Monday, May 16, 2005

 

Ahmed Nazif meets "Meet the Press", exclusive from MSNBC.com

Transcript for May 15 - Meet the Press, online at MSNBC - MSNBC.com

Excerpt (including Nazif's interview):
The Egyptian prime minister will meet with President Bush on Wednesday, but first, he joins us here on MEET THE PRESS.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.

PRIME MIN. AHMED NAZIF: Thank you very much, Tim. It's a pleasure to be here.

MR. RUSSERT: The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice--here she is in Iraq this morning, a surprise visit greeting with Americans over there. Do you believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was good for the Middle East?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, you can't just classify it as good or bad. There are good parts; there are parts that we need to make better. And I believe that, in all, it has made some profound changes. We're seeing an Iraq today that is changing, that's moving towards democracy, but at the same time we're still seeing unrest and instability in the area. So it's still a wait-and-see situation.

MR. RUSSERT: But it's good to have Saddam Hussein gone?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Definitely. Definitely it's good to have Saddam Hussein gone. I think that it's not just good for Iraq, it's good for the whole area. And I believe that it is important to make sure that we do not lose that part as we move Iraq towards stability and democracy.

MR. RUSSERT: President Mubarak of Egypt said yesterday, "It is not good for U.S. troops to leave now."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: That's true. I think for Iraq there are three important things that have to be achieved. The first one is security. We need to make sure that the Iraqis can take care of themselves, that these bombings that we hear about somehow stop. And that's important, and that can only happen if we have a strong military--Iraqi forces, police and army. And Egypt is willing to help there. We've been trying to train many Iraqi soldiers in this area and willing to do more in this area.

The second part is that we need inclusion. We need to make sure that the process, the political process that's taking place in Iraq, will allow everybody to participate. If you leave some factions out, they will always bring trouble and security will not be there. The third part, of course, is the economic side. We need to make sure that this country can rebuild itself. Iraqi people on the street have to feel the difference that Saddam is gone.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the things Iraq has had is a free multi-candidate election. Egypt has not yet had that. The president has been speaking about it repeatedly. Here he is just a few weeks ago on May 7, President Bush.

(Videotape, May 7):

PRES. BUSH: Egypt will hold a presidential election this fall. That election should proceed with international monitors and with rules that allow for a real campaign.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Will Egypt allow international monitors to oversee the campaign?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I think the important thing--the emphasis will be on free and transparent elections. That's what we're looking for. Now, whether it has international monitors or not, it's too early to tell, because we're still having the change of the constitution taking place on May 25. After that we will have an election law in place. Egypt is one of the few countries that has judiciary supervision of the elections. That means that the judiciaries are the ones that take care of the elections. Judges in Egypt do not--they feel that having foreigners sharing that with them will be an infringement on their own right of supervising the election. So it's still a hot issue in Egypt. I don't think...

MR. RUSSERT: Well, would you prefer to have international monitors?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't mind having them. I don't see a problem with that. But we need to resolve this among ourselves.

MR. RUSSERT: But you mentioned the judges. They met yesterday, Mr. Prime Minister, and said that the election is "a fraud," and they are boycotting it because they do not think it will be a full and free and fair election.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't think that they meant that it's fraud. I'm not sure if this is an accurate code. But I think what they said...

MR. RUSSERT: That's the word that they used, and they cheered when they heard it.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: What they said is that they would like to have more power in supervising the elections, which makes my point. They're looking for having complete power in supervising the elections themselves. Now, we didn't say no about that. We just said that it's a process that has to take place through law. Now, a new law will be coming out, because we're changing our constitution on May 25. After that, we'll have to debate that law in parliament and make sure that it provides us with that. The emphasis is we are, the government is, Mr. President Mubarak is, for a free and fair election.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you appreciate President Bush's pressure on Egypt or do you regard it as interference?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't see it as pressure. I think that among friends we can get advice. And I take it this way.

MR. RUSSERT: Could it backfire?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Sometimes it does because, you know, you have to understand the Egyptian environment itself; not just the Egyptian environment, probably many countries in a similar case, who were subject to colonialists for a long time. They don't appreciate very much foreign bodies telling them what to do. So it's been a thin line between receiving advice and receiving orders.

MR. RUSSERT: Has President Bush crossed that line in your mind?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't think so. But I think that we should take what President Bush said in its positive sense. He said that Egypt is a great nation. He said that Egypt has led peace in the Middle East. He said that Egypt can lead democracy efforts in the Middle East. And I do believe him and I do agree with him.

