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Rejecting al Qaeda; How Will Egypt be Changed?

Aired May 9, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. This time yesterday I was talking to you about that potential Al Qaeda terrorist attack, that bombmaking cell that was infiltrated.

But today we're focusing on the vast majority of young Muslims around the Arab world who have rejected Al Qaeda's ideology. They've brought down their leaders with peaceful protests and they are now on the brink of democracy.

Just two weeks from now Egyptians will do something that they've never done before, and that is vote in a real democratic election with real choices for president. There's been trials and violence, chaos and hope on the road to this moment.

And in my brief tonight, what kind of Egypt will we see emerge? What will the role of Islam be? The world has been watching and what we've seen so far is often troubling. Those impressive and massive demonstrations of the uprising a year ago have descended in recent days into violent clashes between Islamists and the military.

But still, optimism rules right now, according to the latest Pew poll, a majority of Egyptians hope for a democratic outcome. For the first time in Egypt, no one knows who will be their next president. But right now, these men are the top candidates.

Amr Mussa is the secular former Egyptian foreign minister who once led the Arab League.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh left the Muslim Brotherhood in order to run for president. He's considered moderate and has the support of many liberals, but also the ultraconservative Salafi. We hope to be speaking to them in the coming days.

But the third candidate is my guest tonight. He is Mohamed Morsi, the American-educated engineer who's head of the Freedom and Justice Party. That's the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political movement and right now controls half of Parliament.

The big questions for Egypt and a watching world is how Islamic will the new democracy be? I sat down to talk about all of this with Mohamed Morsi in a conversation that moved between English and Arabic.


AMANPOUR: Professor Morsi, thank you for joining us.

PROFESSOR MOHAMMED MORSI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (via translator): Thank you very much. Welcome to you.

AMANPOUR: The slogan has come back again, and there are people who are concerned that a Muslim Brotherhood, which wins the presidency, and dominates the parliament, could introduce a fundamentalist theocracy, an Islamic theocracy. What do you say to that?

MORSI: The Egyptian people are freely making their choice now, and they are the ones who chose the parliament. We are talking about elections and democracy. If the Egyptian people have chosen their leaders, then there won't be any room for worry.

We want to transform from a president of the institution to an institution of the presidency, to an executive branch that represents the people's true will and implements their public interests.

AMANPOUR: If you were president, do you see Egypt as more like Turkey, an Islamic democracy, or more like Iran, which is more fundamentalist and autocratic?

MORSI: There is no such thing called an Islamic democracy. There is democracy only. And democracy is the instrument that is present now. The people are the source of authority. The social mindset is there are a people and the people chooses. That's democracy. And that agrees with consultation called for Islam.

With that, we are eager for freedom. We are eager for justice, social justice and a democratic constitutional state. We see Egypt as a democratic country. The Egyptian people are free and the people's will should be implemented.

AMANPOUR: What about the role of women? Can a woman under a Muslim Brotherhood presidency, once the constitution is written, do you agree with a woman running for president?

MORSI: I see it being called the presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is the presidency of Egypt. The president of Egypt in the next period will be chosen and elected by Egyptians. So if they pick the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, he will represent all Egyptians.

And in that case, the presidency in Egypt will be a constitutional presidency. He will follow the law and the constitution that applies to all. The role of women in Egyptian society is clear. Women's rights are equal to men. Women have complete rights just like men. There shouldn't be any kind of distinction between Egyptians except that that is based on the constitution and the law.

AMANPOUR: Can you guarantee to the women of Egypt that if you were to be president that the law that currently exists that makes it a criminal offense to sexually abuse women will not be overturned, will not be struck down?

MORSI: Rights will be based on the constitution. So all Egyptians, whether Muslims or Christians, men or women, everyone and all will agree to it and will themselves call for it in the constitution.

And that means there is no need for worry at all over any kind of abusive power. It will impossible to allow these kinds of abuse in the shadow of a constitutional state, a lawful state, a state that protects the dignity of a person. There is no room for any abuse of any kind of Egyptians, or even those who reside in the land of Egypt who aren't Egyptians.

They are all my sisters, my daughters, my wife and my mother. They are all Egyptians. There is no differences whatsoever among the people in Egypt, the people of Egypt. There is not anything like belief of the sex or whatever you call or you name. All Egyptians are equal in front of the constitution.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to foreign policy. Of course, Egypt is one of the countries, one of the few countries in your region that has a peace treaty with Israel, the Camp David Accords of 1979.

