May 6, 2014: A Conversation with H.E. Amr Moussa, Moderated by David Ignatius.
The Middle East Institute and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy were honored to host distinguished Egyptian politician and diplomat, Amr Moussa, for a conversation moderated by David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Introduction by Wendy Chamberlin, President of The Middle East Institute
Wendy Chamberlin: Good afternoon. Well I hope you all enjoyed the, uh, luncheon as much as I did. I don’t want to rush you, but I’d like to rush you, because I, uh, I’m very much looking forward to the conversation that we’re about to have. Um, an exceptional, uh, guest speaker, who will be talking to us about the challenges facing Egypt, how to put Egypt back on track. Uh, it’s my honor now to welcome his Excellency Amr Moussa accompanied by David Ignatius. His Excellency Amr Moussa is a veteran politician and diplomat of over 50 years of service to Egypt and to the broader Middle East. Uh, Mr. Moussa served as Egyptians’ Foreign Minister for over a decade and he, that was immediately followed by a term as, uh, Secretary-General of the Arab League, which spanned the period from 2001 through 2011, including the, the uh, uh, NATO’s intervention in Libya. Exciting times. He ran for President of Egypt in the 2012 election and then he went onto found Egypt’s Congress Party. In 2013, Mr. Moussa presided over the Committee of 50, which was tasked in drafting the new Constitution and this could have been, um, one of his greater achievements. Uh, it was approved, uh, by popular referendum in January, as we’ve all read. He’s an accomplished statesman and he’s now top advisor to Presidential Candidate, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The Middle Institute, The Middle East Institute is very grateful, uh, to David Ignatius, as moderator of our discussion today. David is well known to all of us, of course, uh, as an accomplished novelist and as a journalist. His commentary in the Washington Post is not to be missed by anybody who’s interested in international relations and particularly the Middle East. But, in addition to his position as Associate Editor and contributor to the Post Partisan Blog, David is a prolific author of spy novels and his next one, and we’re all waiting for it, uh, is called The Director, and it will be published in June. I don’t know how he has time to write all of these things, because I don’t really have time to read everything he writes.
Wendy Chamberlin: But, but he’s amazing. Uh, he wrote last November in a column about Egypt that the Egyptian people adopted a slogan, uh, “We just want to live,” and David wrote about the slogan, yes, people want to live, but with the freedom and the dignity that the revolutions promised. Um, that is the desire of the Egyptian people and of all of us here today and we sincerely hope it will be realized. Please join me in welcoming his Excellency Amr Moussa and David Ignatius.
Amr Moussa: Thank you.
David Ignatius: So, yes. I’m going to ask Amr Moussa to begin by saying a few words and then we’ll turn to a conversation.
Amr Moussa: Thank you very much, Ambassador Chamberlin. I’m really very happy to be back in this beautiful city, most important one, a capital of international politics. I’m here, thanks to the invitation of this Institute to talk about Egyptian/American relations and the new paradigm we are trying to establish. I’ve been here several times, of course, all through the career as described by Ambassador Chamberlin and I thank you very much for this very elegant introduction, which I liked very much, by the way. I remember the last time I was here, also David moderated a debate, uh, and that was all about the Arab Israeli Conflict. Now we are talking about the change in the Middle East, a different Middle East. A Middle East that needs and desires to be part of the 21st Century. That applies to the Arab countries and other countries in the region. We need stability. We need economic development. We need peace, fair peace. We need to live together and to chart for the future. The future is very important for us, especially that over 60% of the population of Egypt and the population of the entire Arab world belong to the young category below 35 years of age. With all the aspirations that they carry for a better life and for the rights and freedoms to be respected and I’m really honored to have been the Chairman of the Constituent Committee to draft the Egyptian Constitution that has been approved last January. It’s a liberal Constitution, stipulated for the rights, freedoms, future, separation of powers, no dictatorship, democracy and this will be the basis for our work for the future. I’m sure that the, our next president when elected in the next three weeks, will start by a declaration of respect to the Constitution and put forward the plan for the economic development for the social injustice for the cause of the role of Egypt and our region. One of the priorities, as I understand from following the activities of the campaigns, different campaigns, that General al-Sisi, that feel much from Sisi, is really for the giving priority for a different, positive, constructive relationship between the United States and Egypt. This is a very important priority that I feel both of us in the, in the United States and in Egypt should work for and guarantee a different 21st Century style relationship. I am now going to answer the questions posed by David and I hope he won’t go, uh, in the same, uh, uh, style, uh, about what is going on in Egypt, because indeed the reporting coming from Egypt was not that accurate, did not reflect the, the development, the mood and the aspirations of the Egyptians in a more peaceful life and more prosperous one. Thank you very much.
David Ignatius: Uh, thank you, uh, uh, uh, Mr. Moussa, for that introduction. I, I asked, um, Amr Moussa if I should address him as Your Excellency or Mr. Minister and he said, “Call me Amr Moussa.”
Amr Moussa: That’s right.
David Ignatius: I don’t want you think I’m being disrespectful.
Amr Moussa: You can also… Your Excellency, also.
David Ignatius: Well, I’ll throw in a few of those.
