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Egypt

Published on August 21, 2013
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, August 16, 2013

Q. – It’s Friday morning, day of prayer. The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for a Friday of anger in the wake of the massacres which have already killed 600 people. Are you worried this morning?

THE MINISTER – Yes. It really is a Friday that’s full of danger, because we’ve already seen what happened two days ago, when there were hundreds of deaths, and the situation is becoming more radicalized. We’re very worried and French diplomacy is doing everything it can to try, precisely, to avoid civil war developing, because that’s what is at stake.

Q. – Isn’t there in fact already civil war there? The scenes observed on television seen from here, seen from France, are ones of civil war.

THE MINISTER – Yes, admittedly the threat exists. On one side, there are the authorities, which have taken some extremely weighty decisions, a very severe crackdown, the decision to now authorize police to fire live bullets, and then on the other side…

Q. – Isn’t that terrifying?

THE MINISTER – Of course, it is indeed terrifying… and then, on the other side, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is reacting in a tough way. There’s a call for people to gather in Ramses Square after prayers today, Friday. And then also throughout the country there are attacks on Coptic churches – as you’ve seen – and the Copts make up 10% of the population…

Q. – A reminder that the Copts are Christians, Egypt’s Christian minority.

THE MINISTER – And the Coptic Patriarch was at General Al-Sisi’s side when Mursi was deposed. So you’ve got, here, an extreme situation of tension and clashes.

This is why yesterday evening we called for and secured, as you know, the meeting of the United Nations Security Council – the highest international authority in the world –, which called for all the parties to show maximum restraint and try to move towards a political solution.

Furthermore, the French President had a meeting with the Egyptian Ambassador yesterday and told him about both his concern and the wish for a return to a political solution. I myself spoke to a huge number of colleagues on the telephone yesterday, both in the region – both Arabs and my international, American, German, British colleagues.

Moreover, yesterday evening the Egyptian Foreign Minister called me because he didn’t agree with what we want to do at the United Nations Security Council, but I told him that we absolutely had to move towards a de-escalation and that the government had to make some gestures. At the same time, the demonstrators have a duty – and François Hollande has recalled it – to demonstrate peacefully.

So we’re doing as much as we can, but you’re right to say the tension is extreme.

You must remember that Egypt has 85 million inhabitants and is an absolutely decisive country in the Arab world.

Q. – So, as you were saying, the diplomatic services are playing a very active role. I’d like to put to you this statement by the Turkish Prime Minister, Mrt Erdogan: he accuses us Westerners of inertia and even hypocrisy; he says he speaks to his counterparts on the telephone and they all – Jean-Marc Ayrault, David Cameron, Angela Merkel – say to him, “Yes! There has indeed been a coup d’état in Egypt”, but they never say it publicly. Was there or wasn’t there, at the beginning of the summer, a military coup d’état in Egypt?

THE MINISTER – Well, two things.

First of all, I spoke to my colleague Mr Davutoğlu, who called me the other day and we discussed things; as you know, the Turks are close to the Muslim Brotherhood and so they themselves take an extreme position. But even so, it was France, along with the British and Australians, who requested and obtained yesterday’s Security Council meeting, and it was something the Turks were demanding.

Now, on the term “coup d’état”: as you know, there’s an immediate consequence if you describe the process as a coup d’état: a number of countries – it’s true of the United States, it’s true to a certain extent of Europe – can no longer provide the Egyptian people with economic support. So that’s one of the reasons why this term isn’t used.

Q. – So, to sum it up, it’s a coup d’état but we can’t call it that?

THE MINISTER – Listen! There was the dismissal of President Mursi. President Mursi had been elected entirely properly; but on the other hand, because he wanted to carry out a fast-track Islamization of society and because, economically, the results were disastrous, there was a popular uprising and the army supported that. That’s what happened. I’m not going to enter into an argument about the legalities.

We must now turn to the present and the future. There are three phases to secure: firstly, today, if it’s possible – and I mean if it’s possible – securing a reduction in the tension, in the immediate term; then getting dialogue restarted between the different sides; and then, in a third phase, moving towards the political solution and elections. But when I say this, you can clearly see how terribly difficult it is.

Q. – The big fear is of the Muslim Brotherhood taking a hardline strategy; it’s true that the massacres risk perhaps creating future martyrs…

THE MINISTER – Indeed.

Q. – And it’s worrying, particularly for us Westerners, because at the moment in Sinai – i.e. very near Cairo, not far from Cairo – there are jihadists with the weapons recovered from the Libya conflict…

THE MINISTER – Of course.

Q. – Do you fear a coalition between those jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood?

THE MINISTER – The problem is that all this is happening in regions that are very close together. Although we mustn’t mix everything up, when you combine what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Lebanon, what’s happening in Iraq and also the impact this may have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – because it’s important to know that Egypt has always, or at any rate for a very long time, been a sort of guarantee of peace there – it is indeed very, very worrying.

That’s an additional reason why we must ask – as the United Nations did in response to France’s call yesterday – for a de-escalation, maximum restraint as they say, because otherwise the risk is that it will indeed be extremist movements that benefit from the tension, as it were, and this would be extremely serious. (…)./.

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