After two revolutions and three presidents in less than three years, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed hope that the era of “positive” change is still ongoing in his country. He also expressed hope that the election of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as president will pave the way for stability both in Egypt and the region. Fahmy tried to allay fears about the state of freedoms in Egypt, and expressed confidence in the ability of his country to regain its regional role. Asked about the relationship with the United States, he confirmed that it has not regained its former level, and hoped that “it will not.”
“We want a stronger and a more respectful relationship with the United States,” he added.
An-Nahar met with Fahmy on the sidelines of the sixth session of the Ministerial Meeting of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum in Beijing, and these were the questions and answers:
An-Nahar: First, congratulations on the presidential elections in Egypt. But what is going to happen after the victory of Sisi? Has the era of revolutions in Egypt ended after two revolutions and three presidents in less than three years?
Fahmy: I hope that the era of positive change will continue. Evolution and development are always required, but I hope that the election of the new president of Egypt will mark the beginning of stability not only in Egypt, but in the Arab arena in general. I believe that stability in Egypt, more than in any other country, will affect the stability of the region for several reasons. Chief among these is Egypt’s demographics, its political and social weight, as well as its political and historical role in the Arab world. Add to this the fact that stability in Egypt after the election of the president will allow us to witness a new political start that will fill the political vacuum in the Arab world. This void was among the causes behind public disorder in the Arab arena and behind the attempts by several parties to interfere.
An-Nahar: In light of the political, economic and social challenges facing Egypt, will the country really be able to carry out this role soon?
Fahmy: I have no doubt about this. Since the two revolutions of January 25 and June 30, we have started to regain our political, regional and international activity. We are on the verge of restoring our African and Asian role. Relations with China and Moscow started intensely 10 months ago, but we do not neglect our pursuit to develop relations with the United States and the EU being the main parties in the international community. However, these relations ought to be developed within a new perspective, one of real partnership and with an Egyptian state that has witnessed a social awakening.
A ‘normal rate’ of participation
An-Nahar: There are those who believe that the arrival of Sisi to the presidency will put an end to the democratic movement across the Arab world …
Fahmy: The democratic movement is what serves the people and involves them in power. I think that this movement will continue as a result of the technological revolution and the emergence of the Arab youth, and their desire for change. But what I think and hope will be different is that the movement will be directed toward building modern civilized Arab countries and not just getting rid of what was based on unsound, corrupt and undemocratic foundations.
An-Nahar: The presidential elections were largely boycotted, as a large segment of Egyptians did not participate in them. How do you address these people?
Fahmy: I would have preferred for the turnout to be higher, but I did not anticipate that it would happen because the participation rates in Egyptian elections and referendums are generally less than 50%, except for one time when the participation rate exceeded this ratio [the first referendum on the constitution]. I personally hope that with the stability of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled in Egypt, between the citizen and the leader, we will witness a more active political participation and a higher participation in the elections, but the ratio is normal and not frustrating.
An-Nahar: There are great fears for freedoms in Egypt: the ban on demonstrations, the prosecution of journalists and the collective execution verdicts against the Brotherhood members, which were deemed politicized. So have Egyptians started two revolutions to get to this point?
Fahmy: First, these verdicts have not been issued. An advisory opinion was asked from the mufti about the issued decision and in the end, the sentence that was issued in praesentia did not exceed five people. Secondly, no one is immune to the law, be they politicians, reporters or bank employees. I call on all those who want to defend the freedoms to defend their opinion even if they think that there are uncomfortable or incorrect laws. They have to take the legislative political road just like any other country in the world to try to change them, and if the proposed opinion gets political support, then the law will be changed.
An-Nahar: But demonstrating is a democratic right.
Fahmy: The law puts certain criteria for demonstrations, and the citizens ought to abide by these criteria. If they refuse the law, then let them resort to their representatives in parliament to change it. Nothing is immune against amendment but such amendment should be done through the political system. Let there be a peaceful political movement for change, so that change could constitute a building element rather than a demolition one. Egyptian society has proved to be clinging to change. After the success of two revolutions, we have to succeed in building the state that we want.
An-Nahar: The Muslim Brotherhood group was repeatedly marginalized throughout history and its leaders have been imprisoned before returning to the political action one way or another. Do you think that there is a horizon for political reconciliation in Egypt?
Fahmy: The current situation is different from the past. The major difference is not between the Brotherhood and the government now, but between the Brotherhood and the people. The reconciliation between these two sides is very difficult in the short term. … The Muslim Brotherhood needs to change their approach and ideological philosophy, and this is not likely. Thus, I do not expect any reconciliation in the short term.
