Social Media Dialogue with Dr. Ahmed Ghanim of Egypt's Masrawy.com
Secretary of State
MR. GHANIM: Madam Secretary, thank you for taking the time to sit with me today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much for having me.
MR. GHANIM: More than 6,500 – that’s the number of questions – were received in only two days from Egyptian people through Facebook, Twitter, Masrawy.com, another reminder of the power of the internet.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GHANIM: So many questions, actually thousands of questions, and so little time. So let’s start with the first question.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. GHANIM: Our first question was Tweeted by May Ahmed. She is a 25-year-old Egyptian woman. She asks: What is the purpose of this dialogue, actually this social media dialogue with Egyptian youth? And after you communicate with us to better understand what we are looking for, do you think that this interaction will help change the American policies toward Egypt?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me thank her and the more than 6,500 other Egyptians who have sent questions, the vast majority of whom are young people using social media, as you just described. The purpose of this is to communicate directly, to hear from thousands of Egyptians about what is on your minds, what you are hoping to have happen now that this incredibly inspiring extraordinary moment in history has occurred.
And the United States supports the aspirations of the Egyptian people. I have said that many times in the past. Late last year, I gave a speech in Doha where I said that the governments in the region were not listening to young people. So I want to do that, and I hope that leaders will do more of what we are doing today – listen to your people directly. That doesn’t mean we will always agree. I don't know any two people who agree on everything, let alone governments and people or between nations.
But listen, and then let’s try to figure out how we can realize the hopes and dreams that were expressed in Tahrir Square and that are so important for Egypt, such a great country that now has a chance to demonstrate what it means to be a democracy and to move forward into a better future.
MR. GHANIM: That’s great, because we have a lot of questions to listen to. Our next two back-to-back are video questions on the subject of foreign policy. Mohamed and Mahmod ask about the American stand on the Egyptian revolution in their video submission. First, we will see Mohamed’s video question.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good.
QUESTION: [(Via translation.) My question is: Does America really support democracy? If yes indeed, why the U.S. was late in its support for the Egyptian revolution?]
MR. GHANIM: Another question came from Tahrir Square from Mahmod. Let’s see what Mahmod has to ask.
QUESTION: [(Via translation.) The attitude of the U.S. during the Egyptian revolution was to support the Egyptian regime first. Then, when the revolution turned successful, the U.S. switched sides and supported the Egyptian youth and the youth revolution, and the U.S. said that we learn from Egyptian youth. Why was such delay?]
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, to the two young men, thank you for your questions. And let me say that I would respectfully suggest that the United States supported the aspirations of the Egyptian people. And what we hoped for is what happened. There was no organized violence beyond the terrible incidents that were brought under control, thankfully, with loss of life, which is regrettable, but not the kind of military response that we have seen in other countries.
So we wanted to see no violence against the protesters, and we said that over and over again, publicly and privately. We wanted to see the aspirations of the Egyptian people, particularly young people, realized. And then we advocated from the very beginning for a reform process that would lead to an Egyptian model of democracy. So I think that we were walking a balance, because we wanted to be sure that our messages did not push anyone into doing something that we disagreed with, namely violence, which we tried to, in every way possible, prevent.
So we support democracy in Egypt. But we’re also aware, having been our own democracy for now more than 220 years, that it takes real effort to implement a democracy that is sustainable. And we are now working to try to promote that, reaching out to people who we think can play an important role going forward.
And finally, I would say that I’m sure that part of the questions or the meaning of the questions from two young men is that the United States was a partner and ally of Egypt for many years. And in those years, whether it was a Republican or a Democratic president, we consistently spoke out for democracy. We did it publicly, we did it privately. Unfortunately, the United States was not able to bring that about. But the Egyptian people were, and that is as it should be because it is the future of Egypt that should be led by the Egyptian people themselves.
MR. GHANIM: Right, thank you. Here we have another English audio question submitted to our website by Yaser Abdulfatah. He’s an Egyptian American. Let’s hear what Yaser has to say.
