- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

The following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak conducted by David W. Jones, foreign editor for The Washington Times, at the presidential palace in Cairo on Feb. 27:

Question: Your government has produced a booklet showing that on at least 36 occasions before September 11, you tried to warn the world it must join forces against international terrorism, and said countries which failed to do so would pay a dear price. Do you feel vindicated?
Answer: I kept saying and warning them, and they didn't pay any attention. They kept saying, "Oh, Mubarak has some problems." The problems were coming from Afghanistan.
Q: Do they listen to you now?
A: They listen, but they cannot answer me. We sometimes tell the Europeans about some plans for terrorist actions in their countries. The British and others they had no idea, but we had information coming from several agents passing by here. And we informed them. We have given the Americans since September 11 a great help, but this is not declared. Intelligence help, names, other things which I don't want to be put into the paper. …
Q: How would you evaluate President Bush's conduct of its war against terrorism?
A: I think after the 11th of September he had to do something to satisfy the needs of the American people. But mind you, the Afghanistan problem did not come to an end. We have to be aware that Afghanistan is not an easy terrain country. It has mountains, valleys, caves. It is difficult. And Afghans by nature are very good snipers. And I think the [terrorists] who come from Afghanistan are very few. Most of them come from Pakistan. They also come from other countries, different places around them.
So I don't think that the problem is finished. It needs a lot of work, a lot of cooperation, because these people are very dangerous, and you have to watch them, even in the United States. Don't take it for granted, don't ever think that everything is controlled. These people are very dangerous. I'm personally afraid to go to the United States (laughs). … Your country is a big country with different nationalities. You have to be very careful.
Q: You have had success in fighting terrorism here in Egypt
A: We were being criticized by the whole world for imposing the emergency law. We used the emergency law only for fighting terrorism. Under the emergency law we had hundreds of articles; I didn't use one single article except fighting terrorism.

Use of military courts
Q: Is terrorism wiped out in Egypt?
A: Nearly wiped out, but the programs are not closed. But we have very active intelligence. They came from Afghanistan also. The mujahideen which were there to fight communism started coming back, and they started terrorism here. At the beginning we put them before the normal court but the normal court was taking three or four years, so I decided to put them before the military court with the same law, with the same procedures. But the military court has a limited number of cases, so they can finish. Since that time we have been very strict, and we have nearly put an end [to terrorism]. And yet, we are very cautious also.
Q: Based on your experience, will you have any advice for President Bush on fighting terrorism?
A: I am going to tell him how I see the situation. We have very strong relations with the United States. Of course if we have problems, we will discuss them. I am very frank with the president, and with the Congress and the Senate, about these issues. Sometimes my frankness creates problems, they get very offended. But after they understand I am telling them facts, they say "You are sometimes tough with us, but we respect the words you tell us."
Q: What is your reaction to the labeling of three countries as an axis of evil?
A: This is [a] divisive [matter] in Europe. I don't want to discuss this issue, but I think the president of the United States and the administration should be very active in fighting terrorism under any circumstances. Especially, you have several organizations in the United States. Now they are all sleeping, keeping very quiet as if they are very innocent, until they feel there is some freedom. Then (claps hands) they are going to attack. You have to be very strict with this kind of people.
Q: The U.S. administration has signaled it plans to take the war on terrorism to Iraq. What do you think of this?
A: Look, to attack Iraq we have to be very careful before taking this decision. … Attacking Iraq, you are killing so many innocent people. They will have more sympathy from the Arab public opinion. We have to be very careful there. Unless the people know definitely there is something real there, I am afraid [of] the public opinion. We shouldn't underestimate the public opinion now in the Arab world. Twenty years ago there were no [satellite] channels, but they see everything on the television now, on different channels. We have now British channels, BBC, BBC World, CNN, CNBC, Arab channels, so the people see everything now. We have to keep this in mind when we take any decision.