David Ignatius: Um, looking around the room, I think it’s safe for me to say that this is a room full of people who care about Egypt and so I think that’s the basic context for our, uh, discussion and, uh, in caring about Egypt, we are deeply concerned about where it’s going. So I think we all welcome a chance to speak to someone like you who’s been, uh, central to Egypt’s life for so many decades. And I, I want to begin by asking you, um, about a statement that was made, uh, I believe on Monday by, uh, General al-Sisi, uh, which seemed to be, uh, one of the, um, indicators of what’s ahead and he said it was his intention to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood, once he became President of Egypt from Egyptian, uh, life. I assume that means continue its illegality, continue, uh, arrests of those who were members. So I want to begin by asking you, is that wise policy and if the Muslim Brotherhood is to be eliminated, what happens to the millions of Egyptians who have looked to the Muslim Brotherhood as their political home? Where are they going to go and how is Egypt going to be governed in a stable way if that part of Egyptian society is excluded politically?
Amr Moussa: Well, thank you very much, David. Let me start by expressing my gratitude as an Egyptian citizen for this attention given to the efforts of Egypt. I know that in the 21st Century, the globalized world, uh, we will have to work together and to accept the criticism and to discuss issues and also talk about our point of view, whether we differ or we agree with all powers. So it is a positive thing, in my opinion, to have the efforts of Egypt discussed in so many conferences, in so many, uh, roundtables, uh, and meetings. That is my first point. My second point concerning your question, first of all, let us agree that the whole region of the Middle East is going through a serious operation of change, that the Middle East will never be the same within a year or two or three. It will be totally different because of the dynamism of our societies and the aspiration of the majority of our people for a better future. The third point is about what you said General al-Sisi had said yesterday. I don’t think he talked about elimination, but he talked about a firm stand against terrorism and violence. Those who would want to sew havoc in our society use violence in their dealing with the rest of the population, sneak into Egypt and Saini and elsewhere to do what they do best – kill people, create chaos in societies. This is what General Sisi has meant. He will certainly, as President, if elected, will bear a major responsibility to ensure the population that they will be secure, that their children will not be killed in the streets, that the universities will work as universities, not as place, places of, uh, uh, of battles and, uh, throwing bombs and killing students. They… This is his responsibility. Had he not said so, the people would have demanded that he should stand firm and I believe that General al-Sisi will lead a firm policy that Egypt should be free from terrorism. But at the same time, I am confident that the next President, whoever he will be, he will have to act within the confines of the Constitution, respecting the rights and the obligations of the people he is going to rule. Also, as the Constitution stipulates, the President is the President of Egypt, but he has to act together with the Parliament, the, the Legislature and the government. There is no dictatorship created by the Constitution. It will be a democratic way. Within the confines of this democratic principles, the President, the government, the parliament, will have to be very firm with all acts of terrorism and violence. This is my answer to that question.
David Ignatius: I don’t… I can’t imagine anyone in, in this, uh, audience or indeed, uh, in Washington, would disagree, um, that combating terrorism is, is important, but the question I was asking was a little bit different and I, with apologies, I want to ask it again in, in a slightly different way. Is there room in the Egypt who’s Constitution you helped draft, that you and I talked about in Cairo just a few months ago, is there room in that Egypt for an Islamist Political Party that campaigns, that runs candidates for Parliament, that, um, offers, uh, an opportunity for people who have Islamist political feelings, to vote for?
Amr Moussa: Yes, David. The Constitution of 2014 is different from the Constitution that has been drafted and adopted under the rule of Muslim Brotherhood. It does not exclude any citizen. It does not prevent any citizen from participating in the political life and in the sub…the life as an Egyptian, uh, citizen, including anybody that believes in what the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups do believe. But, it has to be true democratic means that the Constitution has not eliminated or prevented any, uh, citizen regardless of, uh, his affil... his or her affiliation. So through this, there is a parliamentary election coming up. Why don’t they field their candidates? If they win, it is democracy. But I believe and here I refer to what you said. You have said the new first question that many do support the Muslim Brotherhood. I tell you that many have changed their minds. It will be very clear and you will see in the Parliamentary elections that they have already lost an opportunity to prove that they are capable of ruling, capable of serving the Egyptian interests, capable of understanding the mood of Egyptians. They fail the three counts and, therefore, I believe answering your question, yes indeed there is a way for them through democratic means, through the participating in the elections, accepting the new Constitution and stopping violence.
David Ignatius: And, and, and, and these Islamists who under the new Constitution would be free to, uh, run candidates for Parliament, would they be free to do that, um, under the banner of the, uh, Muslim Brotherhood or would they have to form new parties?
Amr Moussa: Well, there are two things in the Constitution. First, you can form a party by notification. That’s easy to form whatever party you need. But, also the Constitution has stipulated that party should not be based on religion and religious considerations.
David Ignatius: So, so, this would be, I take it, this application for form a party would be subject to, uh, uh, ruling by an Egyptian court as to whether it fit the definition.
Amr Moussa: Well, the, the, the principle is that you are free to establish your party. The party has to call for political consid... based on political considerations and how to rule Egypt, how to reform Egypt, how to serve Egypt and meet the demands of Egyptians. This is open for that.
