Interview With Shahira Amin of Nile TV
Secretary of State
QUESTION: American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it’s such an honor to meet you, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to host you on Egyptian television.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, and it’s an honor for me to be here with you and to have this opportunity.
QUESTION: Thank you. Let me start by asking you – you are the first and most senior official to visit Egypt since the popular revolt that led to the fall of President Mubarak. Why did you choose to be here at this time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, for three reasons. First, because I wanted to demonstrate the very high-level support that comes from President Obama, our Administration, and our country on behalf of the Egyptian people as you make this transition toward democracy. Secondly, I wanted to discuss with government officials what their needs were and how the United States could be helpful. And thirdly, I wanted to meet with representatives of civil society, the youth revolution, other Egyptians who brought their own perspective to the table, so that I could listen carefully, so that I would know what we could do that would be most helpful to you.
QUESTION: Egyptians are looking forward to a secular civil state, but most important, they dream of a free and democratic Egypt. How exactly does the United States intend to support the democratic transition? Is there a roadmap?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that it will have to be an Egyptian roadmap because this is an Egyptian commitment to move toward a free and democratic future. We have the greatest respect for Egypt’s 7,000 years of civilization. We are a young country by comparison. But we are the oldest democracy in the world. So we have some idea, having gone through these stages our self and having worked with other countries, what it will take to ensure that the road to democracy is not detoured, that the dreams of the Egyptian people are not derailed. And so we think that there are steps that have to be taken, which you are already planning for.
Obviously, elections are a big part of a democracy, but not the only part. Political parties, the idea of protecting the rights of all Egyptians, the – as you say, the secular state that will respect each individual Egyptian – all of that is important along with a free press, an independent judiciary, and other democratic institutions.
We also think there are economic reforms that are necessary to help the Egyptian people have good jobs, to find employment, to realize their own dreams. And so on both of those tracks – the political reform and the economic reform – we want to be helpful.
QUESTION: Let me be honest with you. Many Egyptians are disappointed. They say the Obama Administration didn’t throw its full weight behind the popular movement right from the start. The U.S. was a bit hesitant before finally extending its support to the opposition activists in Tahrir. And some are calling it “double standards.” They say the U.S. preaches democracy and freedom on the one hand, and supports autocratic regimes when it suits their own interests.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that I don’t think there’s any doubt that the United States, President Obama, all of us stand for democracy and for the values that undergird democracy. And we spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, which I was very excited to visit myself this morning, were peaceful. That was our message from the very beginning. There is no doubt about that – that the people had a right to demonstrate, that their rights needed to be respected, and that the government had a duty to do so.
To the credit of your army and other officials, we saw a largely positive response from the army, and even standing against the security forces that were trying to disrupt the demonstrations. That stands in stark contrast to what we’re seeing in Libya, for example. So the United States was very clear about its messages, that from the beginning, this needed to be peaceful, nonviolent, respecting the rights of the individual demonstrators and having a reform agenda that would meet those needs.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, in the last 30 years, much of the aid from the United States went to creating a strong security apparatus to ensure that Mubarak continues to have a tight grip on power. Very little of that aid went to improving the lives of average Egyptians. Is it likely that aid to Egypt will now become conditional?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, we had a lot of aid that went to the military, not the security forces. And I thank you for asking that question because our aid was to assist the Egyptian military. And I think that really paid off because during the height of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, our military leaders were talking to your military leaders and exchanging ideas because they knew each other over 30 years of training together, working together. So in a way, I think that that investment was a good investment because the Egyptian military performed so admirably in everyone’s eyes. And we were very proud we had some contribution to them.
With respect to other aid, we have given, over the course of many years, money to support the American University in Cairo, money to support education, money to support healthcare, money to support civil society, human rights activists. But you’re right; it was always a difficult negotiation with the former government because that was something that we wanted to do to help the Egyptian people. Some of it went through, and some of it did not go through. Now we look forward to be able to work on the economic agenda to try to assist the government and private investors to create more jobs, and we look forward to assisting what the Egyptian people want in terms of education or healthcare or anything that you are going to ask us for.
QUESTION: It was globalization and social media that led to the changes that we’re witnessing in the Middle East today. And recently, you engaged in a discussion on the internet with young Egyptians. And you had a very important message for them, that there can be no prosperity without the empowerment of women and girls. What are your hopes for the girls – the millions of girls, the Nujoods in this region?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I believe that what happened in Tahrir Square was not only an Egyptian revolution, but a human revolution. As I was, like millions of Americans, transfixed to the television screen, I saw Egyptians of all ages, primarily young, but other generations as well, and I saw women and men. And what it said was that every Egyptian, regardless of who he or she were, were standing together for the future you were demanding. And I think it would be a great tragedy if anything were to happen that would start marginalizing any Egyptian on the basis of being a man or a woman or a Copt or a Muslim or from upper or lower Egypt.