QUESTION: Greetings, Mrs. Clinton. My name is Yaser Abdulfatah, and I’m an American Egyptian. I spent the first half of my life in Egypt and the other half in the States. My love for both countries is equally divided. As a U.S. citizen, I believe that human rights, democracy, and protecting others who cannot protect themselves are some of our great values we enjoy in the States. I also believe that the current Administration or any previous Administration is or was fully aware of the human rights violations, corruptions of the previous Mubarak’s regime in Egypt.
My question is, over the last 30 years, why the American Administration shook hands with such oppressive regime and treated them like we treat other true democratic government? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Yaser, it’s wonderful to hear from you and because you have experience in both Egypt and America you will be an especially important voice going forward. The United States has relations with many countries whose values we do not always agree with and whose actions we often criticize. But we do have relationships with China, with Russia, with Egypt in the past that are very complicated and which operate on several levels at once. So while we do have areas of cooperation, as we did in keeping peace between Israel and Egypt for 30 years, which I think saved lives which I think was important. We also continued to criticize and did so publicly and privately.
I personally, because I was honored to be first lady and my husband was president, and now serving as Secretary of State in this capacity – I personally know how strongly the United States did speak out on behalf of reforms, ending corruption, ending human rights abuses. We were not successful. I mean, I will be very honest with you. Our efforts, whether they were in public or in private, did not change the regime. And as we do with other countries, such as China – which we just had a visit from President Hu Jintao – we disagree completely with their human rights policy. We say so over and over again. But we also try to maintain relationships; that’s what we did with Egypt for 30 years.
But we are very excited, inspired, and hopeful that the Egyptian people themselves – thanks in large measure to young people who know what democracy looks like, what economic opportunity looks like – have been able to bring about this change.
And the final point I would make is, as Yaser pointed out, democracy is not just an election. We have seen elections. We saw one in Iran which did not lead to freedom or respect for human rights for the Iranian people. So what Egypt is now grappling with is how to have a sustainable, enduring democracy, where yes, the rights of minorities are protected, the rights of women are protected, you have an independent judiciary, an independent and free media, including social media, where the economic shackles are thrown off so that young people can start businesses without having to pay off bribes to government officials. There’s so much now to be done, and the United States stands ready to assist in every way possible.
MR. GHANIM: Yeah, that brings me to a lot of questions received through our website, that a lot of people saying or thinking that when the United States talks about minority rights or women rights in Egypt, that’s at some kind of interference with the Egyptian affairs.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I hope that’s not how it’s perceived because we do believe human rights are universal rights. I went to China 16 years ago and said, “Women’s rights are human rights.” The United States believes that. Now, it took us time to get to the point where we are today. But we know that if a country doesn’t recognize minority rights and human rights, including women’s rights, you will not have the kind of stability and prosperity that is possible. So we hope that as Egypt looks at its own future that it takes advantage of all of the people’s talents.
What was so immensely moving to me as I followed closely everything happening in Tahrir Square – and you were there, as you told me – is that it was Muslims and Copts. It was men and women. It was every Egyptian who is a human being created by God, our Creator, who was there saying I deserve respect, my dignity deserves to be given what my government has denied me – the right to be a full human being.
And I personally believe that it is the position of the United States that seeing that outpouring on behalf of all Egyptians, that those who would want to say, oh, no, we can’t respect the minorities of our Copt Christian brothers and sisters – oh, no, the women who were in Tahrir Square do not deserve to have their rights recognized either – I believe that would be a step backwards.
MR. GHANIM: But the Christians of Egypt themselves, they refuse to be called a minority.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with that. I agree with that. They are fully Egyptian and they should be integrated into the entire society, as they historically have been. But I don’t think it’s a surprise to some of your viewers and listeners that there are those who do not see women and do not see their Christian community as being fully Egyptian in that way, as your question implied. And my point is that I hope that as this revolution moves forward into the hard work of creating and keeping a democracy, that everyone will have a place at the table.