David Ignatius: And just to, to, to take this issue a little bit further, because it’s of such deep concern, uh, here and I know in Egypt, that there is in, in, Washington and in Europe a, a fear that attempts to, uh, deal with what’s seen by, uh, your government by General Al-Sisi as, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s, uh, terrorism, will have the effect of driving people who supported Morse underground into some kind of new Islamic underground and that, uh, far from solving the problem of terrorism, it will recreate that problem in a new and perhaps, ah, even more dangerous form down the road and, and I want, so I want to ask you directly, how would you, uh, respond to that worry, which is deeply felt here.
Amr Moussa: Well, there are always two scenarios: optimistic open scenario; pessimistic and narrow scenario. You say there is a possibility that they would drive underground. I say there is a possibility for them to compete in elections and prove to the world that we have the support. We have those deputies in the Parliament. We can do that. So, as I said, they have to renounce violence, accept the Constitution and moving away from terrorism. If they want terrorism, then what [inaudible] you have said will apply. We cannot accept any government worthy of the name, cannot accept that certain group of, of, of people, uh, uh, for malicious and terrorist population. It cannot and it will not happen.
David Ignatius: The election for President is coming up May 26 and 27, I think. So just in a few weeks, as Wendy Chamberlin said, and I, I think, um, I’m right in saying that, um, General al-Sisi, uh, is really not well known to most Americans, even those who follow Egyptian policy closely. He’s a military man. He may be known to our, to our military leadership. You’re now an advisor to uh, uh, General al-Sisi and so I want to ask you, uh, to help us. Not, um, you know, with a campaign of, uh, uh, pitch, but from your, uh, knowledge, what kind of president would he be like? What should we expect from him?
Amr Moussa: Well, uh, we should expect a firm president, uh, within the confines of the Constitution. We should, uh, uh, expect that he is a nationalist president, but he’s not a populist one. He’s not going to, uh, speak in the streets and, uh, carrying slogans, but he is a doer and that is what we need. The country, our country, in the last few years, not only the three years, but in those even back, uh, uh, a few years, is in a very difficult situation. Uh, it is under severe pressure economically, politically, security and so on. We need to reform all our fights from education to healthcare to the, uh, agriculture, etc. So he will be busy and he must be busy with the file of reform, the rebuilding of the country and securing the country at the same time against terrorism and violent groups. So, it would have to be fair. He knows what kinds of priorities he has to decide and they intend domestic policies in the regional politics as well as international politics, uh, and we need to…we need the cooperation of all. Uh, this will be his priority and I believe he will start from day one by showing that he’s a different president. He wants to rebuild. He’s no dictator, but he wants everybody to do, to do the job he is assigned to and I like that.
David Ignatius: So just taking this question of economic policy a step further, um, uh, President Mubarak, uh, by most people’s account made, made many mistakes, but one area in which is policy was in many ways successful was in economic reform, opening up Egypt to more private sector activity, to more foreign direct investment. Um, he had some very solid ministers, prime ministers and I want to ask whether you think based on your relationship with General al-Sisi, that he will follow that approach and there’s concern because he’s coming from the military that this, you know, big, uh, military linked sector of the Egyptian economy will continue to be a kind of, uh, heavy weight. I almost want to say dead weight, but that’s not fair. Um, what, what about that? Do you see him following the kind of opening to the private sector, uh, of the late Mubarak years or is, is that going to take some time?
Amr Moussa: Well, look. I don’t think, uh, Candidate al-Sisi when he becomes President…
[Problems with microphone]
Amr Moussa: Oh, yes. I’m sorry. I’m trying to save my tie, because I…
David Ignatius: It’s always a good policy.
Amr Moussa: Now, Mr. Sisi will not be Mr. Mubarak. Yes, indeed, in several years during the rule of President Mubarak the country achieved a, uh, a good percentage of progress in the, uh, economic indicator. But the difference is that this progress did not trickle down to the poor classes. Now General al-Sisi will have to make sure that whatever progress Egypt would make and the economic indicators, all economic indicators, that all Egyptians would enjoy the results of such progress, not only one class and the rest are full of frustration. This is what he is going to eliminate. So, no. He would be different.
David Ignatius: And, so, uh, that, that difference sounds a little more like the more traditional, uh, left Nasserist state sector controlled, uh, kind of Egyptian economy that I remember, uh, from some years ago, than, than the late Mubarak years. Do I have that…? Is that what we should expect?
Amr Moussa: No, I don’t, um… I disagree with that, uh, point of view. It is not the time for, uh, public sector nationalization sequestration and so on, because the Constitution prevents that anyway. Uh, the, uh, the important thing is that we are and we know and he knows that we live in era, in an era of, uh, private sector, activity of private sector rule and private sector already moves 20, over 75% of the Egyptian economy. With…
[Interruption to adjust microphone]
Amr Moussa: Okay. Thank you very much. So, it is the private sector. It is the market economy rationalized because we have 50% of our population live under or around the poverty line. It is not a question of socialism or of the old policy of Mr. Nassir, but it is a policy that takes into consideration the real situation in the country. So we cannot just to get, uh, the approval or the smiles or the applause of certain circles, that we ignore the poor. This is not socialism. This is realism. We have to cater to this, uh, to those people. Fifty percent were left uncatered for and we need… This is a country that will be 100 million people within a few years. We have to create wealth and this is the thing that the next president will have to work for and all of us should help him creating wealth and the country is capable of doing so. But our drawback, our weakest point was the bad management of the country. Era after era, president after president, the bad, bad management of the country and we have seen that. We have lived that for one year under Mr. Morse. We saw, we knew that the very definition of bad management. We need the good management, good governance. This is the key for success.
