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In Conversation with Amr Moussa - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo of Amr Moussa from Thursday, June 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

File photo of Amr Moussa from Thursday, June 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The protests that toppled Mubarak brought many Egyptians into politics for the first time and opened up new space for some of those who were already veterans of Egypt’s political scene.

Amr Moussa is definitely one of the latter. After serving as Egypt’s foreign minister throughout the 1990s, he would spend the next 10 years as the head of the Arab League. This might have crowned his career, but with the downfall of Mubarak, he felt the time was right to leave that post and announce his intention to run for president in 2012, at the age of 75.

Though unsuccessful, he founded the liberal secularist Conference Party, and remains an “elder statesman” of the National Salvation Front, with a ringside seat to the unfolding drama of Egyptian politics.

Asharq Al-Awsat: You met with the African Union Delegation that met with Mursi. What did they say about the meeting?

Amr Moussa: The delegation met with the former president Mohamed Mursi and they described him as uncomfortable with the current situation. They said he was pensive and insisted that he is the legitimate president.

Q: Several segments of society opposed to the Brotherhood’s rule are not comfortable with such visits, viewing them as foreign interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In fact, I also had such a feeling. However, I specifically take into consideration the West’s reaction to what happened in Egypt. Moreover, some distasteful procedures serve purposes that might not be clear to the public.

The West calls Egypt to address the issues and be in control of the situation. This is in fact in our best interest, provided that is based on the conviction that the former regime has ended and that electoral legitimacy—derived from the ballot boxes—fell short of legitimacy that is based on achievements, leading to a widespread outrage in Egypt’s streets.

The former rulers fell short of [the necessary degree of] responsibility. To be responsible means to feel citizens’ reaction and to soundly assess whether people believe or reject you.

As a ruler you should immediately investigate into the roots of people’s rejection. However, pursuing a stagnant policy claiming that protests are politically funded and that the number of protesters is small and that their anger will diminish, indicates lack of political efficacy, experience and understanding of the importance of public opinion.

The Brotherhood adhered to the rigid legitimacy rather than the active one which is affected by people. By “rigid legitimacy,” I mean the one gained without making any achievement or progress regarding the urgent issues that concern citizens. Now Egypt is going through an exceptional and unprecedented revolutionary stage, posing unseen threats to Egypt as an state as well as to the country’s present and future.

On the one hand, we need a ruler that live up to their responsibilities, a thing which the Brotherhood failed to do. Speaking of the future, I prefer that political process be inclusive. That is, no one should be excluded so as to build Egypt on the basis of consensus and understanding. Therefore, I believe that practicing isolation will be extremely unwise because part of the Brotherhood’s mistake—as well as the former Arab regimes in general—lies in isolation, a thing we do not want to happen again.

As for the visits from the West, they are attempts to find out Mursi’s situation and investigate into reports he is jailed or being mistreated. However, such reports turned out to be inaccurate.

Q: The Brotherhood’s concept of the state is ideological, in a manner that is different from the rest of the political parties. How can there be a common ground for everyone to work on without any side being isolated?

The Brotherhood remains part of Egypt’s body politic. Therefore, they are required to be present at the dialogue table and positive as well as accept [other parties]. They must be convinced that they have lost this round and should rehabilitate themselves in Egypt’s political arena, particularly after they have lost much of their glitter and many supporters.

Accordingly, their participation must be based on the belief they are part of the political arena despite calls to ban them given that they, as a group, have proved to be a failure.

Although we admit their failure, we have to listen to them if they want to be part of the political arena in Egypt. What makes this difficult is the fact that this group prioritizes its interests over that of Egypt. Dialogue and understanding are required to remove previous misunderstandings and to prioritize the country’s interests over that of the group, and that all parties share this conviction. In this case, the Brotherhood will be a part in the next elections and will obtain seats as the people decide.

Q: In your opinion, what caused the confusion, in the first transition stage following January 25 and the first presidential elections, that led to the current situation?

The Brotherhood tried to claim they represent the revolution, then they wanted to hijack power although we acknowledged that Mursi was an elected president by accepting the results of the elections. We did not topple the Brotherhood because we had anything against them. Had the former president Mohamed Mursi been successful in terms of dealing with the urgent issues, responded to the Egyptian people and not just his “confidantes,” things would have been different. Therefore, it can be said that the Brotherhood are the ones who toppled themselves because they failed to achieve anything.

