Amre Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab league of states. He is a well renowned international political leader and very well respected in the Arab world and worldwide.
Ipek Cem: Our guest today is Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab league of states. He is a well renowned international political leader and very well respected in the Arab world and worldwide. Welcome to the show.
Amre Moussa: Thank you.
Ipek Cem: Since you took the helm of the Arab league in 2001, there have been many important events in the Arab League and in the in the middle east countries. The war in Iraq, the passing of Yaser Arafat, 9/11, the assassinationare just a few of them. How is the current position; more challenging or more different than it was when you first started in 2001?
Amre Moussa: Well, as you know the world has entered the 21st century with a lot of problems. The national problems, the regional problems and as we go the problems accumulate; especially in this region. Not only in this region but also, between this region and other adjacent regions. In Mediterranean, Asian and African countries we all face problems. So it is always not easy to live and act in the current political situation. However the challenges have added to the vigour because we have had to live up to our responsibilities and the Arab league has moved from the political arena into the economical and social the reform questions ,the new organization that should be fitting the new century; the globalization, the globalized world. Therefore, the challenges have added to our responsibilities and I believe our agenda is full. Our plate is full not only with political problems but with the reform procedures with the development and economic social issues.
Ipek Cem: When you talk about reform you are talking about reform all the Arab league which is I know on the agenda as well as reform within the countries of the Arab world.
Amre Moussa: Yes of course we are talking about the reform in the Arab world and the reform in the Arab League.
Ipek Cem: But change has come so slowly it seems from the outside to the Arab world. How do you feel there is a momentum now that some countries in the 50's if you look at other emerging markets they have made. Enormous changes let's say economically is the most visible one. And a lot of the Arab countries it seems they have not made as vivid changes. How do you see what is going to be the tipping point for that change that reform idea to take root in the Arab world?
Amre Moussa: The idea has taken root in the Arab world already. I Agree with you there is a, some kind of slowness in the process. However I must say that the democratic procedure the democratic development has started to show in the Arab world with election after election. You have heard about elections in Egypt, in Palestine and Kuwait Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria before in Tunisia. There is a new movement in the Arab world towards democracy. I believe you agree with me that democracy is an event, it is a process. That process has started. And I don't think there will be any U-turn in the democratic process in the Arab world but not only democracy but also transparency and the economical and social development in addition to the status of women. The basic rights, human rights. I believe the Arab world in 5 years time will be a different Arab world from this angle, democratic process, new transparency and relations more advance in the social and economical development issues.
As for the Arab league the process is quicker. In a weeks time on the 27th the Arab league will host the first session, the first session ever of a pan-Arab parliament. Selected or elected by the national parliaments 4 from each Arab country, 88 in all. The will come and sit here in the Arab league not behind the names of their countries but according to alphabetical order. They will come on their individual capacities as member, members of the pan-Arab parliament not representing their countries. This will develop into and very very clearly and very soon into the representing the political currents, the liberal currents, the youth and a lot of them are young people also women are represented in the new parliament. This is something new to not only meet governments meet to discuss but parliamentarians meet to discuss under the banner of the Arab League. Only within two months of that we will call for a meeting of the civil society, Arab civil society unions and organizations to get them into the system. So the movement is indeed very quick in pace in the Arab League and also it corresponds with the general, new spirit in the Arab world about the future of the democratic societies.
Ipek Cem: Some sceptics are saying that when there is not good democracy within the countries themselves it may not mean so much to have the Arab parliament. Of course it is a big step. How would you respond to these sceptics?
Amre Moussa: I would say that we have to start. And the quicker the better. And have a parliament and have parliamentarians used to debate to talk about the general interest of the whole Arab world with the idea of reform prevailing all over the region. I know this criticism but if we go, if we deal with the half empty part of the glass,I prefer to go with the half full part of the glass. We start to launch the first part of the process and as we go things will be better.
Ipek Cem: You are comprised of 22 countries including Palestine and the population is about 300 million people. And from the vision you've just presented I was thinking that there are some parallels with the beginnings of the European Union. Could we say that to some degree there will be more harmonization going forward in terms of movement from country to country or economic systems or foreign policy making because these are very difficult steps to cohesively put together.