David Ignatius: So let, let me ask you how you as an advisor and supporter of General al-Sisi would advise him to, uh, draw in the talent that you would need to, to really get the Egyptian economy, uh, growing again at the 5% rates it experienced, uh, under, under President Mubarak. Um, it’s often said that the great failure of, of, uh, President Morse was that he didn’t find a way to reach out, uh, at, to, to others, parties and individuals, and to draw them into government. How, how would, how could general…
Amr Moussa: Uh, always reached out.
David Ignatius: Uh, whatever he did, how, how can General al-Sisi, uh, if he’s elected president, be inclusive and draw in the talent, reassure people who frankly, when, when many of us talk to Egyptian, uh, reformers, uh, liberals, people who could help in this project, we hear a lot of anxiety. How, how can he, how can he reach out to them and alleviate that anxiety?
Amr Moussa: Yea. Again, you are talking about the president that has to do everything. This is democracy. There would be a parliament, deputies, debates about issues and he can reach the people, the people through addressing them or talking to the Parliament and getting to the program, the economic program and social program, as the president within the confines of the new Constitution and people are ready. Yesterday, for example, when he was, uh, uh, expected to, to, to participate in interview with two anchors, people stayed home to listen, to assess, to follow what he was saying and he said a lot about, and, and he would continue today. I haven’t seen yesterday and, um, but, uh, the reports coming from Cairo, uh, do, uh, confirm that people were so pleased with what they heard from him. They were waiting for that. He is one of those Egyptians that understands that Egypt is in a very difficult spot and he has to lead Egypt in the economic field, in all other fields, in the operation to rebuild the country.
David Ignatius: Let me turn to the question of the US/Egyptian relationship, which is one of our, uh, key topics today and, uh, ask you frankly, um, I’ve been going to Egypt since 1980 and I can’t ever remember a time when the relationship, uh, at the bedrock was as bad as it is now. Uh, Egyptians just seem really angry at the United States and I want to ask you to explain first why that’s so and second, what, uh, people like the people in this room should in your judgment do about it. How, how are we going to get away from this, uh, blockage to something better?
Amr Moussa: Okay. First of all let us agree and you know the Egyptian scene very well, this element of hate, hating the US, is not there. So we are starting from a, a good basis for understanding. We admire the US and we cooperated for so many years and [inaudible] in fact, uh, we had difference of views. We disagreed to certain lines of policy by the United States, but this did not, uh, uh, bring us to, uh, confrontation, uh, or a serious, uh, breakdown. Now after the two revolutions or the what had took place in 25th of January ’11, 2011. It was a revolution against Mr. Mubarak’s regime and the 30 June ’13, it was a revolution against Mr. Morse’s regime. Uh, the position taken or the perception is that US diplomacy, policy at a certain moment supported Muslim Brotherhood and that they should stay. The Egyptian people wanted them to leave. The perception was that the US wanted them to stay. That is, that made it very difficult to have an understanding. Now that we are talking and moving to the future, uh, the, I can say that my impression is that the United States understands the predicament of Egypt or of in Egypt and accepts that there is a new Constitution, a new president coming up, a look to the future, a futuristic kind of policy. I think, I put it in a, a very brief thing, that we need a new paradigm for relations that we work together. We bear in mind your interests; US bears in mind our interests and the interests in the, of the Arab world, in the Middle East and this is very important. That’s number one. Number two, we hear about the [inaudible] that the US wants to leave. Of course, it’s not a question of just driving, taking the car and leaving, but they, they wants to leave, after participating in so many policies that have led us to what we are facing today. Though it has changed if there will be a pivot out, there will be a pivot in and there will also our point of view put on the view, our point of view as Arab countries, as Middle Eastern countries, as a group of countries that will be affected by the US policy, positive or negative. So the best thing is for us to sit and talk about the future of the Middle East, the futures of the political and security issues, for example, with the wave of change in the Middle East in the many Arab countries, and it is coming up, moving in different shapes, what kind of regional system that should be adopted. Are we going to continue along the same lines, organizations, the same business as usual? Or the change in the societies? Change in goals will behoove us and should behoove us to create a new regional system. That is one. The regional security system, could we all live in such a region with those threatening propositions or we have to talk about what kind of regional security system that would come up or should come up. Three, that if there is a, a plan of some of the think tanks here as usual just look at the future from different angles and see that perhaps a Country A could play a very important role in the future of the region. This Country A could not in opinion, or Country I, let me say, in the opinion of so many in the Arab world. The era of Sykes Picot is over. When the foreign ministers of France and Britain sat to draw the map of the Middle East, this is over. I don’t think the Secretary of State in the United States and Mr. Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, could sit and say, “Now this Middle East will be planned as follows.” This will not happen. It is over. We are in the 21st Century. Nothing could be done except with our participating, knowing, accepting that you have interests, but we have interests, too.
