Asharq Al-Awsat met with President Mansour in his office at the Federal Palace in the Cairene suburb of Heliopolis shortly before two important occasions: the ceremonies of the 40th anniversary of the October War, which led to the restoration of Egyptian territory in the Sinai in 1973, and his first foreign visit, to Saudi Arabia on Monday.
In this second part of the wide-ranging interview, Egypt’s interim president discusses Egyptian relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as the US, Europe, Turkey and Iran.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Q: Many Western analyses criticize the June 30 revolution, as well as Saudi Arabia’s position regarding it. Some even go so far as to say that Riyadh fears the success of democracy in Egypt. What are your comments upon that?
I am generally well-informed of the various Western analyses of what is going on in Egypt, as well as the various interactions between countries in the region. Perhaps you share with me the view that the Western world needs to correct its understanding of the developments that the region is witnessing. The West must not remain captive to the incorrect perspectives that some regional powers attempt to convince them of. Time has proven that those views are erroneous and have nothing to do with reality.
In this sense, the article that you mentioned, and many other articles, reflect, in my view, a misunderstanding of what is going on in the region. The democracy train in Egypt has left the station, and no group can stop it, no matter whom they may be. I’d like to emphasize that this train has embarked with total Saudi support, along with the support of a number of our Arab brothers.
The June 30 revolution, which enjoyed total support from Saudi Arabia, started off essentially to rectify the path of the January 25 revolution, which had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. So how, then, can one look upon Saudi Arabia’s much appreciated support for Egypt at this delicate phase in our modern history as if it were an attempt to suppress democracy? That is faulty logic, and it ignores the common interests that bind Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Q: Mr. President, in light of Egypt and the Gulf’s similar, and at times perhaps even identical, interests, what is your evaluation of Egyptian-Gulf relations?
Egypt’s interests are largely identical to those of the Gulf countries. As I previously mentioned, the security of the Gulf is an indispensable part of Egyptian national security. There is no doubt that friendship is tested in times of adversity, and the economic adversity Egypt is facing is no secret.
In addition, Egypt faces international political criticism due to our success in cutting short the schemes that some regional and international powers were aiming to implement through Brotherhood’s regime, to the detriment of Arab and Palestinian rights. The June 30 revolution nipped those plans in the bud, and in the coming days we will see more of this. Given all this, Gulf support for us in both political and economic affairs is widely appreciated by Egyptians, and it will hasten the return of Egypt to its traditional status in the Arab world.
We count on Gulf support, just as I trust that the Gulf counts on Egypt’s active and effective role on a regional and international level, a role that was damaged during the period of Brotherhood rule. Indeed, Egypt knows the value of its Arab identity, and that of the Arab homeland that we sacrificed life and blood to found, care for, and defend. The Arabs also know the value of Egypt, even if some Arab leaders have strayed and acted in ways contrary to Arab interests. Eventually, our people and history guarantee the rectification of such aberrations.
Q: Regarding the aid to Egypt that several Gulf states announced, has it begun to have an effect? What does Egypt still need in order to improve its economic position?
This aid from Arab states, in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, has had a powerful supportive effect on the Egyptian economy, which is, as you know, is passing through an unstable period because Egypt has been in a state of revolution for three years.
The country’s problems have practically surpassed all limits. This emergency aid came so that we could improve the Egyptian economy, even if just a little bit, such that the normal citizen feels that things have begun to move in the right direction. But this still requires more support, and we must create a multifaceted economic plan so as to move the Egyptian economy forward. We do not wish to remain dependent on Arab aid, or foreign aid generally. You may agree with me that it is best for Egypt to depend on its own resources, although we still count on Arab investment, which is like investment from our brothers. Actually, we require our brothers’ support to increase investment in Egypt. If we see investments from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, that will lead to the creation of job opportunities for the youth and will support the economy of Egypt by creating employment and encouraging the use of our own resources.
Q: To what extent are Egypt and the Gulf states cooperating in Cairo’s efforts to overcome the current crisis with the West?
It cannot be said that there is a “crisis” between Egypt and the United States or the European Union. Essentially, the matter is concerned with the affront caused by certain American and European parties’ understanding of Egypt’s affairs. So, as I explained in my response to the previous question, the European states are not of one voice on the various aspects of the Egyptian crisis. There are some countries that comprehend it well, and there are other countries on their way to doing so. For example, the messages sent to us from the United States are not fully consistent. Just several days ago, I hosted a delegation of representatives from the US Congress, among them the head of a subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee, and they expressed their understanding of and full support for what the authorities in Egypt are doing to restore the path of democracy and to combat terrorism and extremism.
We cooperate here in Egypt with our brothers in the Gulf to speak to Western media and clarify matters for decision makers there. The issue is quite simply that the West must be objective and cease the obfuscation and willful ignorance of reality that some of its leaders of have engaged in. The revolution of June 30 merits being studied in the history of mankind’s revolutions, not being treated as it has by some Western nations. Some in those countries even described what happened on July 3 as a coup. The Military Council ruled Egypt for a year and a half and no one ever saw that as a coup, yet they now view the July 3 statement of the national forces as a military coup.
