'Morsi failed to govern democratically, his case is over' - Foreign Minister of Egypt

Egypt on the crossroads... again. After deposing the dictator Mubarak, it seemed like the first green shoots of democracy appeared. But just after a year in office, Egypt's first ever democratically-elected leader Mohammed Morsi was removed as well. Now the question is: what's next? We address it to our guest Nabil Fahmy, the minister of foreign affairs of Egypt's interim government.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Our guest today is Nabil Fahmi, the minister of foreign affairs of Egypt’s interim government. Foreign Minister, thank you for being with us in RT studio.

Nabil Fahmy: Thank you for having me.


Sophie Shevardnadze:So, it’s not a dictatorship right now in Egypt, it’s not quite a democracy and people are talking about military rule. Who is really in charge of the country?

Nabil Fahmy: I think it gets fairly clear – people are. People changed president twice in two and half years. After the second change in July 2013 we establish a civilian interim government, it has a 9-month timeframe, with a specific mandate. Even though it’s interim, it has a very historic responsibility. It has to establish the tenets of a democratic system. First, it put together a civilian government, secondly it started the constitutional process. We finished the legal reading of the constitution, now we are in the stakeholders reading, 50 members, different walks of life, trying to develop a constitution, and they have to finish two months. Within 30 days after that finishes we have referendum for the public to say “yes” or “no”, and then we will hold two elections – for parliament and for president. So it’s really people’s choice, but this is an interim government, it’s clearly that.

Sophie Shevardnadze: How much of the weight does the army have in this government? I mean, people always talk about this being a military rule right now in Egypt. I know, you are a civilian interim government, but do you actually rule yourselves, or do you obey the military orders right now?

Nabil Fahmy: The only debates we had with the military and police, by the way, arepart of the Cabinet, in our weekly Cabinet meetings, and police takes the lead by the way in projecting internal security situation and the military will add to that in as far it has strategic issues, especially in the Sinai, but also occasionally in the Delta as well. So, frankly, I deal with the head of the military and the head of police as colleagues in the Cabinet, nothing more. But they have a special responsibility, because of our security problems. We have a war against terror, or at least, a problem with terror.

Sophie Shevardnadze: We’ll going to get to that in just a minute.

Nabil Fahmy: And that’s really what are the focuses on the securities are.

Sophie Shevardnadze: You’ve outlined deadline for recent schedule for political transition, it should be about November –December and that’s when the Constitution will be finalized and approved. What will happen next day the Constitution is actually approved?

Nabil Fahmy: After it’s approved within 30 days, you have to have the referendum for the public to say “yes or no”.

Sophie Shevardnadze:“Yes” or “no” to the constitution?

Nabil Fahmy: To the constitution being proposed by the committee. As soon as that is finished, we then have to call for parliamentary elections, and after that, presidential elections. So we have to finish by spring of next year at the latest. By the end of spring next year we have to finish all of this.

Sophie Shevardnadze:As far as parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood allowed or is the banned from it?

Nabil Fahmy: No, the Muslim Brotherhood…there’s a political party, “Freedom and Justice Party” which originated from Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood is not a party; it’s an association, a grouping. So their party is allowed to participate.

Sophie Shevardnadze: What if during the presidential elections representative from their party or from Muslim Brotherhood wins? Because, they still have a lot of supporters in Egypt.

Nabil Fahmy: It’s a great question. Because many people ask what happens if that happens again. The problem with the last time, with president’s Morsi election, wasn’t that he was good or bad president. Every country has good or bad presidents. There were two problems. One – we did not develop a Constitution that reflected the people of Egypt. It was done basically by Islamists, so we didn’t have checks and balances in our system, where, if you elected a good president, he uses the checks and balances to the utmost. If you’ve elected a bad president, the checks and balances control him. President Morsi, without good Constitution was trying to lead the country towards the Islamist face of Egypt. Islamists are part of it, but they are not the complete face of Egypt – that was the problem. If we – and we will - put together a good Constitution, it will not make a difference…well, let me be precise, it WILL make a difference, who you elect, but it will not change the face of Egypt. If we put together a secularist candidate, a middle-of-the-road candidate or even an Islamist candidate – he will be governed by the Constitution.