David Ignatius: I think as ambitious as Secretary Kerry is, he does not desire to be either Mr. Sykes or Mr. Picot.
Amr Moussa: By the way, I didn’t say so. He is Mr. Kerry. So I know that. But, uh, we are just talking about that. The era of Sikes Picot is over! That’s it.
David Ignatius: Well, so I… A final question from me and then I want, um, to ask the audience to begin thinking of your questions for Mr., Mr. Moussa. I want to ask this last question, um, truly, as someone who is a, a, a, has always deeply enjoyed, uh, Egypt, respected the Egyptian people. When I read in the newspaper last month that an Egyptian judge in Minya has sentenced to death 680 people in the death of one policeman, as it was reported, I’m troubled and I’m troubled even more – and I say this to you as somebody who’s known you for many years – that more Egyptians don’t speak out and say, “This isn’t our country. We aren’t like… We don’t do things like this.” So I want to ask you to reassure us and, and tell us, was that, was that legal judge in Minya speaking for Egypt when he condemned 680 people or was that something that should be reversed?
Amr Moussa: Well, uh, had I read the same report, the way it was reported, I would have felt the same definitely. But, we have to talk about the way of reporting. I don’t want to tell you that you read that wrong in newspaper, but the wrong reports. I don’t know whether I can use say five minutes to explain. The figures are wrong. What was reported to the Grand Mufti was a whole case of 529, with those condemned to the capital punishment, those condemned to prison, those who were proven innocent for him to consider the whole case in order to give back the idea as he deems fit. More than 2/3 of this figure were tried in absentia. Therefore, it, the, the judgment does not hold according to the law. The number of those who were condemned to capital punishment is much less than that. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t suggest that we enter into this game of figures and numbers. But by law, the moment a judge pronounces his judgment, that X, or one or two or seven, are condemned to death, the moment the public prosecutor is by law ordered to challenge the, uh, the, the judgment and appeal to the higher court and that’s what happened. The higher court traditionally refers the whole case, the whole case, back to a different panel of judges to consider it anew from zero, then gets back to the same, uh, uh, higher court. There are guarantees for that, a lot of guarantees, and the public prosecutor has already challenged that, uh, and we are waiting to see what will happen. So all of this, those developments, have not been reported. That the judgment stands suspended the moment it is entered because the public prosecutor will have to challenge that. Having said all that, I agree that it is the figures and the way it was reported, uh, created a lot of confusion and as I said in the beginning, had I read it without knowing that [inaudible], I would have taken the same position as you are. Again, we are moving towards a different Egypt under the new Constitution, which shall start to apply with the election of the President and the election of the Parliament. I believe that there will be a lot of activities to revisit what kind of, uh, uh, institutions we have, laws we have, but above all, we have to respect the judgment and deal with it through the process of law.
David Ignatius: Thank you for, for answering that, um, directly. That, that, that’s, uh, helpful. I want to turn now to the audience. What I’m going to do is, um, take a couple of the questions at a time and then ask Mr. Moussa to, uh, respond to them. I see a hand up here and the gentleman, uh, right next to you. So, let’s start with these two.
Female: Thank you, Mr. Moussa. My name is [inaudible]. I am the US Director of [French] Reporters without Borders and I would like to ask you a question regarding the journalist that is detained in Egypt.
Amr Moussa: The what?
David Ignatius: The journalist.
Female: The journalist.
David Ignatius: The journalist detained in Egypt.
Female: I apologize for, for my French accent. So I’m thinking especially to the Al Jazeera journalists who are detained since December and I would like to ask you if you think that their detention is violating the freedom guaranteed by the Egyptian Constitution and if they should be released immediately. Thank you.
Amr Moussa: Thank you very much.
David Ignatius: So, let’s, let’s let you go ahead and answer that and then I will turn to this gentleman.
Amr Moussa: Should I?
David Ignatius: Yes, go ahead.
Amr Moussa: Because there are several questions.
David Ignatius: Well, that’s the… You know, there’s journalist issues of journalist freedom are so important.
David Ignatius: Go ahead. Give… answer that and then we’ll turn to the next gentleman.
Amr Moussa: It is so important definitely and the, uh, the basic thing is that the country is under severe stress with chaos, shooting out, creating difficult situations for the society itself. But the point is that they were all referred to the tribunals. They were not summarily just, uh, held in prions, but their cases were put to the tribunals in order to see what kind of offense they have committed under the existing laws. The freedom of journalists’ freedom of press is something very important and essential for a free society and the new Constitution has stipulated and in fact dealt with that in so many articles, excessive articles. But bear in mind that Egypt is going through abnormal times. That makes it necessary sometimes to take this or that action, but I believe that all this will come to an end once the country stabilizes.
David Ignatius: Yes, you sir, and then, um, this gentleman here. Let’s take those two questions.
Sanjeev Bery: Thank you, Your Excellency. Uh, my name is Sanjeev Bery and probably in keeping with this theme, I’m, I’m going to ask a question with regards to human rights, as well. I…
Amr Moussa: Will you raise your voice?
