Freedoms issue in Egypt

Yekaterina Kudashkina

Египет выборы сторонники Братья-Мусульмане Мухаммед Мурси  

“After the victory of the military by this Islamist president, we should not be surprised that they are going to have more restrictions with the press because the Islamist agenda has to start with controlling what is being said to the Egyptian people,, to control the outside and foreign influence on the press and to control anything that doesn’t go in the mainstream wanted and planned by the Islamists,” - Dr. Mansouria Mokhefi, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris.

We have, and it’s about time to acknowledge it and to accept it because we have no other way to deal with this situation, to accept the fact that the Egyptians have elected the president, who is the first civilian since independence in the 50s, the first non-military and the first Muslim Brother. We have to acknowledge that although this regime claims to be attached to freedom of the market, of freedom of the economy and everything, this is nevertheless the regime which base and roots and philosophy are Islam and what we know about Islam is that it’s different from what we claim as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, human rights and everything. So, once we acknowledge this, we should stop being surprised, appalled by all the restrictions that we are going to be witnessing with this. And this is being said without any judgment. It’s just a go-back to reality, we are dealing with the new dimension in politics, in philosophy in this countries.

It is also a reminder that Egypt and the Arab world are countries that have always been Muslim. It’s just that we have a tendency to forget it and it’s been recalled and brought back to our memory, to our understanding and to our dealing with them. Having said this, I would like to follow up with this, what we are witnessing (and it’s more important and more interesting for us) is this, what we could call new reshaping of the Middle East political landscape or this new shift in Egypt’s foreign policy because this is where this is really important to the world because nobody is going anywhere, nobody is going to do anything about the restrictions of freedom of the press or about anything that has been happening in Egypt about women, about homosexuals, about youth, about the journalists, about the writers and this is going to be like this until the Egyptians themselves will find, will strike a deal with their government and with the new institutions that they are trying to establish.

And how about the freedoms issue like the freedom of the press for instance?

As to the freedom of the press, Egypt has never had a free press unless I am mistaken, the press has always been controlled, ruled by the presidency, by the regime under Nasser, under Sadat and under Mubarak. Now because of the uprising of February 2011, because of Mubarak ousting, people were expecting new openings. Yes, maybe those hopes could have been sustained during a few weeks, even a few months, but after the elections, the parliamentary elections, which showed that the country was turning more Islamist, after the presidential elections, after the victory of the military by this Islamist president, we should not be surprised that they are going to have more restrictions with the press because the Islamist agenda has to start with controlling what is being said to the Egyptian people, to control the outside and foreign influence on the press and to control anything that doesn’t go in the mainstream wanted and planned by the Islamists.

But Miss Mokhefi, does that imply that ultimately that brings us to virtually a similar situation like the one with Mr. Mubarak with the only difference that that was the regime supported mostly by the military? And what about this regime? How did the military, by the way, feel about it?

You are absolutely right when you say, if I understood you correctly, that this could bring us back or bring them back to Mubarak’s regime. It’s absolutely what we can see from these new developments except this is the major difference that this regime seems to be more attuned with public opinion or, in other words, it seems to be supported by the majority of the Egyptians. In other words, it seems that also this regime is going to be in harmony with the demands and the expectations of the majority of the Egyptians whilst we had Mubarak before who was having his own priorities and his own agenda and without paying any attention to what the Egyptian people had to say. This is a major difference and we are going to see it actually in the new shifts in the foreign policy.

What kind of shifts?

Since you know, Mubarak ousting in February last year, we all started to wonder, to observe what was going to happen to the Egyptian peace with Israel since that treaty and that cold peace, the 30 year peace with Israel has been made and maintained despite the fact that the majority of the Egyptians were against any reparation with Israel and remained very antagonistic to the idea of the peace with Israel. We had no clue during the months following the revolution because of the instability, the domestic problems, but now the Egyptian elects had their parliamentary and presidential elections, they have new president. It seems that, as I said, this one is more in harmony, more attuned with what the Egyptian people have been saying for decades and we can now really consider that the idea of reconsidering the treaty and even moving out of the western influence is not something completely delusional, it’s maybe something that is going to happen. And we see now with this new move that with the president going to Teheran, with the president visiting China and dealing with China, that he might not be completely afraid of jeopardizing billion dollars aid from the US to Egypt.