Sophie Shevardnadze:But will the constitution also be able to protect the presidency? Because like we’ve seen in the last two years, two presidents have been removed by protesters…

Nabil Fahmy: And that’s a very good thing to do, and the reason it happened that way is that the Constitution does not allow for repeal of the Presidency or for impeachment, we didn’t have that in our system. So, they had nowhere to go, the people could not go to parliament and say “President is violating the Constitution, you need to remove him”, we didn’t have that system. We could not, for example, call for early elections. If you look at European system, for example, their parliamentary systems, if the popularity of Prime Minister is very-very weak, he can, and Parliament can call for early elections. We didn’t have that system, so the only recourse the public has was the street. The new Constitution should have the process of impeachment, and recall, and appeal – that process will – as you said correctly – protect the President from the street, but it will also empower the street that they have a political channel to pursue their concerns if they are significant without having to go to the streets.

Sophie Shevardnadze:What would that Constitution do in Morsi's case? Because, you have different approaches to Morsi, some people like him, some despise him, but the fact is, he was democratically-elected president and he was removed undemocratically. What would the new constitution do for Morsi?

Nabil Fahmy: Morsi's case is over. There's no going back to Morsi's case. Morsi was elected through a democratic process - he did not, however, govern democratically. The essence of democracy is inclusiveness. You need to include all the people for them to feel that they all are nationals of the country, even if they are in the minority. Minority nationals, be they Egyptian or Russian - does not mean they are not Egyptian or Russian any longer, so that was the problem with Morsi. It was not, frankly, that he was good president or a bad president in terms of efficiency, if that was the case we would've waited for 3 or 4 years. The problem was that he wanted to govern as the only one political trend in Egypt and wanted to change the face of Egypt in that sense. So, the point I'm making is that the Constitution will ensure equal rights for the majority and the minority, irrespective of who’s the president. But, nobody's going back. In the absence of - in the last Constitution - of a way for public to speak out through the political system, they spoke out in the street. They did it twice, in huge numbers. Once you put together a proper Constitution, channels for political expression should be through Parliament, through the Shura council, if we have one, through petition, through referendum and so on and so on.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Where's Morsi? Why there is so much secrecy about his whereabouts?

Nabil Fahmy: Well, first of all, he's now been charged with different legal charges, i don't want to get into actual legal charges, because the Attorney-General investigates the different accusations and then he formally only makes charges...well, he may make several, but he'll only make those when there's evidence to substantiate the charge.

Sophie Shevardnadze: I have to ask you though, I'm sorry. I know there's a lot of speculation in the Egyptian media right now, and this, what I'm going to say, is a little bit more than just a gossip. He's officially charged with treason and conspiracy, but what the Egyptian media is saying that he got money from the U.S. administration to give Sinai way to Hamas. Is there any truth to this?

F) As an official, but frankly, even if somebody in public domain before being an official, I never comment on the court cases before they are concluded. The reason is that court has to judge whether the evidence is there or not. Anybody can make an accusation against anyone. Attorney-General substantiates the evidence to see if there's enough evidence to take it seriously. If he does, it then goes to the court to determine innocence or guilt. We did that, by the way, with the accusations related to the former president Mubarak and his former officials as well. And, in the first round of these accusations most of the courts found them guilty. in the appeal process, some of the courts found some of the members innocent and some of them guilty. So, our legal process, which takes time, is I think a separate legal process, independent from the government and it will take its decisions based on the evidence, so I’m not going to get into actual accusations.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Ok, but not as a diplomat, but as an Egyptian citizen – what do you think should happen to Morsi?

Nabil Fahmy: I think he should be give due process – which he is being given, he has access to his lawyers now, and all of the other members that are arrested have access to lawyers and family and so on, and in the end of the day the courts will decide the verdict, not public opinion, emotions, or the Attorney-General

Sophie Shevardnadze: Foreign Minister, do you think you’ll be getting any U.S. aid this year for your military and development needs?

Nabil Fahmy: The answer is “yes”, but, frankly, I’m not focused on that .What I’m focused on is how to rebuild Egypt internally and I think that’s where our priority is. We will take our decisions regarding our internal situation based on our national interest, not on whether we get aid or not.

Sophie Shevardnadze: The release of Mubarak from prison soon after the arrest of Morsi – for many it looks like the return of the old regime…

Nabil Fahmy: I think that’s a FALSE conclusion. It’s actually evidence that the courts are independent. The foreign president Mubarak was not released soon after Morsi was arrested. This happened two weeks ago…

Sophie Shevardnadze:He was released after Morsi was arrested.