Amre Moussa: Very difficult steps but do-able; not an impossible proposition. In fact we have to start. We have to get the parliamentarian in and to start the open debates. This parliament is only the transitional one. And it has to debate and agree on the system for a permanent parliament later on in 5 years time. So we are launching a process and we'll see the developments. I believe, it will have its influence in the over all reform of the Arab world not only within the Arab League also outside of it in the larger Arabic world. As you said we have 300 million people. 300 million people are now full of hope in a better future in a different future where they can really influence events in the region and be part and parcel of the international demarche the new world lifestyle. We cannot do that alone with government but through the elected representatives. They might be selected for the first time but selected by their parliaments; not by their governments but by their parliaments. Then they will be elected at a certain stage. In the near future I think they will be elected in a general election all over the Arab world.
Ipek Cem: So, is it fair to say that there is enthusiasm not just at the Arab League and the governmental level but you feel there is enthusiasm at the constituency levelas well as the people of the countries are enthusiastic about this , the Arab Parliament. Best of luck with it.
You have been a vocal opponent of the US intervention in Iraq and also US policy in the Middle East. And at this point in time the situation in Iraq perhaps more perplexing than before. As the Arab League I see that you are doing more concrete steps to perhaps be an instrument of the reconciliation. Can you tell us a little bit about your policy towards Iraq and your opinion about how the situation can be remedied to some degree?
Amre Moussa: First of all we have an interest in having a stable Iraq. Iraq is a member state of the Arab League and important country in the Arab world. For the stability there and for solving the situation as which you call very perplexing which is a fine word; I accept it. We have invited all the Iraqi factions to come here and have a meeting for reconciliation for to reach accord between the different factions in Iraq which took place last month with astounding results. That they met, many were meeting the others for the first time. They sat together, discussed the major issues pertaining to the situation in Iraq and agreed on a platform. Agreed on a platform to support the political process. But what is the political process?
There is a political process stipulated by the security council. That is election, constitution, election, formation of government, amendments to the constitution and so on. But there is another track which is the relations between the Iraqi's themselves. In my opinion, in our opinion in the Arab League and the Arab world that stressing the differences between sex, between religions, between communities is not healthy. Iraqis, or the new Iraq should be based on citizenship. That all of them are members of Iraq. Iraq should be one. It could be federal according to the consensus of the the agreement of the Iraqi people. It could be federal but it has to be one country. No partition, a sovereign one in order for them to be able to move ahead investing in their own wealth. Its a very wealth country Iraq. But when you go to Iraq now you see how destroyed the country has become. The goal is to build up a new Iraq. Another Iraq. Different than the one that was presided over by Sadam Hussein. But this new Iraq has to be free, has to be sovereign, and has to be built on the consensus of all Iraqi’s. That is what we are working for. This is a track; the most important political track that will produce the new Iraq.
Ipek Cem: We view Islam as a unifying concept but at the same time like you say in Iraq we see that it's going through the different sects and it's dividing also. Why is this taking place in Iraq at this point in time? It is also Turkey's view as a neighbour country to have Iraq as stable and a federal country but is it the American intervention, is it something that was always there? I mean can you stop the tide? Is there a way to stop the tide? Or perhaps is this not the tide?
Amre Moussa: We can’t stop the tide. In reconciling views bringing them to sit together to know each other. At least to know how to contact each other was one of the goals of the Arab League conference on accord with the Iraqi factions, the Iraqi communities. I know the interest of Turkey in the stability of Iraq and we agree that's why I invited the foreign minister of Turkey, Abdulah Gul, to attend. That conference, the inaugural session of that conference and to listen to, talk to different leaders over there. So we are all in the business of creating a new stable, a new Iraq in general. This cannot be achieved without reconciling the positions of the different factions and without stopping the policy on building on the sectarian differences, or community differences. This diversity of Iraq has to be a source of strength rather than a source of weakness or a destructive formula.
Ipek Cem: The US president Bush recently declared that there may have been some wrong intelligence in the justification for the operation in Iraq. As the secretary general of the Arab League, as an Egyptian, and as an Arab leader do you feel cheated to hear something like this at this point in time?
