Democracy in the Middle East: Islamists, Liberals, and the Battle for the Heart of the Arab Revolutions
This panel focuses on the ongoing struggle between Islamists and liberals in capturing the heart of the Arab revolutions. The discussion highlights key questions, such as: What is democracy in the Middle East? How can countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya reconcile pluralism with liberalism? Has the Arab Spring really been the "Islamist Spring?"
Democracy in the Middle East: Islamists, Liberals, and the Battle for the Heart of the Arab Revolutions
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
1000 N, Third Street,
Sunday, June 30, 2013
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Chair, Aspen Institute's Middle East Programs
Senior Vice President, S. Daniel Abraham Center for
Middle East Peace
Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News
Host, MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports"
MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
Chairman, Albright Stonebridge Group
President, Council on Foreign Relations
International Public Speaker on Arab and Muslim
DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
MS. VERSTANDIG: Good morning. Good morning. Could I
ask you to please take your seat? Good morning. Thank you. If you all
could please take your seat, we would like to begin the panel. I am Toni
Verstandig, Chair of the Middle East Programs here at the Aspen Institute.
Thank you all for coming so early this morning. And as you can imagine,
our reach in the Middle East region continues to provide enormous content
and great information for our panels today. And I am pleased to turn over
this discussion today on "Democracy in the Middle East: Islamists, Liberals,
and the Battle for the Hearts and Mind of the Arab Revolution," to my
good friend and colleague Andrea Mitchell. Andrea?
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you, so much Toni and thanks for
everything you are doing. Toni, as you know, is indefatigable in trying to
bring the factions together and doing so much behind the scenes and has
been for years. This is, for me, the highlight of my coming to Aspen,
because this is a subject I am passionate about, and the people here on
stage are the most knowledgeable. And we are at such an inflection
point. People, as Toni said, are pouring into the streets in Cairo as we
understand it, Richard's sources and mine from our people there in Cairo,
it is unbearably hot there today. They expect the apex of the
demonstration to be at 8:00 p.m. local time. They are marching towards
the presidential palace.
We had, of course, the day before yesterday, the tragic death
of a young American intern from Chevy Chase, Maryland, who was
working with Ted Kattouf's Group and working there for the summer
teaching English, and was stabbed during one of the protests. So there --
but this is beginning to explode again. Some are calling or predicting the
second Egyptian revolution and there is only one piece of the growing
secular Islamist divide in the region. We could talk about Syria and
Turkey and Iran today with this extraordinary panel.
But also just to note that John Kerry is in Tel Aviv or about to
leave Tel Aviv. He had a news conference this morning. He did not make
his scheduled stop in Abu Dhabi, he stayed an extra couple of days in the
region, had just been to Ramallah for another meeting with Abbas, his third meeting with Abbas in three days after six hours of talks with
Netanyahu last night. So this is not -- clearly not as far as he had wanted.
I think having invested this much time in the last couple of days, he really
wanted to announce an agreement to get back to the talks and eliminate
a lot of the preconditions and the under brush. But I am not sure, it's clear
that they are not quite there.
Any case, to hear from our eminent panelists. Madeleine
Albright really needs no introduction. You know that she is now the Chair
of the Albright Stonebridge Group, but most importantly and also
continuously teaching at Georgetown to the delight of the faculty and
students there. But she was the first woman Secretary of State. I know that
seems sort of common place now, but believe me when I was watching
her being sworn in, it was not common place. And a woman had never
been at the top of the State Department, a department that had been
known for many years for its discrimination against women, foreign service
officers, all of which changed under Madeleine Albright and as well as a
lot of other things. And as you know, she was the very powerful and
passionate ambassador to the United Nations before that.
Dr. Richard Haass, has spent the last 10 years at the helm of
the Council on Foreign Relations, revitalizing it and in an extraordinary
way, in terms of its reach. He had previously been at the White House,
the State Department, and the Defense Department in senior posts, a close
advisor, of course a deputy to Brent Scowcroft in the National Security
Council. He has just published his 12th book, I recommend it to all of
you, Foreign Policy Begins At Home: The Case for Putting America's House
in Order. And that, of course, is a provocative thesis to come from the
president of the Council of Foreign Relations. It has just this weekend been
named by the Financial Times as one of the "must read books of the year,"
so take that advice as well.
And Mona Eltahawy is an award winning columnist and
journalist and speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. She was a Reuters'
correspondent for nearly six years reporting from across the Middle East
and North Africa. And she most memorably and with great personal cost
to say the least, was one of the victims in Tahrir Square and has been
speaking out for the women who were so critical to that revolution and have now been, you will hear from Mona as to the role of women now in
Egyptian society as well as across the region.