MR. GHANIM: Sure. You were mentioning a few minutes ago the effort that made by the United States to advance the democracy in Egypt, which brings me to a question posted on Facebook by Abdul Aziz – he’s a 17-year-old male from Cairo Egypt – asks: “Were there any connections or meetings between the United States Administration and the youth of Egypt that called for the revolution supporting their effort before, during, or even after the revolution?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as many people know, the United States supported civil society inside Egypt. We gave grants that the government did not like to support union organizing, to support organizing on behalf of political opposition to the regime. That goes back many years. And we tried to give support where we could, despite government rejection, so that people would get access to information and training. But the United States had nothing to do with the uprising, the revolution that we are now witnessing in Egypt. That was led by, organized by, run by Egyptians themselves, starting with young people. And in fact, I’ve heard from older Egyptians who were activists, who were opponents, who were human rights defenders in Egypt; they didn’t even know that it was happening until it was happening.
So it wasn’t only the United States, but many Egyptians themselves who were watching with great admiration as young people stood up for themselves. And we have, of course, provided many of the tools. I mean, Facebook and Twitter, even the internet, are American inventions, and we are proud that these American inventions are helping to connect people up around democracy and human rights and freedom and an agenda that will lead to a better life in Egypt.
MR. GHANIM: That’s great. And now we have another question regarding Tahrir Square. May Hasannen – she’s a 24-year-old young woman from Alexandria – posted on Masrawy.com asking: Do you think that the scenes from Tahrir Square of the young Middle Easterns protesting in peace will help change the stereotype of Muslims and Arabs in America?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is a great question, and I think the answer is absolutely yes. We all live with stereotypes, and I admit and accept that many Americans have stereotypes of Egyptians or of Muslims, and I believe that many Egyptians and Muslims have stereotypes about the United States. I mean, one of the reasons President Obama went to Cairo to deliver his very important historic speech in June of 2009 is that he wanted to speak directly to Muslims everywhere, and he wanted to do it in the capital of the most important Arab nation, and he wanted to send a message to the Mubarak government, all at the same time.
So yes, I do think that the fact that the demonstrations in Tahrir Square were well organized, they were peaceful, they had everyone basically promoting the outcome which we have now celebrated, sent a very positive message. It also repudiates the message of extremists like al-Qaida. Al-Qaida’s position is there is no such thing as peaceful protest; there is no such thing as democracy. Well, I hope they were watching on television as Egyptian young people proved them wrong on both of those points.
MR. GHANIM: Okay. Do you think there is also political stereotypes from the American officials to the Middle Eastern states in general?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that there are often stereotypes between individual people and between governments and nations. And I think part of what social media is doing is breaking down stereotypes. The fact that somebody in Tahrir Square sends out a message by Twitter means that everybody in the world who wishes to can access that. And all of the sudden, people are saying, boy, I can connect with that young man or that young women; I’m reading from a tweet in Tahrir Square; I’m looking at a Facebook page from a young Egyptian university graduate who is saying he wants a good job because he’s worked hard all of his life and he wants to get ahead in his country. I feel the same way in America, some young person can say.
So I think that the connectivity of social media may be one of the great tools, not just for organizing protests, as we saw in Tahrir Square, as we saw even before that in Tunisia, but I think it’s also a way for people to break down stereotypes and divisions between them. Whatever differences we have, by ethnicity or religion or race or anything else by which we define ourselves, 99.8 percent of who we are as human beings is the same. So I think it’s a very good thing that those stereotypes are slowly being broken down.
MR. GHANIM: But after 30 years of dealing with a dictator like Mubarak, 25 years with Ben Ali, 42 years with Qadhafi, I’m sure that a lot of political stereotypes creating inside – created inside the American Administration when it deals with Egypt or Tunisia or Libya. Now you’re facing a new reality that you have to break the stereotype and deal with the revolution, deal with people that they don’t take bribes; they told the people that they look for their country first before looking for themselves. Do you think, from your side as an American official, it will be easy to break this stereotype, political stereotype?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a stereotype I’m very glad we have broken, because, as I was saying earlier, we have to deal with the world as it is. The days when the United States would say, well, we’re not going to deal with this country because we don’t agree with them on whatever the basis was, those days are over. We try to deal with everybody, with very few exceptions. And some governments we’re in agreement with and some governments we’re not. But what we believe is that democracy done right – not aborted, not hijacked, which can happen in young democracies – democracy done right is the best for the people and it’s the best for the United States. That doesn’t mean we will always agree. We didn’t always agree with the undemocratic regimes that are now moving off the stage of history. But we want to have a relationship and we want to have an ability to interact and, where appropriate, to assist.
