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Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to Egypt’s new PM | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A file photo dated 17 July 2011, shows the then newly appointed Minister of Finance Hazem Beblawi during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. (EPA)

 A file photo dated 17 July 2011, shows the then newly appointed Minister of Finance Hazem Beblawi during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. (EPA)

A file photo dated July 17, 2011, shows the then-newly appointed minister of finance, Hazem Beblawi, during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. (EPA)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—In the wake of the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s new rulers face a daunting challenge. Aside from economic problems that would faze any other government, Egypt finds itself divided between supporters of the ousted president, predominately the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions, and the millions of people who poured onto the streets across the country last week demanding change.

Even within the opponents of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, profound differences need to be bridged, demonstrated by the vetoing of the appointment of National Salvation Front (NSF) leader Mohamed El-Baradei as prime minister by the Salafist Nour Party. Hazem El-Beblawi proved to be an acceptable candidate to all members of the coalition interim president Adly Mansour is attempting to assemble, and was subsequently appointed interim prime minister on Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the well-respected Egyptian economist and former minister of finance spoke about his view of the situation in Egypt, and what he intends to do to try to bridge the bitter divisions in the country.

Asharq Al-Awsat: Is it true that the government will be comprised of two components, one for security and the other for the economy?

Hazem El-Beblawi: It will be one government.

Q: I mean, it has been said that the government will consist of two main parts, one security and the other economic?

It will be a comprehensive government including economic, security, cultural and social aspects. The government will cover all aspects just like any other government that contain all ministries.

Q: Given the current situation in Egypt, do you think that some issues or fields should be given priority?

Yes, there are priorities as usual.

Q: Do you mean security and economy?

Security first, and then the economy.

Q: What is your view of the aid that Arab countries have lately pledged to Egypt, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait? Do you think this will strengthen the Egyptian economy?

Definitely. It is not just that Egypt needs aid. Rather, this also means that the world, particularly the Arab Gulf, has begun to consider the investment and political climate is more suitable for cooperation. In fact, vagueness and anxiety are the most harmful aspects to investors. This is a sign that the world considers Egypt to have entered a more stable stage.

Q: Some analysts suggest that Arab Gulf states were perhaps worried about steps taken by the former government, such as attempts at rapprochement with Iran. What’s your view of the future relationship between Egypt and the Gulf states, particularly following the aid that Egypt has received?

We do not look at our relationship with the Gulf based on the aid allocated. The aid came as a result of the Gulf states’ feeling that Egypt once again considers the Gulf as a political, economic and security supporter. Egypt has always had commitments and thus expects the Arab region to fulfill its duties. We have always, or at least over the last 50 years, acted as if there are special ties that unite the Arab region.

This became obvious following the Six-Day War in 1967 between Egypt and Israel. At the time [the war broke out], Egypt and Saudi Arabia were engaged in one of the bitterest conflicts across the region. However, during the Khartoum [Arab League] Summit in 1967, it was Saudi Arabia which proposed aid for Egypt.

What I want to say is that the organic connection between Egypt and the Gulf countries has existed for the last 50 years. However, when the former regime came, under Dr. Mohammed Mursi, this pan-Arab connection began to decline for the sake of a wider connection, namely the Islamic connection. This has caused a state of imbalance. Since the 1950s, as the Arab countries became independent, the Arab region saw that, despite all differences, the region’s stability, security, and human and economic ties should be better. When the former regime disappeared, Arab countries became normal again, as will Egypt. I am optimistic about this issue.

Q: With regards to the political activities taking place on the Egyptian street, do you have a plan to resolve this or a political program that you will seek to implement? By political activities, I mean the pro-Mursi rally in east Cairo and the deteriorating security situation on the Sinai Peninsula, among other issues.

These are important issue, and comes within the context of creating an atmosphere of political and security calm…and God willing, we will find solutions to these issues. We view all this as just one of the problems facing the new government, and we must try to give the impression that the political situation is moving closer to a solution, away from [political] exclusion, but rather by extending our hand to all parties who are prepared to serve the nation. We want the new government to be a government for all and by all, and not seeking revenge. This government’s intention will not be to seek revenge or to settle scores. We hopes that this is indeed what is achieved, with everybody serving in this new government, without any party believing that it has a monopoly on the truth.

Q: What about those who fear about political exclusion being practiced in the post-Mursi era, particularly against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist Al-Nour and Al-Watan parties?

As I said, the most important thing is to avoid political exclusion and score settling. The country is open to all, so long as they believe in the need for security and stability and non-exclusion.

Q: Are there any political groups that you will not co-operate with, like the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood?

Egypt is for all Egyptians…I do not look at anyone according to their political objectives or ideology. All Egyptians are part of this country, and have the right to believe in whatever they see as being in the interests of the country, but without resorting to violence, [political] exclusion, or threats. As for the country, it must be open to all political persuasions.

