Interview With Sharif Amer of Al-Hayat TV
Secretary of State
I’d like to ask you about your assessment – after nearly eight months after Egyptian revolution. How do you in Washington look at what’s happening in Cairo?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Amer, for having me on this show and giving me a chance to talk with you. And I want to say that from our perspective, we are very impressed and encouraged by what we see happening in Egypt. We know this is a difficult transition period and, in the great span of Egyptian history, one of the most important moments of your history. And I think it’s essential that all of us look at how much has been accomplished in the last eight months and the fact that elections are scheduled, that there is a path forward for this very vibrant, new democratic change is very encouraging and we think it’s on the right track.
QUESTION: You’re talking about the very positive things that’s been taking place, however there are so many among the Egyptian politicians and intellectuals, some fears or concerns about the extension of the military rule. How do you think SCAF is holding up and managing the transition period?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they took on an enormous responsibility that they never expected they would have to shoulder. But the fact that they are moving toward elections, I think, is not only important, but essential. I expect them to fulfill the promises that they have made to the Egyptian people because you cannot have the democratic governance that you are seeking unless you have a fully free, fair, transparent set of elections that then empowers the people who have been elected. But this is what we expect to see happen, and of course, we will express concerns if we don’t see it happening. But there is a schedule we believe needs to be followed.
QUESTION: Speaking of elections, how do you (inaudible) the elections process especially that – as you – of course, you’ve been following – you have new players, the fundamental Islamic political movements. How do you (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s important that peoples’ voices be given an outlet to participate in the political system. But I also think that there must be a commitment to respecting human rights, to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, to the rights of women, and there has to be an agreed-upon understanding of what it will take for Egypt to go from where you are today to where I would like to see Egypt. I really believe that Egypt’s always been a leader of the Arab world – Egypt can become a world leader. There is a difference. Egypt could, with the right political and economic reforms, become one of the top 20 economies in the world, maybe even eventually one of the top 10.
There is so much that is in the potential, it can be so easily derailed. As you said, somehow not permitting the elections to go forward, military rule continuing, having one election one time that empowers people who have no interest in continuing to modernize the society, rejecting the rights of all Egyptians in favor of one particular point of view – that’s what the Egyptian people have to be careful about. You want an Egypt where people are free to be liberal, fundamentalists, conservative, progressive, whatever their particular views are, but showing respect for the state, for the institutions of the state, and the rights of the people. And that’s what I see you searching for and moving toward.
QUESTION: Will you be ready or prepared to sit in with a government with members of the Muslim Brotherhood as members or other Islamic (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We will be willing to and open to working with a government that has representatives who are committed to non-violence, who are committed to human rights, who are committed to the democracy that I think was hoped for in Tahrir Square, which means that Christians will be respected, women will be respected, people of different views within Islam will be respected. We have said we will work with those who have a real commitment to what an Egyptian democracy should look like.
Now, we don’t expect your democracy to mirror ours – every country is unique historically and culturally – but we do think, from long experience around the world, there are certain pillars to a democracy: free press, free speech, independent judiciary, protection of minority rights, protection of human rights. All that was in the air in Tahrir Square.
So we hope that anyone who runs for election, and certainly anyone who’s elected and joins the parliament, joins the government, will be committed to making Egypt work and be open to all Egyptians no matter who you might be.
QUESTION: You’re looking at things very positively and that’s the same, maybe, atmosphere back in Egypt, with some fears of course.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: It’s the main feeling there. According to reports released a couple of weeks ago, the congress will be always waiting for your words in a report to assess the kind of U.S. aid that’s been given to Egypt. How do you (inaudible)? Is the U.S. aid, be it civilian or military, really jeopardized in the next – in the future?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do not believe so. I very much support continuing aid. We have provided aid, both for civilian and military purposes, going back many decades now. And it’s been bipartisan; Republicans and Democrats have supported it. We believe in aid to your military without any conditions, no conditionality. I’ve made that very clear. I was with the foreign minister, Mr. Amr yesterday, and was very clear in saying that the Obama Administration and I personally am against that. I think it’s not appropriate. At the same time, we do have a long experience in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ll give you an example.
You were asking questions about what happens if certain people are in the government. Well, it’s really going to be up to the Egyptian people as to how they organize themselves for these elections. But I think it’s fair to point out that if there is an organized Islamic party and 40 other parties that divide up all of the votes, then I think one party will have a stronger position.
And I have been speaking with, when I was in Cairo some months ago and since then, young activists from Egypt. Our Embassy has certainly been reaching out. Because going from being demonstrators for freedom to being political actors – that’s not an easy --
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- transition. And so we want to help people get themselves organized so that they are able to participate effectively, and again, with the conditions of nonviolence and all the others that I laid out, but no conditionality on our aid.
QUESTION: Yeah. When helping the others, this is something that might fuel some concerns in Egypt about funding NGOs. Why do you really fund NGOs in Egypt?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s a – it’s something that we have done for many years, and we have learned from long practice that when you have a transition, a democratic transition, many people want to be active in politics. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to register voters, how to form political parties. It’s not part of the experience that has been the daily life of Egyptians.
