Interview

Epiphanies from Shimon Peres

The Middle East's real problem is poverty, not politics, says Israel's president.

A living founding father, Israel's president has served as both warrior and peacemaker since his country's infancy, eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in concluding the Oslo Accords. Now he's grappling with how to respond to the challenge posed by an angry, impoverished Arab world and the growing threat of Iran.

In the short run, [the Arab revolutions] may be complicated. In the long run, it's a great hope and opportunity. It's really a young generation that wants to join in the new age because they cannot make a living -- neither can they exist -- in the old age. The young people have the future, and the old people are still trying to maintain the past. But the past is dead.


The real problem in the Middle East is not politics; the real problem is poverty. Take the Muslim Brothers: They don't have a plan for how to escape poverty. More than 40 percent in Egypt are under the poverty line. Thirty percent are unemployed -- it's very serious. And there are 82 million people, and they are not blessed with natural resources.


Today, the real threat is concentrated in one country: It's Iran. And the problem with the Iranian government is not only that they're trying to build a bomb, but that they became the center of international terror. They don't respect human rights. Now they are financing Hamas, preventing the Palestinians from getting together, sending them arms and bombs and missiles, and encouraging them to shoot and kill.


I wouldn't call it toppling the regime. I would say liberating Iran from its own malicious group of people. And I think it can be done, not necessarily by entering into an immediate military act. I think if there are sanctions, it will be effective; it will produce change.


The start wasn't good, but [the U.S.-Israeli relationship [under President Obama] improved with time and experience, and today it's in much better shape. There is a difference between American-Israeli relations and other relations. It is not just a relationship between governments; it's a relationship between peoples. We have the same inspiration: namely, the Bible.


I don't think there's any religion we can consider an enemy. There is no religion that calls for killing and hating and fighting. Muslims can be as peaceful [as we are], and even today I'm not sure all of them are necessarily very extreme or very violent. It has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with the ones who use the name of religion for their own ambitions. I don't know any lord in heaven who declared that the best solution is to kill everybody who is against me.


In a way, we were successful in building peace. The Palestinians built a structure. They introduced law. They run an economy. They built a force -- the 15,000 troops who trained in Jordan. And today, they can really keep law and order, and the economy is beginning to flourish.


Israel is a small piece of land. We are not even 1 percent of the Arab space, you know. We don't have water. We don't have oil. Our greatness, if one may say greatness, stems from the fact we had nothing to start with. So we turned to human talent because there weren't natural resources. The Arabs can do it too.

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Interview

Replacing Mubarak

Amr Moussa is nothing if not a political survivor. As he prepares to contend Egypt's upcoming presidential election, he talks to Foreign Policy about his views toward Israel, the military's role in politics, and Obama's first term in office.

Amr Moussa has emerged from Egypt's revolutionary tumult as the front-runner in the upcoming presidential election. But for this quintessential establishment man -- he served as foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak and then as secretary-general of the Arab League -- capturing the top seat in Egyptian politics is fraught with pitfalls. The revolutionaries on the streets scorn his ties with the previous regime, and the new kingmakers in Cairo -- the Islamists and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- are sure to demand concessions in return for their support.

It's not easy to walk that line, particularly with all the hot-button issues in Egypt's future. Here, Moussa tackles them all in an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy: the military's future role in politics, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and the upcoming U.S. presidential election, among others. In his discussion with Adel Abdel Ghafar, he says that certain aspects of the pact with Israel should be "revisited" and admits that he would vote to give President Barack Obama another term in office -- but only because of his misgivings about Obama's Republican challengers.

Foreign Policy: Do you believe the Egyptian Army should ultimately be under civilian control?

Amr Moussa: A state is a state. It has one head, not two. It has one legislative institution, not two. It has one government, not two.

FP: There are several examples of how countries transitioned from military to civilian rule -- Indonesia, some Latin American countries, even the Turkish experience is noteworthy. In Egypt, do you think we will ever get rid of military interference in public life, or will there always be a presence of the military institution?

AM: A revolution occurred on Jan. 25 that transitioned us from "dictatorial rule"
to democratic rule. This democratic government will not be far away from the military, as this is the military of Egypt -- an integral and original part of the Egyptian administration. We do not say that the military will leave -- no, they will take their own path as one of the integral Egyptian institutions.

We shouldn't frame the debate within a provocative context such as you suggested, with Indonesia and the Latin American countries. We have passed this stage and are moving forward on a democratic path not ruled by military forces. The military exists to defend Egypt and is a force for stability in any country; therefore we have to approach the relationship between the military and the state from a positive side rather in than a negative, provocative way.