Amre Moussa: We knew it, from the beginning that there was a lot of misinformation and we heard that in the security council by Hans Blix, by Mohammed Baraday and others. Saying that there are no arms of mass destruction in Iraq, there are no nuclear weapons in Iraq. We knew that. So there was a body of wrong information. But this should be left to history now. How to deal with the situation pertaining in the country today, in Iraq today. How to get out of it. Everybody is in a corner. Everybody is facing a crisis, is facing a problem and our cooperation bringing Iraq out of this very messy situation is very important. Now cooperation, consultations, helping the Iraqis from a positive point of view. As I told you there are two political tracks. This track of conciliation is important, is basic for the future of Iraq. So any policy that would help us in this would be welcome. Any policy that would deepen the differences would be a destructive policy that would have to do everything to stop it.
Ipek Cem: When you talk about US policy in the region you have also been quoted often time saying the Palestinian - Israeli conflict there has to be a fair resolution and this lies at the root of a lot of the problems and a lot of the clash between west and the Middle East. I know that there is the Beirut resolution I believe about, the Arab initiative and I know some of your views. But at this point in time Israeli politics is also going through some changes. There is a new political party being formed and there is going to be elections. I wanted to hear your view about whether you feel there is any progress made on that front.
Amre Moussa: The Arab Isreali front? No, I don’t think so. The Gaza withdrawal is a positive step. But a very small step. It did not show until now in the change of the basic policy vis-à-vis peace, Israeli policy vis-à-vis peace because it is a positive step. But we continue to see settlements that are being built, the wall being built. We cannot say that the overall situation, the palestinian - Isreali conflict, has moved to any safer ground. Until now we do not see except negative developments. The Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian conflict in particular, is the basic conflict in this region and nothing will change. And the stability will not strengthen without dealing with this fairly. If the arab - Isreali conflict and Palestinean - Isreali conflict in particular continue as it is. So I tell you instability will engulf the whole region.
So answering your question; yes I did believe the Palestinian question is the question number one. It must have the highest priority in solving and this is our role in the Arab world. Your role as an important country in the region and having a special relationship in the Arab world, the role of the Europeans, and in particular the role of the United States have to follow a fair policy to get a fair peace.
Ipek Cem: How is this going to be possible in an ideal scenario in your mind going forward? What would be some of the necessary steps from Israel from the Arab league? It looks to me , to build a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab states is crucial for the stability and peace in the region. But of course saying it is one thing and being able to do it is another thing.
Amre Moussa: It is not saying it. We are stating a practical fact felt underground. That if about the Palestinian question we left anything unresolved; the instability in the region, the anger in the region, the frustration in the region will continue to be the order of the day. And I'm not catering for an ideal scenario but I'm talking about a practical scenario. The practical scenario has its basis in the security council resolutions. In the principle of land for peace. That was the principle emanated from for the Madrid conference. On the question of rejecting the foreign occupatio; why should the Palestinians, or the Syrians or the Lebanese, cede any territory from Israel? Why should they? The security of Israel should be based on understanding and peace; not on nuclear weapons or on hegemony or on plans to occupy the Arab territories. If this comes to an end, the question of the Israeli occupation and the threats to the security of the region we would be much better off. Turkey will feel the effects of that. We all would benefit from it and also the foreign world Europe or America. We must agree. I believe we agree that the Palestinian question remaining are resolved will be a source of major unstablility for many years to come.
Ipek Cem: Do you feel that the resentment felt in the Muslim world has kind of compounded after the 9/11 events and then the 9/11 events have caused some sort of stereotyping, more stereotyping in the west towards Arabs and Muslims?
Amre Moussa: Yes indeed, 9/11 has produced a lot of violent reaction on both sides. And this too has to come to an end. We are not enemies of the west, or enemies of America or enemies of Christianity. And they are not enemies of the Arabs because they are Arabs, or Muslims because they are Muslims. But the situation is poisoned by the extremists on all sides. The harsh conservatives on all sides. So there are forces in the world all over not only in the Muslim world also in other very effective circles. There are interests for all those extremists to continue this tense situation between the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the rest. It was this notion, the clash of civilization that emerged after, not after, the end of the cold war, not after 9/11. But it was kind of promoted after 9/11 this has to come to an end. we should not emanate, act or from but from the standpoint we are enemies in the first place. But from the standpoint that we are friends we have to coexist, live together and deal with this, those extremists that are all over the place. Not in the Middle East but in America, in Europe, in the Middle East, all over. It is a question of extremist against extremist philosophies and actions.