Male: Sure. Uh, Sanjeev Bery with Amnesty International USA. Uh, you know, we spent a fair amount of time discussing the Muslim Brotherhood. I wanted to ask about an organization or a group, uh, on the a very different end of the political spectrum in Egypt, that is the April 6th Movement.
David Ignatius: Asking about the 6 April Movement.
Amr Moussa: Yea.
Sanjeev Bery: The April 6th Movement, of course, as many folks here know, uh, was involved in the protests that led to the toppling of former President Mubarak. Today not only are two of the leaders of the April 6th Youth Movement in prison, three year prison sentences with labor, but the Movement has itself been banned by an Egyptian Court and I wanted to hear your comments on that. Thank you.
Amr Moussa: In fact, my comment would be similar to my answer to the previous question. Uh, I understand the importance given to 6th of April in several countries, uh, but I understand also that, uh, Egypt under the present pressure, uh, will have to, to, to deal perhaps nothing that you think and you believe, but again, all this will be, uh, the, for the future regime in Egypt to deal with in accordance with the Constitution and what it stipulates. But, we have to put an end to chaos in Egypt while, of course, respecting the rights and the obligations of our citizens and this will be applied, I believe with the ascendance of the new president that will see how to deal with that and in fact bring back stability to the country and put an end to the chaos or to the anarchy, even if it is created by [inaudible].
David Ignatius: So this, this gentleman here? Yes, yes please.
Amin Mahmoud: My name Amin Mahmoud. I’m with Center of the Egyptian American Relations and one of the objective and slogan of the 2011 Revolution is No to Military Rules. Uh, this support, this revolution objective to reject the interference of the military, generals’ rule in Egypt, especially the control 40% of the economy, um, and that democracy will never come to Egypt with the military rules, even they wear military uniform or civilian uniform. Forty percent of the economy controlled by the military. They have slave labor, which is the people who are drafted. They don’t take salary but the regular salary as a drafted, which is 140 Egyptian pound a month and that’s very low and that prevents people from getting a job in that, in that sector, whatever that military, in gas station or factory, or anything the military control. The military don’t pay any taxes and they keep the money to themselves somehow.
David Ignatius: Good. Thank you. Good question. Yes, sir?
Amr Moussa: Good questions?
David Ignatius: Well, it’s a good question about, about, about, uh, about the future of military rule.
Amr Moussa: [Laughs.] All right. I see the gentleman is uh, uh, following the developments in Egypt from gas stations to, uh, the, uh, legal aspects of economy, but do not pay attention to the dire situation and challenges our country is facing. First, it is not a military rule. It is a constitutional rule. Elections. A, an ex-Army officer, like ex or former generals that have been elected presidents in many countries. So it is not the commander in chief that, of the army, that is running. It is the former commander in chief that is running and within the confines of a civil constitution, liberty with liberties, with freedoms and with democracy and democratic, uh, stipulations. Um, some of what you have said may prove to be right. Only some that the economy and the situation of economy and the contribution of this or that institution to the Egyptian economy. But the Egyptian economy itself is not in good shape with or without what you have said. We have to rebuild that economy. We have to open up and we have to do everything we can in order to the country to move on. As you have mentioned so many things that we have read before in many, I, as a, a, citizen, I know the, what kind of criticism, what kind of claims, uh, that are being, uh, uh, circulating. But I want you to know that Egypt is going to open a new page. Egypt is going to move on. Egypt is going to join the family of demo... of democracies. Egypt is the Egypt of tomorrow, not Egypt of yesterday.
David Ignatius: And, um, Mr. Moussa, just to be clear, would you, would you think that the, that the share of the economy that is controlled by the military, would it be your advice to, to General al-Sisi that that share should decline?
Amr Moussa: No, it’s not a question of shared by the Army. There are companies, there are like you have here. But I’m not sure about this 40%. But then the economy itself, our economy is so weak, we have to rebuild that economy and building that economy will only come from foreign investments, from active economic policy, from reigniting the industrial and agricultural and touristic work. That is the important thing for such an economy to take the country out of the [inaudible]. Who contributes what and when and under what circumstances, the new page with that.
David Ignatius: Um, the woman here and then, then Marina, uh, behind her. Marina Ottaway.
Nancy Okail: Thank you. My name is Nancy Okail. I’m the Executive Director of the Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy. Um, Mr. Moussa, you were heading the Arab League at the time where the Middle East and Arab world look very different than they are today. How do you see the picture today and, um, what kind of relations that Egypt can forge that would support its past two democratic process and at the same time maintain its independence?
Amr Moussa: I’m sorry. I have difficulty. As you were, you have difficulties with the mi... microphone. I do have difficulty with this microphone.
David Ignatius: Do you just want to summarize in one sentence the, the question?
Nancy Okail: How, how do you see the, um, the situation in the Middle East in general or the Arab world right now and how could Egypt forge strong relations that would support its past two democracy and at the same time maintain its independence?