But I think it’s also important, as we look at the future, to recognize that this is a new world we’re all in together. Even in our country, political movements are coming up from the grassroots. So all of us are going to have to get used to a different kind of political relationship. I think it will be easier for young people, young people around the world, because you’re going to be so much more used to doing it than the older generation of which I am a part, obviously. But I think we all should be extremely excited and happy to have broken through some of the obstacles that stood in the way of democracy taking root and flowering in the Arab world. And my hope is that it does not get hijacked, either by a return to dictatorship or by an imposition of extremism or any other reason in between.
The final point I wanted to make about the previous 30-year relationship is that it was very good that – I know that time seems like it was very long, but it was very good that in a relatively short period of time, there was a peaceful transition. And because we had in our government a relationship with people in the former Egyptian Government, we could send messages like do not use violence, stop those who are using violence, let this peaceful protest go on, it is time to make a change and a transition – we had a relationship. And we could then send in messages, and I think some of those messages had an impact. It was behind the scenes, but it was part of our effort to see a peaceful outcome here. So there was something that we could rely on coming from the past that I think was important in the moment of the demonstrations.
MR. GHANIM: All righty. And regarding the upcoming change in Egypt, Amr Allam, a 36-year-old male from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, posted a video question, Arabic video question, about the upcoming changes in Egypt. Let’s see what Amr has to say in his Arabic video question.
QUESTION: [(Via translation.) Does the U.S. Administration prefer to see the presence of a true democratic system in Egypt capable of ensuring stability and peace in the region, or does it prefer to see only a partial appeasement that put on the face of a democracy but only to serve its own interests over those of the people of other nations?]
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are looking for a true democracy. And we know that getting to a strong, stable, enduring democracy will take time. And we know that it’s important to reform the constitution, to pass new laws, to set up real political parties, to hold elections. But that’s just the beginning, because then the people who are elected need to stay true to democracy. And very often in new democracies, there become points where those who have been elected say, “Well, I know everything, and my way is the right way.” And all of a sudden you see the democracy being taken away.
We want to see a true democracy, where people have the right to express themselves, to debate, to dialog, to have opposing viewpoints, but then they come together to reach compromise and a consensus about how to move forward. And from our long experience with democracy, it is not easy. I’ll be very honest with our viewers and our listeners. This is hard. I disagree strongly with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me. I have supported candidates who have won, and I have supported candidates who have lost. I ran for President against Barack Obama and I lost.
But now I’m working with him, because in a democracy you have to get beyond the elections, and you have to keep working for the common good of all the people, and you have to have strong laws against corruption. You have to have an open economic system. All of this will take some time. But I am absolutely convinced that given the intelligence, the energy, the determination that I have seen from young Egyptians in the last month, I have no doubt in my mind that this can be done as long as people do not get exhausted, frustrated, give up too soon, because the process is sometimes very hard to deal with. And you keep thinking it needs to go faster, particularly when you’re young. We need to get there more quickly.
Be patient, persistent, stay committed to the goal of democracy, work to build the institutions that will be necessary for true Egyptian democracy. The United States wants to have a relationship with a democratic Egypt. Will we always agree? No. But we don’t always agree with some of the democratic countries we’ve been dealing with for centuries, we don’t always agree. So we are firmly behind a democratic Egypt.
