I guess the difference that I'm hearing from people we've talked to is that
Egypt was successful in the sense of suppressing or repressing this terrorist
movement internally. It subsided.
We were successful for two reasons. The government was extremely forceful in
dealing with this trend; secondly, because the community itself rejected the
trend as whole. This was not something that was beneficial to ... the layman in the street. There was no generic support for it. I like
the word you used -- suppressed or repressed, whatever -- whichever one;
because we solved it, or almost solved it, domestically. But to solve the trend
as a whole, you have to go through a process of international cooperation.
What the people who survived the suppression of their movement in Egypt, who
have fled to the United Kingdom, to the United States, and to other countries,
say to us is that Egypt did this through torture, through suspending civil
liberties, through basically becoming an authoritarian state. True?
No, I don't think it's true. I think we applied the full force of the law.
That's probably the better interpretation of what we did.
That's what you would say. But they say...
That's the truth. I'm not a terrorist; they are. We applied the full force of
the law, which meant aggressively pursing terrorism ... and violations of the
law, and aggressively pursuing intelligence leaks ... in a proactive way. In
other words, before things happened, we were looking for them, because we were
aware that people were trying to undertake those activities in our country. And
I'm sure that the terrorists were annoyed by this -- but that's the whole idea.
I think they were a little more than annoyed.
We meant it that way. It was meant to get rid of terrorism, and we did a decent
job in doing that. It does not mean the issue has been solved completely,
because you can't solve it alone. These guys get money from abroad. You have
networks all over the place. They travel freely. To get rid of terrorism ... you have to have international cooperation, because money is fungible. The
network is extensive. Communications are quite intensive. And they will move
...I'm sitting out in the American public, watching, and especially in the
last couple of weeks, reading. I see in today's New York Times:
"Egyptian seen as top aide in successor to bin Laden." This is Mr. Ayman
al-Zawahiri. And previously, it was the blind sheik, Abdel Rahman in the 1993
bombing of the World Trade Center. Why Egyptians? ... Some of your citizens
are involved in [the current attack on New York and Washington]. And some of
them are in very prominent roles, either the second in command -- I believe
there's a Muhammed Atep, who is another Egyptian, who is apparently one of the
commanders of bin Laden's organization. And so the question becomes, why do
they see us, the United States, as their enemy?
Let's draw a distinction between several things. You supported the Egyptian
government because of its considered moderate policies in attempt to modernize
our country and pursue peace in the Middle East. That remains the widespread
position of the Egyptian community as a whole. So the relationship between what
you've done for Egypt, and where Egypt is, is a relationship between the
civilized society in Egypt, and ... civilized society in the U.S. It is not
between you and the terrorists. Terrorists do not represent Egypt. There are
Egyptian terrorists, like there are American terrorists, like there are
European terrorists. ...
[But] let me explain why the U.S. could be a target in the minds of the
terrorists, although I don't speak on their behalf. You represent the largest,
strongest, industrialized and modern country in the world. So if people are
against modernization, then needless to say, you would ultimately be one of the
targets. Not the only target; but ultimately, one of the targets.
But why would you, in particular, be a target? Well -- and I'm not justifying
this, I'm just explaining it -- people, like these people, who are
marginalized, will look at your policies in the Middle East, and see what they
agree with and what they don't agree with -- your policies and others,
Europeans', Asians.' ... And they find in what you're doing in the Middle East
justification for considering you to be an enemy.
We support Mubarak's government, they say. We do -- with our tax money, as
well as our policies. And apparently, the Egyptian group accepted bin Laden's
argument that they should suspend going after Mubarak's government, and join
him in attacking the really big enemy, United States. Is this the price we're
paying for our policies in the Middle East?
I think it's partially that, yes. I want to be very clear. I'm not justifying
... what they're doing. [But] one of the arguments that they use to try to
attract recruits, or try to heighten anti-Americanism, is your policy in the
Middle East. People today -- whether that is right or wrong -- when they see
Palestinians being killed with American weapons, they link that to the U.S.,
even though it may be a result of an Israeli action. So this is one of the
reasons they use to justify this. They will use the continuing sanctions regime
against Iraq, as another example. ...
It's not incorrect to say -- as has been now reported in our media in the
United States -- that on the street, if you will, in Egypt today, there is some
sympathy for these fundamentalists, for what they say they believe in terms of
their critique [of U.S policy]. [And there's] not so much sympathy for what's
happened in the United States.
