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Egypt’s Ambassador: Morsi Was Unable to Be ‘President of All Egyptians’

July 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Anti-Morsi supporters were back in Tahrir Square for a third day, while Morsi supporters called for a day of "rejection" against the military's ouster. Margaret Warner talks to Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo and Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Mohamed Tawfik for more on the impacts of Egypt's political change.
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MARGARET WARNER: And with me now to discuss the monumental change in his country this week is Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Tawfik. He has been in his post since President Morsi appointed him last September.

And, Mr. Ambassador, thank you for coming in and joining us.

So what’s your sense of the situation in your country right now? Is it in danger of spinning out of control?

AMBASSADOR MOHAMED TAWFIK, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States: I don’t think so.

I think an overwhelming majority of Egyptians have already given their verdict. It is perfectly acceptable for people, for Dr. Morsi’s supporters to demonstrate peacefully. But it is very important to stop any kinds of violence, and particularly to stop incitement.    

MARGARET WARNER: We just — we had hoped to be joined by Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo.

And on that note, if you will just wait a second, I’m just going to ask her a couple of questions about her sense of situation on the ground.

Nancy, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, thank you for joining us.

You have been out in the streets. What is the situation now? How much fighting, actual fighting is there between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi supporters?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: Yes, today, there were clashes nationwide.

Anti-Morsi supporters were back in Tahrir for the third day, since the military announced that Morsi had been ousted from office. And today, in what Morsi supporters called a day of rejection, rejecting the military’s decree, they came out in large numbers and at one point approached those in Tahrir Square and started firing live rounds.

Those in Tahrir Square moved out of the square and launched attacks back on them using fireworks, rocks and gunfire. And the battle went on for about three hours, until the military intervened.

MARGARET WARNER: So, the military — the army and police are trying to keep a lid on this?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Yes and no.

What’s interesting is that they let this go on for nearly three hours. During that time, the military was flying helicopters overhead in a show of force, but it simply wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t until scores were injured. We’re still trying to confirm the death rates now. And there’s blood all over the street just behind me in that demonstration.

And so it’s unclear how much they’re able to stop these protests from going on day after day, unless there’s some sort of curfew or other military mandate placed on the nation.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what are Muslim Brotherhood leaders and even active rank and file saying publicly or telling you about their intentions here? I mean, did they intend to keep demonstrating? Are they going to resort to a more kind of violent resistance to what’s taken place?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it’s interesting, because just as the opposition was fractured, we’re hearing different voices from those who support Morsi.

There are those who say that, even though they didn’t like Morsi, he served as a way to protect them from the military rule, which has governed this country for nearly six decades in some form or fashion. There are some who are saying that this must go violently, that they are prepared to die for this, that they see this as a greater religious mission and are they are actually to die.

And then there are those who say that this must be handled peacefully. We heard today from members of the Brotherhood, the leadership, Mohammed Badie, who said that they were open to negotiations, but only if Morsi was reinstated in power. And yet the government, the new government, the new civilian government appointed by the military, has said that it’s prepared to file charges against Morsi for insulting the state. And so it doesn’t appear that that is an option to bring these clashes to an end.

MARGARET WARNER: But are you getting the sense from some Muslim Brotherhood figures of some influence, that in fact at least a faction of them might be ready to participate in the formation of this new government?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it’s interesting, because yesterday we heard …

MARGARET WARNER: Nancy Youssef, thank you so much. We just lost our connection with you, but thank you for being with us.

So, Mr. Ambassador, let’s go back to what happened. Was this a coup, as, in fact, the Muslim Brotherhood says it was?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Absolutely not.

This was a situation in which the vast majority of Egyptians took to the streets; 22 million petitions were filled in. And all they asked for was early elections. They didn’t ask for the military to take over. They asked for early elections.

Now, President Morsi and his supporters, what they did is they mobilized. They stirred people’s feelings up. And basically they encouraged their supporters to face the other demonstrators. So there was no option for the military and for the rest of Egyptian society but to intervene, before terrible clashes and escalation would run out of control.

MARGARET WARNER: I have to ask you. I mean, until three days ago, you worked for President Morsi. He appointed you last fall, yet you support what happened, his ouster. I mean, one, why? And, two, are your views widely shared within the bureaucracy, the civil service, the foreign service?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Well, on a personal level, when Morsi was elected president of Egypt, I was very hopeful. I really wished and I really hoped that he would succeed. And I did my very best personally to help him to succeed.

But, unfortunately, little by little, it became clear that he was unable to move from being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to becoming the president of all Egyptians. And what we have seen in the past few weeks, that is the outcome of that. The people of Egypt, like me, felt completely disappointed in President Morsi and felt that this could not go on any longer.

MARGARET WARNER: So where is President Morsi now? Has he been arrested?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: I don’t know. I really — I have no information regarding that.

MARGARET WARNER: But can you assure our listeners that he — and our viewers that he is safe?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Absolutely.

No arbitrary measures will be taken against anyone in Egypt. What we’re trying to do in Egypt is correct our path. What our objective is, is full and complete democracy. We want respect for human rights. If somebody breaks the law, they will be dealt with in due process.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, a report just moved just from Reuters that Khairat al-Shater, one of the top, top leaders of the Brotherhood, has just been detained or arrested. I mean, do you know if that is the case?

And, secondly, on what grounds are these Brotherhood figures who I don’t believe have been out on the streets carrying clubs or anything, on what grounds are they being arrested or detained?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Well, I don’t have details regarding this particular case.

But, again, people have the right to demonstrate peacefully. They have the right to express their views, whatever they may be. But they do not have the right to resort to violence or to incite their followers to violence.

MARGARET WARNER: So, just to be clear, are you saying nobody will be detained unless there is evidence that they have incited violence?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Absolutely. Absolutely.

There has to be evidence and due process has to be followed. This is not something that the executive branch would do. This is something up to the judiciary.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, who is actually running the country right now?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: The interim president, who was sworn in yesterday.

MARGARET WARNER: But what role does the military have in making these decisions, for instance, the timing today of hiring a new intelligence chief or dissolving the parliament?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: The military’s role is to protect the country and to help the police in restoring order.

We don’t want any other people to get killed. It doesn’t matter if they’re supporters of President Morsi, supporters of the movement that removed him from office. It doesn’t matter. It matters that they’re Egyptian citizens, that they’re human beings. And we want to protect everybody’s lives.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, President Obama spoke once about this publicly, Wednesday. He called for a quick return to democratic governance. How quickly will new elections be held?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Well, I think what we have if mind is a road map.

That includes elections, presidential elections, parliamentary elections. But it also includes national reconciliation. This is very important. There is room for everyone in Egypt.

MARGARET WARNER: But you’re not putting — there’s no timeline for when elections would be held?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: No timeline has been put yet, but I’m sure that will be done soon.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, what message — I’m assume you are meeting privately with administration officials, Obama administration officials. I know Secretary Kerry, Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey have called their counterparts.

What message are you getting privately about whether U.S. aid to Egypt is at risk, as it would be, in fact, if this government determined it was a coup?

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Well, the message I’m getting is very clear. Everybody in the United States, within the administration, in Congress, they would all like Egypt to succeed. They want Egypt to be democratic. They want Egypt to be successful.

And that is the message that I’m getting. And I assure them that is what the Egyptian people want. That is what they have opted for. And they will guarantee that that is the objective we achieve.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik, thank you for being with us.

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Thank you very much.