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Interview with Egypt's Acting Foreign Minister; How Does Egypt Move Forward?
Aired July 9, 2013 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.
In Cairo tonight, again, there are large demonstrations, thousands of people are taking to the streets separately protesting and celebrating the removal of President Morsy. And in a moment, I'll have an exclusive interview with the caretaker foreign minister, outlining a swift timetable for a return to civilian rule.
Mohammed Kamel Amr tells me there will be new presidential elections six or seven months from now and before that the constitution, he says, will have been amended and put to a referendum and parliamentary elections will have taken place.
And late today, official confirmation that a new interim prime minister has now been appointed. He's Hazem el-Beblawi, a prominent economist who supported the 2011 revolution against then-President Hosni Mubarak.
The military-backed acting current president, Adly Mansour, is under pressure to form as inclusive a government as possible. After yesterday's violent clashes with supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsy, which left more than 50 people dead.
And as for the stated goal of national reconciliation, the Muslim Brotherhood accuses Mansour and the military of, quote, "stealing the revolution," calling for supporters to rise up in protest.
Now with the future of Egypt in the balance, the United States is watching closely, still standing by its 1.5 billion-dollar annual aid to Egypt, but keen to see a return to democratic rule.
So now to Mohammed Kamel Amr, who resigned as Morsy's foreign minister during the massive protests against him, but who's agreed to stay on as caretaker foreign minister.
He's tasked with navigating the mine field of Egypt's post-Morsy relationship with the United States and other world capitals. And this is the first time a post-Morsy government official has spoken to the international media.
AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for joining me from Cairo.
MOHAMMED KAMEL AMR, ACTING EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: OK, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the Muslim Brotherhood. You know, obviously, President Morsy was deposed. He is we don't know where. Maybe you can tell me where he is, but he is under some kind of detention, arrest. You can describe for me exactly where he is.
Plus, Muslim Brotherhood individuals are being rounded up and arrested. Plus, Muslim Brotherhood businesses are being targeted.
How do you expect, then, to come into the process?
What are you doing to make that easier for them?
AMR: Christiane, you have to understand that there are lots of rumors swirling around here and in Egypt. And many of the things that are portrayed as facts are not -- turned out not to be facts. We heard about - -
AMANPOUR: So is Mr. Morsy free?
AMR: -- you see some of the leaders.
Mr. Morsy, I understand he is, you see, treated very well. He is -- I mean he's not free to go around, but he's treated very well. And you understand that this is also for his own safety.
AMANPOUR: Where is he?
AMR: We are going through a very turbulent time. No, I really can't -- I can't tell you, because I don't know exactly where is he. But what I know that he's being treated very well.
AMANPOUR: Well, here's the thing, the bigger question is how you expect his party to be part of this process?
AMR: I think the party -- if you look at the general situation, when you have tens of millions -- and I'm not exaggerating -- tens of millions of Egyptians who want to move in a direction, I think that the thing to do is to listen to them and to try and join and to try to affect things from within, not from with -- not from without.
AMANPOUR: Well, within is inside Egypt.
I guess my question is, are you going to end up with a secularist group of liberals, technocrats, the secular, young people and others, who we've seen on the street pitted against the country's Islamists?
Is that what is going to happen?
AMR: No, I won't -- I myself want to end up with a government that represents every shade of the society.
Being a secularist, being a people with a religious point of view, this is Egypt and it has to be reflected in any real government, because this is the problem we had before, actually, that many people felt excluded from the political life, felt excluded from the decision-making process. We don't want to repeat that.
AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, do you admit that the violence that happened over the last 24 hours has really changed the character of what you're going through right now?
And are you urging the military and the security forces to do everything that they can not to respond with fire, live fire into crowds?
AMR: Yes. Violence is not acceptable in any circumstances. And I think we have made this very clear. We want peaceful demonstrations. Peaceful demonstrations are welcomed. They are actually being protected.
But what happened over the past, I mean, few hours, or over the past 24 hours, actually, is not as being portrayed as, you see, act of aggression against peaceful, against peaceful demonstrators. I don't believe that the military, the military personnel opened fire on our -- on peaceful demonstrators.
If you look a very objective -- a very objective, you see a view of what happened, you'll see that there were soldiers who were entrusted to protect a very vital military installation. These are not crowd control soldiers. These are soldiers that you see are entrusted with a military -- with a military duty.