No, I disagree with that. I think there is an obvious degree of criticism of
the U.S. in terms of its policy in the Middle East.
... with Israel?
With Israel specifically. Or particularly with Israel, in support of Israel.
A little bit with Iraq, but mostly with Israel. There's an increasing sentiment
that the U.S. has not been balanced in its posture in the Middle East, and that
has not been strong enough in stopping Israel from using American weapons
against Palestinians. That exists, and one should not deny that.
And our policies related to oil in the Middle East?
Yes and no. The oil policies are not ones that really create antipathy towards
the U.S. It's much more the use of force by Israel using American weapons that
leads to anti-Americanism, or the anti-American sentiment. That exists.
But that does not mean that people support terrorism. You had mosques holding
prayers after the World Trade Center tragedy. The Egyptian president -- every
Arab president or leader -- issued statements. The head of the most prestigious
Islamic university, the Egyptian mufti, as well as the head of the Egyptian
public church, all issued statements unequivocal in condemning what happened.
I don't believe that there was supportive sentiment for the terrorists after
what they did in the World Trade Center. But there is more and more an
anti-American feeling as a result of the peace process, and what they perceive
-- whether it's right or wrong -- to be a policy fully supporting Israel at
the expense of the Arabs.
So it's primarily our support of Israel and the Israeli government and its
policies that you see as one of the things that undermines our friends in the
I think that's one of the things that creates problems for you in the Middle
East, yes. You will need to change that perception if you want to succeed in
dealing with the issue of terrorism completely. On the other hand, that's not a
justification for the terrorist acts. And one should not draw that linkage too
quickly. But if you want to truly succeed in dealing with terrorism in the
Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, you're going to have to deal with
the root causes and the general public sentiment.
And in your perspective, the root causes of this Islamic terrorism coming
from Egypt [is] the condition of the people?
Again, it's not coming from Egypt. The people, the organizations you're talking
about that are of Egyptian origin are not working out of Egypt; they're trying
to get back into Egypt. They're actually working from foreign countries. So
it's not something that's we're exporting to the world. They're not in Egypt.
Well, you did export them, in a manner of speaking.
We got rid of them. And other countries welcomed them. But we did not export
them; we were trying to arrest them. ...
But they can't get back in their country ... They can get back
in their country to go to prison. ...
It's a strange situation. The country of origin in this case is waiting to
arrest these people, has warrants for their arrest, and they're operating, in
some cases, in places like United Kingdom, in western Europe, in United States.
And then we see what happens here.
It's a very valid question. We have made this point repeatedly, that in order
to really deal with terrorism, we have to work together. We had issued requests
for extradition and warrants for arrest after court verdicts. And in some
cases, we were faced with a situation where people said, "Well, you have a
death penalty in Egypt, and therefore, we cannot extradite anybody from our
country to yours, even if it is an Egyptian national, because you have a death
penalty." That's what the European countries have been saying.
You're going to face the same problem today as the U.S. if you try to extradite
people from Europe. How do you deal with the fact that you have the death
penalty and they don't? These are issues which have to be dealt with
constructively. And that's why President Mubarak from day one of the World
Trade Center crisis said, "Let's establish international norms." ... To deal
with issues of money laundering -- where's the money coming from? How's it
going? How do you deal with privacy laws? These are real issues.
After the public condemnation of terrorism, what next? Now we've all condemned
terrorism. What are we going to do about it? How do we work together? I respect
the laws of countries that do not have a death penalty. I respect the laws of
the countries that have privacy requirements. I also would expect them to
respect my laws, which are based on a very distinguished and long legal system,
and that we're applying the law to deal with criminals. ...
In your government's opinion, we should not, in the United States, give
political asylum to people who are wanted for crimes in Egypt?
Definitely not for terrorists.
It must seem absurd, in some ways, to your government in Cairo, when they
looked to the United States and, "We want Abdel Rahman back in Egypt. We want
these people back from the United Kingdom." And they won't send them back; and
then they complain that you're sending us terrorists.
Well, it's frustrating. But we're 7,000 years old. And frankly, we know that
many of these international issues are not resolved by the stroke of a pen, or
quickly. We know that they are complicated processes. ...
We are as interested as everybody else in preserving civil liberties --
preserving civil liberties for our nationals who are fully committed to trying
to live within a civilized society according to the established norms -- and
even preserving civil liberties for criminals; but in a manner which allows us
to pursue them.
