The Arab Spring turned North Africa and the Middle East upside down, bringing with it hopes for change and a brighter future for millions. Three years down the track, tens of thousands have been killed, Syria and Libya lie in ruins, and Egypt's first democratically-elected president has been deposed in a military coup. Was it all worth it? Are violent revolutions really the best way to bring about change? Amr Moussa, the former Secretary-General of the Arab League, joins Oksana to unravel these issues.
Oksana Boyko:It's been three years since the Arab Spring upended the conventional order in the Middle East. Three years of high hopes and bitter disappointments, of peaceful rallies and violent clashes, of precarious peace and full-blown war. Three years on, is the Middle East closer to democracy than it was before the revolutions? Well, to discuss that, I'm now joined by the former Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. Now, three years ago, you sided with the Tahrir Square protesters calling for political changes in Egypt. Comparing the hopes you had back them, both for Egypt and for the region as a whole, to what has happened since, do you now feel proud, disappointed or maybe both?
Amr Moussa: Well, when you call it 'Arab Spring', I believe it is a misnomer. It is a movement for change. It is a revolution against the old order. So we have entered, we in the Arab World, in the Middle East, have entered already a new phase in the political life of this region. The change is definitively against dictatorship and in favour of democracy. Now, in Egypt, for example, we are moving according to a roadmap, according to a constitution written and also approved by the people, by the majority of the people. We are about to start another phase, which is electing the new president and elected the parliament. Then, putting an end to the transitional period and go on and rebuilding the country. So, it needs time. It's not a question of three years and you used the word 'legacy', it is too early to talk about legacy. It is a process, ongoing process, but in total, I believe that this is in favour of the future generations. A revolution, a firm stand against dictatorship.
OB:It's interesting that you say that because your somewhat cautiously optimistic statement seems to be very different from the one that is often expressed by pro-democracy activists in Egypt. People like, for example, Ahmet Maher, who like many prominent figures in that uprising, now finds himself in jail and he just recently wrote that: 'everything collapsed' and that 'January 25th was exterminated'. That's what he wrote and he seems to be very pessimistic about any prospect of positive democratic change coming to Egypt. Isn't it quite a dramatic reversal of fortunes that people like Ahmet Maher, like other pro-democracy activists, are now in detention at the same time while the man against whom this uprising was directed, Hosni Mubarak, is out of jail and under house arrest?
AM: I see that you are sifting through some names you must have heard, this or that name, but the revolution has no leader and many of the revolutionaries, the young people, the students, the rest of the population, is really free and moving around and looking forward to a period of stability. As for those detainees, I believe, like you, that the pace should be accelerated in order to put an end to this phase. However, the government is now considering to move quickly to, either to, present them to the courts or to free them. So, there is a process going on, on this point. But, I want you to bear in mind that there is a lot of violence against the society, in universities and elsewhere. This is a troubled era and that is why there are certain things, certain exceptional circumstances, exceptional decisions, that are being taken.
OB:You said previously that this revolution, this historic process, needs time and obviously you’re a very experienced diplomat, you've seen a lot of things throughout your career, and that may be one of the reasons why you exercise this very patient approach but I remember back in 2011, when I was talking to people in Egypt, later on in Libya, they had a very different timeframe in mind. It seemed that people back them seemed to believe that if only Mubarak or Gaddafi had resigned, life would have changed almost instantaneously and obviously that didn't happen. Whatever economic or social indicator we take, life has gotten much more difficult for ordinary Egyptians, for ordinary Libyans – so, do you think that was, from the very beginning, a case of unrealistically high expectations or simply some of the Arab societies not being ready or not being capable to seize that historic opportunity?
AM: Well, that's a long question but the gist of it is that – are we sure of ourselves, can we move forward? Yes, indeed we are going to move forward, yet I can't say that the revolutions have achieved their goals in changing the economic situation to the better or the stability, introducing stability, but as you see, we have started. The first point, the first thing to do to stabilise any situation is to adopt the constitution and this constitution is a very good one, I hope that you have read it. So, we are moving now towards stabilising this situation in order for us to be able to tackle the economic problems and the social problems. Those are only three years and this is Egypt of thousands of years so we are not, we cannot sit and say 'alright, what happened in the last 1,000 days'? Of course a lot of negative things have happened and a change in the system, a change in the regime, that a president that has not succeeded, that his authority with the people has been eroding by the day because of the inefficient way that the government of former President Morsi has done and we are now trying to introduce good management and deal with the outcome, the negative outcome, of that last year.