Ipek Cem: When we go back to Turkey and the relations with Turkey and the Arab League, Turkey often considers itself that it's a model of democracy at the same time predominantly Muslim country respecting religious rights and having human rights as well. Is Turkey considered kind of a model in the Arab world or is it looked at with some way perhaps scepticism is there mixed feelings about it?
Amre Moussa:I would tell you that many of us appreciate very much Turkey as an emerging society very active and vibrant society I believe the majority of the Arabs have a lot of respect for Turkey and its model. But its model works in Turkey, I don't know if it would work in this or that country in the Arab world. However I must say that, the successes Turkey has achieved a source of admiration.
Ipek Cem: Thank you. I see that the Arab league also has representation in different countries around the world. Are you thinking of perhaps having representation in Turkey? I didn't see the name.
Amre Moussa: Certainly, certainly this should be done and in the near future I will really try to put it into effect. Turkey is a very important country for us and relations not only through visits or concepts; day by day contacts. Something that is crucial although we have an agreement understanding between the foreign ministry of Turkey and the Arab league on consultations, exchanging views, exchanging visits so we are on that road.
Ipek Cem: I was reading that the Arab populations, especially the young people, the working people because of the language and the affinity of the Arab world, for example they could be from one Arab country working in another country so there is a lot of movement within the Arab world. And this kind of gives an idea for the future. Do you see this trend growing? Do you see that there is more and more exchange between Arab countries?
Amre Moussa: There is a lot of exchange and of travel and of working people Arab people working here and there: intermarriage, same programs in schools same books as you know newspapers are the same even the TV series, the films, etcetera. The potential for the Arab community the whole Arab world understanding is great indeed great. But we have to put that on track, of moving together to the future moving together the Arab world to the future. And here I believe we have to also cooperate with our neighbours, and our partners in faith like Turkey.
Ipek Cem: I was going to ask you there is also Arab populations in the west. In the United States and in Europe particularly. And you've been quoted a lot saying that we need to forge better ties with the Arabs…
Amre Moussa: I was not only saying we started doing that. In the United States we had a major conference a year and a half back and we have the next on in four months time. That brought together all the Arab community or Americans of Arab origin and the American administration, the American senators and the American businessmen, Arab businessmen, Arab officials, presidents, kings etcetera. It was a highly successful conference to talk about how to cement traditions between the Arab world and America. Basically America is not the enemy of the Arab world the Arab world is not the enemy of America but there is major differences on certain policies when it comes to the Middle East or Palestine or other questions. If we agree that it is a matter of policy then it is surmountable. We can sit and try to understand each other, and accommodate each other that's when we get back to solving the Palestinian question. Moving forward to build a new sovereign Iraq and so on.
Ipek Cem: I believe that it is perhaps not only a matter of policy but also lack of communication between the people. When I was a student in the United States for example often times I felt that it was lack of information about my country and about my region and rather than the neglect or mis-intent of the person that I was encountering which form the stereotype. And going from this to fighting terrorism, which is a big buzzword nowadays and of course you have had your share of terrorism in Egypt, and unfortunately we have as well, this fight against terrorism, it's a big headline but underneath it, is it achievable? Do you feel there is enough cooperation between different parties and enough communication between different countries?
Amre Moussa: The fight against terrorism is a right cause. But there are certain circles, certain policies of certain countries try to exploit that. To depict anybody that oppose them as terrorist and they seem to be getting away with this. Terrorism if we define it properly, is an act, a criminal act against the stability of societies, against innocent people, innocent people this is terrorism; against society, against individuals, against human beings, innocent human beings. But when you move to say 'No, no, no it is not only that.',any resistance in the occupied territories against the Israeli army is terrorisim is not true. That's not true. We need all acts of force or violence to spare all innocent civilians. This example Palestinians attack Israelis. we don't want this to happen we don't want these acts against civilian population to take place. But the definition and the cause itself has been misused. That is why there have been many question marks in these societies. What are you doing? Is everything terrorism or what about poverty for example? Is it not as serious as terrorism? It is a very serious problem, very serious problem. Then there is no consensus as presented as you said a buzzword. And Africa, it is poverty, it is HIV AIDS. This is more serious for Africa. In the Arab world the occupation of their lands is more serious. In Latin America the economic development, the social development is more serious. There is no consensus on the priority item. But all of us there is a consensus about the seriousness of terrorism as properly defined and that all of us have to stand firm against it. This we agree. but to expand it and to consider it as the source of all ills that's a bit exaggerated.
