H.E. Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik is the Egyptian is Ambassador to the United States of America. Previously, he served as Egypt’s Ambassador to Lebannon.
How successful have the Camp David Peace Accords been and how have they affected stability in the Middle East?
The peace accords with Israel? Well, I think had an excellent record of success. They have been respected scrupulously by both sides since 1979, when they were reached, and in the end, I think we have had as much as we could have hoped for.
Let me start from the beginning. These accords have been successful in the sense that they have been adhered to by both parties scrupulously since they were achieved in 1979. And this has been a good message for the region. We hope that a more comprehensive and just peace is achieved for all peoples in the Middle East in the near future.
How have the Camp David Accords benefited Egypt?
I think that they have benefited Egypt in the sense that we have been through a number of wars and now we are no longer at war. In that direct sense, of course, there is an obvious benefit. But we look at the agreement, the peace treaty with Israel, as basically, a cornerstone for a broader peace in the Middle East, which we would like to see as soon as possible.
What can you tell us about the military component of U.S. assistance to Egypt?
There is a robust U.S. assistance program to Egypt. It is made up of two components, a military component and civilian component, and an economic component, and it has been going on fine. The military component has remain fixed for a number of decades. The economic component has evolved. It is much less today than when it started. But the idea really is to have a situation in which both countries are benefitting, both the United States and Egypt. And i think that’s the reason why the program has continued all these years.
With the upheaval of the Arab Spring, is the understanding of the Camp David Accords subject to change in any way?
Yes. I think the United States early on made a decision that they would support democracy in the region and that decisions was very well received by the people in egypt. The democratic process is ongoing. So far it has been successful. It has not always been easy, but at least we are achieving concrete results. And I think the relations between the United States and Egypt are very important because they serve the interests of both countries. But also now, there is a new dimension which is the common ideals of democracy and human rights.
How has Egypt assisted the U.S. with policy goals in the Middle East?
Well I think, the very existence of Egypt as a stable country in the region, as a country that is moderate in its approach to different issues, that in itself helps very much U.S. interests in the region. As I said, it’s a two way street. We both benefit from having stability in the region. We both benefit, now particularly, from having a democratic system in Egypt.
Did U.S. support, to some degree, help to keep Mubarak in power for all those years?
This is a matter for historians to discuss really. But what I can say is that the decision of the United States to support the democratic development and democratic revolution in Egypt, has, in a way, helped very much with Egyptian public opinion. It has removed a lot of the skepticism that was there in the past.
Can you explain the dynamic between the Egyptian youth, military and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Well I would say that what happened, of course, was a revolution. It was a revolution in the real sense of the word. Basically, you had a number of organizers who organized manifestations and demonstrations but they were overwhelmed by the public support and the public participation in these demonstrations and that’s how the revolution came to be. At that point, there was a vacuum of power because the regime collapsed and the only institution that was left intact, that was capable of running the country was the military. And the military did so on a provisional basis. They made it clear from the very beginning that they were just here until a democratic system could be put into place. And this is basically what happened.
I can say that probably young people wanted things to move a little bit faster than they did. But in the end the democratic process took place. In the end, we have an elected president and government that reflects the popular will. And I think we are achieving a balance within society through which we will start to rebuild our country.
With the recent election of Egypt’s new president, will there be a shift in the direction of the country’s foreign policy?
I would put it this way: Egypt has strategic interests and those interest have not changed. They remain the same and in that regard we need to protect those interests. The new impetus given by the new president, and more generally the new democratic system, is that now we can be more active in protecting our interests and we can receive a much higher degree of respect internationally.
Who is President Morsi?
First and foremost, President Morsi is a candidate that was democratically elected by the Egyptian people. This is the most important thing. He represents the democratic will of the people of Egypt and in that capacity he commands the support of all Egyptians; even those who did not elect him, even those who did not vote for him.
And what has President Morsi done since taking office?
The first thing he has done is put together a coherent and efficient government. He was elected on a platform; which was a broad platform of reform and now he has started to take concrete measures to achieve that reform. The first steps the president identified that needed to be taken were to restore security to Egypt and we can see that is coming about. There’s more police presence, more people who break the law are being prosecuted, and we can see that for example in the fact that tourism is picking up. Also he put a goal of cleaning up the streets, improving traffic; and we’ve seen very concrete efforts in that direction.
How would you explain Egyptian negative feelings about the U.S. ?
Well, I referred earlier to some skepticism among the Egyptian public opinion; basically because the U.S. talked a lot about democracy but in fact supported dictators. But in the past couple of years, there has been a clear shift and I think that has been well received by the people of Egypt. Now we can see very clearly that the U.S. not only has supported the democratic revolution in Egypt, but also is also interested in supporting our economic reform program.
Just last week there was a large delegation led by Deputy Secretary Nides, which included over 100 representatives of major U.S. corporations, who went to Egypt in order to promote economic activity and economic relations. So I think the kinds of attitudes that have existed for some time are now gradually evolving in the positive sense.
What are Egypt’s priority goals?
Well I would say that for Egypt’s priority goals, they start in our region. First of all, we have always been a country interested in peace and stability, and that will continue. We feel that when there’s peace, when there’s stability, when there’s understanding; you have a good environment for economic growth, a good environment to fulfill people’s aspirations; and this will continue. For us, we have certain areas of particular interest; mainly the Nile basin where virtually all of our water comes through the river Nile, and it’s important to have good relations with the countries of the Nile basin.
We have immediate neighbors, such as Libya and Sudan and Israel, and Palestinian areas; and it’s important that we have stability in that area. We want to have good relations all across the neighborhood; but for that to happen, there has to be a comprehensive peace. Unfortunately so far that has eluded us, but we hope that will be achieved.
What would you like to see the U.S. do to help achieve those goals?
Regarding the region as a whole, we would like to see the U.S. adopt policies that are considered by the peoples of the region as even handed. We intend to work very closely with the US administration; to put our views across to them and to cooperate whenever possible when achieving these goals. We would like to see a peaceful transition in Syria, we would like to see a democratic order in Syria, above all we would like to see a stop to the killing that we see everyday in Syria. This is an urgent issue and we need to work towards achieving that goal. We do not want to see Syria split up, we do not want to see foreign intervention in Syria; but we want a homegrown solution for the crisis that exists in Syria.
Another important dimension in our foreign policy is disarmament. We feel that the world is spending far too much money on weapons, particularly nuclear weapons, and we are very active in international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament. We would like to start in our own region, the Middle East. We would be very happy if we did not have any nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and we feel that the U.S. has a particular obligation in this regard, because it is a country that has a large nuclear arsenal and a very influential country in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. This is a thing we feel is very important, it will be very helpful for our region.
Do the Camp David accords need to be changed?
Regarding the Camp David accords; currently they’re respected. So far they are working. We have not thought about improvements that may come about in the future or may not, it depends on the situation on the ground. Currently the situation on the ground is under control, and the treaty is working.