OB:Now, Mr Moussa, you just mentioned introducing and voting on this new constitution, which is indeed very beautifully written – many experts believe that. You mentioned, also, your efforts to bring law and order to Egypt but unfortunately, the realities of what is happening in your country are not so bright, not so aspirational, people are still being killed in violent clashes in Egypt and not only in Egypt, they're also being killed in Libya, they're also being killed in Syria, in much greater numbers of course. What I would like to ask you is – why do you think the Arab societies were so ready to resort to violence and why do they still rely on violence to settle their political scores?
AM: Yeah, this is a major mistake they are committing. It is not a question of opposition. Had it been just opposition and wants to peacefully demonstrate and make their sit-ins and so on, it would have been a good performance and even more effective opposition but using violence makes it necessary on the government, on the state, to protect the interests of people, of students trying to study, of people trying to go from one place to another. This is a negative attitude of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, to introduce violence. The violence creates, breeds, violence. So, this violence is against democracy, is against stability, is against basic rights of the people.
OB:Let me remind you in all humbleness that it wasn't the Muslim Brotherhood that initially resorted to violence. I mean, that was a charge against the former president, Hosni Mubarak, and some of the military authorities that he relied on back in 2011. That was one of the main reasons why he stepped down, using violence against the protesters. So, you cannot only point the finger at the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems that violence in and of itself has become a default option for many political forces within the Egyptian society to rely on. And how, if it's indeed become such an entrenched pattern of using violence, how can you really move forward beyond that?
AM: Well, another long question and defence of one party. It is in our interests as Egyptians to bring all together. We are not preventing any group, including the Muslim Brotherhood, from getting under the aegis of the constitution. Of course, those who perpetrate violence could be from the rank and file of the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group but violence is a crime against the society, whoever is the perpetrator. The government has to be firm against all those perpetrators of violence. But you say that now there are still violations. Of course, the country is in a deep stress and in a state of revolution and a lot of confrontations. We are in a transitional period. I agree that there are certain things that have to be done or that should have been done or shouldn't have been done but this is the situation in the country – a country in a state of revolution, a country in a state of change, a country in a state of transition. So, all those things could happen.
OB:Mr Moussa, you just mentioned some of the challenges that Egypt faces right now – a tumbling economy, clashes - violent clashes, rising unemployment. Do you think that, would you agree, rather, that all those three tumultuous years that made life for ordinary Egyptians so difficult, so challenging – did those years make them appreciate the stability of Mubarak's era a bit more, or perhaps because of all those challenges that Egyptians have experienced in the past three years, maybe they have now a bit more sympathetic, a bit more positive view on what the previous or former Egyptian president tried to do in all his 30 years of being in power?
AM: Look, so many things happened in the past. So many negatives, and you can find also positives but now we are looking forward, looking to the future. We are not getting back to whatever era or whatever system or regime. We are the 21st century. We are moving according to the rules of the game, regionally, nationally, regionally and internationally and we don't have to, of course there are newspapers that are discussing issues like that but it is the direction of the majority of the people that we'll get a new president, we'll get a new government and we'll have to tackle the economic problems as soon as we can, once the president is elected in the next month or two months, I believe things will start to settle and the movement will be very straight.
OB:OK, Mr Moussa we have to take a short break now but when we come back – the events in Egypt inspired similar protest movements in Libya and Syria but each new uprising brought an ever increasing death toll. Was all that loss of life worth it? Well, that's coming up in a few moments on Worlds Apart.