Arab attitudes
Q: What is the attitude of the Arab public toward the United States today?
A: Look, I think most of the Arab countries have very good relations with the United States, but the popular opinion sometimes is upset because they see injustice for the Palestinian cause. Some in the United States compare what happened in Afghanistan to what is happening in Palestine. There is no comparison whatsoever.
I could tell you something that happened. I was holding a meeting here in Cairo with 600 top religious people in this country. All of their questions were concentrated on Palestine and the behavior of the Israelis. Not a single question on Afghanistan. From our point of view, Afghanistan is far away. … So I think the people, whether they hate the United States or like it, it depends upon the behavior here in this Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Q: The Americans will ask your advice on how to resolve the Middle East crisis.
A: I am very keen about peace and stability in this part of the world. So usually I speak with the [American] president in full frankness and tell him how I see the problem, how from my point of view, we can make a breakthrough. And the point is, we hope that the Israelis could listen, even to the advice from America. … But I don't think with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon there will be a quick solution. The period with Sharon has been the most terrible violence since the peace process started after the Sadat initiative [Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's Mideast peace plan] in 1977. We have never seen such violence and killing and using arms.
I am afraid of more escalation because this will not stop. … There is a ship, that is ship number three. There will be maybe number four, number five, you never know. As long as there is a death every day, I don't think [the Palestinians] will stop revenge. I am not encouraging it, but I am expecting more, if not through ships then maybe through other places.
Q: Are you satisfied with the American explanation that the ship was headed for the Palestinians?
A: I think it is all right. But it could happen more. Don't ever think that it will be the last. One of the ships threw so many containers in the sea. We found two containers filled with anti-tank missiles.
Q: What will be the reaction in the Arab world if the violence continues? How will it affect the United States?
A: It is very bad for the United States. Let us be very frank about this. Sometimes I try to explain it, not to make nice speeches but answering questions. But I think this cannot last forever. The president of the United States has to listen to many voices before making a decision. It doesn't mean the United States wants to do this, but this is the assessment.

Saudi peace proposal
Q: There has been a lot of talk in recent days about a proposal from Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia under which the Arab countries would offer complete normalization to Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal to Israel's 1967 borders.
A: In 1996, the Arab League was convening in Cairo. I was the chairman at that time. We concluded a resolution unanimously agreeing upon peace as the strategy of all Arab countries. Not a single country was excluded. All of them agreed to that. So the proposal of Crown Prince Abdullah that if Israel withdrew from all the territories it occupied in 1967, diplomatic relations could resume that is true. There would be no obstacle for any country to make good relations with Israel.
But are the Israelis ready to withdraw from the occupied territories? They have started to say, "Let's talk to Crown Prince Abdullah. We want to discuss and make the negotiations, meet halfway." This will not work. This is one plus one equals two.
I am not speaking about Egypt. Egypt already has normal relations with Israel. We have no tensions whatever with Israel. We have no intention whatsoever to fight anybody. We defend our country. I have said many times our armed forces are designed to defend the country, not to launch any attack against any country.
Q: Do the Israelis alone bear responsibility for what is happening, or do the Palestinians also bear some responsibility?
A: Both are responsible. The leadership on both sides are responsible. But the point is, why do the [Arab] people sympathize with the Palestinians? Because the Israelis are using the war gear against them. Planes, the F-16s, helicopters, tanks. The people see everything on television.
Q: What advice do you give [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat to try to end the violence?
A: We are making the maximum effort with Mr. Arafat. When I met the defense minister of Israel, he told me they should arrest some people. We pressed on Arafat. He arrested them. Then Shron [the Israeli minister] informed me, "That's a good step done by Arafat. We are going to work hard. I will give orders to withdraw the tanks [surrounding Arafat in Ramallah] in a few days." But Ariel Sharon said after that, no, he should arrest more and put them before the court. He added more conditions as an excuse why not to withdraw, keeping Arafat under something of a siege, making Arafat have much more popularity.
He is winning and the Israelis are losing. Sharon cannot understand this. If [Mr. Arafat] was left to go where he wants, what would happen? He will not go out and not return. If he did not come back he would be the big fat loser. I can't understand what is the concept of Sharon.