Q: Prior to the elections last year, there was talk that when the Brotherhood manages to come to power, they be in office for 50 years. Is not it strange that they were toppled after one year in power?

The burden they were left with was huge. During the last five years of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egypt was not in a good condition. This is something which the Brotherhood should have dealt with before the president adopts reform and reconstructs Egypt. This did not happen because they were not aware of three points:

1)What happened on January 25 was a revolution for all people and revolution necessarily means reform.

2)They did not take into consideration the generational shift that happened and that youth are influential and are present, and the previous generation’s role is to offer advice and wisdom.

3)They wanted to make Egypt live in the past. This is something that contradicts nature. They also failed to consider the significance of the factor of time and that Egypt needs reform and reconstruction.

The question then arises: Would the Egyptians accept another year under the Brotherhood’s rule? Egypt and the Egyptians answered in the negative.

Q: Did your meeting with Khairat El-Shater before June 30 affect your popularity?

It affected my popularity among the ones who already do not agree with what I say. Meeting Brotherhood figures was a necessary matter. I have previously met with Saad El-Katatni among others.

That’s why I do not understand why my meeting with El-Shater raised questions. Why not meet with them if the aim was to stop bloodshed?

I went to the Tahrir Square on June 30 and I was warmly welcomed by the youth.

Q: What did you talk about in your meeting with Shater?

I first told him about the Brotherhood’s poor governance and he agreed. I then told him that the Brotherhood have already lost and will lose and that there will be massive protests on June 30. He answered literally: “I agree with you we have made major mistakes indeed.” I told him: “All people will go out in protest,” and I advised him not shed blood. “Do not forget, brother Khairat, that when Tamarrod called people to sign the petition, it demanded early elections not toppling the regime,” I said. “If I were in your shoes, I would have accepted.”

Q: Was Shater the de facto ruler of Egypt?

That is what has been reported. Thus, it would have been extremely wrong on my part to refuse to meet with him at that critical point.

Q: It was leaked that during that meeting Shater told you that the West was on their side.

He did not frankly say so, but he hinted at it. Like other Brotherhood members, he underestimated the protests which I told him were sparked by public outrage.

Q: You said that you warned him that the protests on June 30 would be massive. Were you certain of that?

I predicted that protests on June 30 would be massive because more than 20 million people had signed the Tamarod petition. And even if only 10-15 million signed that petition, the protests would still be massive. This is exactly what happened. For example, when I was in Turkey the Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyib Erdoğan told me that Egypt is divided between Tahrir Square and Rabaa Al-Adawiya. I told him: “No, this is just in Cairo where the majority are against the Brotherhood. Protests in all Egyptian provinces are against the Brotherhood.”

Q: Was Erdoğan convinced?

There are several different shades of opinion in Turkey, although there is a sort of sympathy with Mursi and the Brotherhood. In a visit by an Arab delegation, which I was part of, we delivered a strong message to Turkey. The high-level delegation talked with Erdogan frankly, reminding him that Egypt represents the heart of the Arab world and that the relationship between the Justice and Development Party and the Brotherhood cannot prevail over the two countries’ ties and interests. The Egyptian-Turkish relationship should be based on the two countries’ and peoples’ relationship. The discussions with president Abdullah Gul, Erdogan and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu were very strong and lasted for about seven hours.

The Arab delegation was comprised of Ayad Allawi, Taher Al-Masri, Fouad Siniora, Jassem Al-Saqr and I. They listened to us and I expected that dialogue would calm matters. We agreed to remain in touch particularly that Turkey is an important country and that we should preserve Egyptian-Turkish relations.

Q: Is Turkish policy at odds with Egypt’s role in the region?

Egypt’s role lies at the heart of the Arab world and cannot be usurped by anyone. Accordingly, the Turks cannot perform this role because they are not Arabs. Even on the regional level, with the presence of non-Arab states, Egypt remains an important country. Hence, there is a great interest in its role.

Q: According to some analyses, Erdoğan is worried about his domestic situation in the light of the protests that broke out in Turkey.

No, he is not worried about the domestic situation in Turkey. While Turkey’s role arises from being a successful example of the Islamic rule, Egypt represented a failed one. This is something which Erdoğan regretted. He himself leans towards the philosophy of the Brotherhood.

Q: During the first transitional phase, with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political forces and parties were largely unprepared. With parliamentary and presidential elections expected within 10 months, are the political forces able to organize themselves and learn from past mistakes?