So if Human Rights Watch, or some of these organizations say, "That's absurd
what this man is saying. There are political prisoners in Egypt. There are
people who have been detained without warrants. They number in the thousands,
and sometimes in the tens of thousands in the 1990s..."
I respect the human rights organization. I know that their intentions are noble
intentions, and we want to work with them. There are no absolute facts here.
There are no absolute or easy answers. One cannot say that you should not
arrest terrorists, that you should not pursue intelligence reports
aggressively. But one would not say, either, that you have to drop civil
liberties completely. That would be ridiculous. ... We want to preserve civil
liberty, but we want to pursue ... to have law and order in our country and in
yours. There's no contradiction by definition between civil liberties and
aggressive policing. There will be a contradiction if we don't sit down and
[Do you think there is] financial, if not also ideological, support for the
bin Laden organization, or at least what it stands for [in Saudi Arabia]? And
that there is a flow of money that's coming from there through charities,
through other organizations, to his organization?
... I'm not speaking on their behalf. But I can confirm that the Saudi royal
family and the Saudi government is not financing bin Laden. ... Bin Laden has
been out of Saudi Arabia for years. He opposes what's happening there. They
have publicly, and quite prominently expressed their condemnation of what he's
I was following the reports about the stock market over the last few days,
after the World Trade Center issues. And some people were reporting that bin
Laden had made a profit. ... In other words, the money is not in Saudi Arabia,
it's not in the Middle East. It's in the Western financial circles, among other
There are those who say that Iraq is involved in some fashion. Does the
Egyptian government have any reason to believe that there is Iraqi support for
this particular action, or for any of the terrorist activities going on?
We don't have specific information that would allow me to draw that conclusion
at this point. And frankly, in terms of political logic, I would not expect it
to be the case -- because why would Iraq want to bring the wrath of the U.S.
government on itself?
... Isn't the fact that the U.S. bombs Iraq, an Arab country, a Middle
Eastern country, part of the reason why there is, if you will, resentment or
hatred to the United States? It's the only place that I know of that's getting
bombed from the air with almost impunity.
I think it is a policy that does fuel anti-Americanism, and the perception that
the U.S. pursues aggressive policies towards the Arab world. Whether that's
correct or not is not the issue. But in actual fact, it does add to that
element. But I would again draw the distinction between rising anti-Americanism
in terms of people opposing your policy -- quite seriously -- and these same
people supporting terrorism. There's a strong distinction. ... There's a huge
line in the sand -- not a thin line in the sand. I think you have a desert
between people who have problems with U.S. policy in the Middle East and those
who would take it to the point where this justifies what a terrorist would do.
I think one needs to deal with this perception problem that you have in the
Middle East if you want to have sustained support for whatever efforts you want
to make in the Middle East. But that does not mean that this community supports
... Some people believe that the reason why these terrorist acts take place
is they want us to react -- or over-react, if there's such a thing in this case
-- in such a way as to make them more popular with this sentiment of
That's a very valid point, but let me just simply make one point. If you look
at where terrorists are operating today, where they've acted, and where they
exist, they exist and have acted outside the Arab world. Their bases for
operation, their activities have been ... are today essentially outside the
Arab world, because Arab governments have been tough with them, and because
Arab communities do not support what they're doing. ...
But with all due respect ... reading recently that some of the hijackers
involved in the World Trade Center just recently traveled through the UAE, and
had Saudi papers in certain cases. The people who attacked the Cole operated in
Yemen. Today's paper says that Mr. al-Zawahiri has been in Egypt on occasion in
the last five years. We have the perception at least here in our news reports
that they do operate in some fashion or another in the region as well as
outside the region.
No, I disagree with you. ... Al-Zawahiri hasn't been in Egypt at least
for five years. And we've been trying to get him out of Europe for that period
of time. He's been traveling in Europe, and ... I assume he's
been to Afghanistan as well. What you call terrorist bases, what the
international community considers to be terrorist bases -- areas where they
train and recruit are not in the Arab world. ...
I can't believe that there isn't an official in the Egyptian government
today who's been around for a while who's saying, "You see those people, if
they had just sent us the blind sheik and everybody else back who we wanted
back, this probably wouldn't have happened?"
Let's look forward rather than backwards and work together in a considerate,
serious manner, taking all of the issues into account. Egypt will be at the
forefront of that effort, looking at this issue with determination, but in a
very cautious and considerate manner.
No wonder you're a diplomat. (Laughter)
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