FP: In your view, do the Camp David Accords [signed between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978] need adjustment?

AM: First of all, Camp David is not what is applied now. Camp David ended as a background paper. What governs the relationship between the two states is the Egyptian-Israeli treaty [signed in 1979]. And I believe that we should adhere to this treaty, as we do with all of our international commitments and treaties, as long as the other party adheres to it too.

However, within a security context in Sinai, the treaty has to be revisited. Unfortunately, the treaty in its current form has led to the Egyptian government's inability to enforce the rule of law in Sinai and on the border. Egypt as a sovereign state should be able to fully secure its borders.

FP: Some people are calling to cut the natural gas supply to Israel, while others are calling on modifying its prices. Where do you stand?

AM: We have to modify the prices according to global prices. This is not only an issue with Israel -- we also export natural gas to Jordan. It is in our national interest to price the natural gas according to global prices, and today's prices are much higher than the prices agreed on.

FP: What do you think of the Islamist majority in parliament? Does it worry you, as it worries many people in Egypt who fear religious rule?

AM: Let me tell you, worrying is a part of politics, especially in such a crucial period like this. However, we said we will go down the democratic path. Democracy produced the current parliament. You cannot have democracy and reject its results.

But we have to decide what would be our "modus operandi" in dealing with these results, and this is what preoccupies me. On what basis do we deal with the Islamist forces? We do not live through normal circumstances now that we can play politics. Therefore I would be looking to cooperate and work with the parliament.

FP: As a previous foreign minister, how do you think Egyptian foreign policy should evolve following the revolution?

AM: Egyptian foreign policy collapsed over the past several years. It has to be rebuilt for it to play its rightful role.

The Arab world will not be led by Turkey or Iran; it has to be led by the Arab countries themselves. And Egypt, as the largest Arab country, should have a leadership role in that regard. This will require a new type of leadership in the 21st century -- you cannot lead if you are not advanced technologically; you cannot lead if you have no real development program.

FP: The massacre that occurred in Port Said is currently under investigation, and there are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding the events there. What are your initial impressions of what occurred in Port Said?

AM: What occurred is not normal. A city has a football team, and its team wins; why does this chaos occur? People should celebrate after winning, not kill each other.

Setting aside conspiracy theories, what happened was politically motivated and was intended to create chaos. When 74 people die and hundreds are injured in a sporting event, it simply doesn't add up. You can call it a conspiracy theory -- whatever you call it, it is clear that there is a group that encourages chaos in Egypt.

These violent incidents have occurred at the Balloon Theater, Maspero [the state television building], Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Parliament Street, Port Said -- then the most recent clashes on Mohammed Mahmoud Street again. Six incidents, no proper investigation with a clear outcome, no report. This attitude has to stop. The families demand answers, and we as citizens also demand to know what happened.

FP: As you note, there were more clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street following the Port Said massacre. How do you suggest that Egypt avoid such violence in the future?

AM: I believe that the revolutionaries of Jan. 25 are not the ones responsible for the latest clashes. There are forces of chaos that have infiltrated the lines of the revolutionary forces. When I watched on TV people climbing the tax department building and attempting to put it on fire -- this is not a revolution; this is chaos.

The people responsible for chaos should be dealt with using the full force of the law, and the state has to be present to prosecute them. It is unacceptable that the state use live rounds and victims fall, but nonetheless the state has to be forceful in bringing those responsible to justice through legal prosecution.

FP: You mention the revolutionaries. Are there tensions between yourself and the revolutionary forces?

AM: No. First of all, there are a lot of different revolutionary forces, and I have relations with several of them. Perhaps some of them have the point of view that I was a foreign minister during the previous regime, and so on, but that does not mean that all revolutionary forces perceive me this way. I have very good relations with several of these forces and we meet frequently.

FP: What do you think of U.S. President Barack Obama's first term in office?

AM: In all honesty, I am disappointed.

FP: If he is reelected, do you think that this would give the United States another opportunity to show renewed international leadership?

AM: Our previous experience shows that there are no differences, or only minor differences, between the first term of an American president and his second.

However, from what I know of other candidates, should I be eligible to vote in the United States, I would have voted for Obama. Some of the other candidates have really strange ideas about Arabs. For example, look at what Newt Gingrich said about Palestine, when he stated that there are no Palestinian people. These positions are unacceptable and cannot be reasoned with.

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