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Remarks During Press Roundtable in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
May 21, 2006

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. Deputy Secretary Zoellick will make some opening remarks and then we'll open it up to some questions. If I could ask everyone to make sure their cell phones are off and when we get the questions if you could give us your name and your organization that would help us out in the transcription.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick traveled to Sharm al-Sheikh for the World Economic Forum, where he participated in a Conversation on Freedom and Development in the Middle East. World Economic Forum photoDEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, thanks for joining us. Let me step back for a minute and give you a little broader perspective and then we can get into the details of your questions. In some ways the situation in the broader Middle East reminds me of the context when I started at the State Department in late 1988. And, what I mean by that is that the old order was breaking down. At that time it was the Cold War and you saw the first serious signs of change, but they didn't really become apparent until some time afterward. Now, Mark Twain once said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes," so I don't mean to suggest that the course is going to be the same, but my point is that I think we're in an era where there are some fundamental changes taking place.

In part this is because the political systems are under stress, so as all of you know, after the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire you have dynasties, then you had a movement towards Pan-Arabism. You had the era of nationalism that was linked with socialism which was supposed to be the modern economics of the time. And fundamentally all these have not been effective in developing the goods for the people.

It was the UN Arab Human Development Report that noted briefly that the region was considered a black hole in terms of jobs and empowerment of women and schools. So, I think there is an increasing recognition in all the governments about a failure to keep up with the modern world and the level that people want. Now that is combined with a surge of globalization and again to use 1988 or 1989 as the reference point, when I was working at the Treasury in the late 1980s, there were probably about a billion people in the world market economy. Now there are about five billion people in the world market economy.

And so you can see its effect here, where this is a region where at least in recent years, other than energy, it really wasn't well integrated into the world market system. But you now have the Gulf states trying to follow strategies to become little Singapores, in fact. You see the developments with the NDP here in Egypt trying to transform the economy. I was in Tunisia a couple of days ago and you see their efforts with everything from social development to education to try to get interconnected.

I saw this first hand, obviously, through the work we did on a number of our Free Trade Agreements, first with Jordan, but then with Bahrain and Oman, working on one with the UAE we have one with Morocco. These were obviously devices by these economies in part to modernize their own system.

But with globalization you get additional information and communication that also points out to the people what they're missing. It also connects them to a larger audience, and so I think the latest form of political frustration is the rise of political Islam and that is in part an opposition force to the traditional orders.

Now political Islam covers a range from radical Islamic perspective like that which is represented with Zuwahiri's letter to Zarqawi where basically the goal is to reestablish the caliphate -- you go back 1,300 years. Then you have other forums that are trying to be modernist and reformist. And that is, I think, a fundamental tension that underlies everything that's going on here and the person in some ways who captured this best was someone from another part of the world altogether, Goh Chok Tung, the former Prime Minister of Singapore who described it as a struggle for the soul of Islam. I find that to be an interesting insight because it makes the point that ultimately the determination will be up to Muslims, but others can help create the context for those that we want to try to help.

President Bush in the second inaugural made clear our position, which is that our goal is to help others find their own voices, to attain their own freedom and to make their own way, and we have various tools by which we can do that. So we created a series of mechanisms, the Foundation for the Future, the Forum for the Future.

We, through our MEPI grants, are devoting about $500 million over five years through our support for democracy and legal development. There's about another $100 million every three years and there are separate programs. For example, the Millennium Challenge Account. I was talking with Minister Ali of Jordan yesterday because Jordan is now a sort of a partner in that process and they're trying to develop a program. And then there's the trade side which is everything from the QIZ's, which I've seen the data, that have been really taking off in the Egyptian context to the Free Trade Agreements to TIFA to getting countries in the WTO, which Saudi Arabia just did and Algeria on its work to do so.