Now the Muslim Brotherhood has said that they would stand. But you've also said that you might put that to a referendum if you win the presidency.

Will you guarantee that you will not put that existing treaty to a referendum?

MORSI: Egypt is a great country, proud and ancient and is a member of the United Nations. Egypt ,the institution, the state, in its new regime, respects all the treaties and agreements that have been implemented between it and the between the states of the world. With that, we confirm that we respect all the treaties that we have signed onto before the Egyptians.

At the same time, we say that what the Israelis have done in terms of violations in the past must be taken into account by the new Egypt, an Egypt with a message of peace.

We have come to the world with a message of peace, but we cannot permit any form of aggression upon us, whether in words or in deed. It's now time for the Israelis to know that the peace accord must be respected by both sides, and no parties to it should violate it. We want balanced international relations with all states of the world.

We continue to protect the accords we have made with all. At the same time, we are able as Egyptians with an elected president to protect our border and to defend ourselves. And we won't allow anyone to threaten that border. Whoever wants to live in peace and follow those treaties must show his sincerity.


AMANPOUR: And in Israel, meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone into a coalition with the Kadima party, and there's talks about trying to restart talks with the Palestinians. But among the Palestinians, a growing impatience with the process has sparked a different form of resistance. Gandhi on the River Jordan? When we come back, stay with us.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We have some breaking news that we want to tell you before we get to our interview in Ramallah on the West Bank.

In a recent interview just conducted with ABC News, President Obama has said that he's changing his stance when it comes to same-sex marriage, and that in fact as of now he supports same-sex marriage.

Previously he had said he supports all right for everybody, whether gay, straight or any other kind of people. Now he is saying that he supports same-sex marriage. That is a change in President Obama's position on this issue.

And as you know, so many in the gay community around the United States have been lobbying for that. We sit here in New York State, one of the first to approve same-sex marriage.

But let's get back to a different kind of activism, and that is amongst the Israelis and the Palestinians.

There is a belief among some in the Middle East that had the Palestinians been led by Gandhi rather than Yasser Arafat, they would have had a state 20 years ago. In other words, if Palestinians had used non- violent resistance, that would do so much more than sticks and stones to demonstrate the morality, the legitimacy of their cause.

In fact, right now, though, an organized nonviolent movement is growing amongst Palestinians and Israelis alike. But Israeli soldiers don't always know how to respond. Here's video of one officer breaking up a bicycle protest. That's right, a protest of people on bicycles near Jericho on the West Banks. It's graphic footage, so be prepared.

You can see this officer had rammed his rifle butt into the face of one of those protesters, and he was duly disciplined when these pictures went viral.

Meanwhile, two Palestinian men, who the Israelis say are members of Islamic jihad, have been on hunger strike for more than 70 days, pushing the limit of human survival. The men have been held without charge for 22 months. And more than 1,600 other Palestinian prisoners have now joined their hunger strike in solidarity.

What will happen if one or both of those die? Many fear it could turn into another flash point in that region. And my guests tonight are both organizers and activists for Palestinian rights, Abir Kopty is an Israeli Arab who now lives in Ramallah on the West Bank. And Jonathan Pollack is an Israeli Jew, who last year served three months in jail for his protest activities. As I say, they join me now from Ramallah.

Thank you so much, both of you, for being there and for talking to us about your new kind of protest. Firstly, Abir, let me ask you. Why are you doing this? What do you hope is going to be the result?

ABIR KOPTY, MEDIA COORDINATOR, POPULAR STRUGGLE COORDINATION COMMITTEE: Well, I am like any other Palestinian. I am a Palestinian activist like any other Palestinian who wants to resist the Israeli oppression, whether it's against Palestinians inside Israel or against the Palestinians living under occupation or Palestinians as a whole and their refuge is (inaudible).

So like we've been fighting this fight for many, many years. The (inaudible) resistance is not something new. It actually goes back to the early stage of the Israeli establishment of the state.

We have been using a lot of tactics and strategies to resist the occupation and to resist the occupation, whether it's through boycott, marches, rallies, protests, (inaudible) civil actions. And we will keep doing this because we want our freedom and we want justice to our people.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask Jonathan, you have joined -- and presumably other Israeli Jews have also joined. What do you hope -- and why have you gone across into Ramallah, on the West Bank, to join this activism?