David Ignatius: Did you…
Amr Moussa: Yes. One, again, the Middle East itself will change and is changing. Uh, the priorities, of course, are different than what it used to be. Uh, but we need peace definitely. We need stability. We need security. Those goals will need development. Those goals have not changed and we have to work to achieve them perhaps through different means, within a new spirit of cooperation of understanding, of assessment that 21st Century policies and politics are not exactly the politics of last century and that now, the, the challenges that we meet are far different and wider and more serious than what we used to have. At a certain moment, it was one question, one problem that is preoccupying all of us. Now we have more. The one exists, continues to preoccupy us, but other problems also. Other [inaudible] came to the full. So, when we talk about Egypt for this occasion, I also talk about the collective work of the Arab world and how we are going to face the future, solving problems, building a new system, extending our hands to whoever wants to cooperate with us and having a new order. We must have a new order in the Middle East, but this new order requires a lot of work and of different attitudes by all of us, with no exception.
David Ignatius: And, and, just to follow up, um, Mr. Moussa, there are some, uh, in the Arab world, in, in Jordan and I think in Egypt, too, who are asking with the situation in Syria so chaotic and dangerous, is it time to reopen some dialogue with the regime there of President Bashir Assad? What do you think about that?
Amr Moussa: Well, I think the situation concerning Syria is as follows: the big powers have mismanaged this question. The Geneva type conferences cannot solve the problem. It can also… It can only create some comfortable feeling that you know countries are meeting and there is a Geneva Conferences and that will produce produce something and that was last January I was asked what do you think we would be doing if we meet same January 2015 in the same place? I said I’m afraid that we’ll be discussing the results of Geneva 15. This is too much. This is absolutely unacceptable. It would lead nowhere. Public debate and small group of countries are dealing with that. I think that a small table, roundtable like this one, with America and Russia, with Turkey and Iran, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, should be present and discuss it and see what should be done. One country cannot do it. We see the hesitation here. We see the policy of Russia that is on, on a different, [inaudible] all together the countries in the region and the Arab countries in particular will have a lot to say. I see until now there is no rule for Arab countries. They have to be there and any deal in their absence will be no deal. It will not last.
David Ignatius: Marina?
Marina: Uh, Marina Ottaway with the Woodrow Wilson Center. Uh, Mr. Moussa, I am having some trouble reconciling your, uh, what I have read about the Constitution. I have spent a lot of time with it, which certainly has very strong protections for human rights, for political rights and so on, on paper with what is happening in Egypt right now, because it does not seem to me that, uh, some trials that condemn a large number of people in a very short period of time do in fact correspond to the due process of law that the Constitution does, uh, protect. You have also, uh, it’s also difficult to see the bending of certain organizations and so on, the arrest of journalists. Now what my point is, does that… and you have replied to all of the questions saying you have to understand how difficult the situation is, how dire the period is that Egypt is going through. Does that mean that for the time being the Constitution cannot be applied? In other words, that this is a Constitution that it’s far too liberal and democratic for the circumstances, because it seems to me that that’s the implication.
Amr Moussa: Well, thank you very much. The Constitution will have to be applied, but we need a lot on the Constitution as stipulated, need laws to be passed by the Parliament in order to put the Constitution into effect and to change the existing laws according to the new stipulations of the Constitution and we expect that, as I was explaining, once the, all the institutions have been in place. They, the election of the President, the election of the Parliament, and the task before the Parliament, is to legislate the laws called for by the Constitution that would guarantee, protect the rights and freedoms of people and here, now in this very serious transitional period, that I hope will come to an end within weeks, that situation is really challenging. My people being killed every day in this or that street, in this or that city by the institutions that are not functioning, like universities and so on. So, any responsible government will have to take firm decisions, especially under the existing laws. But for the Constitution which are, of course, I, I believe in each and every word that has been, uh, uh, written in this Constitution, will have to be the first order of business for the next Parliament. That will be in place, I believe, at the end of this summer. So there is no contradiction here, although generally speaking, yes, of course. There is a Constitution that has called for one, two, three, four, but in order for this one, two, three, four, to be implemented, we need the law to be changed. For the judge, he will see what, what the law says. He does not have to interpret the Constitution. Yes, indeed you are right, but I hope that you understand what I am saying. It is a [inaudible] for you, very difficult situation is absolutely dangerous, but it is moving in the right direction. Every day it is less dangerous than before and with a new Constitution, new stipulations, new spirit looking to the future, I believe many of those things that were, that, uh, uh, require or led to criticism will be dealt with in a very firm and objective way.
David Ignatius: Uh, Judith Kipper and the gentleman after her. You, sir. Yes.
Judith Kipper: Amr, it is good to see you here and, uh, hear you as well. Let’s talk about the period after the, uh, removal of Morse. I want to ask you about the army, which in Egypt and certainly removing Mubarak in 18 days was an instrument of the state and not the man. That changed after Morse was gone. So I want to ask you about the army, the security forces and the police, the violence, the arbitrary arrests, the massacre in the streets of the Muslim Brotherhood camp, uh, the torture, uh, the 500, 600 leaders that are, uh, currently in jail, including the Al Jazeera journalist. When we hear official Egypt say, “We’re in a terrible period,” isn’t it true that bad management of the post Morse period by the military and who’s going to be president, the security forces and the police created a chaotic situation that makes Egypt more dangerous every day? More unemployment. More poverty. More arrests. More harassment. More torture. More censorship. More people staying home because they are again afraid of their government.
Amr Moussa: Well, Judith, that is a speech, not a question and I disagree with you. It is not more of what you have said, but much less and not only the, the, the words that you have mentioned, many of them are really false, uh, uh, uh, expression of the situation. But let us agree, that is it is a difficult situation and we need this new page, new Egypt to deal with the, those, all those issues in a different way with the Constitution, with the, uh, the new president, with the new spirit that is engulfing Egypt, uh, young and old and from all walks of life. So I take your criticism. I disagree with part of it, but Egypt in its new life, its new republic, the third republic that is coming up within weeks, I believe with such a Constitution, such a president and free elections of, uh, president and uh, parliament, we’ll definitely steer away from so many of what has been considered as bad management and it is, it has been really badly managed. No question.
David Ignatius: So with apologies to those who had their hands up, I am going to make this the last question, because we’re past our, our quitting time. Yes sir?
Man: My name is Zubair Iqbal. I’m with the Middle East Institute. I’m trying to move a little bit away from Egypt itself. Trying to look at the region itself and I think you’re probably the best person to answer the question. Uh, what is happening to the region is, if I may say, not an unintended consequence of what happened so called Arab Spring. It had to happen that way. It was ready for the change to take place. Now we have a situation where political issues which choose to define the region is largely under stress. Under those circumstances, economic factors which at one time were the hope to bring the countries together towards economic integration or at least an [inaudible] on that basis for the progress in the future. They are becoming more and more difficult to pursue. In your case, and you have touched upon it in a way with regard to security and other issues, what do you suggest should happen where the political coalition is lost. How would you substitute economic factors and other variables to substitute for the political issues to generate an integrated region? Thank you.
David Ignatius: Yes? That was… You heard that, yes? Yes. Forgive me. Go ahead!
Amr Moussa: You are talking about the political integration.
Zubair Iqbal: You see what I’m saying is political integration with [inaudible] doesn’t exist anymore.
Amr Moussa: Yea.
Zubair Iqbal: So what we need to do…
Amr Moussa: Just a minute. Please talk to the microphone.
Zubair Iqbal: The political integration has been under stress ever since the Arab spring and starting to show quite significantly now GCC’s [inaudible]. What my concern is, if we are going to see a prosperous Middle East, we need to think in terms of alternatives for bringing the countries together. Political coalition isn’t enough anymore. Joseph said, “You’re entering a different world.” Yes, you’re entering a different world, but the point is, what is that world that they are talking about? What is a role for economic integration among these countries to get there? Have… the countries have to think about…
Amr Moussa: Yes, indeed. I understand that, that, that point. I said earlier that we have to work to establish a new regional order. This new regional order should not be looked at only from the security or political prisons. We have to look at it from the point of view of developing a new economic integration system in the region and the seeds of such integration are there. But it is the bad management. The, uh, sovereign funds, the banks, a lot of money, they are there. Plans, they are there. When you go through the files of the Arab League or the Council, the Gulf Council, or many other countries, members of that group, you will find a lot of plans. They have never been put into implementation or looked at seriously. So my talking about a new system, a new regional system, a new regional order, development, economic integration and social aspects of it, will have to be an integral part of whatever new order we would reach.
David Ignatius: So, um, I’m going to bring our discussion to a close here. I would just conclude by saying, um, Mr. Moussa, if there’s one thing I heard from every questioner, is a passionate interest in the future of Egypt and I hope you’ll take that back home to, to Cairo with you.
Amr Moussa: Absolutely.
David Ignatius: Because I know how heartfelt it is. So please join me in thanking Amr Moussa for being with us.
Amr Moussa is an Egyptian politician and diplomat who served for more than a decade as Egypt's foreign minister from 1991 to 2001, and was secretary general of the Arab League from 2001 to 2011. He is an influential figure in Egyptian politics, serving as a prominent political advisor, including to the presidential candidate Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.
In September 2013, Moussa was elected president of the Committee of 50, a diverse group of Egyptians who convened to amend Egypt's 2012 constitution. Previously he was a candidate in the 2012 presidential election and founder of Egypt's Congress Party. After the 2011 revolution, he was appointed to the assembly tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution but later resigned with other liberal delegates in protest over the Morsi government's handling of the drafting process.
As secretary general of the Arab League, Moussa launched the Arab League Peace Initiative to address and resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moussa was also appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
Moussa joined Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs soon after graduating from Cairo University in 1957 and held many important posts over the decades, including serving as Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations and to India.
He has been awarded the Grand Cordon of the Nile by the Egyptian government and has received high deocrations from the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Qatar, Jordan, and Sudan.
David Ignatius writes a foreign affairs column in The Washington Post and is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow and former lecturer at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Ignatius has held several roles at The Post since 1986, including assistant managing editor for business news, foreign editor, and editor of its Sunday Outlook section. He began writing his column in 1998 and continued throughout his three-year stint as executive editor of the Internation Herald Tribune in Paris. Earlier in his career, Ignatius was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of numerous books, including Bloodmoney (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011), The Increment (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009), and Body of Lies (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007). His latest book, The Director (2014), will be published in June. Ignatius studied political theory at Harvard College and economics at Kings College, Cambridge.