This did not reach a sufficient degree of development and maturity, and if political parties enter elections when they are unprepared they will lose, while if they ally, as the National Salvation Front did, then they will secure better results.

Q: Why did you step down as leader of the Conference Party?

I have left the partisan arena, but not the political one. This is because I was in Turkey, while today I have met with a number of delegations that are currently visiting Egypt. I met with the African Union delegation, while I am always meeting with international, Arab, and African leaders. So you could say that I left the partisan arena, because this includes large rivalries, and it is not worth my time. Therefore I intent to devote my time to national patriotic politics, which is unconnected to partisan politics, with the exception of my honorary presidency of the Wafd Party, and my founding of the Conference Party.

Q: Does this mean you could stand at the next presidential elections?

I have previously announced my position on this. I have no desire to stand for president, despite many people pressuring me to do so. Many people have called on me not to rule this out. In any case it is premature to talk about presidential elections, while my approach stems from giving an opportunity to the youth; however “youth” in this case means candidates in their fifties and sixties.

Q: Have you thought of standing in the parliamentary elections?

I don’t think so; however I support all the patriotic, democratic, and liberal candidates.

Q: What political party is closest to your heart?

The closest party to me is the Wafd Party, although in its original meaning. However I am also a quarter Nasserite, and the Wafd Party and Nasserism come together on a number of issues in Egyptian politics, social justice, and placing the interests of the people above the interests of the elite.

Q: Egypt is passing through a difficult period. How can the country maintain its vital national interests during this stage?

There must be a vision and a plan for Egypt’s higher interests. This includes the Arab, African, and Mediterranean dimensions of this. As a former foreign minister, I am well aware of these. We have interests tied to Europe and the Mediterranean, while we also need to restore Egyptian stability which requires achieving internal stability and national reconciliation. I think that the first duty and responsibility is to put in place a greater reformative process in Egypt on all issues, and first and foremost, analyse and resolve the situation. Since January 25 until today, we have not seen any kinds of reform.

Q: Supporters of the Mursi presidency say that the situation did not allow for any kind of reform. Do you agree?

Does the situation not permit reform of the railways, hospitals, road facilities, and security? I recall that two months ago, Erdoğan told me: “You hindered the rule of Dr. Mohamed Mursi.” I responded: “How did protests in Tahrir Square prevent reform of the railway system? How does a protest in Alexandria prevent the repair of national roads that links the country’s governorates?”

The Muslim Brotherhood involved itself in everything, but they did not give anything to Egypt and its people. Every day we hear people chant: “We are heading to Jerusalem in the millions,” then we hear that there the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt are open and are being used for smuggling and terrorism. At the same time, there are long queues of Egyptians looking to purchase gasoline and diesel, and our agricultural crops are going to waste. Therefore the former regime failed on all fronts, and it impossible for it to continue.

Q: How do you think what happened in Egypt will impact the rise of the Islamists in the Arab world?

It will have an impact on this rise, particularly as the Islamists failed in Egypt.

Q: How about the Arab Spring itself? Has it failed in light of the difficulties now being faced by a number of Arab Spring states?

There is no such as the so-called Arab Spring, what happened was an Arab movement for change which is still on-going. I do not say that this has failed, rather it is passing through difficult waters and facing waves and storms. The part that was drowning in Egypt has been rescued, so what happened in Egypt will have a profound impact on the . . . Islamists, at least in the present stage. If they repair themselves, perhaps they can return in 20 or 30 years, though for now that would be impossible.

Q: What’s the role of the Egyptian military post-June 30, and the international community’s view of this?

What happened was a revolution of anger, away from controversy. What happened is that the Egyptians were angry, whether we are talking about army officers, police, lawyers, doctors, or farmers; therefore what happens was not a coup.

Q: What is the worst-case scenario for Egypt?

Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario for Egypt is for violence to escalate, and the country must be prepared for this, by which I mean that it must not allow it to happen.

Q: Was Egyptian national security under threat during the Mursi era?

Of course, and when a country’s national security is under threat, then it’s over.

Q: What about foreign relations?

There was no Egyptian foreign policy throughout the year Dr. Mohamed Mursi was in power.

Q: What’s your view of the situation in the Arab world today?

This requires a lot of work, however the situation is beginning to change, however I don’t think the borders will change or countries will disintegrate; this will not happen. Rather, countries will become more democratic.