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 wide-ranging interview, which will be published by the Asharq Al-Awsat in two parts, Egypt’s interim president discussed the forthcoming referendum on the constitution, the planned parliamentary and presidential elections, efforts to restore security, the position of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the relationship with the United States, as well as the recent talks between himself and the European Union’s foreign affairs commissioner, Catherine Ashton.
The following interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: A few days ago you welcomed the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, [Catherine] Ashton. What was discussed in your talks with her?
Adly Mansour: During my meeting with her, Mrs. Ashton confirmed the EU’s support for the Egyptian people’s roadmap and commended the effort that the Committee of Fifty is undertaking to move toward adopting a constitution that represents all Egyptians. Likewise, she commended the efforts of the current administration to communicate with all parties in the Egyptian political arena, while emphasizing our mutual opinion that anyone who wants to participate in this process must do so positively. Everyone realizes the importance of moving forward with the roadmap, and that there is no going back.
She confirmed that Egypt’s acceptance of economic aid at this stage is in its best interests, and she put pressure on European financial organizations, especially the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
She said that she would talk to the EU and describe the current situation to them, which many did not understand because they were only watching the events unfold on television. She underscored the EU’s comprehensive condemnation of the terrorist acts that have beset Egypt and she extended her deepest condolences for Egypt’s martyrs from the Armed Forces and police who have fallen while combating terrorism.
Q: What is your position on European development aid?
Development is one aspect of bilateral relations between countries, irrespective of a number of other facets. No relationship between two countries, or between a country and a geographic bloc, exists that can be limited to the value of aid alone. Egypt and the EU are connected by important historical, political, economic and cultural relationships. Egypt was one among the first countries to contribute to the building of the Euro–Mediterranean partnership.
The EU announced a new aid deal for Egypt last November during a meeting of the Egyptian—European Joint Working Group, valued at EUR 5 billion, although the media has distorted this. That figure was reached by combining a group of other figures, including aid that Egypt had already received, although this was only a tiny fraction. The majority of the other figures were no more than promises, or loans that Egypt did not obtain. When you speak with European representatives on this, they point to the economic crisis that is sweeping through their countries and to the Euro crisis. They speak at length about the austerity measures that they are implementing in their countries.
Despite our mutual understanding of the different dimensions of the economic crisis affecting the EU, we hope, at the same time, that the EU directs more aid in support of the Egyptian revolution. At least in a manner that is consistent with media rhetoric. The solution resides, in my estimation, in building enough political will.
Unfortunately, there are still some European countries that do not understand the significance of the Egyptian revolution, and that it symbolizes dignity and equality in the relations between Egypt and the rest of the world. We are still receiving information that some European capitals are attempting to impose what is called “conditionality” on aid to Egypt, but as I mentioned, it is not a significant sum.
The Egyptian people will not accept, under any circumstance, conditions on aid packages. This aid recognizes the shared interests between Egypt and the donor country. We will not hesitate to reject any aid that we feel is tied to any type of conditionality, as we did recently with the Qatari loan that we returned to Doha.
Q: How do you view this European conditionality?
As I clarified previously, Egyptians will not accept anything that interferes with their sovereignty, and they will not accept any encroachment upon their internal affairs. If we feel any suspicion, our response will be immediate, as happened with our decision to reject the Qatari loan. We welcome anyone who wants to support Egypt according to the vision and strategy of the Egyptian government. But, we will officially reject anyone who wants to draw a determined path in exchange for an aid package. We stand firm against Western attempts to this end. Allow me at this point to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular for the unequivocal statement from its foreign minister that Saudi Arabia will compensate any aid to Egypt that is not fulfilled.
We are certain that those within the European countries that understand the precise nature of Egypt’s current situation and the changes embodied in it will have the final say in determining the final European position. In my consecutive meetings with European representatives during this period, I uncovered the EU’s increasing realization of the reality of the situation in Egypt. From a wider perspective, I believe that the West is on its path to understanding the facts correctly and is beginning to realize that threats to cut off aid will not affect the Egyptian decision-making, but would only put more distance between the Egyptian people and this aid.
Q: Your administration is committed to supervising the implementation of the roadmap. Do you think that it is moving forward in pace with the set timetable?