Nabil Fahmy: It’s a court process, that does not allow you to hold people in carceration beyond the certain point in time without a verdict being held against them, so I looked at it – this is like looking at which side of coin you want to look at – if you want the proof, evidence of the court being independent, this is a key evidence of that, because the release of president Mubarak clearly complicates the politics in Egypt for the interim government. As you said, the perception is “are we now going back to before 2011”, and that’s a criticism in perception, and that’s a concern that is raised by some. The reality is if did not do that, if you try to violate a court order, it would actually be going against tenets of democracy which is the rule of law. So, is this a complicating factor? Yes! Do we have to respect the court system? That’s what you have to do if you want to accept democracy.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Just to make sure – Mubarak’s trial will take place?

Nabil Fahmy: He has now a re-trial, yes, of course. He’s been released on another case, but on this case – yes, sure.

Sophie Shevardnadze: But, ever since General El-Sisi came to power hundreds of people have died…

Nabil Fahmy: He didn’t come to power.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Well, ever since he is in charge, a lot of people have died…

Nabil Fahmy: He’s still not in charge, he simply responded….

Sophie Shevardnadze:He is responsible for the army, isn’t he?

Nabil Fahmy: Yes.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Ok, so, under his rule as a chief of the army a lot of people have died. And a lot of them were also Muslim Brotherhood members. All I’m saying is that there is a rift in the country. It may be considerable, may not be considerable, but there is a rift, and people are dying and have been dying. How do you plan to reconcile?

Nabil Fahmy: Well, there are several ways. First of all, the message has to be clear for everyone – violence, terrorism, criminal acts will not be condoned.

Sophie Shevardnadze:But violence goes both ways…

Nabil Fahmy: I didn’t say which side; I’m just saying violence will not be condoned by anybody anywhere, irrespective of justification. You cannot have a democracy that’s not based on the rule of law and security, that’s the first one. Secondly, anyone, any political party, irrespective of if it’s left-leaning or right-leaning – if it is consistent with the Constitution and non-violent, it has a place in the Egyptian politics. That’s the endgame. In the beginning you have to have security, in the endgame you have to have inclusiveness for everyone. The real challenge, which you are questioning, is what you do in the middle, how you get there. We’re trying to get there by including everybody in the debate on the Constitution. The Islamists have membership in that commission. Muslim Brotherhood does not come in, but the Nour party, the Salafists, have agreed to come in. Secondly, we have a reconciliation commission, we were trying to bring in everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to dialog about “what are your concerns, you feel there’s excessive pursuit of your leaders – well, then show us who are not using force, and who are. You want assurances that you’ll have rights in parliament – well, let’s talk about this things.” Now, they haven’t yet agreed to participate, the Salafists did, but the Muslim Brotherhood did not. It is a process where you build confidence by your actions, not only by what you say. So I think that the real, generating force of this confidence will be the constitutional commission, as we develop the provisions of the new Constitution. Indicating that it is inclusive, you’ll see more leaders participating in it. And hopefully, we’ll have all of them there, as long as they announce openly that they will not pursue their goals with the use of violence.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Now, there’s a lot of talk about the re-establishment of the state security service that under Mubarak was actually responsible for horrible human rights violations, to say the least. I know you’re in transitional period, but how do you make sure that terror doesn’t come back, people aren’t scared, and the rights aren’t violated once again? Because this organization…everyone was like “ugh, it’s back now!”

Nabil Fahmy: Its a great question, but let me answer this more carefully. No security system in the world bases itself only on force, and the really successful ones base themselves on information, on data, so you don’t have to use force, you preempt the problem, by understanding what the issues are. All these institutions internationally have their intelligence arm. The problem in the past wasn’t that you had an intelligence arm or not, it was the practices that they pursued. There was how they got information, and what they did with information. Our challenge is to have an organization that gathered information, but respects the rules of law, respects international norms, operates within a democratic context, so I’m not that concerned with the principle of establishing an intelligence branch in the ministry of the interior, but you’re right, it has to be done in a new way, that doesn’t haunt us with the practices of the past.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Too little time has passed for that organization for drastic changes to come…

Nabil Fahmy: You’ve raised a number of really great questions. Why do you arrest 2.000 people rather than 100 people – because you’re not sure who did what.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Exactly.

Nabil Fahmy: So, the best way to know is to have the information, the information gathered a priori, so that you don’t have out and arrest them first and then investigate.

Sophie Shevardnadze: So, you’re going to release them?

