not feel good about the army interfering in Egyptian politics and issuing an ultimatum to an elected president. However, what has been happening in Egypt in the last few days is that we have had millions of Egyptians bringing down the legitimacy of the elected president. Their sheer existence brought down its legitimacy.
I'm hoping that we can contain the role of the army in safeguarding our process. Unfortunately, we are back to square zero. After two-and-a-half years, we are back to square zero.
SIEGEL: When you say square zero, just to understand that, what you're saying is the country should get back to writing a constitution, should set new rules for electing a parliament and should have a new presidential election. It's as if you're right back where you were two-and-a-half years ago.
HAMZAWY: Unfortunately, yes. I mean, we have a constitution which needs to be amended. Even the existing president recognized the need and his movement - the Muslim Brotherhood and party, Freedom and Justice - recognized a need to amend the constitution. So it definitely needs - it needs a popular referendum, as well as regulations for the presidential and parliamentary elections. And we don't have a parliament. The People's Assembly has been dissolved, and the existing legislative council is facing a ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court describing it as unconstitutional.
SIEGEL: It's pretty late in the 48-hour deadline period that the military set without there being any constructive talks. How important is it to negotiate a solution between the National Salvation Front and the Morsi government as opposed to the army coming in and throwing out the constitution?
HAMZAWY: Unfortunately, the time is beyond us. The sheer number of Egyptians who took out to the streets in the last days is not listening to the National Salvation Front, is not listening to the presidency. They are listening to a demand, which is early presidential elections. So I'm afraid any power sharing agreement, any compromise which would not offer them that one demand, it will not be listened to.
We are past that time, unfortunately, because the government primarily squandered too many chances, too many opportunities to get to a power sharing agreement. They wanted to dominate, and that is what you end up getting in a democratic transition, that if you want to dominate politics and politics is yet to mature, you end up alienating wide segments of the population and facing what President Morsi is facing as of now.
SIEGEL: If you're calling for early elections, who should be the president of Egypt? What kind of a leader does the country need right now?
HAMZAWY: Well, that's a good question. We need a leadership which is visionary to look at Egypt and to democratize it and to contain the army as well. I mean, once again, I mean, there is a risk in Egypt that the army might find it effective enough to step back completely into politics, which I would not be happy about.
SIEGEL: Amr Hamzawy, thank you very much for talking with us today.
HAMZAWY: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Dr. Hamzawy, the founder of the Egyptian Freedom Party, is a leading figure in the opposition to President Morsi, and he spoke to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.