I mean, it would be a great tragedy because Egypt not only has the opportunity to lead the way in the Middle East, but to be a democratic, successful country for the 21st century and to be a leader that everyone will look to with admiration. And in my conversations with civil society activists, with young people, with government officials, we’ve talked about other models because other countries have made that transition. Indonesia, for example – they often say if you want to see a democratic state where women are empowered, come to Indonesia. Well, I want to see a democratic state where women are empowered right here in Egypt, because to leave out half the population is to leave out half the potential of what Egypt can become.
QUESTION: I echo that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: First, it was Tunisia, then Egypt --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: -- and now the desire for change is spreading like a wildfire across the region – Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia. Does it concern the Obama Administration that America is losing some of its staunchest allies in the region and that these mass protests may result in Islamists taking over power?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it would concern us because it would, in our view, only have one point of view represented in societies that are very diverse, and that’s not a true democracy. One election is not a true democracy. It takes time and effort to build a democracy. But we have always stood for democracy, for human rights, for freedom, and we have friends and we do business with countries all over the world that don’t always reflect those values. But our message publicly and privately has always been the same.
Even here in Egypt, you know that we were privately urging changes, publicly urging changes; we were not successful. And it is only fair and proper that the Egyptian people themselves seized this moment in history and determined that you were going to move beyond the government that existed. And that’s what we’re seeing in Tunisia, and the efforts that are going on in other parts of the region are by no means completed. And we happen to believe that governments and societies will be more stable if they institute democratic reforms. And so we are urging all of our friends to do that.
QUESTION: You’ve just come from Paris where you attended the G-8 meetings and where the UK and France were leading the push for a no-fly zone over Libya. The U.S. has also been consulting with the United Nations on possible stronger measures against Qadhafi. What measures? More sanctions or is the military option on the table now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is on the table, and I think the Arab League statement on Saturday was an extraordinary commitment. For the Arab League to call for action against one of its own members because Colonel Qadhafi has lost his legitimacy to govern, and he is murdering his own people, and of course, he’s putting a million Egyptian lives at risk as well who are still in Libya, was a real strong message to everyone. And so when I was in Paris meeting with the G-8, the talk was all about the Arab League statement. So as you know, the Lebanese, the British, and the French have introduced a resolution.
There is intensive negotiations going on in New York as we speak to determine whether we can reach international consensus on a resolution that will authorize strong action and that will include Arab leadership and participation. So the United States is deeply involved in those negotiations. Some nations were very much opposed before the Arab League statement; they are much more open now. And there is a sense of urgency because Colonel Qadhafi and his forces are moving east, and so we want to see the Security Council act as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Years on, Iraq is still not quite the stable democratic model that the U.S. hoped it would be, and many are concerned that this may be the fate of other countries in the region if the United States intervenes militarily.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is why the United States does not want to take any unilateral action and why it is very important that no country take action unless it is authorized by the United Nations Security Council. And we will see whether the Security Council will do that now.
QUESTION: Iran seems to have been put on the backburner for now because the focus is on other countries in the region, and yet the Iranian threat is still very much alive. They’re calling what’s happening in the region an Islamic awakening, and they’ve threatened to intervene in Bahrain. What is the United States reaction when you hear such defiant statements from Ahmadinejad?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that it is the height of hypocrisy for Iran, which allowed its own revolution to be hijacked and is turning into a military state with the revolutionary guard largely in control at this moment in time – it’s a very sad commentary on what the people of Iran expected back in 1979. And it’s an (inaudible) lesson to Egyptians, Tunisians, and everyone that democracy must be carefully nurtured, and no one should be allowed to claim that they have all the answers and that only they can govern. I have a lot of confidence in the Egyptian people. I think that Egypt has shown that Egyptians are ready to stand up for your rights and to claim those rights and also to be part of making the decisions necessary for a democracy.
So I think Egypt is the best rebuke to Iran. You are basically demonstrating to the Iranians that they can talk all they want and try to somehow take credit, but they don’t deserve any credit because they have allowed their own revolution to unfortunately deny their own people their voices, their votes, their freedoms, and their rights, which is not at all what Egypt is looking for.
QUESTION: How do you see the fate of the stalled Middle East peace process after Mubarak? After all, he had been trying to reconcile Fatah and Hamas, he had promised to block the tunnels into Gaza, and he was trying to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit. So what now after Mubarak and after Omar Suleiman?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that now, there is even more of a reason for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve their conflict and to create a two-state solution. I think what is happening in the region which gives so much energy to democracy should be a strong encouragement to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And we are determined to pursue the peace between the two of them.
We have never given up. We are not discouraged no matter what they say. We are moving straight ahead. President Obama and I have made that clear time and time again because we think actually it is even more important to do now to make sure that the Palestinians can realize their own dreams for a state and to have their own democracy, and that Israel can have security so that they can contribute to the economic prosperity of the region. And so I’m hoping that the circumstances of these events will actually push the parties closer together.
QUESTION: American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I can’t thank you enough for joining me on the program. For me, this is a comeback, and I am hoping that it will be a contract for Egyptian television for a freer, more open state media. Thank you for giving me this time.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for your leadership on that, too.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.