MR. RUSSERT: The concern that the president has and others is that this will not be a free and fair election. Already Reuters reports "A parliamentary committee proposed that non-party candidates" would need "65 of the 444 elected members of parliament," to sign off on it, in effect, a parliament "dominated by President Mubarak." And then the Christian Science Monitor: "...in the past week, there have been ominous indications about the extent of the government's commitment to change. The regime has arrested more than 1,000 political opponents, allegedly attacked an opposition group, watered down attempts to allow for a democratic election. ... `I don't think there will be any figure with stature in the country that can run against Mubarak,' said Mohammed Sayed Said, a political scientist at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and International Studies in Cairo. `It will be a true farce. The elections have already lost their meaning.'"

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: What they're not saying, Tim, is that this election will allow any political party in Egypt to present a candidate with no preconditions whatsoever; not the 65, nothing else. This 65 applies only to independent candidates coming outside of political parties. We have 19 political parties in Egypt. We can have 19 presidential candidates this fall in Egypt. It's up to the political parties to come up with those candidates. What I'm saying is, it's a process. It will take some time because those parties are not yet mature enough. They have been in the scene for the last 20 years. They haven't brought in presidential candidate materials yet. What we'll see in September, if they can bring them in...

MR. RUSSERT: Is that a decision for the people to make and not you?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: It is and that's why we're allowing them to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: But you yourself said--and this is Washington Times, "Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif downplayed any notion that his nation's coming presidential election will be a hotly contested, Western-style campaign and said President Hosni Mubarak will be easily reelected if, as expected, he decides to run. ... [Nazif] suggested the opposition will not be prepared to run serious candidates until 2011 at the earliest."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Yes, that's true. But that's my own personal opinion in the sense that we're not preventing them to run. I'm just saying that they're not capable of bringing in presidential candidate material yet. That's my own personal opinion. Let them prove me wrong. Let them bring in the candidates.

MR. RUSSERT: So the minor parties will be able to run. They'll have complete and fair coverage in the state-controlled media, access to the airwaves, access to the ballot?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: As head of the Egyptian government, I promise you, Tim, this will be the case.

MR. RUSSERT: There's a lot of thinking that, Mr. Prime Minister, what the real strategy here is to have President Mubarak re-elected, in effect, on an election that is not truly open, and then in 2011 turn over the reins of running Egypt to his son Jamal, a good friend of yours.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Don't you see this is a prejudgment, Tim. I mean, people are already judging that the election will be a farce. People are not even giving a chance to, I think, a very bold move before the president. Nobody expected the president to present last February a move to change the constitution to have a multi-candidate presidential election in Egypt. This is a fact. We didn't have that, we never had that but we're having that this election.

Now, why can't we have the benefit of the doubt? Why can't people wait and see how the election will run? We've presented a very good amendment to the constitution. It allows the parties to have viable candidates, 18 of them, in addition to President Mubarak if he decides to run. And at the same time, as I said, this is a process that will take time. Democracy is an evolutionary process. You need to get people to build themselves. Let the parties--if they fail this time, that's not a problem. They have a parliamentary election this year after the presidential election. They have another in 2010. And then we'll have a presidential election in 2011. And I think this process is a good one and we should allow it to run its course.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Egyptian judges, the opposition parties, academics in Egypt are saying, "Why do they have to wait till 2011. Why can't there be a full and fair and free election this year, right now in September?"

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: There can be. There's no problem with that. Tell me what stands in their way right now? There's nothing there. You can have other candidates. Let them come out.

MR. RUSSERT: Will President Mubarak seek re-election?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: That's up to him to decide.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you be surprised if he didn't?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I would be surprised if he didn't, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Here's the concern: opposition party Ayman Nour. He's a leader in the party. Here he is in the orange scarf being released. And this is the way The Washington Post editorial reported it: "Mr. Mubarak's agents renewed their interrogation of Ayman Nour, the imprisoned head of the liberal Tomorrow party. Six hours later--at 1 a.m.--Mr. Nour, a diabetic with a history of heart trouble, was `sweating, vomiting, holding his left arm, his left arm,' his wife told Reuters news agency. ... The charge against Mr. Nour that he is responsible for the forgery of some of the petitions submitted to register his party is dismissed as groundless by independent Egyptian lawyers. In truth, he is in jail because...he offered a fresh democratic alternative..."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Again, I mean, people are just jumping into conclusions in this case. Mr. Nour's charges are very serious ones. They are criminal charges. They have nothing to do with any political charge. Is it, I mean, not possible for a political leader to have criminal charges against him? I think it's a possibility. It did happen. Mr. Nour, six months ago, was not known to anybody. He is not a political heavyweight in any way. And there is no reason for us to sort of have any political action against him as has been charged. I mean, here is a charge that is unfounded.

