Egypt’s foreign policy to focus on Arab, Africa and Islamic dimensions: Egypt’s Ambassador to Norway
In the Image: (Right) Al Ashraf Elmoafi the Honorable Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt with Hatef Mokhtar Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times (Left) at the Egypt’s Embassy, Oslo, Norway.
First of all, The Oslo Times feels honoured and privileged to be with you for an exclusive interview; and we would like to thank all the more for taking out some time in your tight official schedule at the Embassy just for us so as to enlighten “The Oslo Times” and it readers worldwide.
Q & Α
TOT: Your Excellency, as you are more aware than us, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was branded from the 1960s when Jamal Nasir was your president — as a rebellious fanatic party led by a fundamentalist and extremist group of dissatisfied Egyptians, has now after more than six decades managed to win the hearts and minds of a majority of the Egyptian population and won the most recent elections.
And Your Excellency is also well informed that its candidate Mohammad Morsi is the new president-elect of Egypt who has defeated the junta candidate Shafiq.
Keeping all these points in mind how would you interpret the turn of events engulfing your country today? While answering our question we would request Your Excellency to bear in mind that Mohammad Morsi is a Muslim Brotherhood candidate who is tremendously popular with the Egyptians of the time and has proved this beyond the shadow of a doubt by winning the polls. How come such a dramatic change has come about in your country with the passing of the years?
Egypt’s Ambassador: Let me, at the outset, welcome you at the Embassy of Egypt in Oslo and thank you for the interest you have shown to follow and discuss the development in Egypt. Coming to your question, I have, first, to underscore my objection to some of the qualifying notions mentioned in it, namely the use of the adjectives “fanatic” and “extremist” in describing the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and “the junta candidate” in referring to President Morsy’s opponent during the presidential elections on the other hand.
This being said, the last few years in Egypt have witnessed diverse signals of growing forms of discontent for different reasons; deteriorating living conditions for the middle and lower strata of the population, spread of corruption, constraints on political rights, nervousness towards the issue of inheriting power to the former President’s son, etc.
This discontent culminated with the result of the parliamentary elections of October 2010 when the former regime discarded practically all opposition forces from the parliament and thus obstructed the legitimate and normal channels through which such political forces could interact. The revolt of the Egyptian people followed shortly and, to the surprise of many it was not driven by the poorest, but was sparked by the educated middle class youth and joined by the different segments of the population. From this perspective, it is undoubtedly a revolt for civil and political rights and not a hunger revolution.
The effervescence among the political forces following the fall of the regime, which characterized the transitional period was a natural phenomena after such a drastic change, and it was evident that some of these forces which already have a long standing residual of experience and presence in the field would enjoy a comparative advantage in the polls whether during the parliamentary elections or the presidential ones, over the other more novice and less organized political currents.
Other more complex factors contributed of course in the shaping of these results, but the Egyptian people succeeded again in gaining the attention and admiration of the world for successfully organizing such elections, and for electing the first ever democratically chosen civilian President in the history of Egypt. The narrow margin of difference between the scores of the two candidates in the elections does not only translate the toughness of the competition, but it reflects a healthy sign in the development of the democratic experience in Egypt. Furthermore, in the last few weeks several political personalities and groups have proceeded to organize themselves in political parties and coalitions, which ushers for more maturity and diversification for the democratic path in today’s Egypt.
TOT: Egypt, according to reports in the media, is almost bankrupt economically and politically. How, in your view, will the present elected government be able to cope with the gigantic challenges it faces at the moment and how, according to you, will it be able to restore Egypt’s long-lost standing image as the “centre of Arab culture and heritage” and rise once more as a major power in Africa and the Middle East?
Egypt’s Ambassador: Because of the demonstrations and sit-ins that have been taking place in Egypt during the last year and half, the country is facing a short-term liquidity problem, but is not on the verge of economic bankruptcy. The revolt of the people of Egypt was peaceful essentially, except for the brutal reactions committed by some elements of the former regime, and hence the productive apparatus of the Egyptian economy didn’t suffer any destruction.
