Amr Moussa: An interview with the Arab League secretary-general and would-be president of Egypt.

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May 9 2011 8:02 PM

"Being a Terrorist Is Not a Stigma Forever"

An interview with Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League and would-be president of Egypt.

Amr Moussa. Click image to expand.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa

Last weekend, Amr Moussa, the longtime secretary-general of the Arab League, spoke in Cairo with Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth about his intention to seek the Egyptian presidency. L.W.: The United States has shared a strategic vision with Egypt. Is that going to continue?
A.M.: It depends on the strategic vision. In a time of major change, strategy should be revisited. Old angles should be reviewed. In as much as the relations between Egypt and the U.S. should continue to be solid, the changes in the Arab world should be taken into consideration. L.W.: What does that mean?
A.M.: On the positive side [the countries will continue] with cooperation, with understanding, with consultations. But bear in mind that democracy is emerging. It will not be a matter of a telephone call to one person that will give the answer: yes or no. L.W.: Officials in Washington are concerned about the change in Egypt's relationship with Iran.
A.M.: Iran is not the natural enemy of Arabs, and it shouldn't be. We have a lot to gain by peaceful relations—or less tense relations—with Iran. L.W.: The United States is focused on the nuclear issue.
A.M.: The nuclear issue in the Middle East means Israel and then Iran. L.W.: If you become president, would you keep the [peace] treaty with Israel?
A.M.: The treaty is a treaty. For us, the treaty has been signed, and it is for peace, but it depends also on the other side. …

If you asked me what kind of relations between the Arab world and Israel I would like, I would say that the Arab position—of which Egypt is a party—rests on the Arab initiative of 2002.

L.W.: Are you worried how well the secular groups here in Egypt are going to do in the upcoming parliamentary election?

A.M.: Presidential elections should have preceded the parliamentary elections, and a new civilian president should have been elected in order for him to preside over and lead the work to draft a new constitution and establish the framework of a new republic.

Then should come the parliamentary elections.

L.W.: It was the Supreme Military Council that decided to have the parliamentary elections first?

A.M.: It was the amendments to the constitution, which were approved [in a referendum] by the majority, over those who opposed it, like myself. I firmly believe that presidential elections should precede parliamentary elections.

L.W.: What does the military council say?

A.M.: Until now it is [planning] the parliamentary elections, but I believe we have enough time to perhaps reconsider.

L.W.: So the Supreme Military Council might reconsider [the election schedule]?

A.M.: Yes, the supreme council has sovereignty and is running Egypt.

L.W.: Many political groups seem very disorganized.

A.M.: That's why they should be given more time in order for the next parliamentary elections to reflect the real elements of society.

L.W.: Do you share the concern that if the election were held in September, the Muslim Brotherhood would win?

A.M.: They could or could not. There are other parties who are accelerating the pace to prepare themselves, but I don't think those forces will have enough time to find room for themselves in the Parliament.

L.W.: Are you worried about the sectarian violence in Egypt—the violence between the Salafis and Copts?

A.M.: All those negative events are the result of the mismanagement of society and of the country under the previous regime. Egypt, as an enlightened society, should not have this sectarian strife.

L.W.: Some claim that the old security services stirred up the Salafis.

A.M.: The fact is that we do have a problem. I am sure that the majority of the population of Egypt would not like to see such a conflict based on religion or on sect.

L.W.: When you look back at the old regime, what do you think was the main problem?

A.M.: The most flagrant violation was the issue of succession. ... Had there been no revolution in January, it would have happened in May or June, when the regime would have announced the candidacy of [Hosni] Mubarak's son Gamal. Nobody would have accepted that.

L.W.: What do you think the power of the president should be, as compared to the Parliament, in the new Egypt?

A.M.: I believe that in the first three or four terms, a presidential system is needed rather than a purely parliamentary system—but I mean presidential-parliamentary, like your system, based on democracy. People here confuse this with dictatorship. Mubarak was a dictator, not part of a presidential system.

L.W.: Was Mubarak corrupt?

A.M.: The prosecutor general will take that into serious consideration and tell the people of Egypt what happened.

L.W.: Are you in favor of prosecuting Mr. Mubarak?

A.M.: Any accusation will have to be investigated.

L.W.: Going back to U.S.-Egyptian relations, how will they change?

A.M.: Egypt conducted its relations in the region in a way that the people did not accept. Egyptian-Arab relations is one thing; the Palestinian question is another. … Blocking Gaza and enforcing the siege along Gaza—people didn't like that. We should have insisted and used Egyptian-Palestinian relations to try and … put an end to the siege that caused a lot of suffering to the people of Gaza. The whole world has said exactly what I am saying—that the siege has to come to an end. The old regime was not of the same view.

L.W.: Now you have brought Hamas to Cairo.

A.M.: The view that Hamas is a terrorist organization is a view that pertains to a minority of countries, not a majority. Being a terrorist is not a stigma forever.

L.W.: What do you think will happen in Syria and Yemen?

A.M.: No one can tell. But I hope democracy will be the name of the game across the Arab world.

L.W.: Did you ever think you would see the day?

A.M.: Did we expect what happened on Jan. 25 to happen that way? No, with this intensity and the outcome—in a few days to topple two dictatorial regimes in Tunis and in Egypt—it was amazing.

L.W.: Why are you a better candidate [than Mohamed ElBaradei ]?

A.M.: I have lived here. I really know how people feel and what they like and what they don't like, what they will tolerate and what they won't tolerate. [Egypt] needs somebody who is part and parcel of it.

L.W.: What do you say when people claim that you aren't in touch with the young generation?

A.M.: I believe that this country needs experience at this stage. But that's why I say only one term for me, not two terms, in order to allow the younger generation to come [to power]. But we need to prepare the ground for that.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.