An-Nahar: Syria has held presidential elections. Washington described it as a masquerade while the opposition rejected them, how does Egypt perceive these elections?
Fahmy: The Syrian elections are only a small step in a larger problem. There is a crisis in Syria between different regional parties, and there is an agreement between all of the Syrian parties (Geneva I). This agreement focuses on forming a transitional body with full authority to run the country. But there is a conflict between this body and the elections. How is it possible to form a body to run the country while the elections were held a few days ago? Egypt is seeking to maintain the unity of the Syrian entity and the unity of the Syrian territory. We do not want to divide Syria on ethnic or sectarian grounds because this will have implications on the entire region. We support the legitimate demands of the Syrian opposition, but we hope to find a way to reach a political solution between the parties in the context of the content and principles of the Geneva II, regardless of the mechanisms. There is no military solution in Syria and the political solution is quite elusive. The country is in a stage of non-settlement and it is the Syrian citizens who are paying for this.
An-Nahar: Following the Syrian elections, Russia suggested forming a coalition government with the participation of the opposition. Can such a proposal succeed while the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces refuses the elections?
Fahmy: The question is not about a coalition government, but whether this government will have an administrative authority or not. If this government has independent powers then this means that we have taken a steps toward building a new Syria. In the absence of such a power, and with the desire to restore the past or keep dragging the past repercussions into the future, we will find that forming a coalition government or not will have no value. This is because it will not be given the powers required to build the future of Syria and will only reflect a narrow account.
We want clear indications that such a government has independent powers, especially regarding the political and security situation.
An-Nahar: You are in China today, you have been to the United States recently and before that you visited Moscow. What are the objectives of this Egyptian multi-directional movement?
Fahmy: The Egyptian movement is based on multiple options, not only the present interest but rather the present interest in a future perspective. Therefore, despite our support for the legitimate Syrian opposition, we opposed a strike on Syria [by an external country]. The support for the Arab national identity in the Middle East is also a support for Egypt’s national security. The Middle East is ethnically divided, which affects the national security of Egypt. This is why our moves are based on a national perspective, not an ethical one.
Moscow and Washington
An-Nahar: Back to the diversity of the allies, how do you describe ties with Russia? What is the truth behind reports of a major arms deals with them?
Fahmy: The steps made with Russia reflect the rapidly growing Russian-Egyptian ties in various fields, including the military field. Yes, military and non-military contracts were signed, but I will not go into the details of what was signed and what was not. Ties with Russia will certainly witness further and rapid growth. It has been a year since we committed ourselves to meet all of the requirements of the national security of Egypt, because I saw much of turmoil and I am aware of a need to have a diversity of options, without ignoring a friend. This is what we did and are still doing, not only with Russia but, I am saying it now, with China as well.
An-Nahar: Are ties with the US back to normal?
Fahmy: Egyptian-US ties have not returned to what they were yet, and I hope they don't go back to this point, but rather evolve positively. The United States is an important country on the international arena, and we will always seek to have positive ties with them in a way that guarantees the interests of Egypt. We want these ties to guarantee the interests of both sides, as long as we have what we need and our rights are protected. Yet, the Egyptian people were not a party in the evaluation of the relationship in the past. We want a stronger and a more respectful relationship with the United States. The United States will be among the Egyptian economic, political and military options, but it will not, or will any other country, be the only option.
An-Nahar: Finally, Lebanon has been in a political vacuum since May 25 . Does Egypt have any perception to end the status quo?
Fahmy: My visit to Lebanon a month ago was not for leisure. The aim of my visit was to assess the Lebanese intellectual movement in terms of building a civilized country that represents a model in the Middle East, on the one hand. On the other, I went to Lebanon because of the approach of the presidential elections. Yet, I did not have any Egyptian agenda in the sense that we do not have a [preferred] candidate in Lebanon.
It is clear that the issue needs further effort and knowledge of the different scenarios as parliamentary elections also approach. I will remain in contact with the Lebanese leadership in Lebanon and abroad, as well as during the Lebanese officials’ visits to Egypt. If we have the capacity to do anything we will not hesitate. In all the contacts I have made, I called on the Lebanese parties to reach a middle ground solution to maintain the stability of Lebanon.
It should be noted that the regional circumstances are dangerous; the implications of instability are huge, foreign parties are trying to influence all arenas close to Lebanon and some are trying to influence the internal Lebanese scene. Although political realignments are always possible in Lebanon, we hope the Lebanese wisdom is seen because the situation in the Middle East is tense and there are many interferences. I'm afraid for Lebanon, in case Lebanese politicians do not rapidly show the wisdom in finding a solution that maintains the country’s independence and territorial integrity.
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