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Egypt Foreign Minister: Resolving Protest Stalemate Would Help Reconciliation

August 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The continuing standoff between the interim government and sit-in protesters continues in Egypt despite international pressure to resolve the issue through dialogue rather than violence. Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy joins Margaret Warner to discuss his nation's effort to establish a new government.
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MARGARET WARNER: I’m joined now by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy from Cairo.

And, Minister Fahmy, thanks for being with us.

It appears that your government is holding off for now using force to disperse these two sit-ins. Is that the case? If so, why?

FOREIGN MINISTER NABIL FAHMY, Egypt: Well, the decision taken by the government even two weeks ago was that the minister of interior would act when he sees it is necessary in accordance with the law. That’s really the objective.

There’s no desire to curtail any effort to find a solution to this. But, ultimately, it has to be resolved, either through dialogue or through the enforcement of the law.

MARGARET WARNER: How long remains before it has to be resolved?

NABIL FAHMY: Not very long.

MARGARET WARNER: Days?

NABIL FAHMY: Well, I’m not going to get into days or weeks, but I can tell you that we have been trying to resolve it for quite a while now.

Every effort will continue to be exerted to resolve it. This ultimately is something that will help Egypt move on. But, also, the country needs to — the government needs to exert its authority and provide the layman on the street free access to their homes, their facilities and so on and so forth.

We need start — start up the economy and preserve a sense of security for people as a whole. That can’t happen when there is this problem with security on the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there a split within the coalition government on how to proceed with this?

NABIL FAHMY: Before, saying that the minister of interior was mandated to take actions in accordance with the law, that’s a decision. And at the same time, it didn’t preempt efforts being made by good offices from different countries, including U.S. and E.U. and to Arab countries, to find a solution through dialogue.

So there’s no contradiction between the two. But the only thing that has to be affirmed quite clearly is that we need to resolve this, so we can move on and build the country in accordance with the road map adopted.

MARGARET WARNER: What have the United States and the Europeans been telling your government privately? Are they warning that a violent crackdown could cost you international support, maybe even U.S. military aid?

NABIL FAHMY: What they have been telling us privately is very similar to what they have been saying publicly, that a best effort should be made to resolving this peacefully, that that would be the best solution for everyone.

And they have been urging us to be patient in trying to do that. They were here trying to do it. Those efforts, regrettably, didn’t lead to a successful conclusion. We’re not — there’s no real challenge to the logic that they’re presenting. We understand it is better to resolve it peacefully. But it cannot be a stalemate that ends — that continues endlessly. That also has to be dealt with.

MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, has your government made any concrete progress on the steps needed to restore civilian democracy, or is this standoff over the protest camps getting in the way?

NABIL FAHMY: The committee on the constitution, the legal aspect of it, has started its work already.

The committee on reconciliation has started its work already. And the government itself is going through a process of reviewing different laws and different programs and projects. But I admit, to get a true reconciliation, we are trying to encourage all the different factors — factions — excuse me — including the Islamists, to participate in this.

And resolving the stalemate on the ground would facilitate, in my view, the reconciliation process. And that’s why it has to be done in a reasonably short period of time. Don’t forget that the road map itself has a time limit of seven to nine months. That’s a very short period of time, to write a Constitution, have reconciliation, and hold two elections.

MARGARET WARNER: Today, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman was quoted as saying they would take part in reconciliation talks “under certain conditions” — quote, unquote.

Is there movement on that front?

NABIL FAHMY: Well, I know that Azhar was trying to bring together different ideas and different proposals to come up with a process to move forward based on the road map and moving forward from the 30th of June, not moving backwards.

I can’t address what the proposals are that are being discussed presently, and hopefully there will be a solution, because we do need to resolve this one way or the other.

MARGARET WARNER: One of the ideas being floated is to give Morsi some sort of a fig leaf, to recognize his authority as the elected president before he hands it over.

Is something like that a workable compromise?

NABIL FAHMY: Well, again, Margaret, I’m not — I’m the minister of foreign affairs. My focus is on foreign policy. That’s my first point.

The second point is, talks are ongoing. But anything that attempts to rewrite history, rather than to move forward from the 30th of June onwards, wouldn’t carry much water, frankly.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, U.S. Senators McCain and Graham said in Cairo last week that it’s unrealistic to expect any kind of real dialogue as long as Morsi and other political prisoners are being detained. Are they right about that? Why hasn’t he been released?

NABIL FAHMY: The cases that have been brought against different Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the president, are cases related to criminal offenses, not to political offenses.

MARGARET WARNER: But if somebody is only being investigated and hasn’t been charged, why detain him in the meantime?

NABIL FAHMY: There’s a process where, once the investigation starts, the investigating judge — or if it’s a special judge, in accordance with the normal courts, by the way, he can determine whether the accused should be held while the process continues or not. And they take decisions on a 15-day basis. And that’s what’s happened so far.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think any new constitution and elections will be seen as legitimate by the Egyptian people and the world if the Brotherhood hasn’t participated in shaping them?

NABIL FAHMY: It’s going to be open, transparent. And, as I said, it’s an open invitation for everyone to participate. We would hope that it allows for a process where all Egyptians work together. Egypt will not only be — cannot only be for Islamists. It cannot only be for secularists. It has to involve everyone, but it has to be based on building an inclusive society for the future.

It can’t be exclusive politics. And it can’t be a process that is not transparent, doesn’t respond to the interests of the people. So I would hope that we have everybody participating, and the door will remain open.

MARGARET WARNER: Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, thank you for joining us.

NABIL FAHMY: You’re welcome, Margaret.