In an informally-structured dialogue, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ahmed Aboul Gheit addressed a small crowd at The Brookings Institution yesterday before appointments with U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. Simultaneously, leaders of the Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, met for negotiations of Palestinian unity in Saudi Arabia, having come together in part due to Egypt’s intensive preparations. Optimism regarding these negotiations kicked off Mr. Gheit’s address.
The Palestinian problem needs to be addressed, Mr. Gheit claimed as his personal conviction, because it is “responsible for at least fifty percent of the tension within the Middle East” and between the West and the Middle East. An agreement, he believes, can be reached. “In order to ensure quiet, calm and stability, we have to ensure that Hamas is still in government,” Mr. Gheit said. Therefore, we must deal with Hamas, because they are “a fact of life,” he also commented. According to Mr. Gheit, once the Palestinians have united, the U.S.- with patience and vision- can facilitate negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Egypt calls for the end result of these negotiations to be an agreement on the “end game”- decisions on what to do with the borders, refugees, etc.- since the parameters for such an agreement are already known.
With sustained optimism, Mr. Gheit proceeded on to the situation in Iraq. Beginning by saying that “a true friend tells you the truth,” Mr. Gheit said that the current situation in Iraq is not limited to Iraq alone, rather threatens to expand to the region as whole. The problem is one of sectarian violence, insurgent fighting against foreign forces, and neighbors intervening or displaying their sensitivity to and personal interest in the future of Iraq, he said.
As to whether Egypt supports the U.S. Administration’s recently proposed policy for Iraq, Mr. Gheit said, “If the goal of increased troops is aimed at ending sectarian fighting, to dismantle the militia, we support it.” He continued that if the objective opens the political process and calls for amendments of the constitution, Egypt will endorse it. He further clarified, “I don’t endorse a plan; I endorse results.”
In order to see those results come to fruition, Mr. Gheit proposed some additional points: Sunnis need to be included in the political process; the Iraqi army should be re-established, as they are nationalists eager to serve their country; de-Baathification needs to come to an end, since a whole nation should not be penalized for belonging to a party; and Iraq’s neighbors need to be convinced that keeping Iraq unified is within the best interest of the region. He also added that the U.S. should be careful “not to create dynamics that help extremists.”
When questioned about political reform within his own country, Mr. Gheit’s only response was that Egypt is changing and moving forward. He explained that the “wisdom of Egypt” is to clearly state an objective and move toward it. “A stable democracy appears when the stage is right,” said Mr. Gheit, which includes education and a vibrant middle class. Egypt, he explained, has 13 parties, 450-500 newspapers, and a government that is liberalizing internally. Mr. Gheit then diplomatically transitioned topics.