Egypt's interim President calls for national dialogue
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi raise pictures of the toppled leader in front of Army soldiers blocking Salah Salem highway in Cairo, on July 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO /MARWAN NAAMANI
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Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi told state television on Saturday that he is hoping for national dialogue between all political powers and parties in Egypt to end ongoing disputes following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.
"Now I see we have to return to harmony. Divisions cannot last," El-Beblawi said in a lengthy interview Saturday night with a state channel, his first since taking the office, adding there will be no exclusion and that “Egypt is for all Egyptians.”
"We are not the first country to suffer from division; we are learning from other countries' experiences such as South Africa," he added. "The minister of transitional justice and reconciliation is tasked with studying these experiences in other countries."
The ministry of transitional justice and national reconciliation was added to Egypt's first post-Morsi cabinet which was formed this week by El-Beblawi.
"I was free in choosing the transitional government without getting instructions or orders,” the 76-year-old stated, revealing that he was initially hesitant to take charge of Egypt's premiership. "When many refused the post," El-Beblawi added. "I felt obliged to accept it to fulfill a duty towards the country."
"Interim President [Adly] Mansour did not interfere in choosing the ministers but I made sure to include his opinion regarding the minister of justice as he is a veteran judge... If there is any mistake regarding the choices of the ministers in the cabinet, then it will be mine," he added.
On his relationship with armed forces chief General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, whom critics argue wields significant power in Egypt following Morsi's ouster, El-Beblawi said that he hadn’t met him until the day the cabinet was sworn in in front of the president.
On the criteria based on which he formed the cabinet, the prominent economist said the cabinet – which mainly consists of liberals and technocrats and has no Islamist ministers - is not based on quotas or political affiliations, but primarily on competence.
He did however argue that the body was diverse. “There is no political affiliation unrepresented in the new government,” he stated.
He explained that that upon unveiling the names of the ministers, he received suggestions from youth groups, who told him that his choices were good but could have been better. "I had very little time to choose the cabinet; if this had not been the case, I could have done better," El-Beblawi said. "Pleasing everyone is not only impossible, but it can also be harmful,” he added.
El-Beblawi said that Minister of Civil Aviation Abdel-Aziz Fadel, who upon appointment was revealed to have been investigated by the illicit gains authority, had received some gifts when he was in a governmental position, but had then returned those gifts and the problem had been solved.
New Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy, was reported to have avoided military conscription during the 1973 war with Israel, when his father was foreign minister. El-Beblawi responded to the reports in the interview by saying that Fahmy had not been of legal age at the time, and was also enrolled in university.
El-Beblawi went on to describe the incumbent government as one of the “most critical” as it is involved with a transition from one regime to another and is endowed with amending the suspended 2012 constitution and running the presidential elections.
“The government cannot hold the entire responsibility on its own; we should all work together for the public interest,” he elaborated.
No interference, no escalation
When asked about Egypt's foreign policy during the transitional period, especially regarding countries like Turkey whose governments have supported Morsi since his ouster on 3 July, El-Beblawi said Egypt would not accept foreign interference in domestic affairs. "We will not accept any interference but at the same time we should not overreact," he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to speak to Egypt's new Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, saying he was not elected and was appointed by the "orchestrators of a coup."
Commenting on Erdogan's position on Egypt, El-Beblawi said: "Egypt values its relations with Turkey and that the Turkish PM may not have a full picture of what is happening in Egypt. We can clarify our actions without escalations or overreaction," he added.
Regarding the relations with US, El-Beblawi stated that it is not in the US's best interest to sever ties with Egypt following the recent ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, highlighting the "change" in the American position on Egypt over the past few weeks.
Morsi's ouster, which came as part of a roadmap enforced by the armed forces following nationwide mass protests, has alarmed Egypt's allies in the West, including Washington, with speculation that it would be forced to cut off aid to Cairo, including some $1.3 billion that goes to the military, if it determined Morsi had been removed by a coup.
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently that Egypt had avoided a possible civil war, referring to the interference of the armed forces, in a statement that made it hard for Washington to conclude that the overthrow of Morsi was a military coup.
"Ending cooperation with Egypt is not in the US’s best interest," El-Beblawi said, adding that the whole world wants Egypt to be stable. "The way they change their position on Egypt indicates they will not end their relations with Egypt.”
The prime minister also commented on recent offers of economic aid from various Gulf countries.
"We need work and production. The Arab aid despite its importance will not revive the economy alone," he added insisting that the money flowing from the Gulf states will not mean foreign interference in Egyptian affairs.
Constitutional amendments and wage restructuring on the agenda
El-Beblawi also commented on the anticipated amendments to the 2012 constitution, which has been frozen as per the armed forces' roadmap.
"Regarding my view about the constitution, I believe it should outline basic principles that no one should debate like civil liberties and the separation of powers.".
According to the constitutional declaration issued by Mansour on 8 July, two committees will be responsible for the amendments. The first committee consists of two High Constitutional Court members, two judges, two members of the State Council, and four constitutional law professors from Egyptian universities.
The constitutional amendment committee will refer amendments to another committee formed of 50 members representing the full spectrum of Egyptian society.
On the minimum and maximum wage limit, El-Beblawi stated the whole system of wages in Egypt needed to be restructured. "It cannot be fixed alone through a single law. We need a complete restructuring of the system."
"Transparency is the most important thing to fight corruption," added the prime minister, calling on his ministers to be transparent with the public and to explain the problems Egypt faces frankly.
"I want the people to share in solving the problems we have in Egypt. They will share the solutions if they are told about the problems in a transparent way," he said.