Q: What is the most urgent issue that the new government must address? What issue do you think the new cabinet must begin addressing immediately?

It would be unfair to discuss this with you now…namely before we finish forming a cabinet and before there is a cabinet meeting in which I can sit with the ministers and listen to them. Such decisions, in terms of priorities and so on, should come from cabinet meetings, where more than one opinion is expressed, and which ends, following discussions, with a collective view. I can only speak to you about my own views regarding what needs to be done.

Q: In this case, what is your own view regarding the current situation in Egypt, and what needs to be done?

We must reassure everybody that the country belongs to everybody, not to any faction at the expense of others. There is no place for [political] exclusion or settling scores…this is one thing, however committing crimes and breaching security is another issue. This is an issue that will be dealt with in accordance with the law. However, nobody will be punished for espousing a particular ideology or view, so long as this falls within the framework of acceptable and consensual views.

Q: There are many media reports about politicians and political leaders being arrested, however the Egyptian authorities have emphasized that what we are seeing is the fulfillment of legitimate arrest warrants issued by Egypt’s public prosecutor. What’s your view?

No arrests are taking place on the orders of the executive branch…however if the issue is placed in the hands of the judiciary, even before the accused is brought to trial, then the prosecutor-general has the right to detain the accused pending further investigation. It must renew this pre-trial detention for fear of losing evidence. This is not the same as arbitrary arrest. [This] occurs without the authorization of the judiciary and the prosecutor-general, and this is not what is happening.

However when a suspected murderer is arrested [properly], he is placed—by order of the prosecutor-general—under pre-trial detention until the case can be brought to trial, and he is not considered guilty until after the trial and judgment.

Q: Does this mean that the idea of arresting one’s political opponents or rivals will not be present in your era?

This is my hope.

Q: Your government will face a difficult issue with regards to the Sinai Peninsula. How can we find a solution to the deteriorating security situation there?

I have yet to enter government, and thus my knowledge regarding what is happening on the Sinai Peninsula is limited to what I read in the newspapers, however firstly we must have the right information. I think this issue [security in the Sinai Peninsula] falls under the purview of the army and police…they have all the information…they must use this and act according to the information in their possession.

Q: According to international reports, the world is concerned about the Suez Canal and the effects of the events in Egypt on its security, as it is a very important international waterway. Do you think the canal will be subject to any problems because of the current security situation?

This is impossible. With regards to the importance of the Suez Canal, it is just as important to Egypt as it is to the world, because Egypt’s credibility is linked to the canal. Egypt is bound by a treaty that goes back to 1899, which guarantees freedom of navigation. It has always fulfilled this treaty and respected the freedom of navigation. The brief periods that navigation stopped were caused by wars which Egypt had not started. This has never happened, whether there was a dispute with a neighbor or a major country, as was the case with Britain, or a war with Israel, Egypt never stopped navigation in the Suez. It was only disrupted due to an attack by foreign powers on Egypt, and as soon as the attack was over, Egypt was always the first to reopen the Suez Canal. Freedom of navigation in the Suez is not only an international necessity, it also has great importance for Egypt, and defending it and guaranteeing its security, are priorities for the government.

Q: What of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, which could affect Egypt’s share of the Nile water, and its relations with the Nile states? How should Egypt approach this problem?

First, this is an issue where neighboring countries come under bilateral obligations. All rivers which run through more than one country are governed by regulations set by international conventions. I think this issue should be approached in a framework which recognizes Ethiopia’s right to develop its water and electricity resources, in a way which supports its economic development that does not harm the interests of another country. This is stipulated in every international system, whether it is local or international. Therefore, this issue must be managed within the framework of mutual understanding, and the framework of the existence of other countries’ interests.

Q: The term “military coup” has been used to describe the events of June 30, and the toppling of the former president. Do you see yourself as prime minister because of the June 30 revolution, which is an extension of the Jan 25, 2011 revolution, or the prime minister as a result of a “coup”?

I have not seen a coup except in what is being repeated in the Western media. What I have seen is a government in the state [of Egypt] which took an approach which antagonized large numbers of people who took to the streets in their millions, in an unprecedented act. Tens of millions, not only in Cairo, or the main towns of governorates, but every place in the country went out. It was clear that those huge numbers in the streets wanted to change the political system.

This lasted a few days and became a danger to the country, and the army intervened to defend state institutions and immediately introduced an interim civilian government, with the Supreme Constitutional Court president leading the country. He called for an interim government to be formed in order to reform the constitution and set a date for elections. Where is the military role in that? The only military role in this operation is responding to the people’s demands made by millions who gathered in the streets and squares, in a way which risked their lives. There is great difference between the army taking the initiative to seize power and responding to 30 million people demonstrating in the streets.