AMANPOUR: Is that where --
AMR: And if you want to --
AMANPOUR: -- President Morsy is?
AMR: -- as you -- I really don't know.
But this was a military installation and there a sensitive one and everybody knows that.
And, actually, there were some attempts over the past 48 hours to intimidate those soldiers and it was on live television, actually. Their commanders were very patient. They were very friendly towards protesters.
They asked them to -- just to pull back a bit and they ordered the soldiers to point their weapons to the sky and they said -- and I am quoting -- "Don't ever point your weapons at demonstrators."
AMANPOUR: Well, sir, so my question to you is --
AMR: But apparently what happened --
AMANPOUR: -- yes, my question to you is I know there is a conflicting narrative, but clearly the military fired into the crowd.
So do they need -- do they need to be told not to be so quick with using live fire, particularly at this time of maximum political crisis in your country?
AMR: Definitely, everyone has to be cautious.
But you see, as you know, I mean it is a -- it is easy to judge from - - you see from afar. But when you are in -- at the heat of the moment, when there are thousands who are trying to storm, you see the buildings you are protecting, then I think things can sometimes happen, I mean regrettable things.
The loss of one life is one life too many. The loss of 10 lives is too much, whatever -- I mean, the persuasion of their -- of their political entity.
But as I said, if you are faced with the -- with some -- with crowds who are being incited to storm a building and you have people who are entrusted by -- to defend this building, these regrettable things would happen.
AMANPOUR: What are you saying to your counterparts in the United States?
You've been talking to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Did they give you -- did they know that this military move was coming?
What is it that they're telling you right now?
And, of course, you do know that there is a big argument, politically, in the halls of Congress about what should be done. Some very senior senators, Senator McCain, is calling for the billions of dollars of aid to your military to be cut off, although President Obama and Israel, apparently, does not want that to happen right now.
What is the U.S. saying to you?
AMR: I think the U.S. is saying to us what everybody is saying and what we are, ourselves, want to do. We want to move ahead with an inclusive political process. And nobody would be excluded. We should move very quickly within a very clear time frame.
And, actually, this is what happened yesterday, when we have this constitution, a declaration, which has set the steps that going forward in very definite time frame. Between now and having a presidential election, there is a maximum of six to seven months. It is very clear. And I think this is where everybody wants to see Egypt going.
AMANPOUR: OK, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for joining me.
AMR: Thank you very much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Tomorrow, of course, we plan to bring you the view from the Muslim Brotherhood. Will they eventually accept the outstretched hand the foreign minister says he's extending?
Or will they continue to call for an uprising?
And is there any hope of bringing Egypt's largest Islamic party back into the democratic fold?
Meanwhile, Egypt's drama of democracy on the edge is spilling over into other capitals throughout the Muslim world on Monday, Islamists took to the streets in Istanbul, Turkey, in support of Egypt's ex-President Mohammed Morsy. And there was a similar pro-Morsy rally the day before in Pakistan, although in Syria and Saudi Arabia, they're cheering his downfall.
After a break, the challenge of convincing Islamists from Karachi to Khartoum that democracy is still, in Abraham Lincoln's words, the last best hope for them and for the region, when we come back.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And tonight, almost one week since the removal of President Morsy we are again seeing massive demonstrations in Cairo, both protesting and celebrating his ouster.
And while Egyptians take to the streets, Egypt's new interim prime minister has just been announced. He is economist Hazem el-Beblawi. The acting military-backed president, as we say, is under pressure after more than 50 people were killed in clashes yesterday, most of the dead were Morsy supporters.
So what is the fate of democracy in Egypt and, indeed, around the Arab Spring world right now? Joining me are Mona Makramebeid, a former senator in Egypt's parliament, who resigned in protest at Morsy's presidency and Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, who has the broader view. He joins me by phone from Doha.
Welcome to you both. And first to you, Professor Makramebeid. You just heard the caretaker foreign minister tell me that what he wants more than anything is inclusive government, inclusive politics moving forward.
How likely is that today?