This means that whenever work will resume at its normal pace, the economy will start running again on its rails. Elected President Mohamed Morsy has announced his intention to form a coalition government en-globing different political forces and to be led by an able independent personality, in a move on the one hand to overcome the frictions and sensitivities that accompanied the electoral races and, on the other hand, to join hands and unite efforts in order to confront the big challenges ahead and the great aspirations of the Egyptian people.
As to the second aspect of your question, you would certainly agree that even during this past year and half, in the period where Egypt was totally absorbed by its internal developments, still every incident happening in Egypt had its impact on the Arab world and beyond, and it is evident that the Egyptian role in the Middle East and Africa will be more pivotal in the future based on its democratic institutions truly reflecting the will and interests of the Egyptian people. This fact has been expressed by President Mohamed Morsy who emphasized in one of his early speeches that Egyptian foreign policy will give more attention to the Arab, African and Islamic spheres.
TOT: Even the western personalities, like US Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Clinton, who have been airing their own interpretation of the Egyptian revolution in their interviews and comments to “Al Jazeera English” television, the BBC and the CNN opine that the “radicals of yesteryears” have now emerged as the popular leading representatives of the Egyptian masses. Could you shed light on this and present to us the true picture of the scenario for the sake of enlightening “The Oslo Times” and its readers?
Egypt’s Ambassador: The Islamic current is one of the political currents which exist on the Egyptian scenery and it has existed there for several decades, most of the times not formally “recognized” but rather “admitted” to various degrees by the state. It has even formed the main opposition block in the parliament during some years of the ex-president Mubarak era. It was not surprising, thus, that with its long-standing organizational experience and presence among large segments of the population, it was able to accede to power through the democratic process. That is its right, we have to respect the will of the majority, and it is up to the people of Egypt to monitor and judge its performance.
TOT: Now, Your Excellency, please elaborate on this very important question: Will the Morsi leadership be able to rule according to a system based on the modern day principles and values of democracy,freedom and respect human rights and civilian liberty and will it be able to be in dealing justly with all the diverse sections of the Egyptian population without resorting to any kind of discrimination especially the discrimination which respects people of all religions, castes, creeds and colours, treating them on the cardinal principles of human equality and will not deprive anybody of his/her rights?
Egypt’s Ambassador: President Mohamed Morsy was keen, since day one he assumed his new functions as President of the state to reiterate his abiding by the rule of law, respect of democratic principles and human rights and civilian liberties. He made it a point that his declarations address explicitly and in unambiguous terms the fears of many stemming from stereotype ideas about the “rule of Islam”.
The President went on to name some sectors and professions, like tourism – businessmen – artists- to emphasize his support to them and importance he attaches to their contribution in the recovery of the economy and the well being of the society. In the same vein, and in order to dissipate fears about discrimination or exclusion, President Morsy declared his intention to nominate a Christian Copt, a woman and a youth as vice-Presidents. That would be the first time in modern Egypt’s history that a Copt or a woman accedes to this position.
TOT: How will you interpret the victory of Mohammad Morsi affecting Egypt’s ties with Saudi Arabia and other states in the Gulf/Mideast region and how do you foresee its approach in dealing with the after effects of the Arab Spring revolutions while not dissatisfying Egypt’s Western pillars of support, led mainly by the US and the UK?
Egypt’s Ambassador: Egypt being the heart of the Arab world, the inter linkages and bonds between Egypt and the Arab countries are dense and at the same time wide enough to comprise different facets of life. Political contacts with the Arab countries resumed shortly after the outbreak of the revolution including exchange of visits at different levels, with special emphasis on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Saudi Arabia and some of these states were the first to take concrete actions in support of the Egyptian economy during the difficult phase it went through, others announced their intentions to follow suit but awaited that the new institutions be put in place. Relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia especially have a strategic nature for both countries. This character predominates over any variables that may arise in the course of events. From this perspective, it was not surprising that the first external visit for President Mohamed Morsy after assuming his functions will be to Saudi Arabia.
As I mentioned earlier, President Morsy made it clear that Egypt’s foreign policy will give more focus to the Arab, African and Islamic dimensions in the coming period. At the same time he emphasized that Egypt does not seek to export its revolution, does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries and vice versa. In light of that, the relations with the Arab countries are expected to develop and get a new momentum.