MR. GHANIM: Okay, and actually regarding the democracy and the shape of democracy, Ahmed Ali is a 29-year-old male from Cairo posted on Masrawy.com asking: What would be the reaction of the United States if Muslim Brotherhood gained power in Egypt through a true democratic election?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that it’s up to the Egyptian people who they decide to elect and what the rules are for political parties running for elections, that is up to the Egyptian people. And I think that any party that is committed to nonviolence, committed to democracy, committed to the rights of all Egyptians, whoever they are, should have the opportunity to compete for Egyptian votes.
So the United States supports a process. We don’t pick winners or losers, but we do have some experience from having worked with many new democracies over many decades now. And so if a political party, whoever they are, believes in democracy and doesn’t just believe it’s one election one time and then we take over because we know best for every Egyptian, then that’s up to the Egyptian people.
But we don’t want to see any political party or any ideology try to hijack the process. So I think there need to be safeguards built in within the constitution and the laws of Egypt to make sure that it’s a true democracy and that one election will be followed by another election which will be followed by another election and that there will be term limits. Because too often, when people get elected, they think of themselves as being the only person who can serve a country and they then never want to have another election. They try to change the constitution and change the laws. So there’s a lot of built-in safeguards, but then it’s up to the Egyptian people to chart their own democratic future.
MR. GHANIM: Okay, hundreds of questions were asked about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. One question came to us from Ahmed Khatab. He’s a 21-year-old male from Cairo. His question is: Don’t you think that the latest American veto was just a clear reminder that the United States loses any credibility as a fair and honest partner in the Middle East peace process?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I hope not. And here’s why: The United States has spent a great deal of time and effort in, first, helping to bring about peace between Israel and Egypt, which I think was in the best interest of both countries; bringing about peace between Israel and Jordan, which, again, I think was good for both countries. And we are absolutely committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
And we believe the only way that’s going to happen is through direct negotiations. Somebody from the outside cannot dictate it and have either side agree to it. They have to decide themselves as to how they’re going to resolve all these difficult issues, end the conflict between them. And I am absolutely determined, as my husband was before me, as President Obama is today, to do everything we can to bring that about. That is why it doesn’t belong in the United Nations because the United Nations cannot make it happen. It can only happen if the two decide they’re going to make it happen. So we are determined to do everything we can.
And I happen to believe that right now, it is in both the Israeli and the Palestinian interests to redouble their efforts to reach a peace agreement. The work that has been going on by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for economic opportunity to reform their institutions is very positive and is laying the groundwork for a state. I want to see the Palestinian people with their own democratic state. Israel understandably wants to make sure it has security. I want to see that for the Israeli people. There is a way here that we can come to a deal, but the two sides have to want it. The United States, Egypt, nobody can want it more than they can. They have to make it happen.
MR. GHANIM: Okay. Our final question: If you can send one message to the Egyptian youth, what would you – what it would be?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, that I am very proud of what Egyptian young people have done. You have set such an extraordinary example of nonviolent, peaceful protest. We have a history of that in our own country. That’s how African Americans got the right to vote because of Dr. Martin Luther King and what we believed in. We saw it in India, which became the world’s largest democracy because of Gandhi and nonviolence. I have always believed that nonviolent protest, well-organized and disciplined as I saw in Egypt, will bring down dictators, will change laws, will change the future.
So I begin with an expression of great pride in what I’ve seen in the young people of Egypt. I would follow that by saying that I hope you will stay engaged and involved. And I hope you will understand that having brought down a regime and having made it clear you will settle for nothing other than democracy, that you understand it’s going to take commitment and determination to translate the energy and the spirit of Tahrir Square into the day-to-day work of building a democracy.
And your country needs you. Your country needs you more than ever. And we will stand with you. We want to be your partners. We are inspired by you and we believe in you. And the United States is ready to assist in any way that would be appropriate.
MR. GHANIM: Thank you. We have – still have thousands of questions, but we are out of time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
MR. GHANIM: So on behalf of thousands of young Egyptian people, also made it or shared in this dialogue, thank you very much for your time and thank you for your support.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, and good luck and God’s blessings to you all.
MR. GHANIM: Thank you.