Dr Abdelmoneim El Saeed has worked in Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies since 1975 as an assistant researcher, then as a researcher, then head of the department of International Relations, and he has many writings concerned with the new international system, Arab affairs, the European partnership and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In addition, he has articles on security issues in the Middle East, Egyptian policy, arms control, as well as many articles which were published in the US, Asia, and Europe. Daily News Egypt interviewed Dr El Saeed, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
How do you view journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s case and its developments?
The developments of the case cannot be separated from the reform which was launched in Saudi Arabia a year ago or more. The kingdom is turning from an oil state to one with industrialisation and development, and of course with such reforms, and quick measures, blatant mistakes take place, which is why the king started reforming security bodies.
Will this problem hinder reforms?
On the contrary, it may speed it up, and it all comes down to the way the government handles the situation. Almost all the truths were revealed except for who gave the order to kill Jamal.
How do you see Saudi Arabia’s future ruling after the repercussions of Khashoggi’s case?
I’m against analysis that believes this case will change the ruling system in Saudi Arabia. There are much bigger and more dangerous challenges in Saudi Arabia.
Will the reforms led by the crown prince survive this crisis?
Yes, because even though the incident is terrible, it should not waste the great geostrategic gains reached by far.
What are these gains?
A country as important as Saudi Arabia is starting to see all these major reforms in terms of women’s position in society, in addition to the change in Salafism, all of which are major changes. It is hard to sacrifice all of that despite the ugliness of the case.
As for the Arab situation, is establishing an Arab deterrent force becoming a reality?
The manoeuvres taking place regularly are a type of military alliance, and I believe that there could be a strong balance, which was the case in Europe after Napoleon’s defeat.
What about Kuwait’s reservations and the Qatari dispute in this alliance?
The alliance will include those who were present. If Europe waited to include all countries into its alliance, there would have been no alliance at all.
Do you believe there are signs for resolving the Arab-Qatari dispute?
Of course, there are signs for this seeing the positive way Qatar was mentioned by the Saudi Crown Prince and President Al Sisi. The problem with Qatar revolves around one point, which is opening media platforms to attack Arab countries and hosting groups which adopt violence and terrorism against Arab regimes.
Why does Qatar insist on this?
To be fair, some of the groups hosted in Qatar arrived with an American desire involved. Why you may ask, because America wants to keep them to cooperate with them whenever needed. For example, the Taliban are in Qatar. At the same time, the Qatari conflict embarrasses the US. Qatar has the largest US regional military base.
What is your opinion on the current situation in Syria?
The US and Russia are in control. They agree that they do not want Iranian presence in Syria because it would lead to a direct confrontation with Israel, which is a scenario that scares everyone, and will force the US to intervene in ways it does not want. During the current phase, there is more focus on fighting Da’esh in Syria.
How do you expect the situation to end?
With a US-Russian agreement for everyone, according to their interests.
Are the Russian and Egyptian viewpoints in Syria identical?
No, there is a conflict. Egypt does not prefer the Russian military presence in Syria continues, and sends clear signals concerning this. It appreciates the importance of the Russian role in the stability and transformation that took place in Syria, though.
Was the Russian role crucial in changing the situation in Syria?
To a great extent, yes. Before the Russian presence, Bashar controlled less than 30% of Syrian lands, and this has currently changed. Russia has also played a major role in the negotiations that prevented many battles and saved many victims.
Regarding Israel, do you believe that the truce with Hamas is a victory for it?
Saying that a truce between Hamas and Isreal is a victory for Hamas is erroneous. Isreal was in Gaza and executed operations. It found that further presence in Gaza costs human lives, and will irritate the international community and it does not want that, so it resorted to truces. As for Hamas’s rhetoric about victory in light of the starvation and siege its population is facing, it is absurd.
Do you believe that the status of the Palestinian cause has changed in the minds of Arabs?
Unfortunately, Arab countries are in a coma and do not realise the major changes that occurred. The US has acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and thousands of Palestinians enter Israel on a daily basis to work there. There is currently a significant integration of both countries and it is difficult to find a solution for that. Israel is the country in control of the entire situation, and there are 21% Arab Israelis and the majority of people in Eastern Jerusalem are Jewish. There are no constants in this case anymore.
What can Palestinians do now?
There 12 million there between the river and the sea, including six million Arabs. They must be helped to develop in order to prove they deserve a Palestinian state.
What is the US’s role in all of this?
It the biggest supporter and Trump is very biased towards Israel, and this is what he said before he took office.
What is your opinion of Trump now?
Trump is a new version of the US leadership, and there has not been that model of the US leadership since George Washington. Until this moment, some are still very worried because Trump is trying to change some constants in US trends, such as building barriers before freedom of trade. The US is the messenger of this freedom, but I believe Trump has a deal and only does that to improve the negotiation conditions with other countries. He does not rely on specialists we are familiar with in political and strategic sciences, but unlike previous leaders, he has no problem with authoritarianism.