In parallel, it is worth noting that the role of the Arab league has been reinvigorated in the past year and has gained new dimensions. We have witnessed this in dealing with the Libyan case and actually in the tragedy of the Syrian people. Such an unprecedented role for this regional organization reflects a higher degree of coordination and common positions among its member states. When talking about the Arab world, I cannot omit to mention that President Morsy reemphasized Egypt’s determined support to the Palestinian cause and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and that it will pursue its efforts towards achieving national reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
TOT: As the Ambassador of Egypt here, how do you visualize the present and future status of ties between your country and Norway, especially in wake of the latest developments?
Egypt’s Ambassador: The relations between Egypt and Norway are excellent in all fields. Contacts between the two countries are going on at various levels. Since the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Mr. Jonas Gahr Støre, has paid two visits to Cairo; he was among the first foreign officials to visit Egypt as early as March 2011 to express support to the Egyptian revolution and, in February 2012, he visited Cairo again where he had several fruitful meetings not only with the government officials but with representatives of several political factions as well.
Shortly before this last visit, the second session of the political dialogue took place in Cairo in December 2011 at the level of the Assistant Minister and the State Secretary of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Egypt and Norway respectively.
These are only examples of such ongoing contacts. I believe that as the transitional period in Egypt is approaching its end with the election of the new President, the putting in place of the new democratic institutions of the state, prospects are very good for further promoting these relations in different spheres. Norway is playing an active role in the Middle East, especially with regard to the Palestinian question where its Minister of Foreign Affairs is chairing the international AHLC group to channel developmental aid to the Palestinian Authority, and in Africa as well Norway is actively present politically and economically.
We are eager to develop coordination and cooperation with Norway in these areas which represent our direct spheres of vicinity and interests in addition to other international subject.
Economically, the Egyptian economy offers excellent investment opportunities in diverse fields and especially in industries in which Norway enjoys long-standing experience and an edge in its know-how.
I am confident that various forms of mutually beneficial cooperation can be developed in that regard. Last but not least, Egypt is a well-known touristic destination for Norwegian citizens. In 2010, more than 97000 Norwegians spent their vacations in Egypt. Last year, due to the events that followed the January revolution, this number decreased by about one third to 64000 tourists.
There are sustained signs that tourism, including from Norway, has started to catch up again in Egypt, and the newly elected President Mr. Morsy was keen to publicly dissipate any doubts and fears by voicing his full support to the tourism industry and emphasized that his program of work, that he presented during his electoral campaign, provided for a strong boost to this sector.
TOT: Your Excellency, are you optimistic that the freedom of expression, voicing of dissent against the government of Mohammad Morsi be tolerated and there won’t be any more protests and demonstrations on the roads and streets of your country’s cities, towns and villages?
Egypt’s Ambassador: I am definitely optimistic that freedom of expression will remain a sacred right to the Egyptian people , whose revolt last year stemmed principally from its will to gain its political and civil rights, on top of which comes the freedom of expression. From that perspective, no citizen in Egypt will accept to compromise on his right that was dearly won.
However, the right to demonstrate is a part of the freedom of expression, and hence, in view of the complexity of the problems that have accumulated during the last years on the Egyptian scenery and the difficulty for any government in place to implement rapid solutions to all of them and satisfy all aspirations -though legitimate-, it is normal to expect some forms of demonstration to happen, as it does in any other country. What is important, in my view, is to ensure that any form of protest does not transgress on the rights of others and does not obstruct the functioning of the economy.
CONCLUDING REMARKS AND THANKS BY THE OSLO TIMES INTERVIEWING PANEL:
That concludes our exclusive session Your Excellency. Once again, The Oslo Times likes to thank you, for sparing your time for us and voicing your opinions and analyses on your country’s overall situation. We wish you a grand and fabulous day.
Thank you Your Excellency for sharing your views with The Oslo Times.
We hope that Egyptians re-emerge as a strong nation of free and independent people under the leadership of a democratic government and we also hope that there won’t be further violence and killings in your country as well as the forced stifling of fundamental human rights of the common men and women of the country. We wish you all the best.