MR. RUSSERT: He should not have been in prison?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, he has serious charges in front of him. He'll have his day in court, very ordinary criminal courts, and we'll find out.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned about his treatment in prison?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I'll tell you what, I don't believe what his wife said. The reason for that is the next day that he was arrested, I sent--I personally sent two of the most renown Egyptian physicians, a diabetic expert and heart condition expert, to jail to Mr. Nour. And they came back and said he refused to meet them and he opted to use his own physician, which we did provide him with.

MR. RUSSERT: The concern people have is echoed in the U.S. State Department report on human rights. This is our government talking about Egypt. It's a country's report on human rights practices. "Citizens did not have the meaningful ability to change their government. ... The security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and occasionally engage in mass arrests. Local police killed, tortured and otherwise abused both criminal suspects and other persons."

That's our State Department talking about your country, Egypt.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, they're talking about it, but that's only part of the report. The report also cites that there has been a lot of improvement in human rights developments in Egypt. We now have a National Council for Human Rights. It presented its first report that's an Egyptian, not coming from abroad. It's just an Egyptian report that cites some of those violations, as well. The Egyptian Cabinet just last week met and discussed the report for the first time and decided to do many things about it. I'll tell you what, human rights is an evolutionary process, but I would claim that Egypt today has one of the most improving records of human rights in the area.

MR. RUSSERT: With much more to do.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: With some more to do, yes. But I think that it's important also to put things in the proper context. We are a country that has been subject to terrorism. Our police force sometimes has to take necessary actions to make sure that we have peace and stability inside Egypt, as well. So I don't blame them very much in many cases. But we do tell them not to abuse their forces as much as humanly possible.

MR. RUSSERT: But one person's peace and stability is another person's torture?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't believe so. I believe that we can have peace and stability without having torture. Torture is not accepted to me personally and to this government.

MR. RUSSERT: The Human Rights Watch released this report: "The U.S. and other countries have forcibly sent dozens of terror suspects to Egypt, according to a report on Wednesday. The rights group and State Department have both said Egypt regularly uses extreme interrogation methods on detainees. ... The report said that total numbers sent to Egypt since Sept. 11 attacks could be high as 200. American officials have not disputed that people have been sent to countries where detainees are subjected to extreme interrogation tactics but have denied that anyone had been sent to another country for the purpose of torture."

How many terrorists suspects have been sent to Egypt by the United States?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't know the exact number, but I know that people have been sent there. The numbers have varied. Some have the number 60 or 70. But I think that it's important--you know, when you have Egyptians that have been arrested abroad, we seek to bring them back to the country. Now, to say that we're bringing them back to torture them, I think, is not a very accurate statement. We shouldn't be doing that. We're not doing that. But it happens sometimes, and we've seen police abuses all over the world. But I don't think it should be mistaken as a standard practice arrangement.

MR. RUSSERT: There are no torture tactics being used in interrogating suspected terrorists?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: No, sir.

MR. RUSSERT: Period.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Yes, period.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about Egyptian culture and attitudes towards the United Stares. Zogby International did a poll that showed disapproval of the United States, over 90 percent now, in Egypt. And I noted this the other day in the newspaper. "Anti-Americanism a Hit With Egyptian Audiences. In Cairo's entertainment world these days, it's hard to escape a wave of anti-Americanism. Often, a sure way to fill a theater is to lambaste U.S. foreign policy, cultural habits or military activity. One recent comedy lampooning the United States featured an exploding Statue of Liberty outside the lobby. ... In Egypt, the sentiments color popular music as well as film. Shaaban Abdel Rehim, one of the country's most popular purveyors of shaabi music, a kind of Egyptian funk, is turning out hit after hit critical of President Bush, his policies in Iraq, his allies in the Arab world and Israel. Abdel Rehim's first bestseller was a thumping, danceable number called `I Hate Israel.' [His latest is called `Attack on Iraq.' The music can be heard all over Cairo - in cabs, in cafes and on the little cruise boats that take tourists on jaunts on the Nile River."

