Egypt: A democracy vacuum must not arise (interview)
Foreign Minister Westerwelle is visiting Egypt from 9-10 July 2012. It is his fifth trip there since taking office. He held talks with President Mohammed Morsi and others. On 10 July he was interviewed by Deutschlandfunk. Silvia Engels asked the questions.
Deutschlandfunk: Egypt is still trying to find its way in the era after Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule. This is made especially clear by the current power struggle that has flared up between the Constitutional Court and the newly elected President, Mohammed Morsi. The President issued a decree reinstating the elected parliament over the weekend, but the Constitutional Court has opposed this move. There could be an escalation of the situation today, because at least part of the parliament wants to reconvene. Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has traveled to Egypt in the middle of this escalating power struggle and is speaking to us from Cairo. Good morning, Mr Westerwelle.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle: Good morning, Ms Engels.
Yesterday evening you met with your Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Amr. What impression did you gain during these first talks of this escalating power struggle?
The purpose of my visit is to promote democratic stability. That means we Germans want to see Egypt successful in finding its way to democracy, to a civilian democratic government and that it’s also necessary for us to support that internationally. My trip is part of this international support. Of course we are not mediators in an internal conflict between Egyptian institutions, but it is important to us that, bearing in mind the great responsibility for Egypt’s future, a good solution be found quickly and a democracy vacuum does not arise.
You are meeting with the new President, Mohammed Morsi, today. What do you want to say to him?
We want to say that Egypt’s progress, as well as its success, largely depends on an improvement of the economy. I must also make clear that Egypt’s economic success, as well as better quality of life for Egyptians, depends on investment, on new economic activity – not least from Germany. German companies are very interested in investing even more in Egypt, but there must be a stable democracy. And our offer of a transformation partnership still stands. That means, if after the elections Egypt now decides – as we expect it to – to undertake a long-term, sustained march down the path towards democracy, then we are ready with support and will do our part to move the economy forward again.
Mr Westerwelle, you are calling for stable democratic structures. Do you have a clear view of which party is acting in accordance with the law in this fight over the parliament? The President or the Constitutional Court?
That is of course a question also being argued over by the lawyers. It also has a political background. But it is not our place to decide this argument. We want the transformation process to be successful, i.e. that following the presidential elections Egypt’s civilian democracy really does take hold. I got to know Mr Morsi, who is now President, at the beginning of this year when I visited him for a long discussion while he was still the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe that on the one hand he is someone who intends to and actually will respect Egypt’s international treaties, for example the treaties with Israel, and on the other someone who knows that pluralism at home, including religious tolerance, is important for the future of Egypt. In this respect, democracy and rule of law have not yet been achieved, but the presidential elections represent substantial progress.
When Germany offers assistance, will it be as a means to support the position of President Morsi or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces?
Again, we have also held various talks with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. I have met with Field Marshal Tantawi myself several times. This is my fourth trip to Egypt since the revolution here in this wonderful country. It is vital that all forces now unite and recognize their responsibility for Egypt’s future, which is also a responsibility for the people. I visited the people in Tahrir Square immediately after the revolution and I can still recall both the great sense of a new beginning and also being met with waves of enthusiasm for Germany and Germany’s support. The crucial thing is that those were not just people who took to the streets for the right to participate in democracy and for political rights. They also wanted to participate more in the economy, in society. They wanted to improve their quality of life and that was not previously possible within the autocratic structures, in which many economic gains disappeared into dark corners. So it is important that democratic development is now accompanied by positive economic development, which can only come about if there is a stable democracy in Egypt.
You have mentioned several times that you have been to Egypt often, but is now a good time to be there as a German Foreign Minister in the middle of Egypt’s raging power struggle?
Now is the best time. If you go when everything has been decided – maybe even when the decision has gone the wrong way – then you do not have any influence. The signal I want to send with this visit is that we – the international community, Europeans, the German Government – think it is very important that the process of democratization that has been started be continued. It is therefore important that the democratic forces in Egypt receive a show of support from the international community at this precise time, now that elections have been held. That will make it clear to those who perhaps have no interest in democratic structures that the international community, the countries of the world and also governments from around the world are paying close attention and want to support democracy.
Don’t some Egyptians see your visiting at just this moment as meddling in internal affairs?
You know, I had a long discussion yesterday with Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr and I can assure you he was very supportive and even very happy that Germany is demonstrating its solidarity with Egypt. And it is not the case that we Germans are only pursuing a foreign policy guided by our own interests, when, for example we also promote our economic interests. We are also pursuing a foreign policy guided by values. Remember how much support there was in Germany when the Arab Spring began. That must not slacken off now. We Germans must show our support over the course of the long, hard march that now lies ahead. It does not help for us to pay attention to Egypt on the day the revolution takes place and when there are mass protests and then look away when stable democratic structures need to be put into place and consolidate after the revolution. We have to stick with it. And we Germans want to support democracy everywhere around the world. We believe that the dignity of man, the rule of law and democracy are the recipe for a good future for all nations. We do not keep this to ourselves; we say this in the countries where we are guests. I was invited here and am happy about that.
Let’s be specific on the topic of being guided by values. Many delegates from the parliament have announced that they will follow the President’s lead and hold a session of parliament today in opposition to the will of the Constitutional Court. Do you think that is advisable?
That is not something for a German Foreign Minister to decide. That is something that will be discussed by the duly elected members of parliament with the Egyptian institutions. It is my impression that other possibilities are being discussed, at least that is the way it seems to me after the first few hours of my visit, but speaking about that publicly would not be wise, especially not from Cairo.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, thank you for speaking to us from Cairo.
© 2012 Deutschlandradio