Interview With Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, first of all, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera at the State Department. As you know, the Egyptian army, the supreme council of the armed forces in Egypt, have announced certain steps following the success of the revolution, as many Egyptians call it. And yet there is still some skepticism among many Egyptians that these measures are not enough. Where do you stand on that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that where we stand is with the Egyptian people. We want to be a good partner and friend as they make this transition. Three weeks ago, no one would have guessed that so much could have happened that would have been so responsive to the needs and aspirations that we heard coming from Tahrir Square. And now, like so many kinds of movements for change, the hard work of actually putting into place the steps that are necessary must be pursued, and it needs to be pursued as expeditiously as possible with as broad and inclusive a group of Egyptians involved. But we’re just at the beginning of the transition.
QUESTION: What would you say is the most positive step that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced so far?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that first of all, the role that the army played during the last weeks as a guarantor of the Egyptian state, as a institution that was well-respected by the Egyptian people, was absolutely essential. Contrast what happened in Egypt with what is going on today in Iran where, once again, the Iranian Government is lashing out, using violence against people who are expressing the same desires as we heard from Egypt.
So I have a lot of sympathy for what has already occurred in Egypt, but I have a sense of realism about what it’s going to take to move forward. So far, what the supreme council has announced is in keeping with what they announced they would be doing, and in response to the desires of the Egyptian people and their demands. But I think everyone has to recognize that this transition where you have to rewrite a constitution, you have to pass new laws, you have to help form political parties – there’s a long to-do list, and everybody needs to be sort of focused on the task at hand. And that’s going to take an enormous amount of energy from everybody involved.
QUESTION: But you would have – one would have thought that because of the last three weeks of protests in Egypt, because of the discontent over about two decades about the issue of the state of emergency, that the first thing the army would do is to respond to the demands of young people and a lot of other Egyptians that it be lifted immediately. They haven’t done that yet. How do you – what would you counsel them to do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s not for me to counsel them. This is an Egyptian process that must be directed and defined by the Egyptian people. One of the demands, which we have supported for a long time, is to lift the emergency decree. There has been an announcement that that will be done, and we hope that it will be.
QUESTION: How soon would you want to see that happen, though?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to substitute my judgment sitting here in the very beautiful comfort of the State Department for what is going on in Egypt right now. I think it’s important that the United States and others who wish to see a positive outcome of this struggle by the Egyptian people to achieve their own democracy be supportive, but don’t pretend that we know more than what the people in Egypt know. And we want to see changes. We’ve been for that for many years, both publicly and privately. But now, thankfully, the future really is in the hands of Egyptians themselves.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I’m sure you’re aware of this. A lot of people in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, listening to you now, especially those people who thought that the U.S. had sat on the fence before Mubarak fell, whether you agree with that description or not – they all say the U.S. Government is doing it again – when they’re asked to make a clear choice, a clear decision whether they support the army or the demonstrators, the U.S. Government is sitting on the fence again.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have to obviously object to that characterization. We were consistent and clear. We were against violence. We communicated that many times over and over again to every level in the Egyptian Government, and in particular to the army. We were in favor of the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, and we have long been in support of that and pushed the government to take reforms that would realize that. And we were in favor of political change. But I think it is inappropriate for us to do more than say what we have always said. We have said repeatedly the emergency law needs to be lifted. But now, this is a process that is being worked on by Egyptians.
The Mubarak era is over. There is a new effort that is just beginning, and I think it is an – it’s important that the United States be seen as supporting the transition to democracy, and that is where we stand. We are strongly in favor of it. We want to see it as soon as it can come. But we are also conscious that at many points in history, this incredible movement for change can be hijacked by external or internal forces that do not follow through on the promises made, do not realize the aspirations of the Egyptian people. So our goal is to keep our eye on the outcome. Let us get to democracy that will, once and for all, meet the needs of the Egyptian people and give Egypt a chance to serve as a model for the entire region that needs desperately to see that.
QUESTION: Now, what would you say to assuage the concerns of many Egyptians who say that this was supposed to be a revolution to actually get rid of military rule which has ruled Egypt for 30 years, and now they see that it is the army – at least for the foreseeable future – that is managing the affairs of the country and we have concerns about that? What would you say to them that they do not necessarily have to be concerned?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that they need to keep up their political involvement and the real strength of their movement to get the changes necessary. I mean, those changes have been promised now. They need to be delivered on. And there needs to be broad-based inclusive representation going forward. So, different groups within Egyptian society have to step forward to take responsibility toward working in a unified way to achieve the goals that have all been set.
It is not going to work merely to stand on the outside and say, “We don’t like this and we don’t like that.” We now have the chance for broad-based participation. People need to step forward and make their views known and be part of getting this process moving so that all these timelines and these milestones about ending the emergency law, reforming the constitution, getting the laws for political parties, preparing for the elections – there’s a big effort. As big an effort as went into bringing us to this point will be replicated in achieving the outcomes that we seek.
QUESTION: And yet to many of these people, there are just – quoted to you – the fact that Egypt continues to be run by the army for the foreseeable future, the fact that even the civilian side of the government in Egypt was actually inherited from the Mubarak regime – many of them are described as his cronies. How concerned are you about that being either the reality or the perception?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, again, it is the opportunity to work through what exists now. What is the alternative? There was very – there are very good ideas being floated around about what could be the next step. But it is not for the United States, it is not for any other government, it is not for the media, it is not for those outside to dictate to the Egyptian people how they intend to proceed. There are some excellent conversations going on. We know that there is an effort to try to coalesce around certain ways forward that the opposition can all support. That’s what should happen.
But let’s take a little perspective here. It’s been less than three weeks, or just barely three weeks, and revolutions in and of themselves don’t produce the outcome that is sought. It is: Okay, now that you’ve achieved the goal of changing the government, what happens next? That is where Egypt is, and that is what the Egyptian people have to lead us through.
QUESTION: My time is up. I was wondering if there is time for one more question --
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Sure.
QUESTION: -- just broad-based, if I may. Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
The United States has invested in the Egyptian army, it has invested in cooperation with the Egyptian army for 30 years. Given what the situation is in Egypt and given that the role it is playing – the role the army is playing in Egyptian politics today, would you say that the U.S. investment in the Egyptian army has been a success story?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, history will have to judge that, but I think that the relationships that developed over all those years between the leadership of the United States military and leadership of the Egyptian military made it possible for there to be continuing communications. It was a message that was delivered from many different sources – do not use violence against your own people – that was very readily received. It’s not like the United States had to tell the Egyptian military. They wanted to defend the Egyptian people, and I think they performed in an extraordinary way.
Contrast it to Iran, where the government has turned against the people. They’re more than happy to talk about look at what’s going on in Egypt, but when their opposition, when their young people try to express themselves, they come down with brutality. They have a record of such abuse and excess. Contrast that with the Egyptian military. I would bet on the process that the Egyptian military has announced going forward as being a pathway to a different future, whereas I look with such dismay at what Iran continues to do and just feel – my heart goes out to the Iranian people.
QUESTION: And yet the Egyptian army is accused of having – or it’s the Egyptian security forces are accused of having killed more Egyptians than the Iranian army Iranians.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t think there’s any basis for that. I think that – as some of the leading protesters in Egypt themselves said, any loss of life is deeply regrettable, and certainly under those circumstances. But given what has been accomplished and the great opportunity for the Egyptian people now, it is something that Egyptians themselves say, “We now have it in our hands.” The Iranian people cannot say that.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.