The June 30 revolution is the first revolution in human history based upon signatures of more than 22 million citizens demanding the removal of the president, and the first revolution that more than 30 million individuals participated in. And they didn’t merely demonstrate for a day or two, rather they continued protesting from June 30, or even before, until July 3 when the armed forces responded to the demands of the people. It was also the first revolution in human history accused of fighting sit-ins said to be peaceful, while in reality they were armed. At these sit-ins there was public incitement to violence. There were threats to burn the country and even those at worship. Women and children were used as human shields to surround those who carried weapons. All of these facts are missing from the Western understanding of the situation, and these facts are what Egypt and the Gulf states are explaining and clarifying to the Western world.
Q: The Syria case is one of the few issues on which Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not agree. How do you explain this difference in opinions?
Egypt is a sovereign nation and its political decisions are completely independent, so bear in mind that Egypt considers its own interests first and foremost. Of course, we consult with our friends and allies in the region, we listen to their opinions and they listen to ours.
If we notice a difference in opinion, we try to convince them to change their minds while they do the same to us. In the end, if our conversation falls apart, we agree to disagree, isn’t this the way friends behave? However, each party in the end makes a final decision based on a set of national and international considerations in order to achieve its national interests.
Regarding the Syrian developments in general, we consider several factors from the prospective of long-term Egyptian and Arab interests. The Syrian people demand democracy and that is a legitimate demand. However, it is important not to hide behind a righteous demand. While the Arab people have suffered from mistakes committed by their leaders, they also suffered from international interventions based on fabricated justifications. The media and the whole world quickly uncovered these alleged justifications. Last but not least, the question that presents itself when evaluating any of the proposed next steps is: “what’s next?” We should be very careful about proposing steps based on current events, only to find ourselves in a more difficult position than we were before.
The Syria crisis is extremely complex, and the international community is generally divided as to the best manner in which to deal with the issue. Egypt’s position on the Syria crisis is that the best way to solve the predicament is politically rather than militarily. Hence our support for the Geneva Protocol. With regard to chemical weapons, Egypt condemns their use by any party. We hope that the latest agreement wherein Syria hands over its chemical weapons is executed, thereby ending the need for a military strike against Syria outside the framework of international legitimacy. The Syrian crisis has claimed many Syrian lives, and we do not think that a military strike from a third party—which would certainly claim lives—is something that would contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Syrian people.
Q: Did Egypt change its opinion of Iran after Rouhani won the presidential elections?
Egyptian foreign policy positions are not tied to one person, rather they are tied to interests and approaches adopted by different counties. Therefore I think that it is too early to judge the evolution of Egyptian-Iranian relations based only on the arrival of a new president in Iran. This is especially true in light of what is known about the Iranian political system, especially the fact that the president is not the main figure when it comes to key decisions and political positions.
Similarly we do not judge states based on perspectives offered in statements. Statements in foreign policy are an important matter, but what is truly important is to interpret these statements while keeping actual policies in mind. There are a number of issues on which Iran should take specific positions that are considerate of Egyptian and Arab national security. This is something it has not done. Therefore we will wait until these positive-sounding statements are accompanied by real positive moves on the ground.
We closely monitor the Iranian attitudes toward Egypt and we also monitor the positions of the international and regional parties who are against Iran. We have been monitoring positive signs coming from the new Iranian leadership towards the Gulf states. We in Egypt are open to everyone who respects the will of the Egyptian people, and are willing to engage in a dialogue with Iran and with others, as long as they respect the will of the Egyptian people. Intentions to fix what has damaged the historical relations between the Egyptian and Iranian peoples are clearly present. Of course this dialogue, if there is any, will be honest and objective. The talks will be disconnected from the emotions of the former regime. Egyptian interests and the interests of the Gulf will lead the way. Any future Egyptian-Iranian cooperation, if there is any, will be supportive of the Gulf Arab interests.
Q: What do you think of Qatar’s and Turkey’s positions on Egypt and the revolution of June 30th?
It is up to the Qatari and Turkish leaders to explain the positions that they have adopted. This explanation, I believe, should be presented to the Egyptian people, the Turkish people, and the Qatari people before it is presented to the rest of the world.
We have received, for example, requests from a number of Turkish political parties—some from a grassroots level and others are from the official party level—to distinguish between the positions of the Turkish people and the positions adopted by the current prime minister, who had hoped to sustain the former regime. In regards to Qatar, we are following their positions after what happened with the change in leadership. It is not yet clear to us whether this change will affect Egyptian-Qatari relations and lead us out of this negative phase.
We have exercised a great deal of restraint in the face of interference in our domestic affairs. Egypt is able to respond to abuse by some of the people’s representatives, but it believes that the relationship between peoples must remain strong. We are fully aware of the motives of those abroad who are against us. They were taken into account in the framework of our strategic review of our foreign relations. We hope to continue reviewing the position of each party that has made mistakes, and that they will come to stand with the Egyptians as a community rather than with the narrow interests of factions. In politics, the people and the interests of everyone prevail rather than individual parties.
Personally, I hope that the intentions of countries that have opposed the will of the Egyptian people are scrutinized in the near future. The longer countries are stubborn regarding the will of the Egyptian people, the higher the cost of correcting that mistake. It is something that I think Turkey understands based on the changing tones of their statements, as well as the return of the Turkish ambassador to Cairo. Our ambassador will not return to Ankara, however, until the Turkish government returns to a level of responsibility consistent with to the historically strong relationship between the two countries.
Here I would like to make it clear that bullying by some foreign parties will result in more than just rejection. In this community, rejection will not only mean problems abroad, but also domestically. The coming days will show that the people will correct the mistakes of their leaders, just as the great Egyptian people corrected the mistakes of their former leaders.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic, and can be read here.