Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt Strives to Build a Peaceful Modern Middle East, Says Ambassador Nabil Fahmy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt Strives to Build a Peaceful Modern Middle East, Says Ambassador Nabil Fahmy

Article excerpt

In a Feb. 21 speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy tackled a myriad of topics, including Egyptian-American relations, the war in Iraq, global terrorism, the challenges and possibilities for Middle East peace in view of the recent Palestinian elections, as well as last year's elections in his home country.

Although Egypt did not support the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Washington and Cairo are now "working toward the same goal-a sovereign Iraq for all Iraqis," the veteran diplomat said. "Dividing Iraq on an ethnic basis would be wrong."

Discussing the Jan. 25 elections in which Hamas won 74 of the Palestinian Legislative Council's 132 seats, Fahmy said Hamas should respect commitments made by the previous Palestinian government with Israel, and the Israeli government should do likewise. The latter, he added, also should turn over to the Palestinians the $54 million in tax and customs receipts it collects monthly on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, but which it has been withholding since the Hamas victory.

In Ambassador Fahmy's opinion, however, U.S. aid is a different matter. "There is no legal obligation on the part of America to give assistance, but we think the Palestinian people should not be sanctioned for making a choice," he insisted.

During the 30-minute question-and-answer session, one audience member asked the ambassador his views on Iran. "We think Iran should support the Arab-Israeli peace process," Fahmy responded. "We think they should desist from any programs that might be in the pursuit of nuclear weapons and they should try to truly invest the rich heritage they have toward building a modern Middle East."

Another questioner asked if democracy in the Middle East would lead to radical Islam taking control of the area. "I do not see democracy in the Middle East leading to extremists taking power," the diplomat replied, "but I think it is naïve to think democracy will happen overnight. Democracy is not just about the majority winning an election. The winning majority must also respect the rights of the minority."

The long-serving ambassador also stressed the importance of building democratic institutions as part of a "democratic system where you have accountable and transparent checks and balances." Woefully pointing out that only 23 percent of Egypt's eligible voters participated in his country's last election, Fahmy stressed that more people need to participate in the democratic process for democracy to work. "Democracy is an evolution, not a revolution," he concluded.

Reza Asian on Failed Iran Policy

"There can be very little doubt that the strategy of the United States over the last 26 years to sanction, isolate, and contain Iran as a means of bringing down the clerical regime has been unquestionably a miserable failure," said Reza Asian at a March 1 San Francisco World Affairs Council program co-sponsored by Stacey's Independent Bookstore. Not only has Washington's policy failed to topple the clerical regime or make the Islamic republic more democratic, Asian told his audience, it has done the opposite. "The clerical regime is now stronger than it has been in a decade," maintained the author of No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. "The democratic opposition and reform movement is weaker-perhaps even dead and buried-and the economy is on the verge of collapse."

Although Iran has been able to offset some of its economic difficulties through trade relations with Russia, China and India, Asian explained, today one-third of the population is unemployed, 40 percent live below the poverty line, and the annual inflation rate is 24 percent. These dismal economic figures, he elaborated, rather than mass arrests or political repression, caused the demise of Iran's vibrant reform movement of the 1990s. And it was the state of the economy, rather than any other reason, he said, that caused the stunning June 2005 upset victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over front-runner Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani-Iran's powerful cleric and richest man. …

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