SOS Hillary Clinton Interview with Greta Van Susteren Last Night & More on Egypt
I didn’t see this last night because, uh, I don’t watch Fox but thank God for YouTube! It sounds like Greta didn’t show the whole interview last night but rather she’ll be showing more clips as the week progresses, so please remind me to stay on top of that. You know, because I don’t watch Fox 😉
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling for democratic change in Egypt. Now, she’s at the center of the Obama’s administration plans to convince the Egyptian government to make critical reforms. We caught up with Secretary Clinton at the 47th annual Munich Security Conference.
VAN SUSTEREN: Madam Secretary, nice to see you.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Great to see you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, expected that this conference would be about the START treaty, and indeed, it was. You exchanged the documents, the ratification documents with Russia. But Egypt has sort of gone to the top of the topics. President Mubarak says that the protests and revolution will destabilize, leading to a radicalized, fundamentalist government there. Scare tactics, or possible?
CLINTON: Well, Greta, first I think it’s important to recognize that for 30 years, American governments, both Republican and Democratic administrations, certainly, this administration under President Obama, have urged the government of Egypt to do more on economic reform and political reform because we believe that that kind of effort to democratize and create economic opportunity is in the best interests of long-term stability. So it’s not a choice between democracy, open markets and stability and security. It does have to go together.
So what we’re seeing now is that the Egyptian people themselves are, particularly motivated by young people, demanding more rights. And the United States stands for democracy. We stand for human rights and for freedom. And we want to see an orderly transition. We want to see the process that has begun realize concrete steps that will lead to constitutional reform, the establishment of a set of political laws and regulations that will end in a free and fair election for a new president.
The United States is not, like any other country from the outside, making the decisions. But we are very clear, no violence by the government, peaceful protests, orderly transition. And we know the outcomes we seek.
VAN SUSTEREN: Two issues with that. And I realize it’s a very complicated problem. But the protesters — they’re not anxious to have this sort of orderly transition. I mean, they want orderly, but they want it now. They don’t want President Mubarak to be in office until September and run. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, as we sort of publicly state that we support the protesters and their quest to get orderly transition, we send a message to our allies that, well, you know, if — you know, we don’t necessarily always stick with you. So how do you walk that line?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think that Egypt is a great country with a very storied past of 7,000 years. And this is one of those moments in its history where the Egyptian people must themselves determine their future. And we have made it one of our principles in responding to what they themselves are doing that the voices of the protesters demanding freedom are legitimate and should not be suppressed, and in fact, should be listened to.
But we recognize, as do many of those who are now stepping forward from the opposition, civil society, political factions, that the country has to come together and reach an agreement about how best to proceed because there are many ways this could go that are not in the best interests of Egypt, the region or the United States. At the end, we know we want to see a peaceful and orderly transition. How we get there is going to be up to the Egyptians themselves.
With respect to our allies in the region, you know, last month in Doha, before Tunisia, before Egypt, I said that we saw the foundations of a lot of these governments sinking into the sand in the region because what was possible for them to maintain authoritarian regimes 10, 15, 20 years ago is no longer possible. Technology has changed that. People are communicating. They know what goes on far beyond their borders, and particularly young people.
And what’s so remarkable and what I called a perfect storm in my remarks here in Munich is that you have technology communication with a youth bulge. Some of these countries have 50 percent to two thirds of their population under 35, under 30, with a very clear problem in the economies of these countries. They’re not producing enough jobs. So young people get out of college, they can’t find work. That is a recipe for unrest. It’s not motivated by any ideology or any extremism — yet. This has been organic.
It came initially in Tunisia from a young man, a college graduate whose only job that he could find was selling fruits on the streets, and then he was harassed by the police. And he set himself on fire. That literally ignited a revolution in Tunisia.
That spread to Egypt, with young people looking at each other, saying, I can’t get a job. There’s so much corruption. I can’t find my way in anywhere because the elite won’t let me. People then went to the streets.
So this is something I talked about a month ago. It is now being acted out in real time. And the United States very much supports the aspirations, but we do know that each country will have to find its own path forward. And obviously, we want to see end results that are not destabilizing, not giving safe haven to extremism, that actually produce a better outcome for the people who are asking for it.
VAN SUSTEREN: But how do we do that? I mean, the big elephant in the room is that if — you know, if the protesters — let’s say that they got what they want today, Mubarak leaves, they have an election and they elect some one that is not something that is in our strategic interests. And suddenly, we’ve got a situation like Iran. Number one, is that a probability or a possibility? And number two, then what do we do because that certainly (INAUDIBLE) very destabilizing in the region, especially of Israel.
