A political science researcher specialised in the US foreign policy and regional security, Abdel Moneim Said heads the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS), an independent think tank that fosters some of Egypt’s finest researchers and analysts in the fields of eegional relations, Egyptian and regional security, and Islamic movements.
Said launched his career in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) as a researcher before climbing up the ladder to head the research centre, followed by the Ahram institution, taking up responsibility for the state’s largest media organisation.
In 2013, after the 25 January Revolution, he was appointed chairman for Egypt’s then-pioneering independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Said, discussing topics varying from rights groups’ position in Egypt, to military intervention in Yemen, and getting insights on Egypt’s most critical foreign relations.
Recently the US announced resuming the arms deals that had been suspended since October 2013. How do you value Egyptian-American relations currently?
Any relations between countries are interactive, meaning it depends on efforts paid by two parties. Of course there were tensions after the events of 30 June 2013, 3 July the Rabaa dispersal, etc.
People who know Washington well know that behind every American administration are a set of research centres and lobby groups that was formed years ago and established relations with the administration.
These centres and groups, truly or falsely, reached a conclusion that democracy’s existence in the Arab and Muslim countries under the former regimes is impossible and there is no way for democracy but through moderate Islamic forces, with a bit of simplicity.
Turkey’s experience represented a solid model as a country that became of the top 20 industrial countries in the world, a country that walked away from poverty, has secularism, transparent elections, the political power of the military in it has been largely limited, and it has been seeking joining the EU.
This model was meant to be applied in the rest of the region’s countries, and hence the large American pressure for Mohamed Morsi’s win [in the presidential elections] against [Ahmed] Shafiq. Whether the whispers that Morsi didn’t actually win are true or not, there was American pressure against Shafiq winning. The result was that Morsi won, and that was not without some pressure from the US.
But, though America has extended strategic interests with Egypt, it reached a balance between punishment or exclusion [of Egypt], while maintaining an extent of cooperation. The climax for this stance was following the Rabaa (dispersal), as the US administration stopped the F-16 deal and the military aid and so on due to agitation in Washington. The Muslim Brotherhood played an important role in this agitation.
It took some time, but with influence, especially from the Emiratis and some voluntary effort, I spent 15 days in the US trying to explain what is going on in Egypt, and with organised efforts, the Americans started to see something new happening in Egypt.
First of all, they started to hear that the Brotherhood in Egypt are not like those in Turkey or Tunisia, they are pure Qutbists [referring to late radical leader of the group, Sayed Qutb] who have a history of violence.
When you introduce this narrative, some forces that are against Obama for different reasons start to embrace you. A camp started to tell the Egyptian story as we tell it, especially the Republicans.
Secondly, we started saying things and doing them, the roadmap, the constitution, which for the Americans is much better than the 2012 constitution, then came the presidential elections; despite the landslide result, and a lot of forces refraining from participations, there were no indications of forgery.
There was also something that I think echoed well in the States, when Al-Sisi rejected the budget and gave it back to the government and asked them to lift subsidies. So a set of decisive decisions made the US look at Egypt differently. [These included] gestures he made to Copts and the woman who was raped in Tahrir Square, his speech at Al-Azhar, the fact that he started to put down a development programme for Egypt, and a security programme.
Of course, there are still some unresolved issues, such as what they say about 46,000 detainees, a figure that came out of the machine of rights groups, while our official numbers stands at 8,000. The final thing is the mutual strategic interests.
You mentioned rights groups and their role. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) had to make a move to Tunisia, and some leading human rights figures are speaking against the regime, and they have credibility abroad, especially in the US.
I was one of the founders of CIHRS and the idea was that human rights is a goodadmittance to the issue of change in Egypt and what was happening in Egypt back then [during the Mubarak era] was not acceptable for anyone with a conscience.
There is a formative issue with Egyptian and American liberalism, which is that they overlook the factor of power. When liberalism countered fascism, there was no hesitation about crushing fascism, and back then the largest international coalition was formed for this cause.