The United States has given Egypt $50 billion--$50 billion with a B--since 1975. Why is it after all that investment by the United States these kinds of films, this kind of music is so popular in Egypt?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, I think we have to really differentiate between two things. The Egyptian- U.S. relationship is a strategic one. It has been for some time. Egypt, as President Bush has has said, has that peace. It is a practical peace in the area. And in that context, our relationship has been a strong one. We see eye to eye on many things--in most issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraqi conflict, all things related. And I believe that that's important. And in that context, we have also the aid package to Egypt that started in the '70s during Sadat's time to make sure that we have a stable Egypt, that we have a military that is capable of defending the country and imposing peace and stability and as well helping others to make peace with the Israelis. I think that's a factor that we should not challenge. Egypt is important to the U.S. Egypt is a regional powerhouse that has helped in promoting peace and stability, things that the U.S. has been trying to do in the area.

Having said that, let's look at the other side of the coin now. Now, Egyptians by nature have been trained over the years to hate colonialism, for example. Now, when they see foreign forces in countries like Iraq, when they see the Palestinians not taking their fair share of rights, they attribute this in many ways to the United States not doing enough. The United States is the leader of the world today. And in that respect, they see her as responsible for getting many of the things that they see are fair. If that doesn't happen, then you would see those kinds of responses.

Now, when those responses happen, it doesn't mean that peop--Egyptians by nature does not hate the United States. And I've been meeting many of my U.S. friends here, many tourists from the U.S. that go to Egypt can tell you that I met about 30 congressmen in the last few months and they all say the same. They see Egyptians--when they meet Egyptians--you must have gone to Egypt, if you've gone there, you know that Egyptians don't hate the U.S. Now, if you want us to arrest because he's doing that, the popular Shaaban Abdel Rehim, singer that's, you know, badmouthing the U.S., then I don't think that would be something that the U.S. stands for, arresting people because they're voicing their own opinions.

MR. RUSSERT: But many people who voice opposition to President Mubarak are arrested?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: That's not true. People in the streets today, today, voicing opposition to President Mubarak and getting home.

MR. RUSSERT: No protesters have been arrested in the last few months?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Only if they turn violent. This is has nothing to do with saying their own opinion. It's just that because then they start turning violent and that's not allowed.

MR. RUSSERT: Some observer said that the Egyptian state-controlled media is very anti-American and there was a deliberate calculation to let off steam against the United States rather than be focused on concern about President Mubarak. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek wrote, "...were the Egyptian Street to voice its views--I mean the real Egyptian Street, not President Mubarak's state-controlled media--we would probably discover that its deepest discontent is directed not at the president of the United States, but at the president of Egypt."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't think that's true as well, and there are many, many cases where this is not true. We see demonstrations in the street for President Mubarak, for example, spontaneous demonstrations as well. Nobody mentions that. How come? How come the media in other places of the world do not mention that.

MR. RUSSERT: The article yesterday said at the Judicial Conference that the protesters for President Mubarak had been paid?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, did they see them being paid?

MR. RUSSERT: I'm just asking that.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't think so. They are not being paid. There are spontaneous--President Mubarak is popular in Egypt, I can tell you that, and there have been many, many examples where this happens. Of course, there are people who are requesting change and they are also voicing their opinions in the streets of Cairo today and nobody's stopping them.

MR. RUSSERT: Why aren't there any Arab democracies?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, there will be. I think that we are in an evolving process. It takes time. I don't believe that the U.S. had arrived to a democracy that it can accept for itself in 10 years or 20 years or 50 years. It took them 200 years to get there. So we should not deny others about 30 or 40 years to get there.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, Dennis Ross, the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, wrote this: "If Iran goes nuclear, it is likely to trigger a wave of others in the region doing the same. ... The Saudis...might decide they need the bomb as either a deterrent or a political counterweight against Iran. Egypt, not wishing to cede its prominence in the Arab world to the Saudis, will almost press harder to acquire a nuclear capability..."

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, we've declared opposition on this very clearly. We will not pursue nuclear capability in terms of military use. And I think that we are one of the most--advocates today of NPT, and I believe that the Egyptian position is very clear on this.

MR. RUSSERT: So if Iran develops a nuclear capability, Egypt will not follow?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: No. I don't think it's a necessity for us to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: What if Saudi Arabia does?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: I don't believe they will.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Iran can be stopped?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Well, I think all countries should be stopped.

MR. RUSSERT: Including Iran?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Including Iran, and including the ones that already have them.

MR. RUSSERT: Would Egypt join in sanctions against Iran?

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: If they do that, we'll have to look into it.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you. We hope you'll come back in September after your presidential election and come talk to us about it.

PRIME MIN. NAZIF: Thank you, Tim. I enjoyed it.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you very much.


Full credit goes to "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

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