But one last point, and that is I think there's an overlay of this which is the security environment which adds another degree of tension and this is whether it's concern about terrorists who want to try to destroy societies as part of their effort to attack the infidels or the apostates and go back to the 7th century. Or whether it's the issues of Iraq where you have a new government being formed but struggling to overcome the various divisions in that society. Obviously the Middle East -- I met with President Abbas yesterday and I'll be meeting with Foreign Minister Livni trying to create two democratic states living in peace. And now kind of the most recent high-profile security issue, Iran and the possibility of the development of nuclear weapons, which has not only concerned us, but obviously concerns everyone else in the region particularly some of the Gulf states that have had their own sensitivities. So that in some ways is a context for the things that are going on here.

Now a couple more particular words about Egypt since I'm sure that's on everybody's mind. You know, one way to look at this is that I think somewhat to people's surprise over the past year or two President Mubarak set some political reform process in motion along with the economic reform process, including what was not highly competitive but nevertheless the useful precedent of the first multiparty presidential election the more open parliamentary elections. And my sense of what happened, and this is where there's sometimes a gap between I think perceptions in the region and perceptions in the United States and perhaps Europe, is that where many people would see in the parliamentary elections all the various weaknesses and incomplete aspects. I suspect that some of the traditional order in Egypt saw Muslim Brotherhood members take perhaps, what, 10% of the seats and so I think you are now in a phase where you've got some resistance by the vested order to try and maintain the status quo. What I have emphasized and will emphasize is that the agenda that President Mubarak set out in his 2005 election campaign was a pretty good political agenda, so we are just trying to urge the Egyptian government to follow through on it: the new judiciary law; repealing the Emergency Law and substituting a counterterrorism provision in its place; expanding press freedom through dealing with some of the detention provisions; changing some of the criminal law structure. And so my sense is that will be kind of our focus of attention in this.

And, one can see that you are in a transitional phase here in terms of the political system and I think that our Egyptian colleagues understandably, given the civilization and the importance of Egypt, are very proud and they in some ways probably feel a certain defensiveness because of their help and cooperation on issues which I discussed, for example, with Director Soliman, yesterday. Whether it be Sudan or whether it be the Middle East Peace Process or whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq or others. And I think there is a fear about Islamic radical movements, but the important thing is that the Government itself has set the direction and, obviously, given our belief in the purposes of freedom we will continue to press ahead on those items because I think that they are important for the development of Egypt as a political and economic leader in the region.

On the economic side, as I said in a number of other fora, I think I'll meet Prime Minister Nazif and some of his colleagues later this afternoon, so I haven't had a chance to talk with them yet, but it's an impressive team. I think they've got some critical mass on issues. There's no doubt some tough economic issues lie ahead, but I think they've tried to set Egypt on the course of economic modernization, but they've got challenges in terms of job creation to build support and to sustain the momentum. So, over to you.

AL ALAM AL YOM: Mr. Zoellick, two things. Do you think that what's happening now in Egypt: the Emergency Law; Ayman Nour; the judicial system is part of Mubarak's agenda that he announced during the election campaign? And, where do you put the Ikhwan (Muslim Brothers) within your description of the range of political Islam? Do you put them on the radical side, or do you put them in the more moderate side? Where do you put them? And of course the FTA? The politicians say Bush's role is helping the FTA? In Egypt, this is considered a punishment.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, there are a number of questions in there so let me try to comment on some of them. First, I think one has to look at various [inaudible]. I had a chance to meet Gamal Mubarak yesterday and I had an opportunity to get a sense of where he believes the party is moving on a number of legislative items. And, so, as I'm sure he's done on his own, he tried to give me a sense of some of the goals for this legislative session in moving forward some of the legislative items that I mentioned. And, he highlighted in particularly the judiciary law. He highlighted some of the aspects related to the penal code and detention related to expanding press freedoms. He talked about some of the other criminal code overhauls.