Egypt is going through a seminal stage. We are establishing a democratic constitution that guarantees the complete separation of powers, guarantees freedom for citizens, and fulfills the aspirations of the Egyptian people. They rose up in January 2011 and again in June 2013, when they felt that their dreams had been stolen and that they had been misled. The new Egyptian constitution aims to establish rights for every citizen, which includes economic rights.
The Egyptian revolution had a clear motto: “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.” Our current efforts are being guided by these three principles. We are advancing towards freedom by establishing a new constitutional system that guarantees that the nascent democracy will not be hijacked once again and transformed into a tool used to serve the interests of a small group within Egyptian society. Additionally, we are advancing our economic standing by exerting all possible efforts to reboot the country’s productivity, create new employment opportunities, and respond to the needs of citizens for education, shelter, and so on. The investment plans that the government has recently sanctioned are all steps in this direction. We are also moving in the direction of social justice. For example, we recently decided on a minimum wage for the public sector.
We are not interested in making political gains at the cost of economic or social ones. But, naturally, at times we find ourselves in need of addressing an issue before another. Even a third issue, such as security, can suddenly take precedence. As you know, any economic progress hinges on establishing security. Without it, investments and tourism will not return to the necessary levels.
As to whether I think that the roadmap is proceeding with the requisite speed to ensure execution within the set timeline, as you know, all of the roadmap’s plans have been implemented in accordance with the schedule. I am confident that all future plans will be implemented on schedule, despite the doubts of many that there will not be enough time to accomplish all that we have set before us.
Q: Mr. President, everyone is aware of the nature of the current situation, which has been described as “transitional.” However, according to all reports and findings, the accumulation of economic problems prior to and following January 25, especially during this past year, have hurt the Egyptian economy. How have these difficult economic conditions affected the manner in which you make political decisions?
The political decision-making is completely independent. Egyptian interests are taken into consideration first and foremost. As I mentioned to you earlier, the most important gains of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions were that the Egyptian people rejected basing decisions on politics at the expense of the country’s greater good.
The economic situation in Egypt is difficult, due to numerous problems that were mismanaged by the previous governments. Some are structural problems which were completely neglected. We understand the vital importance of dealing with these issues in a timely manner and taking into account the social implications involved. However, the main thing the Egyptian economy needs now is a stability and security, which would pave the way for the re-launching of economic activity. Egypt is a country rich in human resources with a tremendous consumer market. The area is fertile for large-scale investment projects that could change the overall economic picture of the country within ten years. But of course, that requires achieving security in all parts of the country. There is no room for talking about real economic breakthroughs without full security. It goes without saying that the support provided by Saudi Arabia and our Arab brothers has had the greatest impact in prying Egyptian decision making away from the pressures of the deteriorating economic situation.
Q: The roadmap states that no side would be excluded as long as it does not engage in violence, but with the Brotherhood, it seems a popular resentment has developed against them. In your opinion, how will this issue evolve in the future? Do you see any indications from the Brotherhood that they are preparing to participate in political life in accordance with the new rules? Have you come under any pressure in this regard?
Since the June 30 revolution, the Brotherhood has sought support from abroad. This approach was comprehensively rejected by the people and the state. Whenever we observe any attempt to bolster their strength, we react immediately. I think that they have received the message, and so have the other parties which had been receptive to their calls and actions at first.
An important factor in the fall of the former regime was the deliberate exclusion of a broad cross-section of the Egyptian community. It relied on the so-called “family and clan” while fully ignoring any demands from outside this in-group. That was why, upon taking office, I was committed to extending a hand to all political parties, whatever their affiliations or beliefs, as long as their hands were not stained with blood and they were committed to non-violence. For example, we offered to consult with all parties over selecting a prime minister and cabinet. We sent letters to all political parties and movements to present their nominees in the Committee of Fifty, which has been entrusted with drafting the constitutional amendments. However, the Brotherhood chose not to participate in the construction of Egypt’s future, preferring instead to continue its sit-ins, violence, threats to burn the country, and surreptitious efforts to appeal abroad to the detriment of their country.
