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Interview on Al Arabiya With Randa Abu Alawmy

Interview on Al Arabiya With Randa Abu Alawmy

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Cairo, Egypt
June 20, 2005

QUESTION: Welcome in Al Arabiya and we really are pleased to have you with us in the channel. Let us start in this interview with one of the main goals, reform, reform in Egypt. And I know that this was top of your priorities and you've discussed that with President Mubarak. While it is really needed and many Egyptians, whether from the opposition or the ordinary people, feel that there is a real need for reform in Egypt, however, there is some reluctance and I'm sure that you know of that, the United States may be dictating a certain type of reform and this is highly reluctant even within the opposition that, yes, welcome to reform, but not American reform. So what is your position, Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, of course. If I may first also just say to you and to the members of Al Arabiya that we are, of course, very sorry about the injury to your correspondent. And the United States will do everything that we can to help in that situation, but I know it must be difficult. These are like families and I'm very sorry about that.

As to reform here in Egypt, the United States believes very strongly that the principles that we are talking about are universal principles that around the world people want to be able to say what they think or worship as they please or educate their children, both boys and girls, or not to have to deal with the arbitrary power of the state that causes the knock of the secret police at night. And so these are universal values.

Now, they will find expression in local circumstances and we believe fully that the forms of democracy will be very different across the world. The forms of democracy are different in Europe or in Asia or in Latin America. And the Middle Eastern people will find their voice and find the form of democracy that is best for them. We believe strongly that democracy does not have to be imposed from any place. Tyranny is imposed. Democracy is a more natural state.

QUESTION: Well, your visit today includes a lecture in the American University about reform and about democracy as well and a meeting with some members whom you called or whom you referred as reformers. That includes Ayman Nour, and Dr. Ayman Nour we know of his case and we know that partially you delayed your visit to Egypt due to his arrest. Also there was a very strong position towards -- American position towards the Egyptian Government when Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim was also arrested.

Well, we never heard something similar or something very strong when hundreds of people from the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested due to demonstrating against the government. So this is highly viewed as double standards or favoring a few people and not the others.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have been very consistent that people need to have the right to express their views, but they need to do so within the context of rule of law. And we're not going to talk about which organizations can or cannot participate in a political process. I think the Egyptian people will help to judge those issues.

But in terms of the rights of individuals to be engaged in a political process and to push forward a political process, I'm very much looking forward to my meeting with these figures who have pressed for reform in Egypt, who've talked about the need to have competitive elections. They will be important voices as Egypt goes forward.

And let me say, President Mubarak has opened the door with changes, with the desire to have competitive elections. And because Egypt is such a leader in the Arab world, but in the world more generally, it's going to be very important that these be free and fair elections that are transparent, where the opposition can have access to television and to other media. That's the discussion we'll have today.

QUESTION: Okay. Why you pick -- I mean, Dr. Ayman Nour, there's a lot of controversial things stated about him, especially when the American Administration took such a strong position. This was also -- I mean, your meeting today is highly sensitive. This was viewed, and I'm sure that you've heard reports from opposition and parties and media, that this is meddling in internal Egyptian affairs. So, I mean, do you share the same view?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would not be at all opposed if someone came from Egypt and wanted to meet with opposition figures in the United States, not in the least. I think it would be perfectly natural if a leader from Egypt wanted to come and meet with people who've been in opposition or who have views that are opposed to the views of the American Government because that's what openness is. I meet with groups all over the world, civil society groups that may have views that are different than the government's. And, in fact, with -- in governments that we consider some of our best friends, I've met with people who have views that are different.

It's extremely important that civil society be heard. It is not somehow anti-government or unpatriotic to hold views that are different than one's government. That's a part of the democratic enterprise. We deal directly with the Egyptian Government because Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States, a good friend of the United States. We've had strong relations for a very, very long time. As Egypt changes and reforms, in part, because the Egyptian Government itself is beginning these reforms, I would expect to have an opportunity to meet a wider variety of people and groups here in Egypt.

QUESTION: And we heard conflicting statements coming from the United States about Islamists, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, come into power through elections that the United States is -- will welcome or, I mean, will be dealing with that. But, I mean, we've heard that conflicting many times. So what is your position now towards this instance?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to try and speculate about what the United States will do concerning how an election might turn out. We believe in free and fair elections. But we do believe in rule of law and we do believe that the people who participate in elections have to be in accordance with that rule of law.

It's also important to note that I know that there are people who say that free choices around this region will lead to extremism. I would say that the freedom deficit, as the Arab intellectuals called it in that UN report, has led to an absence of proper channels for people to express their grievances, express their political views, and that more than anything has led to extremism.

When you have a region in which people are willing to strap suicide belts onto themselves and kill other innocent people or to fly airplanes into buildings, something is deeply wrong. And the United States for too many years, for 60 years, refused to look at the Middle East as it looked at so many other regions of the world.