The 'siege' of Arafat
Q: So, you asked Mr. Arafat to arrest the killers of the Israeli tourism minister?
A: Yes, but he didn't do the maximum because he doesn't have the freedom to move his police from one place to another. They told him, "Arrest them from where you are staying in Ramallah." I told the [Israeli] defense minister when he came here to visit, "You have free access and you want to arrest so many people arrest them. If you know where they are, arrest them." Because Arafat cannot go here and there. His police are really paralyzed. Plus, [the Palestinian people] attacked the Palestinian prisons. So many people escaped.
Q: Are there other ways in which you are cooperating with the United States in its war on terrorism?
A: I think in the war on terrorism the exchange of information is much more serious than anything else. I think [CIA Director] George Tenet knows that very well.
Q: How have the events of September 11 affected your economy?
A: We were affected. Tourism nearly stopped for a couple of months. We have started again now. But we had so many losses. Reduced traffic through the Suez Canal. Everything. We lost a lot. And the United States promised recompense, and they are helping.
Q: At a pledging conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in February, Western countries were asked for $2.5 billion in assistance and they pledged more than $10 billion for Egypt. What does this tell you?
A: Yes, it was a success. It was very good. Such a thing gives us a kind of confidence that the people know the situation. And gives an indication that the people trust our economy.
Q: Was this conference necessary only because of September 11?
A: Mostly. The economy everywhere in the world has ups and downs. When I took office here, the population of Egypt was about 42 million. Now there are 67 million. It was a very hard life for 42 million. Difficult to find food. Nowadays, with 67 million, I think everything is available. It's completely different. There are jobs from the private sector. There are 18 new cities in the desert. With so many factors, having millions of workers, millions of jobs.
Q: There have been billions of dollars in U.S. economic assistance to Egypt since Camp David I. What difference has that made?
A: It has made a difference in developing our infrastructure and it has helped in the privatization [of the economy]. It has been a great help to the economy. We don't forget that. Now they are reducing the economic aid, and the same for Israel, but they are increasing the military aid to the Israelis, and they are just reducing our economic aid by 8 percent every year. That goes on for eight years.
Some people say [the United States] should reduce our military [aid] and give it to the economy. But if they reduce it from the military that is very sensitive to the [U.S.] military, because we have good cooperation with the United States. And if you take from the military and give it to the economy, the [Egyptian] budget will give the military the same amount, maybe more. So it will not help. …
And the amount for the military is being depreciated. It has been $1.3 billion since 1984 and it hasn't increased. But at that time, you could buy lots of things. Now, it's limited. So we have to compensate it from the [Egyptian] budget.

Economic reform
Q: Your finance minister was quoted recently as saying that the pace of economic reform has slowed down since 1996. Do you agree?
A: No, not slowed down. You know the privatization is going on. The tempo sometimes slows down and then increases, according to the acceptance of the people in some directions. But it is going. We will not stop.
Q: In an interview in September with The Washington Times, you said Osama bin Laden was financing his terrorism network by drug trafficking. Can you tell us more?
A: He is controlling all of the drugs in the area of Afghanistan. So he has a lot of money.
Q: Where do you believe bin Laden is now?
A: I would like to ask the Americans, where is he? But the Americans should be very careful concerning this group. Sometimes they are saying "Oh, the religious schools are producing terrorist groups." I tell you, in our country, not a single terrorist was graduated from the religious schools at all, except your friend [Sheik Omar] Abdul Rahman [who is in prison in the United States for an attack on the World Trade Center in 1993]. That is because they are being taught the real Islam and what the Koran says.
Q: What changes are you making in Egypt?
A: There are so many changes. Democracy. It is a continuous process. It will not stop.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide