Western conflict "management" way breeds catastrophes like ISIS - ex-Arab Legaue head
The Middle East is in turmoil: war and humanitarian catastrophe are reaping a deadly toll among the civilians. Islamic State is continuing it’s violent rise, and the instability in Libya is threatening to spill over. In this chaos, Egypt is like an isle of tranquility, with it’s government and security forces still intact after the two revolutions. What role can Cairo play in bringing peace back to the devastated region? Can it do this alone - or it’s the job for the coalition of nations? Is it even able to defend itself from the hydra of terror? We ask these questions to the former head of the Arab League, and leading political figure in Egypt. Amr Moussa in on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevarnadze: The former head of the Arab League, and leading political figure in Egypt, Amr Moussa - it’s great to to have you with us. Now, mr. Moussa, in the past 4 years Egypt witnessed the Arab spring, a revolution, toppling of two regimes - looking at your country as it stands today, would you say the turmoil has passed? Is it now a stable state?
Amr Moussa: Thank you very much for inviting me… I just invite you to compare today and the same day last year. You’ll find a huge difference towards stability and towards implementing the 3 pillars of the roadmap: the Constitution has been approved, the President has been elected, and within the next 2-3 months the parliament will be elected, a lot of megaprojects and small projects, and a national debate is taking place about how to develop the economy; at the same time, the President is very active regionally, the talks between Egypt and other major regional powers have resumed - so I see, and I really consider it a progress and a much better situation that it has been in 2013, at least.
SS: An Egyptian militant movement, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to ISIS last year and now calls itself “State of Sinai”. Does this mean the Islamic State has entered Egypt?
AM: No. They are trying to, using all what they can, support and money and so on coming from different direction. But, first of all and most important - the people of Egypt in their majority are against such terrorist organisations and the army is also standing firm, and the police - so, all society in Egypt is facing them, rejecting them, and I believe we are in better position to stand firm and even to lead the drive against terrorism - this is terrorism, and terrorism is the enemy of stability all over, so we have to stand against that.
SS: But exactly how firm does the Egypt army stand? Because in the past months, islamist militants have been mounting attacks in Egypt…
AM: I believe the army is firm against terrorist organisations, and supported by our people - who are also firm against terrorism, violence and their intentions and plans. So, on this score, I believe we are in a better position today. However, we shouldn’t just sit and think that the battle has ended - no, it is still a long way, but now the government of Egypt and Egypt society are all in a much better position vis-a-vis terrorist organisations.
SS: Like you’ve pointed out, the battle has not ended yet and the Egyptian militia and military has not been able as of yet to get rid of Sinai militants for years now, actually - why are they so resilient?
AM: I must tell you, it’s not the question that the Egyptian government or Egyptian army or whatever has not ended the battle - the battle has not ended everywhere in the world, so the government of the U.S., the governments of Europe or Asia, etc - they are in the same position; we are on the same side, let us help ourselves get rid of terrorism and bring back stability in our societies. So it is not only in Egypt that the battle is continuing in, the battle has not ended in Egypt, regionally and internationally.
SS: Absolutely, sir, we’re all in it together, but since you’re representing Egypt, I am asking about Sinai, and what I am asking is why do you think those militant are so resilient? Who do you think is behind them? Why are they standing so strong?
AM: I believe you know you the map of the Middle East and the existence of ISIS or DAESH and of other organisations coming from different origins and there’s a lot of money moving around in the region, a lot of plans also played up and down in the region - so it is not only this situation in Sinai, it is the situation in the region that has led to that; but I don’t think we are in the position to name names, who is paying to whom and who is supporting whom. The point is that we in Egypt - the people, the society, the army, the government - we are all standing firm against this kind of terrorist policies.
SS: U.S. military aid to Egypt hasn’t resolved in a victory in Sinai, moreover - doesn’t using American weapons against muslims erode President Sisi’s legitimacy?
AM: No, president Sisi’s legitimacy does not come from this or that action by this or that government. Legitimacy comes from the fact that he was overwhelmingly elected - this is the source of legitimacy of our president. That’s it; the fact that another government gives or doesn’t give, or has a certain policy for against him or against us - this is not the question delegitimizing the president. This is politics; the legitimacy is Egyptian, and it is given by the people. That’s it.
SS: Now, back in 2011, I remember Sinai militants claimed to be a wing of Al-Qaeda, and now they’re split with most morphing into the IS. Could we see rivalry between the two terror giants explode in Egypt?
AM: Look, to be with ISIS or Al-Qaeda or whatever other organisation is immaterial - those are all organisations that are working towards destruction of society and achieving in fact a lot of harmful goals. So, it is immaterial for us, for you and for me to find out who is the source and what is the mother organisation. The mother organisation, whatever it is called, is a terrorist organisation - those organisation in Sinai or in anywhere in our area, within the countries or regionally - those are all agents for larger organisations that can bring the money and weapons; we are standing firm against them, those should not succeed. We have to succeed - this is a matter with one result that has to be achieved - victory over terror.
SS: Sure, but we’re just all wondering why can’t we succeed right now, with U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq, it’s been going on since August - how is this Islamic State still surviving and managing to attract more supporters?
AM: This is a good question. You should ask those countries that are performing and bombing - what have you done? You’ve achieved nothing, there’s no progress whatsoever! So, I believe that is the wrong policy and the belated reaction, and at the same the conflicting interests of some major foreign and regional powers. They are not all acting in the same direction.
SS: So you don’t feel the campaign is effective?
AM: The campaign is not - but is not only the question of DAESH or the question of the militant organisations. It’s the question of sovereignty, of countries - the conflict in Syria, which is by itself a very dangerous situation; and the situation in Iraq - there are so many things linked to the area where DAESH works and where other similar organisations work. This is the important thing, it is not just an organisation bombed, and how many were killed and how many were wounded, etc - no, it’s a strategic conflict in which these non-state actors have played and are still playing a very dangerous role, that has not been like that before in this region.
SS: But do you think a ground operation should be undertaken by the U.S.?
AM: Well, it is up to the U.S. What I believe is should be done is that through the UNSC, through Chapter 7, through the cooperation of all countries, regional and international… I don’t call for a certain, specific country to act, but for the international community to act. And this international community cannot and should not act beyond the UNSC and Chapter 7 of the Charter of the UN - so this is the way, this is the road for mobilisation by all countries against terrorism and against the destructive policies of those elements.
SS: What do you think - where is the Islamic State getting funding? Just from selling oil?
AM: Selling oil came only after the acquisition of some territories in Iraq, but it started well before that, so it must have been financed by certain powers that allowed to them move without preventing them for some months before they were recognised.
SS: But which powers you are talking about?
AM: I don’t think that is proper to name names in such an interview, but definitely there was a lot of financial support given and also goals agreed upon with ISIS as an actor on behalf of the certain strategy or certain plans. Let alone - I have to add here that also the policies of the local governments, or the governments in that region has led to the creation of a situation that gave rise to such organisations.
SS: Are you talking about Iraq?
AM: About all those countries in that area, where DAESH is working. So we should not only blame the outside powers, but the wrong policies in governing their people had led to the catastrophe that we’re witnessing now in that huge, important, sensitive area.
SS: If we take Egypt, can your country deal with IS on one side and the Libyan spillover on the other? And which is more dangerous? What will you do now, when you’re surrounded from two sides?
AM: This is the peculiar situation where we find ourselves with threats from right and left, from east and west, and, perhaps, also from other directions. That what makes it a delicate situation, and that what makes us in Egypt believe that stability is our goal. We have a president we have to support, we have a Constitution we have to respect, we have a Parliament that we have to elect and we have a plan that we have to implement - that is a development plant, a reform plan. The situation in Egypt is in fact different from other situation - we can and we have to stand up to all those challenges, and I believe that we can.
SS: Now, I’ve read in the Guardian, you’ve said “Egypt should consider a military response over the situation in Libya”. What kind of response should that be? Troops on the ground?
AM: I am sorry, but your question is wrong. I never called on for the government to intervene militarily in Libya. So if you say so, I don’t know where you’ve read this. The situation in Libya is different. The situation in Libya needs the cooperation of all neighboring countries, needs intervention by the UN, it needs the faction in Libya to sit together and to realise that the longer the conflict continues, the more difficult it would be for Libya to come back to a normal situation and stability. So the Libyan situation, I believe, would have to be politically solved - and we have a chance now, with the UN talks in Geneva.
SS: But I’m sure you’ve thought about it - what happens if the fighting in Libya does spill over the border into Egypt? Will it be difficult to contain?
AM: Look, Egypt knows how to defend itself, and we’re going to defend ourselves; but one of the most effective means to defend ourselves is to find a political solution to the situation in Libya - this is what we are very much busy with now.
SS: Okay, but even if you look at Libya politically, like you say, there are so many factions fighting for power in the country right now - is it even possible to contain all the militias?
AM: Yes, but not “impossible” - you won’t find it in the political dictionary. Yes, indeed, not all the factions agree to sit at the UN meetings, not all of them are ready to cooperate and get back to sitting together and recreating the state, that’s right - but, there are increasing number of factions in Libya that showed inclination to sit and listen and talk. That’s why I believe what Bernardino León is doing is very important at this stage.
SS: Does Egypt support any party in Libya right now, anyone in particular?
AM: No intervention in their internal affairs - we support the UN plan, we support whatever the Arab League would come up with, and we should a reconciliation within all of them towards a civilian, stable state.
SS: If you look in retrospect, were NATO allies wrong to get involved in 2011? Do you think they have a responsibility to help Libya out of the crisis right now? Can they even help?
AM: I believe that intervention messed up the whole situation. Their talk at that time was about protecting the population in Eastern Libya from the attacks by planes from the Gaddafi regime. This did not necessarily require all what happened against Libya, and the intervention that was done was acted without any thought about what’s next, what will happen tomorrow. This is a major mistake by the major powers’ policies vis-a-vis Libya from the beginning.
SS: Can they help now?
AM: Well, they can help, but I think that the help should come through the UN and through the neighboring countries of Libya - Arab neighboring countries, African neighboring countries and Mediterranean neighboring countries.
SS: Also, looking back at the Arab spring, Libya, Syria, Iraq are all states where Western states supported what they called “the democratic aspirations of the people” - why did the so-called “democracy” turned to chaos?
AM: First of all, the term is wrong - “the Arab spring” - that was not the answer. That was a wave of protests, of revolution, of strong stands against the wrong policies of the governments of that time. The philosophy, the ambiance of the 21st century is working: why should Arab countries stay behind the rest of countries. People wanted better educations, better healthcare, better advantages to citizens and so on. This was the essence behind the huge number of people that you have seen on the Tahrir square, you have seen in Tunisia, you have seen elsewhere in the Middle East. This situation has led to what you may call an upheaval, but there was no plan - “what should we do tomorrow?”. Now, in Egypt in particular, that was corrected by the next revolution which took place on 30 of June. To correct what happened to the revolution of 25th of January...
SS: But Egypt and Tunisia are probably only two countries that came out more or less okay out of this Arab spring which you don’t like as a term - every other country that revolution took place in, sort of turned into chaos, and we see civil wars and at the end of the day, ISIS take over.
AM: ISIS did not take over, but ISIS is threatening the sovereignty and stability of Iraq and Syria, of course, and of course Lebanon and perhaps Jordan. Yes, indeed, Egypt and Tunisia have managed to move on - in different ways, but with democracy, Constitution, elections and so on. We hope that no more gimmicks, no more of this known policy of the West, which is to “manage a conflict” rather than to help solving it - manage it, by conferences, by plans, by visits and tour and so on - this is going to be so destructive, in particular for Syria. I believe that the UNSC has been in fact not up to the level of acting to stop that deterioration of situation in Syria and to bring together all powers to agree on a plan for the future: on the political, security and also humanitarian dimensions. This cannot come just individually from this country or that country without a major plan within a solid position taken to solve the problem in Syria. I seize the opportunity of talking to you and your TV to call on all those countries concerned, in the West and East, all over, to stop this policy of trying to “manage” a situation rather than to solve it. If they want to manage the situation in Syria for a year, and two, and five and ten and so on - this will be a political catastrophe, security catastrophe, humanitarian catastrophe, and in fact by trying to manage rather than resolve, you give a hand to ISIS; a hand to such organisations, bent on destroying our society and our stability in the Middle East.
SS: I’ve heard you criticise the U.S. before, saying “Washington’s double standards are leading to instability” - something similar to what you’re saying right now and it’s also leading to an arms race in the Middle East; but someone should be helping, no? Who can help achieve stability in the Middle East then?
AM: Well, that’s what I’m trying to say: all of us. Not only Washington, and not only Moscow, and no only Europe, and only Cairo or any other capital in Arab world and the Middle East, but we have to act together. So, in my opinion, the conference - any conference - that would take place, is not a question to bring warring parties in Syria. Get the countries involved and let us agree that this situation should not continue and we go together to the UNSC with a clear plan. Let us not be working together in favor of A or B or C, but in favor of stability in Syria and to deal properly with this Syrian humanitarian catastrophe.
SS: Mr. Moussa, thank you very much for this interview. We were talking to Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League, top Egyptian politician, discussing the situation in Egypt, the growing presence of Islamic State in the region and how to contain its spread. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.