Miss Mokhefi, but where is he going to get the money?

Well, where is he going to get the money? This is of course the question because it seems that Egypt was totally tied by this aid, the US aid, which is so important,and especially now it is more vital than ever because of the failing economy. You know, tourism is completely down, investors are afraid and backed up from Egypt, unemployment is higher than ever. So that aid is very important but it seems that this president and people who are following him are not afraid of considering other sources and those sources could be, first, China and maybe other new actors in the Middle East, new actors to whom nobody is really paying enough attention now but they can be very instrumental for the future. And China as the richest power that it is today will be also very interested in helping, supporting Egypt to be back in the middle east, to have an access to the Mediterranean, to bargain or negotiate some privilege in the Canal de Suez and it could for these reasons allow a lot of money to Egypt. But China is not the only one. Brazil is a very important actor, Turkey is reshaping all its policy in the area and intending to play much heavier role in the region. There are others of course.

Now, Miss Mokheifi, getting back to Mr. Morsi’s policy including foreign policy, I remember that there’s been a lot of effort to convince him not to travel to Teheran. So, Mr. Morsi still goes to Teheran. It looks like the policy he is pursuing is quite independent. Now, how independent is the policy?

Independent towards whom? Since he is free and elected in the country that is sovereign, he can be completely independent. Now, of course, the US is not really pleased that you see these Egyptian-Iranian relations being restored. I remind you that diplomatic relations and all relations have been completely cut off since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, since also Egypt peace treaty with Israel and no Egyptian president has ever been visiting Iran since more than 30 years now. So, the US, of course, especially in this context of nuclear situation with Iran, is not pleased with this. But if Egypt is determined to go ahead (the regime supported by the population) and strike this confrontation with the US, they can go till the end, which could be even to renegotiate the peace treaty with Israel. I personally see these steps as not only the first moves and new shifts in the whole Egyptian foreign policy but I see them also as aiming to the major conclusion which is renegotiating the peace treaty with Israel.

But that is extremely interesting. Do you think that the Israelis are prepared to do that?

Israelis are so overwhelmed by the whole situation. I mean for the first time since Israel existence they are really surrounded by more hostile than ever countries and all over. I mean, you talk about Lebanon, you know what is going on, you know that there is insecurity and the questions pertaining to what is going to happen in Syria, where they nevertheless had peace agreement for more than 30 years and no trouble at all with the Syrians. There is also a very insecure situation, troubling situation in Jordan. And of course Israel is really watching at Egypt very carefully because of course there have been these questions since the beginning. Mubarak’s is out, but for what? No democracy maybe, yes, but for what? And then Islamic government, yes, but for what? And now for what - the answer could be that they will have to readjust to this new situation. As to this move also of Morsi’s going to Teheran, I mentioned that it is not going to please the US of course, the financial purveyors to Egypt, it’s not only that, it’s also that Iran has been major supporter of the Syrian regime and this visit is going to help to facilitate the renewal of the relationship and it has been preceded by the declaration or the invitation more precisely of Egypt to Iran to be included in every negotiation pertaining to the Syrian situation. So, it’s very important for the new position and new shifts. And if this situation with Iran can be really comforted and officialized after the visit, let me remind you that new move towards China who has also its position towards the Syrian situation and veto at the UN and everything, it’s going to be very interesting but it shows right now from now on that the Egyptian regime is going to have more independent foreign policy and one that is not in the steps of the Western countries only as it has been since Mubarak.

And finally, Miss Mokhefi, if the relationship between Egypt and Iran starts to develop successfully, wouldn’t it somehow undermine a major strategic concept that there is a systemic divide between the Sunni and the Shia?

Absolutely. Absolutely, and it will actually officialize this divide because the situation has been showing especially for the past months that we are witnessing a real confrontation, a war between the Sunni countries and the Shia countries. It will comfort and officialize that divide but it will also show that it took 30 years to Iran to have another Islamic country in the region and this could overcome the divide at least between Sunnis and Shias. I am talking about Iran and Egypt. The divide between the Gulf countries and Iran and other Shias in the Middle East will remain of course and probably develop.

Dr, Mokhefi, thank you so much.

And just to remind you, our guest speaker was Dr. Mansouria Mokhefi, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris.

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