OB:Welcome back to Worlds Apart where we are discussing the legacy of the Arab Spring with the former Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr Moussa. Mr Moussa, before we transition to other countries affected by the Arab Spring, let me ask you a question about the role of the military authorities in Egypt right now. Clearly, they have reasserted themselves as the protector of Egypt once again and I would argue that something like this would have been pretty unimaginable back in 2011, because back then that uprising was at least partially directed against the military rule as well. Doesn't that represent, to some extent, a betrayal of the ideals of that revolution? The fact that military has, once again, come to the fore of Egyptian politics.
AM: Now after the adoption of the Constitution and the decision to organise the presidential elections, within the timeframe stipulated by the Constitution, I believe that we are, we will be moving towards the normal kind of regime and government and presidency. So, and the army will certainly continue to perform its role, as any army would do, to protect the sovereignty of the country. As for the next elections, still we are waiting for the decision of Field Marshal Sisi to leave the army, to resign and to run for elections. Not as the, he's not going to run as commander-in-chief, he's going to run as a former officer in the army and will run in accordance with preconditions stipulated in the Constitution. So, we are not talking about the army governing, we are talking about democracy governing.
OB:Well, we are also talking about the army intervening in the political affairs and let me ask you a hypothetical question – what if the next elections bring to power, you know, some political force that the army doesn't like? Will they have to intervene again?
AM: It's not a question, the result will be controversial. The result will be clear. You elect Mr X or Mr Y and the results have to be respected. This is democracy and the people who respect the result of democracy whoever is elected. We will accept the result of elections. Those elections will be organised within the framework of transparency and the observers from abroad and from the population and from the region.
OB:But, will the winner of those elections allowed to serve full term without the army delivering any judgement on whether he or she has been efficient enough to serve the country, which is the case that you've been making against President Morsi, that his leadership wasn't efficient enough even though he was never allowed to serve until the end of his term?
AM: I'm sorry to tell you that you are assuming things or perhaps quoting certain sources trying to confuse the situation. Those are presidential elections followed by parliamentary elections. Once the president is elected, he is the president. He has to rule the country according to the authorities stipulated for him in the Constitution. The parliament will follow immediately. It will have the legislative power so the army has nothing to do with either post, neither president nor the parliament unless there are one officer or more that have resigned in order to join the civilian life. This is within no more than six months from last January. There will be a constitution, a president, a parliament and a government approved by the parliament, not only appointed by the president but has to be approved by the parliament. This is a full democratic operation. That's what we are looking forward to and I want you to know that, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain that it is not a question of the army as some Western newspapers continue to say 'the army, the army, the army'. I want you to say 'election, election, election'.
OB:Mr Moussa, I would like to switch gears a little bit and ask you not about your own country, but rather about your neighbour, Libya, which is about to celebrate the third anniversary of its own revolution of February 17 and you seem to believe quite strongly that Egypt is moving in the right direction, I wonder if you feel the same way about Libya? Because three years down the line Libya still lacks a democratically elected government, it still lacks a constitution, it's still a place where militia call the shots so is Libya..
AM: I also believe so.
OB:So you believe that Libya is moving towards democracy as well?
AM: Yes indeed, they are moving. This is, as I told you, this is a movement of change across the Arab World and this movement of change is not going to have a U-turn in order to get back to the era of Gaddafi or others. No. All countries, including Libya, is moving towards the future; however, there are setbacks, there are some slow pace in the change etc. but it is on the right track and in the right direction.
OB:But you know that change could be for better or for worse and I just wonder whether the changes that we are seeing in Libya or Syria indeed are indeed for the better because just a couple of weeks ago, five Egyptian diplomats were abducted form within the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli, in Libya. Something like that could have never happened under Gaddafi's regime, so at least on some levels, when it comes to law and order, life under Gaddafi was far more predictable. I wonder how can you talk about democracy when most political scores are being settled by militias who observe no law whatsoever?
AM: No, we are talking about constitution, about promoting normal situation. The era of Gaddafi is finished. Now our friends and brothers in Libya will have to rebuild their own life. So, how can they build their own life except in coordination with the rest of their neighbours and brotherly countries? To their east and their west, both countries, Egypt and Tunisia, has worked according to a map. They brought the constitution first the presidential elections second, the parliamentary elections third. So, both countries to the right and left are moving in that direction. I believe that Libya will take the same road, perhaps a tougher, more problems, but in the end I am sure that all those countries that are today in distress will get back to the normal road as Egypt and Tunisia are doing.
