Visit to Egypt
Cairo, March 6, 2011
FRANCE/EGYPT/DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT/ARMED FORCES/ARAB LEAGUE
THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this press conference at the end of the visit I’ve just paid to Egypt, which, as you know, is my first one abroad as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs.
For several months now, the Arab peoples have been expressing a deep aspiration for change and democracy. France, who is deeply committed to these values of democracy and human rights, can only state her solidarity with the people chiefly concerned, and she has done so several times.
In Egypt, this movement has been conducted in a way that can be described as admirable; in any case, it does credit to the Egyptian people. All the players who have had to lead this revolution since 25 January, and must still do so, have shown an absolutely remarkable sense of responsibility. The attitude of the armed forces and demonstrators, gathered in Tahrir Square at very delicate times, was exemplary.
Egypt has a long political tradition. She was one of the cradles of the Arab renaissance; she is resuming that role today. Egyptians have overthrown an authoritarian regime by themselves, and today it’s up to Egyptians alone to define the shape of the democratic regime they want. I’m here simply to tell them we’ll accompany them on this difficult path. The world trusts them to complete the journey towards democracy.
During the day I’ve just spent in Cairo, I had the opportunity to meet Field Marshal Tantawi, to whom I passed a letter from President Nicolas Sarkozy. I assured him of France’s confidence in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to lead the next stage of the political transition process.
I also met representatives of the young people who spearheaded the 25 January revolution. I talked at length to some 10 members of the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, who are voicing the demands of a new Egypt. They shared their concerns with me, but also their ambitions for the future, and I must say I found this discussion particularly powerful and fruitful.
I held a meeting with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Mr Moussa, whom I know well because in 1993 and 1995, when I was French Foreign Minister, he was Egyptian Foreign Minister, and we discussed the major regional issues.
As I said on my arrival, I’ve come here not with ready-made recipes or to give advice but quite simply to express France’s availability. This availability will be shown especially in the economic and social fields, because we’re well aware of the challenges Egypt must take up in those fields.
On tourism, France was one of the first countries to express the hope that the flow of tourists will resume.
I also said our French Development Agency is ready to step up the efforts it’s already making in Egypt, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up this country’s economic fabric and are the main providers of jobs.
Finally I spoke about France’s desire to spur all her European Union partners into action for Egypt but also for all the countries south of the Mediterranean, by recasting that fine project, the Union for the Mediterranean – launched in 2008 – in other possible forms.
Despite its brevity this visit is important for me and, beyond its diplomatic importance, moving on the human level. It’s very clear that one of the biggest changes to be experienced for a long time – not only in this region but on the international stage – is taking place here. So we hope with all our hearts that the Arab peoples succeed in their march towards democracy and the affirmation of human rights.
There you are; I’m now ready to answer your questions.
Q. – I’d like to ask you two questions, if you’ll allow me. Firstly, would it be possible for the Western countries, the European Union, to not cancel but momentarily suspend a few Egyptian debts to give Egypt time to overcome her problems? And my second question is: what is France’s opinion of what’s currently being said and repeated about a possible military intervention in Libya?
THE MINISTER – On the first point, it’s a question we must answer thoroughly by gauging all the consequences on Egypt’s credit. I don’t think it’s ever good not to pay your debts, and Egypt doesn’t seem to me – our ambassador will correct me if I’m wrong – to be in a situation whereby a cancellation could really help her.
On Libya, it is indeed our main cause for concern as I speak. Given the attitude and particularly the violence and brutality he’s shown and is continuing to show towards the Libyan people, Colonel Gaddafi and his regime are, in our view, discredited and must go.
This position is the same as that of the United Nations Security Council, which has introduced this new principle of responsibility to protect, adopted unanimously in 2005. The Security Council also, for the first time, referred the matter to the International Criminal Court, asking it to examine whether people who have acted in this way should be prosecuted. It’s also the position of the European Union, which is ready to implement sanctions, the principle of which has been decided by the Security Council. It’s the position of the United States, of course. It’s the position of the African Union. And it’s the position of the Arab League, as Mr Moussa confirmed to me at midday.
