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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Egyptian PM Hisham Qandil | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Davos, Asharq Al-Awsat-While Egypt is going through political, economic, and social instabilities in parallel with the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the World Economic Forum, which concluded its annual session Saturday evening, witnessed a number of discussions concerning Egypt. Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil attended the forum to talk about the situation in his country. Qandil stressed that the economic situation is not as bad as some people might think; however, he also emphasized the need to spend the liquidity in pushing the economy forward.

Asharq Al-Awsat met the Egyptian prime minister on the sidelines of the forum to talk about the aspirations of his country at this transitional stage, and the role of the opposition in this. The following is the text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you asses Egypt’s achievements in the past two years?

[Qandil] I would like to congratulate the Arab people on the occasion of the anniversary of this revolution. A great deal has been achieved on the ground, but there also is a great deal to be achieved, because the Egyptian people have great aspirations in their revolution, whose motto has been: “Bread, Social Justice, and Human Dignity.” A great deal has been achieved on the ground, but the aspirations of the Egyptian people for their revolution and for achieving stability, prosperity, and economic development require a great deal of effort and sweat, and this is the aim of our work.

Politically, by the grace of God, we now have a civilian elected president for the first time in the history of modern Egypt. This is something in which we all take pride. During the month of December, there was a referendum on the Constitution, which is the first Constitution after the revolution. During February 2013, the announcements of the parliamentary elections will commence, and these elections are expected to be concluded in May, and with them the democratic constitutional institutions will be completed, and hence the basic structure of democracy will be completed. I would like to emphasize that this is a basic structure, because democracy is more than this, as it is related to transparency, accountability, freedom of expression, and responsibility. Freedom of expression cannot be established without responsibility. All these issues require time, and becoming used to them also requires time. This is something that, God willing, will improve with time.

Nevertheless, we understand that this is a transitional state. The nature of the transitional period and the birth of a great new country have indications, and – God willing – these indications will be for the birth of something great.

Economically, there are major challenges facing the Egyptian economy, both in the budget deficit and the rise in the percentages of poverty and unemployment. However, also there are huge opportunities for the Egyptian economy.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But how will this be achieved with the many challenges currently facing Egypt?

[Qandil] These opportunities are represented by the strategic position of Egypt in world trade, and also in the market, which contains not only 85 million Egyptians, but also the bilateral and regional agreements that give the investor in Egypt access to a market of some 2 billion people in the Arab and Asian regions and in Europe. The energy, taxes, and labor [costs] compared to Europe is 30 to 40 percent.

All these factors attract the investors. Very soon we need to bring liquidity in the economy in order to deal with the budget deficit.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In terms of liquidity, how much does Egypt need? Have the deposits announced by Qatar helped in responding to some of these needs?

[Qandil] Egypt is a big country that needs large investments and liquidity, because the budget deficit is large. God willing, we will sign an agreement with the International Monetary Fund [IMF], and we expect the IMF delegation to arrive within the upcoming two weeks. The IMF mission will offer 4.8 billion dollars, and this will be accompanied by some 10.5 billion dollars from other international sides, such as the Word Bank [WB], the African Bank, and the European Union. This is linked to the program of financial and monetary reform on which we now are working, and which is a national program. All these factors undoubtedly will help in pushing forward the investments, but this has to be side by side with the political stability, as both issues are indispensable to each other.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are in Davos to attract investments, and as you said, political stability is fundamental in attracting investments, but there are reports of millions of Egyptians leaving Egypt out of the fear of the political situation. How does this influence the Egyptian economy?

[Qandil] First of all, this is the nature of the transitional stage. What is taking place in Egypt requires time, the same as in any country in which there is a revolution, the period of change and stability requires long years. However, what happened in Egypt and the political achievements are great. This is bearing in mind the period of time and the size and position of this country that has great political and strategic influence.

Therefore, there are dangers, but also there are opportunities. For instance, anyone who invests in Egypt now certainly will pay costs of business and investments much less than what he will pay when stability is established completely. Also there are regions in Egypt that are “not affected,” as what you see in the photographs are images of specific areas at very limited times in very limited numbers. In order to be clear, and not to undervalue one or two parts, each part has its value, but its effect on investments is different. I believe that the media exaggerates the issues, and portray them as greater than they are on the ground of reality.

God willing, with time the situation will improve, and we all will get used to the democratic practices that respect the right to disagree, and we will adhere to the peaceful character of the demonstrations in order to achieve complete stability soon, God willing.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] We see images of demonstrations and clashes in the streets of Egypt, and there are people who are displeased, even if the demonstrators are in the minority, but they are there; how do you deal with the discontent, and how do you win over the rest of the people?

[Qandil] The greatest test of democracy is the way the majority deals with the minority, because they are part of the Egyptian people, and have their opinions. These opinions might change from one direction to another, and the one that has the majority today might change later on. We are in favor of the peaceful nature of the demonstrations; if they are not satisfied with something, this is their right, and this is democracy and the nature of disagreement; however, we certainly denounce violence and sabotage, and we deal with all firmness with them, because the situation will not be straightened out with highway robbery, arson, and such things.

In the message I sent from here from Davos, I called on all political powers and parties to announce explicitly that they are against disturbances and against violence, because such things are rejected. Sometimes it is said that the demonstrators clashed in front of the Ministry of Interior’s headquarters, but the question basically is why did they go to the Interior Ministry? If there is stone throwing, this means that it is not a peaceful demonstration.

We protect and support the peaceful demonstrators, but we should deal according to the law and with all firmness with anyone who attacks and burns institutions.