PROF. MONA MAKRAMEBEID, FORMER MEMBER, EGYPTIAN PARLIAMENT: Today it is up to the political and civilian forces today to take up their responsibility. It's not the responsibility of the military. It is them who must help define the road map and the path to a more democratic and pluralistic Egypt, based on what the Egyptians want really, their principles, citizenship, constitutionalism --
AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) but how difficult is it going to be after all - - ?
MAKRAMEBEID: It's going to be difficult. Nobody says it's going to be an easy task.
AMANPOUR: Right. But how do you get the Muslim Brotherhood into the process now?
MAKRAMEBEID: Well, it's going to take time but you have to send positive messages. I think the opposition needs to stop any further incitement on demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and strive instead for reconciliation because, after all, they have worked together to bring down the old Mubarak regime and they must find a way to coexist in a new and reconciled Egypt.
AMANPOUR: OK --
MAKRAMEBEID: -- where it comes.
AMANPOUR: All right. And I'm going to turn to Shadi Hamid, because obviously what you're saying is everybody's wish list, in a perfect world, that is what everybody would want.
Shadi Hamid, is that possible? Is the Muslim Brotherhood amenable, do you think, eventually to some kind of outreach to come back into politics? Or are we going to see the bad old days of the Brotherhood pitted against the government of the time and then being more of a --
AMANPOUR: I'm just going to ask Shadi. Mona, hold on a second.
SHADI HAMID: Yes, this is a problem with military coups. If they lead to a crisis of legitimacy, you have one part of the country that considers Mansour the new president and other parts still considers Morsy the legitimate president.
But without election, without an organized political process, there's no real way to resolve that fundamental crisis. And Brotherhood members now are on the streets, saying they won't give up their claim of legitimacy. So it's very difficult to see a way out.
Then Mona talks about positive messages, and how important they are, killing dozens of unarmed protesters is not a positive message. And that's what happened yesterday when the military opened fire on Morsy supporters.
And once you have what the Brotherhood calls martyrs, I mean, it becomes very difficult to stand down from that for them. You know, after such loss of life. So I think before yesterday, before those events, we could have been maybe a little bit more optimistic. But now it's difficult to see a way forward.
And not only that, you've had hundreds of arrest warrants issued for Brotherhood members. Their businesses are being scrutinized, Islamist TV channels being shut down. So this is not inclusive so far. It's only been a couple days. So it's not a positive sign.
AMANPOUR: Right. And as we see these incredible crowds, both Mona and you are looking at them on live television, incredible crowds still pro- and anti- all that's happened, still in the streets of Cairo, you mentioned, you know, part of the country now against Morsy; part of it for Morsy.
Where do you think the Muslim Brotherhood is going to end up? Is it going to go back to, as I said, the bad old days when they are excluded from the political process and they are a protest movement?
HAMID: Well, that's why the focus, not just the part of Egyptian government but the international community is to push the military to make (inaudible) gesture to the Muslim Brotherhood, to give them rock-solid guarantees so they feel they have a place in this new political process, because what they're saying is why should we join the process when we won't be allowed to fully participate or they won't be allowed to win elections?
I mean, let's say hypothetically, the Brotherhood's political party wins a plurality in the parliamentary elections. Would they be allowed to appoint a prime minister? Or would an Islamist president be allowed to govern Egypt again after the previous one was deposed?
So there's a real question there, are Islamists allowed to win and govern through the democratic process? And based on what we saw a few days ago, one of -- my answer seems to be no.
AMANPOUR: All right.
HAMID: That an Islamist president came to power and was deposed through a military coup.
AMANPOUR: All right. Let me put this to Mona.
Mona, do you see -- and you heard your caretaker foreign minister saying we want the Islamists in the system? Will an Islamist be able to win again? Can you imagine a situation? I mean, let's say they come back into the process where the Muslim Brotherhood contests the upcoming elections, which I've just been told will happen in 6-7 months? Is there that possibility?
MAKRAMEBEID: Why not? I mean, but the Muslim Brothers must realize that if they come back, they must come back as a political party. They will contest elections as a political party and not as a religious party, not have clerics impose on them and on us their way of life or their vision of a new Egypt.
So if they contest the elections, why not? If -- and let the best man win. First of all, I hope they can gain back some of their -- some of their popularity because their popularity is down completely, even before the 30th of June.
And but I believe that these two years have served as a lesson for everyone, whether it's the government, whether there's the U.S., the army, the youth, the opposition parties, everybody has made mistakes. And today they must face the truth and they must see where they have gone astray.