Must we go further today and envisage a military intervention? The situation on the ground is difficult to grasp, with the offensives and counter-offensives between the two camps. France and also several of her partners, whom I mentioned just now, are not in favour of a Western military intervention in Libya, which could have entirely negative consequences. Having said that, and in the event of the fighting growing bloodier, we must prepare ourselves to react. That’s why we’ve accepted planning for a no-fly zone over Libya. For us, such an intervention can be conceived only, of course, under a United Nations mandate and with the participation of the Arab League and the African Union. So we’ll follow how the situation develops by the hour.
FRANCE/EGYPT/MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD/TRANSITION/FRENCH AID
Q. – Among the young people you met just now were several members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does that mean the Muslim Brotherhood is now a fully-fledged interlocutor for France, like the other political parties?
THE MINISTER – First of all, I don’t want to get caught up in Egypt’s domestic affairs. It’s up to the Egyptians themselves to decide who must be the players in this democratic transition we’re all calling for. For my part, I wanted to meet the coordinators of 25 January, and it so happens that those taking part included several people claiming to represent the Muslim Brotherhood. The dialogue I had with all these coordinators, particularly the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, was interesting and really gave me a sense that the way this movement is sometimes presented should have more clarity and depth, because several of them explained to me their vision of a liberal Islam that respects democratic principles.
So it’s a dialogue that deserves to be continued, both within Egyptian society and, more broadly, in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean, which I was talking about just now.
Q. – You visited Tahrir Square; what’s the importance of that visit for you?
THE MINISTER – Liberation Square, Tahrir Square has been on every French television screen for several weeks now, and people have clearly seen the role of the demonstrations that were held there in the revolution Egypt has just experienced. So it was natural for me to go to that square to get a better sense of the events which took place there, and above all to express France’s support for every step towards more freedom and democracy in Egypt and in the Arab world generally.
Q. – France has now decided to support the building of democracy in Egypt. How?
THE MINISTER – By being there, alongside the Egyptian people.
Now, there are things we mustn’t do and things we must do. What we mustn’t do is put ourselves in the place of the Egyptians. It’s the Egyptians who will decide on their democratic transition, the organization of their elections, the changes in their constitution, what they decide together, and France doesn’t intend to interfere in that.
But on the other hand, we can’t be indifferent to what happens here, because the Mediterranean is our shared sea. So it affects us, and that’s why – in whatever way the Egyptians so wish – we want to support and help them in this process; it’s up to them to tell us how.
Q. – You talked about the fact that, in the coming months and years, France is going to support Egypt’s rebirth. Now, in practical terms, how is this help going to materialize? Are we talking about financial aid from France, from the European Union, and which players will it go to?
THE MINISTER – I mentioned these three points earlier in my remarks. France is ready to help bilaterally. I talked about the French Development Agency, which is one of our development aid tools. I also talked about the revamped Union for the Mediterranean, and thus the involvement of the European Union, which has the means to contribute to this rebirth, to this economic and social modernization of Egypt. And we’re also ready to help in the legal sphere: we have a certain expertise when it comes to constitutional matters, the democratic process and human rights guarantees. This is also an issue on which, if we’re asked, we’re ready to share our know-how.
Q. – You talked just now about the Mediterranean. I’d like to know if your visit to Cairo has also allowed you to discuss the Union for the Mediterranean and what it’s now going to become?
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course. I talked about this both to my Egyptian interlocutors and the Secretary General of the Arab League. The Union for the Mediterranean is a fine idea. It’s quite simply that of greater solidarity between the north and south of what I earlier called our shared sea. And this solidarity is more necessary than ever today in every area: in the political, security and economic spheres and when it comes to migration flows. Our destinies are shared; we’ve got to work together.
So the Union for the Mediterranean, as it was launched in 2008, today deserves to be restructured, since things have changed, in several countries of the South in particular. This is what we’re going to devote ourselves to working on now. I obviously don’t have an answer to this question after four days, but it’s on the agenda of our discussions in Brussels this week, and then of course we’ll be closely cooperating with our southern partners. (…)./.