So we have several organizations that have worked all over the world. We do not take positions. We’re not for or against any party or any individual. It’s more the nuts and bolts; how do you run an election? Because you’ve had elections, but they were not free or fair or transparent, and they didn’t build confidence in the Egyptian people. We want Egypt to have the best election it’s ever had, and so our experience, particularly coming out of the fall of the Berlin Wall, where countries in Eastern and Central Europe came to us and said, “Help us do this,” the democratic transition in – across Africa, where we were helpful – we don’t have any stake in who’s elected. We wait to see who the people choose. But we think our nongovernmental organizations have a lot to contribute. We are more than happy to follow the rules of Egypt, but --
QUESTION: I was just going to ask about that. Because it’s against the law, and there’s so many NGOs that working outside the law and certain regulations.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: So how are you going to do that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we would like our NGOs to be registered. We would like for them to be under Egyptian law. I will say it’s a little ironic, because President Mubarak didn’t want us to have NGOs that were working with people either, so we think that Egypt is strong enough and resilient enough that appropriate regulation can recognize who the NGOs are that are working for the betterment of Egypt. Because I said to the foreign minister yesterday, “You know we’re there. You know we are saying look, we want to help people know how to run elections. We know that there are groups and countries that are funneling money into Egypt and nobody knows about it. You know what we’re doing, and we’re going to be as transparent with the government as possible.” But I would ask that everybody in Egypt say, “Look, the Americans are here to help us decide who we want to elect. Some people are trying to determine who gets elected.” There’s a big difference.
QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to ask you, you’re speaking right now on – about your reflections in Tahrir Square. When did you really feel that Mubarak has no chance?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I was as surprised as everybody else in the world that this happened as it did. Because I knew something would happen someday, but I didn’t expect it so soon. I had given a speech in Doha just a few weeks before saying that the foundations of these authoritarian regimes in the region were sinking into the sand. And then we saw Tunisia, and we saw Egypt, and then Libya. And we see all of the aspirations of the people coming forth.
But I think we were trying very hard, and our military was communicating directly. I was communicating directly with officials in the Mubarak regime to urge no violence against demonstrators, to urge that people be treated respectfully, that they had a right to demonstrate peacefully. And when you think about it, for as large a country as Egypt, what happened was remarkable, the way that it transitioned so quickly. And I think that we all saw it happening before our eyes, and we were doing our best to try to make sure that there was limited or as little bloodshed as possible and some agreement on a way to go forward that would permit people’s feelings and opinions to finally be heard and then to have a democratic transition and now that’s what we’re seeing.
QUESTION: But what was the – was there a certain point? Because we all remember your first statement when you were thinking – and everybody was thinking at the same time the same thing – is that we do have a stable government (inaudible) in Egypt. And a few days ago, everything just changed.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: When was that point for you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think for me it was when I concluded that there wasn’t any way that President Mubarak and the people closest to him could understand what was really happening, and there was no --
QUESTION: They were out of touch.
SECRETARY CLINTON: They were out of touch, and it was becoming clearer and clearer because of the responses. I mean, I had many conversations with many high-level officials, as did others in our government, urging, “You must, first of all, protect people. But secondly, you must change, and you’ve got to recognize that this has to – the new Egypt is being born.” It was just no way to communicate that. And we tried. We sent very direct messages.
QUESTION: I know you’re running on a very tight schedule. I have one more question to go. Everybody was looking to the Obama Administration when – I think you had a problem with high expectations. (Laughter.) How are you going to deal with the Palestinian application to the United Nations, especially that everybody’s maybe really think it will go through the General Assembly?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me reiterate that President Obama and I very much want to see a Palestinian state, and I have been publicly on record in favor of that since the 1990s. I was the first person associated with the United States Government to do that. And President Obama is also very committed. But we, I think, are realists that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in the United Nations, unless we can get the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate over the boundaries of the state, the security provisions, what happens in Jerusalem, what happens with refugees, water, all of the issues we know so well have to be resolved, we’re going to raise expectations without being able to deliver.
I mean, if the United Nations passes a resolution which says we want to see Palestinians become a state and maybe we upgrade their status or maybe we recognize them, the next day nothing changes in Ramallah, and I want things to change. I want the Palestinians to have their own state; I want them to govern themselves; I want them to continue developing economically to be a real example, to work with Egypt for the betterment of people in the region, and we know that won’t happen.
So what we have said is very straightforward. We want to see both sides back at the table, and we criticize and make absolutely clear we don’t want to see provocative actions. We’ve said that about the recent announcements from the Israeli Government, but we also know that the Palestinians have to be willing to negotiate. And it’s hard for them because they feel like they’ve been at this for a while and nothing has happened. Both sides have their case to be made. Make it at the negotiating table. And that’s what we’re pushing for.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we thank you very much for being with us today, for the time you’ve given us. We hope to see you soon in Cairo and have the same chance again.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. I would look forward to that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.