CLINTON: Well, we care deeply that what comes next in Egypt respects international agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel. That peace treaty has kept Egyptians and Israelis from dying and from, you know, having to wage continuous war for 30 years.
VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, we love it — I mean, we like it, and we think it’s important. But what if the next group doesn’t?
CLINTON: Well, but, you know, I think — I think, number one, we obviously would like to see responsible leadership in Egypt that recognizes it’s not in their interests to tear up a peace treaty while they’re trying to rebuild an economy, try to open up opportunities for young people and engage in political reform that…
VAN SUSTEREN: How do we do it?
CLINTON: … leads to democracy.
VAN SUSTEREN: But how do we do that?
CLINTON: Well, you know, look, we have a choice. We can pretend this not happening and wish that, you know, Twitter and Facebook and all those things had never been invented. That is not an option. We can turn our backs on our own values. We do stand for democracy. We do stand for human rights. We always have. We do business with lots of governments who we do not see eye-to-eye on, but there are strategic reasons that we do and we will continue to do so.
Or we can do what I think President Obama has very well done, which is to say, Look, here are the principles that we believe should be followed during this transition. We cannot reach in and move the players around on the chessboard. That has to be an Egyptian-led, Egyptian-run process. Everybody recognizes that. But we can hold out the promise of what does lie in the future.
Most of the people who began to demonstrate in Egypt were driven by a desire for more political freedom and economic opportunity. The United States is very good about helping countries realize economic opportunity, and we think we can offer that. We’re also very good at helping countries, as we did after the Berlin wall fell, in moving from authoritarianism to democracy.
It’s not perfect. It is not predictable. But I think it’s a better course for us to follow.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now, there’s more of our interview with Secretary Clinton, and you will see more in the days to come.
In other Egypt news, according to Laura Rozen, the State Dept. and White House are walking back on their firm language they used last weekend regarding the need for Mubarak to go sooner rather than later. This could really backfire in the Arab Street because reports show that more and more, as we drag this out and back Sulieman, the protesters see the U.S. as being more concerned with shaping a future Egyptian govt to our and Israel’s liking as opposed to truly allowing the will of the people. Secretary Clinton keeps repeating “orderly transition” and “it’s up to the Egyptian people” but in a way, is it really up to the Egyptian people if we are throwing our weight behind Mubarak staying in power until September and throwing our backing behind the corrupt, human rights abusing co-dictator Sulieman? It’s sort of ironic that Sulieman would be the one to usher in a transition to free and fair elections, respect for human rights, freedom of speech and a reduction in the state’s police powers.
Couldn’t our backtracking (if that’s indeed what it is) cause a rise in anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiment? Have Israel’s concerns once again become paramount, in that the US is going to try to ensure that any future govt passes some pro-Western, pro-Israel litmus test? The NY Times reported over the weekend that Israel (and basically the Israel Lobby in the U.S.) was doing everything in it’s power to try to get the U.S. government and Europe to see things more their way- that the regime had to be supported and if Mubarak ended up going, certain “demands” had to be met by any new government. And now we are walking back on our insistence that the transition had to take place quickly per the Egyptian people. The question is, what role, if any, did outside forces have in the selection of Sulieman to oversee this gradual transition to democracy?
I just saw this over at the HuffPo:
Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman was long seen by Israel as the preferred candidate to succeed President Hosni Mubarak, secret U.S. diplomatic cables published Monday suggested.
According to an August 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks and published by the Daily Telegraph newspaper on its website, a senior adviser from the Israeli Ministry of Defense told U.S. diplomats in Tel Aviv that the Israelis believe Suleiman would likely serve as “at least an interim president if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated.”
A U.S. diplomat who classified the cable, Luis Moreno, wrote that although he deferred to the Embassy in Cairo for Egyptian succession scenario analysis, “there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of” Suleiman.
I really, really hope that we are not trying to influence events behind the scenes in a way that enables the Mubarak regime, under the guise of Sulieman, to entrench themselves and pass faux reforms to give an air of legitimacy to a process that may end up rigged. We really need to be on the right side of this. Democracy is messy and we need to respect the will of the people and not engage in actions that end up turning moderates in Egypt against the U.S. and Israel. This is about the Egyptian people, not the U.S. and Israel and we really should refrain from making it about us.