How can the results of the recent elections in the US be analysed?
Both parties have designated their weapons in ideologies and propaganda but summoning Barack Obama to the elections has made the competition not only between two parties (Democratic and Republican), or between two ideologies (liberal and nationalist), but also between two presidents in a in a battle whose time is in 2020.
What are the most prominent conflicts between the two sides?
Both parties have considered the electoral battle historic because it is a chance to return to historical values and state defence against a minority of domestic liberals and the media, and countries abusing the US’s generosity abroad. This “critical mass” of politicians who agree that the US must run the universe has disappeared. It also believed that the free market is the essence of the US economic regime which is armed with a social protection umbrella. This was clear when Trump said that the names Barack and Obama come with Hussein in the middle, and that was not the sole hit below the belt, and Obama was not the kind of man to take more hits. He said that during his tenure, no one was presented to the judiciary, but in the tenure of Trump that followed, enough people for an American football stadium were presented to the judiciary.
Is the US at a crossroads?
That is right. This has been the case since WWII. Up until now, everything that’s happened has reflected Roosevelt’s new deal inside and the foreign alliances outside leading the world towards liberalism and capitalism founded by Truman and Eisenhower abroad. Now there is new path recalling history post WWI where there was isolation and selective interventions outside, and non-liberal capitalism inside.
What comes after the elections?
The elections are over, and perhaps their results were a lesson by the US to politicians. The Democrats are back to the political field by a majority win in the parliament, as for Republicans, they have kept the majority in the Senate.
Democrats have the highest number of state governors, but the majority remain Republicans. There is balance at a point that theoretically allows negotiations rather than conflict, and there is room for cooperation to build the infrastructure and the deal between building the wall with Mexico in exchange for giving legitimacy to the project of the “Dreamers”—the younger ones who came with their families to the US but have not yet obtained the nationality.
The room for deals is big, and maybe there is now a different political climate based on the belief that in democracy, everybody wins.
Obama still believes that the war continues but winning that war would happen through more than one battle as long as Trump is the ruler.
Is our relationship with America at its best?
Bilateral relations between the US and Egypt are going through a good stage. There is great confidence between the Egyptian and American presidents, even the trade war between the US and China gives a major chance for Egyptian products. Of course, there are conflicts, but this is healthy to have between countries.
Given the internal situation, how do you view the economic reform?
I support the economic reform plan, and there always the tendency to focus on the seas rather than the river, because now we see focus on the Suez Canal, the North Coast, and the Red Sea.
I believe what is currently happening answers the question “Where is Egypt headed?” I believe that Egypt is headed towards implementing the 2030 plan. The problem now is moving a country towards one which has a strong media that still allows a certain kind of opposition.
What about the experiences of the past period?
Unfortunately, they are all amateurish. There is not a single current Egyptian media expert that makes one optimistic. We either see the media as blind supporters or as a political platform and this does not benefit the community.
What about new media organisations?
I do not believe these organisations have succeeded. Sure, they are good people, but we have not become better in terms of the press and media institutions, and we obviously perceive an economic and intellectual crisis.
Is this why the state controlled media to a great extent?
It is not the only or main reason. Before, we could see a more balanced equation. I remember during the tenure of Mubarak when I presented a programme whose episodes solely focused on opposition.
How do you see the anticipated changes in media leaders?
I believe they are necessary because the nature of people creates a difference in the situation. A single person can make a change in an entire institution. Whoever comes after Supreme Media Council Head, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, must plan a new strategy and must have time to write the constitution. I was against the presence of such institutions because there is an international way to be followed to control media.
As is the case in media, do we need political reform?
Political reform is one of the most difficult things to be carried out in society. When globalisation appeared, we thought that countries’ experiences can be exchanged as they are with other countries, but it turns out that this is not true for many things, especially political reform. What works for a country may not work for another. Experiences like China’s, Russia’s and other countries in Asia have reinforced this trend because they have managed to succeed even though they did not follow the Western model.
In Egypt, the final result that is most suitable will be determined by the nature of the current community social and political interactions, rather than by a decision.
We must understand that democracy is good until it turns into ultra-nationalism. When this happens in the west, the most that happens is electing a Nazi party by 10-20% then it is not elected again, but in the Arab world, the result would be a civil war.
What concerns you the most for Egypt now?
Terrorism, water, and the deteriorating situation of the region. We have no control over them, but we must at least learn from the lesson of the Renaissance Dam. We have to have a “sea” policy not a “river” policy. This means that we must diversify our water sources, which is something we have already started working on. We must focus on water desalination plants, especially that modern technology has relatively reduced the cost and I’m optimistic about the path the president is taking.
How do you see the calls for amending the constitution?
I refuse these calls. At least not before the full constitutional session is completed.