Ipek Cem: Do you foresee more cooperation going forward with the EU and the Arab League?
Amre Moussa: There is. There is. There is a lot of cooperation also the African union also with other international organizations because this is a regional organization. And the regional organization has the responsibility to build bridges with other organizations especially in the fields of solving problems, talking about security situations or the activities in the social or economic development areas.
Ipek Cem: The recent assassination, the Hariri assassination in Lebanon has opened a can of worms let's say and pointed also certain fingers at Syria. And when you have two Arab countries both of which are your members and they are in some shape or form in conflict , how does the Arab league approach such an issue?
Amre Moussa: We are already in the midst of this. I was in Beirut and Damascus only days back and we are working on the, on those files. As we did on the Iraqi file, as we did before that on the Sudanese file. Its on the agenda, a priority. Agenda priority items.
Ipek Cem: I was going to ask you about Islamists in the Arab world because most Arab countries, the governments they have been very let's say tight about Islamists, Islamist trend in their countries. And this has been going on for decades. But what we see is that Islamist leaning groups are still very much active in the Arab world. How do you explain this? Do you explain this as a sort of resentment towards the west or how can there be a balance between religious rights and human rights?
Amre Moussa: They are not contradictory. Religious rights and human rights they are not contradictory. Of course, not against each other. But let me say that there are so many different reasons for the power, the force that the organizations or parties or ideologies based on religion. The point is that we are in the midst of a reform development and democracy will produce the results as the electorate want it to be. But still the liberal current in the Arab world is very strong and it has to be been given the opportunity to present their policies and to make the balance with the other conservative view.
So it is still in development we have not reached the final station we are starting to develop a basis of democracy and democracy will produce the forces that would help solve social, the problems of societies and political problems too. In as much as you are asking about Islamists I want you to know there is a very strong liberal current in the Arab world and the final analysis is as the democracy moves the process moves ahead there will be a lot to talk about on the liberal side as on the other conservative side.
Ipek Cem: Listening to you I'm getting such an optimistic view of the Arab world that I'm getting more hopeful I was going to say. I was just going to say hopeful so I guess I was on the right track. I'm getting a very hopeful sense of the future and as a Muslim woman and you have mentioned previously about there is a lot to be done in the women's area as well. Usually the plight of the Arab women, it may be some of it may be stereotypical, some of it may be true, that we have a sense that they are not as much participating in society and to the progress of the countries as they should be. How is this taken care of because this is also a this is not just a government policy, this is also about people coming together and demanding certain rights there are a lot of women's organisations in the Arab world. Is there a lot of cooperation between different countries?
Amre Moussa: Oh yes, we have a regional, a Arab regional organization for women, catering to women's rights. But I want you to know that in deciding the parliament, the Arab parliament. The resolution was that all delegations have to include women. So we are aware of this and the women's situation in the Arab world is an important item. It's a very important thing to promote the, document on reform and modernization adopted by the summit in Tunis in 2004. Mentioned democracy, human rights, and rights of women. It mentioned that there is a paragraph reserved to the rights of women. and are aware of that problem and we have to cater to this issue very strongly and quickly.
Ipek Cem: Do you see - hallas one halas, 30 minutes and we have one hallas -
Ipek Cem: Yes, exactly and we will let you go. Just a wrap-up question. I was going to ask you about you've been very active in of course Egyptian politics and I know that you are very well liked figuring your country. I was going to ask you how is this difference to beyond the international scale and then would you consider going back to Egyptian politics again. This is my question. Shall I ask it formally? Do you want me to ask it? Would you like to answer it?
Since 2001, you've been at the helm of the Arab League and previously for ten years you were the foreign minister of Egypt, and a very popular one. So my question to you is, would you consider going back to the Egyptian politics since you are so well liked in your country?
Amre Moussa: I'm not going to answer this question as long as I am in my present position. Later on when we meet again I would be able to answer you, over coffee if you wish.
Ipek Cem: I would like to thank you very much then for this candid interview.
Amre Moussa: Thank you and please give my best regards to your father and mother, to your parents.
Ipek Cem: I certainly will. Thank you.
This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.