JONATHAN POLLACK, ISRAELI ACTIVIST: Well, first, unfortunately, there are very few Israelis who (inaudible). There are very few of us who do it. I think we do it because we believe that it's the -- that it's the least we can do, the least we have to do.

When these crimes are being perpetrated on our behalf, in our name, whether we agree with the (inaudible) forces or not. I think that the least that Israelis could do is get out, get up from the sofa and join (inaudible) resistance on the ground, trying to create a just reality for all people in this region.


POLLACK: This is --

AMANPOUR: -- and yet both of you --

POLLACK: -- this is what we're trying to do. Yes.

AMANPOUR: Both of you have talked about the Palestinian people in general and the Israeli people in general. And I mean, every poll always shows that the majority believe in peace and believe now in the two-state solution. But you've talked about an kind of an apathy. I wonder if you can describe for me, both of you, the kind of apathy amongst your people right now, Abir.

KOPTY: Well, I think the apathy, actually, is a result of circumstances that are created on the ground. I think people (inaudible) in the peace process, the so-called peace process, because all over the years, for 20 years, people are losing more land, more (inaudible) are imposed on the ground. The wall is still under construction.

As the militia continues deporting and displacing of people continues. So and people kind of live under frustration because they have tried different tactics and strategies of resistance and nothing is happening because the world is watching, actually.

And actually, our like resistance now on the ground is happening because, you know, we don't have arms. This is the only way we can resist the occupation. And we have the right to resist the occupation.

AMANPOUR: But do you think --

KOPTY: -- and (inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: -- this is going to work? Do you think it will work?

KOPTY: -- for many years, all --

Well, it will work when also different people from around the world, especially foreigners, have been preaching to us about non-violent, like peaceful resistance and we are -- when we are doing it for many, many years, we are not getting the support, especially when in light of the fact that Israel is oppressing it with brutal means and fully on the soldiers.

And we are not getting the support of the different people, the same people who have been telling us, lecturing us about peaceful resistance. And I -- actually, it's not going to happen until the world holds Israel accountable for all its violations of human rights and international law.

AMANPOUR: You once --

KOPTY: (Inaudible) opposition of the Palestinian people.

AMANPOUR: You've also criticized your own leadership --

KOPTY: (Inaudible) now, there are --

Well, yes, I think there is a huge gap between the aspiration of the people on the ground and the aspiration and the vision and the strategies conducted by our leaders. I think our cause and fight is not for (inaudible) in political solution, it's for our life, the life as a whole, as a Palestinian people. We seek freedom, justice, dignity.

And that's, I think, aspiration of many people around the world. This is what we seek. We seek rights. And we seek liberation. It's not about a political solution so there is frustration on the ground and there is different aspirations. And there is a huge gap with our leadership who have no vision. So (inaudible) liberation movement.

AMANPOUR: And Jonathan, your leadership, there is talk, as I mentioned, with the new coalition government of trying to see where it might be possible to restart these talks that are dormant right now. Do you have hope that there will be a solution that will lead to a two-state solution?

POLLACK: Well, I think the question is not whether talks are resumed or talks are postponed, if there's an impact in negotiation or not. If we look at the past 20 years, the negotiations have only been used to perpetuate the occupation. So it is not a question of whether this government is willing to resume negotiations with Palestinians or not.

And if you ask me, it's not even a question of two-state solution, whether there is going to be a two-state solution or not. The question is whether the Israeli government is going to be willing to lose its control over the Palestinian people and over the Palestinian territories and to grant the Palestinian people the equality and the rights that it deserves.

AMANPOUR: I wonder -- I wonder when you --

POLLACK: And I think that begins --

AMANPOUR: Sorry, I wonder when you look around and we've just been --

POLLACK: I think that begins with --

AMANPOUR: Sorry. When you look around and you see the uprisings that have happened in the countries around you, Jonathan, in Egypt and all the other countries in that region, do you look at that as a hopeful sign for Israel? Or do you fear that?

POLLACK: I think that every liberation struggle is a hopeful sign for every person in the world. And I think that we have to remember that the Palestinians have been living in an uprising for the good part of at least 30 years now.