On the Emergency Law, which is what you mentioned, he emphasized that they came to the conclusion that constitutionally they couldn't let the Emergency Law expire and still take some of the actions that they feel they needed to take against terrorists until they act on a terrorist law. So he explained how they went back to their own membership who had been interested in the repeal of the Emergency Law and it is one reason why they took the process of saying that it would be extended for two years or until the counterterrorism law is passed. So on those sort of items, the proof will be in the actual actions.

So there's a case I was given a paper that explains sort of some of their (inaudible). And, as I have emphasized in this period of what sort of President Bush's second inaugural, obviously it's best if you've got a local political culture that says it needs to take these steps on their own and then we can encourage along the way.

Now some of the other things that you mentioned strike me as not only wrong actions, but mistakes, like beating people up and the heavy handed security reaction that was taken. And the reason I say that is that I think that they conflict with the Government's own desires and interests and where they want Egypt to go, so that's why I say that in addition to being wrong, it's a mistake. And so, we obviously express our views on those things. Others will as well. It's certainly not a pretty sight, but it is also in a way encouraging that you now have the people of Egypt trying to step forward and say, "look now that there's a more open process, we want to take part in it and we're going to insist on our political rights," which is the direction that we would obviously encourage things to go.

AL ALAM AL YOM: Where would you put Ayman Nour?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, Ayman Nour I would put in the category as not only being wrong, but a mistake, too. And, we've stated our view on that more generally

Al-Arabiya TV: Are you saying that Ayman Nour was a mistake that would be [inaudible] from the beginning? How would you describe this mistake?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I think the whole treatment. The whole treatment has been a mistake for the direction that I think Egypt wants to go.

AL-ALAM AL-YOUM: And do you think the Muslim Brothers are on the radical side?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I think ultimately this will again be a question of where I thought about sort of the direction of political Islam. You've got different movements, here, the government obviously has great anxiety about whether they are committed to the democratic process. When I talked to the Jordanians, it's one reason why in their political law they're trying to make sure that parties are not based on religious causes but have a broad based political effort. And, so, I think that it will also be important for the Muslim Brotherhood to clarify are they committed to a democratic process. Are they committed totally to nonviolent solutions? Are they committed to the process of democracy?

And, I think that's a larger point throughout the region. In other words, that's why I started the way I did. I think that I wasn't just trying to give a history lesson. I think that as you've seen people grow frustrated with the different forms of dynasties - Pan Arabism, Arab Nationalism - that some have turned to Islam as a form of opposition. Ok? And for some men, it's a way, just as communism was in some ways a form of opposition, for some it's a way of expressing a protest. For some it's a way of saying that they want to have a totally different society that is not accepting of democratic principles and that's going to have to be thought out in some of these groups over time. When you see this … I mean, I was talking with President Abbas. I mean obviously this is one of the issues between Fattah and Hamas.

MODERATOR: We've got to get somebody new up here.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Yes. You in the green? And then I'll …

AL ARABIYA TV: Actually, I have two questions. You said it's a mistake to beat the demonstrators, but now we have like over 300 people from the Muslim Brothers were arrested and I think number will increase in the coming months. I can't see any groups from the United States protesting those arrests. In particular and we can see that protests coming if Kifaya, people from Kifaya, were arrested. So some people here see this here as a double standard, you don't blink an eye when the Muslim Brotherhood are arrested in those large numbers whereas you do not do the same thing with Aman Nour. It's out of proportion.

The other issue here, Mr. Gamal Mubarak paid a visit to the United States last Friday and this was used here as a way of promoting himself as the next president rather than someone from the NDP. So, can you explain what this visit was all about and was it really a promotion of Gamal Mubarak to the presidency?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, on the second one, the future politics and the future leaders of Egypt are up to Egyptians. Gamal Mubarak has been a significant party leader. Some of us have learned from him and can discuss things with him. Obviously, one recognizes the sensitivity of his position. He's been very involved with some of the reformers, but he's also the son of the president. So there's a tension you can see within the Egyptian politics on this itself. I have found it interesting that when I try to stay in touch with each member of the reform team, but I've also found Gamal to be helpful in trying to understand the efforts to overhaul the NDP. And so in that sense I see him as a significant party leader.