Today the objective must be a constitution, a focus on citizenship and on sovereignty. And of course, solve the socioeconomic problems because people in the street don't care about the constitution. They care about having a better life and that's what the revolution promised them. And that's what nobody was able to fulfill, neither the president nor the opposition parties.
So we are today, we are faced with enormous challenges to build a new Egypt. But, Christiane, you must admire the sustainability and the courage of Egyptians to go forward and to risk so much for a new democratic, civic country.
AMANPOUR: Well, what I want to ask you, though, is you know, there have been a lot of popularly backed military interventions in history and none of them have gone well at all. In fact, quite the opposite, whether it's in Latin America or in Pakistan or, indeed, potentially in Egypt.
Is there not a twinge of worry that you have that the military is in control in your country right now?
MAKRAMEBEID: No. First of all, the military in our country is totally different. I have been -- I have been an adviser to the SCAF for eight or nine months, for the time they were there. I know General Sisi from being there, not personally. He is younger; he is not like the old tellers (ph) who were there. He's much more open to the West.
And he's much more in tune with what the demands of the people, as you can see, his first gesture was to show that this is representative of the people. He got the Sheikh el-Azar (ph) a rised (ph) institution.
He got the pope, a highly respected figure in Egypt, by both Muslims and Christians. He got Dr. ElBaradei, who was elected by the youth and he got people from the north part (ph), whom I know very well.
So I mean, it's already -- I mean, a message and a strong message.
Second, he did not take time to have a civilian government, to have the representative of the highest constitutional court be the head of the party -- of the country as an interim president.
AMANPOUR: All right, Mona.
Let me ask you, Shadi, you get the last word. As people are watching around the Arab Spring world, I said Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Syria is gloating all over this; others are really disappointed by what's happened.
What is the message about what happened in Egypt to Islamists, in politics, around your region?
HAMID: Well, it's a bad message. I mean, Morsy was incredibly disappointing as a president. No one can doubt that. But that doesn't justify a military coup against the first elected leader after a revolution. And what precedent does that set?
And the question going forward is whenever there's an unpopular president, the military can step in and either depose that person or put pressure on them to intervene in the political process.
Suddenly the real concern here that people are going to look at the Egyptian case and say, there might be a little bit of democracy but within constraints and the military is allowed to intervene whenever it wants. And what if that's replicated in other countries that are looking to Egypt right now?
And as you pointed out, coups don't have a good history. They lead to civil strife. And we're seeing that now.
And you know, I think it's worth emphasizing too that there's always the risk that radical Islamists, those who are more prone to using violence, are going to use this to their advantage and make the case to ordinary frustrated Arabs that democracy doesn't work, that violence is the only way.
So I think we have to look broader at the implications here. And in my view, they're very concerning.
AMANPOUR: We will keep watching.
To Mona Makramebeid and Shadi Hamid, thank you so much for joining me.
And after a break, Muslims throughout the world are also now observing Ramadan. They do that by fasting from dawn to dusk.
But how do you fast when you're already on a hunger strike? God and man at Guantanamo when we come back.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where religious deference means being force-fed only at night. The month of Ramadan has just started and Muslims everywhere observe it by fasting from sunrise to sunset.
And what of the more than 100 detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay Prison, as we've been reporting for months on this program? The U.S. has been force-feeding them twice a day.
But in deference to their Muslim faith, the Pentagon now says that they will only be force-fed at night. It's a painful process. They're strapped to a chair, a feeding tube is inserted into their nose for up to two hours.
And the acclaimed American rapper, Yasiin Bey, who's better known as Mos Def, recently volunteered to show just what force-feeding looks and feels like. Fair warning: this is not an act. It is graphic and it is real.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOS DEF, RAPPER: No, please, stop, stop, stop.
Stop, stop, stop it, please. Stop!
(Inaudible) me, please stop. I can't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Excruciating and humiliating and yet Mos Def, of course, could stop and walk away. For the detainees being held indefinitely without charge or trial, there's no walking away from Guantanamo right now.
And although President Obama has renewed his call to close it down, there is a painful irony to his Ramadan message this year, quote, "I wish Muslims across America and around the world a month blessed with the joys of family, peace and understanding."
That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, amanpour.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.