I believe the Brotherhood has begun to reconsider its approach. That is clear from its apologies to the Egyptian people over their past mismanagement of the country. But these apologies alone are not enough. And I say so not as an expression of my personal opinion, but rather as an expression of the view of the Egyptian people. It is also important that these apologies be accompanied by tangible changes on the ground. It makes no sense for them to continue instigating and carrying out clashes with the army and the police and then claim that they have formally apologized. The Brotherhood must understand and clearly state that it is part of this country, and not vice versa.
Egypt is confidently continuing along the straight and narrow path of implementing of the political map for the future. We are working hard towards building a state based on institutions and to lay the foundations of a sound, free, democratic Egypt. However, we are committed to incorporating all of the national community in the political process, and cannot afford to waste more time. Egypt will rise again, regardless of what one component of its population thinks or does. Whosoever wants to build with us is welcome, as long as they are committed to the rules of democracy and non-violence. As for those reluctant to do so, who hold that powers abroad or violence will strengthen their position, that is their choice alone, and they will have to answer to the law.
As for the talk about pressures being placed on the Office of the President, these threats are empty and are disregarded. Those responsible have realized that pressuring Egypt will not achieve their goals, and will only turn its people against them.
Q: Do you think the roadmap for the future will create a parliament that is more representative of the Egyptian people? And what role do you think the younger generation will play in this political stage?
I am positive that the Egyptian parliament will be more reflective of the Egyptian people in the future. This does not mean that the previous parliamentary elections in Egypt were undemocratic. They were free and fair elections that took place under full judicial supervision. The Egyptian people have now experienced democracy for 30 months, and realize that many slogans were empty rhetoric which concealed ulterior motives. Egyptians have benefited from the bitter experiences of the past year. I am confident that the next parliamentary elections will produce a parliament which represents the true Egyptian people in all of its tolerance and moderation.
We are fully aware that the youth are the future of Egypt. One of the government’s top priorities is to include youth in all bodies and agencies. This will especially be the case regarding reforming, developing, and restructuring the education sector. They will help us make concrete steps towards realizing our educational goals and aspirations.
Egypt is young, and its young people brought freedom to the entirety of its people. They must be considered a top priority and we must invest in them so that they can build a better tomorrow. The most important thing we can offer our young people is a quality education that can guarantee them a better future within a modern state striving towards democracy through education and economic development.
I should also mention here that the mismanagement of the education sector over the past several decades is largely to blame for the current state of frustration and despair that has beset our youth, for it failed to seize the opportunity to develop and cultivate their skills and talents.
Q: How do you view the Coptic Christian situation and the attacks on their churches?
The Copts of Egypt, like its Muslims, are afforded all the rights and duties of any citizen. The new Egyptian state we are building is based on the concept of citizenship for all. The Egyptian state is committed to protecting the rights of all its citizens, and never basing its interactions with them on religious pretense. Freedom of belief is guaranteed for all. State institutions and agencies have no right to come between a citizen and his religion. The only exception is with respect to laws relating to personal status, which take into account the application of special legislation for Christians and Muslims in accordance with their religion.
The Egyptian people often speak of religious minorities, but these are minorities in size only, for they are on equal footing with respect to rights. Majority or minority, religions are treated with equal respect, and in Egypt no other approach will be tolerated. You can visit Coptic churches or churches of other branches of Christianity, and they will tell you the same thing.
However, Heliopolis refuses to bury its head in the sand or to make the situation out to be something it’s not. What I mean is that Egyptian society occasionally witnesses tensions that may take on religious or sectarian dimensions. The best way to combat this, in my opinion, is by enforcing the law and ensuring the sovereignty of the state in imposing the rule of law across the board. We, for example, are aware of Western pleas to this end, though these are often based on false information. There is a paradox here: Where was the West when the churches burned in Egypt in recent days? Why was it silent? The answer, in my opinion, is that some preferred to turn a blind eye because the events did not suit them. This causes me to infer that these claims by the West are void of substance. The West ought to take a rest in this regard. Egypt will solve its own problems.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups have targeted Copts and their property. And I, like all Egyptians, greatly appreciate the noble stance taken by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. He stressed that freedom does not come cheap, and if the burning of churches is a part of that price, then the Copts of Egypt will take on this loss for the sake of the country with patience and with love.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic, and can be read here. The second half of this interview will be published soon.