Speaking of Israel- remember that “incentives package” that didn’t work out because Israel wouldn’t halt settlements and extend the moratorium? We all thought maybe that package was dead in the water. Well, not only is it still being worked out, it sounds like Washington is continuing to buy the line that Bibi Netanyahu would just love to do whatever is necessary for peace with the Palestinians but now, with instability in Egypt, he can’t possibly move forward to resolve the impasse:
U.S. officials have been trying to finalize a security package for Israel the past several weeks, even after Washington abandoned efforts to get Israel to issue in exchange a new settlement freeze to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Upheaval in Egypt has spooked Israel and had the immediate effect of making Israeli officials dig in and even less inclined to take risks for peace, diplomats have observed.
What “risks for peace” exactly? Do these diplomats actually believe that? If anything, what’s happening in Egypt makes it more important than ever to move towards a speedy and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if Egypt wasn’t even going through this upheaval, would Netanyahu really be more willing to “take risk for peace?” He would find another excuse- Iran, the Palestinian Authority, his right wing coalition and on and on and on.
For those of us, myself included, who were hoping that the situation in Egypt would provide an opportunity to break with some of the failed Middle East policies of the past and make the US more willing to move in a more objective, pragmatic direction, that’s clearly not going to happen. This WaPo article notes how the Obama administration’s words have not matched their actions and that possibly at the request of Mubarak, the admin. actually decreased our funding/support of pro-democracy and civil society groups in Egypt:
President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.
Washington’s cuts over the past year – amounting to around 50 percent – have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.
“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change.
It said the cuts came as Washington was drawing down nonmilitary aid to Egypt in general over recent years.
The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.
It has also imposed new rules barring USAID money to unregistered groups, both Egyptian and international. Many groups do not register with the Egyptian government because they fear pressure and interference.
USAID said funds from other American agencies continue to go to unregistered groups, and cited the constrained budget environment.
But the amount is reduced from $10 million in 2008 to around $2.6 million now, according to a report by the Project on Mideast Democracy, a Washington-based group that studied the budget.
Freedom House warned that the new rules are essentially giving the Egyptian Government veto power over who receives funding from USAID.
The changes come at a murky time for Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation. Presidential elections are due in 2011, but the recent illness of the 81-year-old Mubarak has raised questions about whether he will run. Mubarak does not have a clear successor.
Past elections have been notorious for reports of widespread rigging to ensure ruling party victories.
Samih was unable to apply to USAID for funds to monitor upcoming parliamentary elections in November. He was also rejected for funds for another project – Radio Horytna (Our Freedom Radio), Egypt’s first youth-run online radio station.
The Egyptian Center for Human Rights was turned down for $300,000 from USAID to monitor elections for parliament’s upper house last year, said its director, Safwat Girgis. He turned to one of the American agencies authorized to fund unregistered groups, but was told it does not deal with election monitoring.
USAID also yanked funding for another project of Girgis’ group to promote the rights of women and the disabled and communication between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians through public workshops, he said.
The Egyptian government now appears to be moving to shut down unregistered groups.
A bill before Egypt’s parliament would impose heavy punishments on these groups unless they apply to the state. Under the bill, the government can refuse registration for any NGO if security agencies do not approve. The state can also disband the board of directors of any registered nonprofit or pull its license.
Samih warned that if the legislation passes, he would have to shut down his Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies, which promotes democracy among youth and trains bloggers and new media writers.
That’s really damning but it’s an example of how our own Middle East policies have been short-sighted for decades, undermining democracy while ensuring an unsustainable status quo continues. The irony is that our policies may actually increase anger and resentment towards both the U.S. and Israel b/c the Egyptian people are well aware of this hypocrisy- they seem to know many in the U.S. government would probably prefer the so-called “stable” Mubarak regime over a true democratic system which could be more difficult for the U.S. to control.
UPDATE: I just saw this over at Haaretz. While Israel’s anxiety is understandable, the fear-mongering really isn’t helpful. Perhaps rather than condescending to the Egyptian people as though somehow democracy is only something for us worthy folk, Netanyahu could start reaching out to the Egyptian people? Or perhaps lay low for a while? Nah, not his style. All last week I wrote posts which provided links (like this one) to reasonable analysis by Mideast experts that argued that the “Egypt could go the way or Iran” meme really is mixing apples and oranges but again, it’s all about the fear-mongering. I really am beginning to think Israel’s very public protestations are starting to drive our current post-protest Egypt policy, despite the need for real change. While the US obviously wants to try to ensure US and Israeli long-term security interests, there is a distinct rallying cry coming from Israel and some here in the U.S., to try to work hard to maintain the unsustainable status quo because that status quo has helped prevent a more constructive change in our policy in the Middle East. The status quo has become very comfortable to some people who have benefitted from cozy relationships with dictators in order to ensure that no meaningful pressure will be applied to try to resolve the never-ending peace process. A process which has unfairly benefitted some parties, at the expense of others.