So, yes, I think the Arab revolutions are definitely a good sign. And I think it has to be understood that the reason for which we're -- Israelis who fight together with Palestinians for justice are such a small minority, if the Israel Republic is completely apathetic, Palestinians (inaudible) do not exist for most Israelis, because of the successful policy of separation that Israel employs, because in fact Israel and Israelis are still benefit from the occupation, and I'm about to break the great Israeli law on air now, but because we are forbidden to call for boycotts, (inaudible) sanctions, but I think the only way that the Israeli government and the Israeli republic are going to be convinced to move in the direction of justice and of liberation of the Palestinian people, is if the international community and the international civil society forces Israel to do so. And one of the best ways to do that and that worked very well in South Africa, is the investment (ph) and boycott and sanctions of Israel and the Israeli economy.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you --

POLLACK: As an Israeli citizen, I will obviously be hurt by that. But I think it's a needed step. It's a required step for anything to happen in this region.

AMANPOUR: Abir, from your perspective, what actual actions are you and your fellow activists conducting? What does this non-violent or this unarmed resistance look like?

KOPTY: Well, let me first start with the prisoners' hunger strike, because I think the prisoners' hunger strike, where more than 2,000 prisoners have been on hunger strike since 23 days, and there are eight prisoners have been on hunger strike for longer period.

Two of them are actually very close to death, Tha'er and Bilal, and actually this hunger strike and this way or means of resistance is actually part of the larger Palestinian resistance happening on the ground. We use different tactics, including boycott, sanctions and divestments (ph) against Israel, so hold Israel actually accountable and put the pressure on Israel so the oppression of the Palestinian people. But we also have rallies every week actually in different villages. People are going, taking to the streets every week to resist the occupation.

And they are unarmed people, civilians, oppressed (inaudible) in a very brutal way by the Israeli Army. They use bullets, rubber bullets, tear gas and different means of oppression.

And you know, we've been like told for many years we should use unarmed resistance and peaceful resistance. But whenever there is oppressing and crushing actually this kind of resistance, I think the minimum we expect from the world is really to hold Israel accountable for this oppression.

AMANPOUR: One of the things -- again, I put the question to Jonathan in a slightly different way about the Arab uprisings, you know, many people have obviously asked, well, hang on. Why isn't that happening inside the Palestinian territories? Why not? I mean, is it a very -- are you using social media? Is the Twitter and Facebook motivator not the same? What is the difference?

KOPTY: Yes. Well, I think because it's a different context. That -- the first I would say, it's a different context. You know, Palestinian people are divided -- are separated actually. Half of our people are outside, actually , in Palestine. They live in Israel and Diaspora. We are also, you know, separated, Gaza and West Bank and (inaudible) totally isolated from the Palestinian population.

So I think also we live -- we have to take into consideration that we live in a different context and ,you know, we have to take in consideration the history of the Palestinian people. You know, for decades the Palestinians used to be -- to inspire the Arab world, not the opposite.

And now we are inspired of our fellow Arabs who are taking to the streets and demanding their rights. I think they are inspiring us. They are giving back the hope that their power is actually in the hands of the people. And we will continue our resistance. And I think they gave us a lot of power and hope.


KOPTY: Now to the -- to your question about social media, Palestinians actually are using a lot of social media. But actually, you know, we don't believe that the Arab Spring part because of social media. I think social media is one tool. And we are aware of this. It is a tool to bring our voice to the world because we are isolated.


KOPTY: A tool to, you know, coordinate and communicate as Palestinians, but it's not a tool to mobilize people to the streets. I think the revolution will happen when people move from the online to the offline actually action on the ground. That's the only way we can liberate ourself.

AMANPOUR: Abir and Jonathan, thank you so much for coming into the studio in Ramallah. Thank you for talking to us this evening.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, more on our breaking story, U.S. President Barack Obama affirms that he supports same-sex marriage, when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Returning now to our breaking news, U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a sharp policy reversal. He now says that he does support same-sex marriage. This change comes amid growing pressure from his own Democratic Party.

Despite Obama's opposition, Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan had announced earlier their support for same-sex marriage. In an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama talked about what had influenced his decision now.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the course of several years, as I talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff, who are incredibly committed in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage; at a certain point, I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.


AMANPOUR: And, of course, there will be much more on this story coming up on CNN International.

That is it for us tonight. Thank you for joining us. You can always follow on All of our shows are posted online. I'm Christiane Amanpour, good night.