On some of my prior visits I've met some of the, what I politely call, "traditional" NDP leaders and I see that there's a lot of challenge in that party because some of these people have no interest in changing. Ok? And so I'm trying to get some insights on that. I didn't see him [Gamal] in Washington in part because I thought I had a chance to see him here.

As for your first question, I don't want to get into a position of trying to judge the kind of individual arrests of this case and that case. My point is a broad one. My point is that as you start to open up the political process that while undoubtedly people will take various measures for order and security, but it's quite clear that these have gone beyond normal terms and have involved some use of force that seems inappropriate. And so that's where, again, as I said, I think in individual cases it's not only actions that we expressed our own attitudes about, but the bigger problem is it's a conflict with where I think Egypt wants to go and that's why I said it's a mistake.

MODERATOR: We have a short amount of time, so if we could just keep to one question so he gets some more people.

KNIGHT-RIDDER: I would just be interested in hearing your characterization of the level of pressure that the U.S. is putting on Egypt to keep up the pace of reform and whether you consider amending the aid package it receives every year?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Oh, the aid package. Well, let's start out by recognizing Egypt is a very important partner to the United States, and the discussions that I've had with the foreign security people or Director Soliman is on an agenda which you didn't ask about but, Sudan is a very important issue, the cooperation there, the Middle East, a lot of important items that as a partner, that Egypt and the United States tend to take a rather cooperative approach. But in addition, we've been very forthright about the process of trying to support the economic reforms and encourage the political reforms, and when we've had disagreements we haven't been shy in stating them.

At the same time, and I would see it less as a question of pressure and more a question of speaking forthrightly and encouraging and that's why I also started out with the fact that the political agenda that President Mubarak himself outlined was a pretty good agenda to move forward. So how can one be criticizing when one is basically suggesting that it would make sense to move forward on the agenda? Now the question that I got here was saying, "Ok. Well, is he moving forward on his agenda?" And that's so part of what I and others do is to say, "Give us updates. Tell us where this is going. Whether there are ways in which we can be helpful and cooperative on it." And that takes us to the aid issue.

I do not think it would be useful to cut the aid. The aid is in our mutual interest. The economic support funds, which are about $455 million is trying to help the economic reform package, has been supportive of financial reform and other items. There are various benchmarks to be achieved on that, some of which are a little behind, but I think by and large people have tried , there's some bank audits, that's another thing that I understand needs to be done, but have tried to keep on path.

And in terms of the security assistance it's part of the longer term transformation of the Egyptian military in a way that we think is beneficial for our military partnership. Now, having said that, you've got a Congressional delegation here including some leading appropriators - the people in our Congress are part of the committees that determine the spending of the money. And so I have encouraged both the Members of Congress, who I am going to see right after you, and the Egyptians to talk and explain what this political transition is about, and try to get a better understanding so the Members of Congress can work with other Members of Congress. Because there is no doubt that there is some increasing criticism and resistance by Members of Congress on this issue. And so, it's not my view that the aid should be cut, but I also am trying to be realistic with people in that it's certainly under challenge.

MODERATOR: We have time for one or two quick questions.

TIME MAGAZINE: What is your…Why do you believe or do you believe the President's agenda, President Mubarak's agenda, for change? Do you really believe that that's sincere? Do you think that he's sincere about reform, that he has real plans to change? Why would he want to change? What is the pressure on this one-party state to change and legislate itself out of power eventually? What is the timeframe you see for this change? Because many people here see this as being a kind of window dressing to satisfy criticism, to release some pressure but at the end of the day - in 10 or 20 years - they still would like to be in power.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, that's why my answer, the proof will be in the actions. And, so…

TIME MAGAZINE: But do you believe that they are going to really reform or is this just diplomatic talk to satisfy them?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, the way I would describe it is, look, change has to come from within societies. That's where it started out. I think that there are forces within this society that are economic as well as political that are driving change and again it's even tragic to see, but the fact that you've got people out there demonstrating is something you might not have seen even five years ago because it would have been the sort of thing that can be too dangerous.