Nabil Fahmy: Of course, we will. As you interrogate them, someone will be released immediately, and some have. When the evidence is a bit more substantial, they will be considered by the Attorney-General. If even he will decide it’s not substantial enough, we will release some more, and then he cannot claim guilt or innocence – he has to give them to the court to do so. I support having an intelligence branch, but I completely agree with you – that branch has to act in a different fashion that it did in the past, and it should get human rights training and I completely support that.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Since you’re saying information is key and it’s important, do you have the number of how many people exactly have been arrested?

F) First of all, I don’t. Secondly, a lot have been arrested and released, so my answer is “No”.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Now to the foreign politics. What position will Egypt pursue towards Hamas-led Gaza, because things have changed?

Nabil Fahmy: Again, it seems that in everything we’re doing today we’re balancing two different things. Let me be clear about this. We do not support a policy of a sustained blockade on Gaza because it ends up with Palestinians suffering. The average Palestinian in Gaza suffers from the blockades, and the shortages, and so on. So, morally and politically we cannot sustain that position. At the same time, we cannot allow, especially without security situation today, for extra-legal systems. In other words, networks, that works outside of the legal system. Including, in one example, tunnels. Once you do that, you develop relationships that go beyond the traditional authority. And it ends up leading into organized crime and so on and so forth. Irrespective of whether Hamas is part of that or not. Thirdly, let me be very-very clear here – we will not accept any interference in our internal affairs by anybody, including Hamas, if and when that’s the case and it’s proven. So, we’re balancing all three of this. We will close the tunnels, our relation with Hamas will be completely above board and transparent. We will deal with them on that basis, and thirdly, we are looking at a new system with a president Abu Mazen and with Hamas to manage the entry points into Gaza to ensure goods and services are made available.

Sophie Shevardnadze: Do you have any concerns whatsoever that Egypt could find itself in a similar situation that’s in Syria – because Muslim Brotherhood members have vowed to fight till the end?

Nabil Fahmy: No, I don’t see the situation being the same, while, of course there are members of certain organizations, some members who seem adamant at making this existential battle, there are others, frankly, who are talking about that it’s time to move on, it’s time to be part of the future. So, I don’t see that, and secondly, frankly, the proportion in numbers in Egypt is significantly different from what you see in Syria. We have a challenge, Egyptian people have to come together, have to accept that we may differ from each other, we may argue with each other, but we may do that peacefully, but I don’t see that as a Syrian situation.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Kerry said, and that was after Kerry-Lavrov accord, that the strike may still take place if Syria doesn’t comply – what would your position be in that case, if strike does take place, because it’s still a possibility?

Nabil Fahmy: First, let me say – I congratulate Russia and applaud this initiative to try to find a political resolution for this. Secondly, I set forth at the Arab League what our position is. One, I condemn the Syrian regime for its practices against its people. Secondly, I condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone against anyone. And I want whoever did that to be held accountable. Thirdly, I said openly, I don’t support the use of force against Syria. That use of force, when it’s used on an exceptional basis, has to be done in accordance with the UN charter and UN rules.

Sophie Shevardnadze: You left out the opposition – what do you think of opposition?

Nabil Fahmy: That’s what I said – use of chemical weapons by anyone against anyone. I did not leave out the opposition. In my speech, I also said I was against the militarization of the conflict, which included opposition, by the way, I’m just talking about chemical weapons, but my point here is that in the past, in the liberation of Kuwait, we supported the use of force for liberating Kuwait and getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We actually participated militarily, because that was done within the UN. So, there will be cases when the use of force is justified. If it is justified by the UN, we will then accept it as a norm, even if we don’t like it as a political decision. But we can’t accept that just because we and you happen to agree today we have the right to use force. What happens if two others agree in the future? How do I ensure my security?

Sophie Shevardnadze: Just lastly, do you think it’s normal, it’s ok that Syria’s fate is being decided between America and Russia, not the Arab world?

Nabil Fahmy: Another great question. It really is a great question. There are more people fighting in and around Syria about things, that have nothing to do with Syria, and there are Syrians fighting. This is a conflict, a geopolitical conflict, where not only the big powers, the big international powers and the big regional powers are all competing with each other. In the middle of all that you have Syrian powers either fighting each other or being used by… so, it’s a very complicated problem. Because it’s so complicated, because it’s extra-regional, that’s what makes the Arab League position difficult. The Arab League did try to solve this initially; it did not succeed, because there are so many extra-regional powers which let the Syrian powers to leverage their politics internationally rather than regionally, and therefore when Arab League failed to do this, they asked the UNSC to take charge.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Thank you so much for this great interview, that’s it for today. We were speaking to Nabil Fahmi, foreign minister of Egypt.