Now we face the same situation in Egypt; liberals are willing to justify the Brotherhood’s crimes for the sake of their main obsession: the military rule.
I don’t mind that this becomes a main issue; but to be a main obsession, this is a problem.
There are defects in the liberal mind in Egypt, and sometimes also in the US. The Americans who trust our liberals overlook the fact that the people couldn’t stand still against a group that wants to take over, not just the state, but society.
The play a role, there has to be a force that plays the role of monitoring, but if they do not work on expanding their bases and adopting the general national cause, they lose much.
Was the political leadership wrong to overlook this group? Should they have been contained?
The country went through a series of encounters, and the decision maker had to prioritise. His main priority was to decide who to counter and who to ally with.
Who to counter was at first the Brotherhood, then came Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis and Ajnad Misr and such organisations, and who to ally with is the people, the critical mass, whom he can convince that we will work hard.
Al-Sisi is not trying to beautify the reality; it is the media that tries to do this. In his latest interview, he said that he is governing a falling country. He did not deceive anyone and people understand this. To be honest, people like Khaled Ali and (Ahmed) Douma aren’t as worthy… [Should he] win them to his side or win the syndicates, professional unions, media and the critical mass of the Egyptian people who support him?
Supposedly, a dialogue can be conducted via lower ranks, it’s possible that we are negligent towards research centres and some political parties as we sorrowfully don’t have the front that can gather all these voices over inclusive discussions within the national dialogue.
The problem also with this group is that they are so aggressive that you can’t have a ground for dialogue with them.
We’ve heard some reports about a military cooperation agreement signed between Turkey and Ethiopia. Does this affect Egypt’s current stance on the Nile water issue?
I don’t think that Turkey has interests in telling Ethiopians to cut water off for Egypt. Despite all the complications that have come into the Turkish-Egyptians relations, I think we should be dealing with this file more wisely.
I believe Turkey made huge mistakes, but for a wounded country like ours that has gone through tough experiences and is still going through them, we can’t afford to be enemies with Qatar, Turkey or the US, and if there are disputes, and there are, they should be resolved.
Before the recent disputes, Egypt and Turkey had had great military agreements; the same Turkey had with Israel.
My estimation is that a great part of what Ethiopia has been trying to do is bluffing. Turkey is not a global power.
In any case, we have to be monitoring such moves to see what they will result in. After all we need to know the details of these agreements to judge their importance.
You mentioned channels between Egypt and the US that helped ease the tensions. How can this apply to the case of Turkey and Qatar?
Tensions are already eased with Qatar, I previously said that it wasn’t a big deal. This was an example of the problem with media, the continuous attempts to create an enemy.
There is nothing in political science called boycotting; there always have to be channels of communication. We have a points of agreement with Turkey; they want to help Gaza and we want to help Gaza, we are both against ISIS, the Nusra Front and Hezbollah… here we can find common grounds in the strategic field.
Egyptians have historical issues with intervention in Yemen. We already face a critical situation in Sinai, and are now heading to even harder escalation. Why did Egypt get involved in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen?
The historical background of intervention in Yemen is evident in all Egyptians’ minds, especially because there is a reasonable connection between the war in Yemen in the 1960s and the defeat of 1967. The historical comparisons are important to learn from, but we also have to know the differences.
First of all, Egypt is not against Saudi Arabia as it was before, but instead is a part of an international coalition of 10 countries, and our military participation so far is through warships.
Secondly, we’re asserting our authority of protecting Suez Canal. Thirdly, as we’re facing the war in Sinai and Al-Farafra [on the western borders], we are now just moving the battle to a different front.
As for the ground intervention and the fears of the difficult escalations in Yemen, I believe we’re not going to do this. People think that ground battle has to take place in the mountainous areas, but we only need one ground battle and it will be conducted with other allies. It will be in the south of Yemen in order to create a base on the ground for the legitimate authority.
It is the Yemeni people who must take back Sana’a and the rest of Yemen, but we need to create a basis for legitimacy in Hadhramaut and Aden in the south.