And people see the changes that are taking place elsewhere in the region. They see elections, whether it's in Iraq, when it's in Afghanistan, whether it's in Lebanon, whether it's in the Palestinian territories. And there's this movement also within the Arab human development side that comes from sources within the country and the region. The best way that we can affect change is a combination of encouraging and pressing and trying to assist. So it strikes me as a practical idea that if a leader of a government sets out a reform process that move in the right direction to say, "Well, those are good points. How are you doing and are you going to move forward? And when are you going to try to accomplish these things?" And that's exactly what we're trying to do. Whether that happens, time will tell.

But, again, I'll just say more broadly from Egypt that looking at the region as a whole, and what it started out with in 1988/89. I think people looking back five years from now will be surprised at the things that have changed.

Look at the fact with the Kuwaiti succession; the role that the parliament played. Who would have thought that would've happened five years ago.

Look in Bahrain where the Shiia have now agreed to sort of participate in the election for the lower house process.

Look at the changes taking place in Jordan where they have a new political parties law, a local government law.

And so I don't mean to sugar coat it and I would certainly suggest that it's going to have fits and starts, there's going to be the status quo that will resist, but I do see this process moving forward in both political and economic terms.

I'll just say this real quickly again, I know other people have questions. I want to give you a point of comparison. I lived in Hong Kong on a fellowship in 1980. I talked to Chinese students and that was right after the rise of Deng Xiaoping. And I talked about democracy. And my Chinese students said, "Democracy in Asia doesn't fit. We know it exists in Japan and some odd form. Nowhere else." And one of the benefits of age, one of the few, is that 26 years later I see democracy in South Korea, democracy in Taiwan, democracy in Indonesia - an Islamic country - democracy in Thailand, struggling democracies in the Philippines. I don't believe that any region is immune to this process. Now it's going to take place in different ways over different times.

MODERATOR: One last question.

FINANCIAL TIMES: There are reports that over this weekend that the U.S.. is resisting the EU3 package that the they preparing to propose to the Iranians. Could you tell us something about that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Not much, since I'm here and they're there. But what I will tell you is the fact that we've been working with the EU3 on something that is to try to offer a positive path but also make clear that if Iran doesn't take that path, the downside of it. And so those are ongoing discussions which I think that are supposed to lead to a meeting of the Political Directors on Wednesday. So, A) I wouldn't get in the midst of discussing it, but B) I can't. I'm here, they're there. Let me take another one. Yes. I'll get you.

ARABIAN BUSINESS MAGAZINE: Question on Iran. There was a report that came out over the last two days that says U.S. officials are meeting with Gulf officials to come to some formal understanding to destabilize Iran. What's your reaction?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Haven't heard it. But it might relate to is, it may be a garbled sense in that, as you know, in the past we've had …security relations with Gulf states. With the war with Iraq and the aftermath, some of the Gulf states felt there wasn't enough attention being sort of spent on sort of a larger Gulf security strategy. So we've had some officials talking to people in capitals about broader Gulf security of which part of it relates to Iraq, part of its our military relationship, part of it is weaponry purchases, and part of it obviously is Iran. So it sounds to me like that that's kind of garbled from those discussions, but you know I have to be cautious because I don't know of the report of which you are speaking.