The United States for 60 years did not look at the Middle East as it looked at the rest of world. We thought we were trading stability for democracy. And, of course, we have neither. What we got was the growth of extremist groups in this region.

QUESTION: Some view this not just because of lack of democracy, but also due to some unbalanced and biased -- I mean, United States being biased towards Israel and this promotes also suicide bombers. I mean, this --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am quite certain that resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will improve the atmosphere in the Middle East for everything, including democracy. That's why we're working so hard at it. That's why I was just in Israel and the Palestinian territories. But I don't believe for one moment that the people of the Middle East should be denied somehow their aspirations for democracy and freedom wherever regional conflicts continue to exist.

QUESTION: But you raise the subject of international observers on presidential -- both presidential and parliamentarian elections that are coming in Egypt with President Mubarak because we know that it is highly sensitive here and we saw some reluctance also even amongst the opposition. So, I mean, is the United States still determined on having international observers on elections?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I believe that given that these are new reforms and that the elections will be taking place therefore in a new environment, that international observers and monitors would be a very useful step because it would allow the Egyptian people to draw on international experience. It would allow the international community to see these elections. It's not because we don't think that Egyptians can carry out elections on their own. But when you have new reforms and you have new democratic processes, the international system, I think, is experienced and quite capable in helping in this way.

QUESTION: We switch to another election. The Lebanese election has been -- and, I mean, it has ended. And what is, I mean, demanded now from the -- I mean, the United States, what is demanding from the new Lebanese Parliament and the Government as in respect to Hezbollah?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we ought to give the Lebanese just a little time to celebrate the fact that they've carried out this great democratic enterprise. And this is done, thanks finally, to the removal of Syrian military forces, though Syria needs to remove any non-transparent forces that it might also have in the area.

The Lebanese people now have a chance to look at the balance in their politics. Ultimately, 1559 talks about the fact that militias cannot continue to exist and it just recognizes a very important fact, which is that you can't have one foot in the political process and another foot in monopolizing or in intending to be able to use violence. And I think that's really what this is going to be about.

But I just want to say to the Lebanese people congratulations at this particular moment for the respectful way that they've carried out these elections, for the dialogue and discussion that they've had. And I think it shows that they can overcome the very deep differences that have been in that society.

QUESTION: Going back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we know that there is a coming withdrawal from Gaza, I mean, we've heard news that Israel wants a mediator to mediate with Hamas in order to ensure a small withdrawal without any major disturbance. Is the United States or can the United States be mediator between the two?

SECRETARY RICE: No, we do not have contacts with Hamas. We consider Hamas a terrorist organization. My understanding is that the Palestinian Authority is trying to work with all the Palestinian factions to make sure that there is peace for the withdrawal. The Palestinian Authority is, after all, the elected government of the Palestinian people. And so we are working with them. I just experienced the degree to which the Israelis are working with the Palestinian Authority. And that should be the best way.

But there should be a message to all groups that have carried out violence in the past, and that is that when Mahmoud Abbas was elected President by the Palestinian people by some 62 percent, he was elected on a platform of finding peace with Israel, ending the armed intifada. And so all of the states of the region who have contacts with other groups in the Palestinian territories should be reinforcing that message.

QUESTION: Okay. My final question about Syria. Today in your press conference you have also criticized Syria as to its neighbors and there was a (inaudible) withdrawal from Lebanon and there is some sort of a feeling that no matter what Syria does, it still will -- I mean, it is always criticized from the United States. So what is your (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Syrians did indeed withdraw their military forces. We have concerns about intelligence forces. But they should fully fulfill 1559 and live up to their responsibility to make sure that that is carried out. But it was the Iraqi Government that talked about problems on the Syrian border, for instance, with the insurgent or terrorist forces gathering on Syrian territory, using financing out of Syria to come into Iraq and effectively, literally, blow up innocent Iraqis and coalition forces as well.

And so I would say to the Syrians that this is a matter of Syrian behavior. We don't have any desire to have bad relations with the Syrian people. The Syrian people deserve to have the same kind of hopes and aspirations for a free future that are now spreading in places like Iraq and Lebanon and that there is hopeful here in Egypt. And the Syrians have a responsibility not to support terrorist groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is headquartered in Damascus, as saying that it will not abide by the agreement that it made with Mahmoud Abbas. It should stop letting its territory be used for insurgents to blow up innocent Iraqis.

The Syrians have gotten themselves in a position where they are helping those who would frustrate the aspirations of the Lebanese people, of the Iraqi people and of the Palestinian people. That necessitates a change in Syrian behavior and that would be the message to Syria.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, thank you very much for giving Al Arabiya this interview and we'd like to have even longer one, but (inaudible) commitment. We are really appreciating this and thank you very much. 2005/T10-14

Released on June 20, 2005

ENDS


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