OB:Well, you seem to be quite an optimist. Let me ask you something different. In all these three countries that we mentioned so far – Libya, Egypt, Syria, you often hear claims that people's revolutions were hijacked either by extremists or outsiders and I guess there is some validity to that claim because a lot of outside players remain involved in the affairs of the Arab World. Russia, the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia - you name it. To what extent, in your view, does the success of the Arab Spring depend on the people in the region - on the Arabs, and to what extent it still depends on the big power brokers who are trying to pursue their own agenda?
AM: Well, this is the result of the effects of the absence of Egypt. Egypt, as the leader of the Arab world, had not been in the picture or in action for, at least, those three years plus. As you say and you are right in saying so, that the whole Middle East is subject to change and with the influence of foreign powers and I assure you that whatever the foreign powers decide concerning the Middle East will not be approved and will not be stabilised and will not stay unless the Arab people accept and Arab people approve and unless Egypt is in and saying yes or saying no. The influence of the outside powers is getting stronger now because of an absence of a major country like Egypt but I assure you, the area will not be decided by Iran or by Turkey or by Russia or by America or Europe in the absence of the real power in this region, which is the Arab world. We are the majority of the population and Egypt is the biggest one.
OB:Mr Moussa, you just mentioned the absence of Egypt on the political landscape, at least over the past three years or so, but there are at least two countries whose presence in politics has been increasing dramatically, and I'm talking here about Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both are Arab countries, both have very rigid and somewhat backward looking political systems and yet over the past three years those countries have become much stronger, much more assertive politically and I wonder, since we've talked so much about positive democratic change, a change for the better, what are the chances of genuine democratic change in the region where these two decidedly undemocratic regimes command so much power, so much money and so much authority?
AM: When I talk about change, change is not one system or one way. The change in Tunisia, in Egypt has its own style. Change in Yemen has another one. In Syria and Libya, unfortunately it's taking a very negative way but it will improve anyway, eventually it will improve. In other Arab countries, there are efforts to change. It could be peaceful and I hope it will be peaceful so this change, what I'm saying is that change is a process that will take place across the board in the Arab World and the Middle East, but change to the better, looking to the future, linking up with the 21st century is a must. There is no difference here between Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Qatar or Emirates or Morocco.
OB:Mr Moussa, we have only one minute left and let me clarify my question – I wasn't asking you about the change within Saudi Arabia or the change within Qatar. I was asking you about efforts that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have applied to change other countries, to change Syria. You know better than I do that Saudi Arabia finances a lot of insurgency, let's call it that way, insurgency activity in Syria, some would call it terrorism. Saudi Arabia also has interests in Egypt. Saudi Arabia also has interests in Libya and unfortunately they have a lot of money, a lot of power to implement their vision for those countries so they're not giving really the people of Syria, the people of Egypt their own choice. They're trying to implement their own agenda.
AM: Why do you say 'unfortunately they have a lot of money'? Why do you see a lot of money as a misfortune? This is a fortune, and Saudi Arabia and Emirates and other Gulf countries are, in fact, taking a lot of steps to help the Arab World in the development of, in the investment and so on. So I don't see, I don't share your view that, you say 'unfortunately Saudi Arabia has a lot of money', I say fortunately Saudi Arabia has a lot of money.
OB:So do you think the Saudi influence in Syria is positive?
AM: The help or the aid offered by Saudi Arabia to Egypt is certainly positive.
OB:But what about the help and the aid offered by Saudi Arabia to Syria and here I mean specifically financing of arms, you know, training or sending people to fight in Syria. Do you feel that that is a positive development?
AM: Look? If you want to talk about Syria, well, we'll talk about the role of the United States, the role of Russia, the Arab role, the Iranian role and so on. So I am sorry, if you want to open the file of Syria, let us open it and talk about the roles of all those involved.
OB:Well, that's probably an idea for another program. Mr Moussa, unfortunately, this is all we have time for. I appreciate your perspective and to our viewers if you like the show please join us again, same place, same time, here on Worlds Apart.