AL-AHRAM AL-ARABY: Sir, you talked today about the fear of some of the people from interference, American interference, and we have Iraq as an example, and the pressure from the Americans, and the corruption inside. They sometimes go and vote for the Islamists although they are not convinced with them, and they come out for Islamists, whether the Brotherhood or Hamas, or in Jordan sometimes and other places in Arab societies, you find that they are increasing in power. How do you see this? Is this a dilemma for you? You don't expect this or you did expect this? How do you deal with this?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: It is why we encourage systems that are opening up to political processes to create states for legitimate opposition. Because I made this point when I was in Tunisia. It is natural as you get more educated people and as people exposed to what's going on in the world that people are going to want to express themselves, they're going to want to organize and assemble themselves. They're going to want to disagree with the government. Ok? It happens in my country. And so if you block their ability to form political parties that can express themselves, if you block their ability to compete in elections, well, they're going to turn to other forms of opposition exactly as you've suggested and that's why I was sort of touching on the fact they may- this is where I drew the analogy as kind of communist parties - at times people turn to other parties because they were seen as outsiders and opposition, not because they believed the ideology. So it's all the more reason in our view why you should try to open up a political system.

And look, each country's different. Each circumstance is different. This may be phased, different approaches. That's why, frankly, with the Jordanians it's quite interesting. I mean the idea of saying, "Look. We want to open up political system. We want to create political parties, we just don't want them to be kind of religious based. We're trying to structure it this way. Ok?" Those strike me as sort of reasonable things that people would, as they try to approach these topics. Ok? As you know they also are trying to do things in terms of various regional formations and other things, because it is different history you're trying to avoid having sort of a vulcanized sort of party system. You know, Europe, the United States, Canada. Everybody's got different sort of political parties. That's fine. But trying to stymie it and sort of prevent that development would strike me as a mistake.

AL-AHRAM AL-ARABY: Do you agree that the Islamists are the only power is due to elections? Because the United States refused Hamas but in other countries in the Middle East [the United States] agrees on it…

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, let me be clear why we refused Hamas. It's not because they're Islamic, I mean, look. I just met with Prime Minister Erdogan. His idea of an Islamic party would be something like the Christian democrats. Ok? Fine. But the problem with Hamas is not that they adhere to Islam, it's that they adhere to terrorism. They refuse to accept their neighbors' right to exist. That's the problem. And so it's not religion. Keep in mind my country is a relatively religious country, too.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I'll take this guy's question.

AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT: I know you are responsible for the … of Sudan, one question, and what kind of mechanism will you accept to deliver aid to the Palestinians and deal with Hamas, and when do you and the United Nations send the aid to Sudan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I thought there were kind of two questions there? Hamas and Darfur. OK.

Well on the first one, that's something that we're working with the European Union on right now. As you know we've started to put forward some medical assistance, but the European Union is supposed to come back with some ideas in very short order about trying to help the Palestinian people without trying to support the Hamas government. So my sense on that is very soon, we understand, the need to try to do that quickly. And, I certainly talked about that with President Abbas yesterday.

In Darfur, we're trying to strengthen both the African Union forces and get the UN in operation as soon as possible. This peace agreement that I and others labored over is an important opportunity. But it's only an opening. We need more food, as people have said. My government has already provided 85% of the food. We're trying to get others to contribute. We're contributing more. We're talking with the Rwandans and others in the African Union, and while I'm here - this may be of interesting note - I've talked about Egypt whether it might put additional contributions as part of the peacekeeping force, which people seem to be amenable to consider.

I discussed this with the Tunisians since they've been part of a peacekeeping operation, and I raised it with Prime Minister Erdogan who was telling me in quite vivid terms about his strong feelings about Darfur, having visited there. So I think sort of one of my little sub-purposes here is to try to organize some additional troop contributions for a UN operation.

And the last thing I'd say is, I know the UN has to do their assessment missions, but I wish they would do it very quickly, because there are 7,000 forces - AMIS forces, African Union forces - there right now, and one would think that by talking to them as we do that you could pretty much define the mission pretty quickly.

Thank you.

Released on May 22, 2006

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