First to you, Madame Secretary. What we are seeing in Cairo
is really the culmination of a year of failures arguably by the Morsi
Government and a failure of the sort of nexus between what was
described as a free and fair election and the ability to govern, to govern in
an inclusive way. Are we at a stage where we can have these elections
but then non-secular passions come to play?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Thank you, and I am delighted to be here and
great to see so many people. You have asked a very difficult question. I,
among other things, am Chairman of the Board of the National
Democratic Institute, which is part of the Endowment for Democracy. And
we have been working on democracy since 1983 and basically founded
by Ronald Reagan. So this is not a new idea. What is more complicated
is how democracy evolves in the social media age and how you get from
what I say how do you get from Tahrir Square to governance.
I think it is very exciting to see people out there voicing their
views, but -- and to have an election and this is very hard to say being
who I am, elections are necessary but not sufficient. And if one focuses
only on elections and doesn't focus on institution building that is required in
order to have democracy work, then you've only got half the story. And
so the issue here is how do you channel the information that the people
have? I often talk about what's going on with social media as the
Californiasation, that's a hard word to say properly, you can make a
And when so many voices are loosed without any channels of
communication, which is why I believe in political parties and some kind
of institutional structures. You also have to have the rule of law and a way
of really channeling it. So what we are watching is this kind of
disintegration because there is no way to get from here to there. And I
think the question is how in fact to combine those voices with some kind of
institutional structure. The thing that happened was because the Mubarak
government had basically outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, they in their
own way were able to create an organization, also develop constituency services in a variety of ways while the others, the opposition, was kind of
disaggregated. And so some of this is an institutional issue and a
problem, and frankly I don't think we have a clue where this is going
because there is not any control mechanism at the moment.
And clearly President Morsi has failed in what he was elected
to do for whatever reason. And that's what I am sure we are going to talk
about. But you can't say that this is a success if, in fact, there are people
out on the streets and that there is no functioning system.
MS. MITCHELL: Richard, does Morsi have to be replaced? Is
he going to be overthrown? Is there going to be a military coup, I mean
what would you -- if you were sitting in the situation room right now where
people are sitting and watching this as well as at other agencies around
the beltway, what would you be predicting and telling the commanders
and the president?
MR. HAASS: Well, basically let me say, I tend to agree with
virtually everything our Secretary Albright said and the key to it I think is the
difference between what you might call, electocracies and democracies
and elections. And the fact that you had an election in Egypt is all well
and good, but what we are now seeing is just how far you have to go
before you have anything like a functioning democracy and you need the
checks and balances within government, between government society, the
evolution of civil society and virtually none of that existed before the
And that was part of the nature, if you will, with the top
heaviness of the Mubarak era. And I would simply say we are at best at
best we are in the early stages or innings, whatever metaphor you want to
use, of one day might be seen as a democratization process within Egypt.
The problem is when you have millions of peoples in the streets,
government is seen as unresponsive and a liberal the process of
democratization could very easily go off the rails. And we've seen that
with democracies that are farther along in Brazil and Turkey, this is one
that is extremely immature and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, I just
mean that in a descriptive sense, it's very early moments. Well, what you want to do is discourage violence not that our
calls for peace and all that. People tend to come out in the streets when
they feel that the normal avenues of political engagement are meaningless
or denied to them.
The question then is two basic, I guess, scenarios at least, one
is that you have tremendous violence and then what happens then. You
know, there is no real police in Egypt, it's really the military playing that
role, are they willing to use force? If you recall when Mubarak was in
trouble the military would not be joined into that role. They were
frightened that they would lose legitimacy and their own positions and
privileges would be jeopardized. So one question is what role if any they
take or is the opposition in the street orderly, disorderly, essentially what
does it look like in 24 hours.
But no matter what, the real challenge for the United States,
more important for Egyptians -- well, how do you get this back on the rails
to democratization and then the question is if the Morsi government
survives this, what sort of lessons do they take from it, what sort of reforms
do they begin to institute.
So people basically say traditional politics has promised some
legitimacy. Or if they don't take those kinds of lessons and they just crack
down, then I think basically we are on a cycle of increasing polarization,
violence, you will have interruptions of what you might call democratic
rule and then you will have to basically start the process up again.
MS. MITCHELL: Mona you have experienced this first-hand in
the worst possible way, arrested by the interior ministry, assaulted, beaten.
You wrote a very provocative piece in foreign policy, Why Do They Hate
Us, about the role of women in these societies. Can Morsi survive and
should he survive?
MS. ELTAHAWY: I think the problem with both the Morsi
governments and the U.S. administration is that they think the Egyptians
haven't changed, that basically Morsi has inherited a country of the same
type of people that Mubarak ran for 30 years and that five successive U.S.
administrations supported him in running. What the Morsi government and U.S. administration primarily through the ambassador in Cairo,
Ambassador Anne Patterson failed to recognize is that the number of
people on the street today are saying a very loud no, in a way that we
said no to Mubarak and in a way that we said no to the military junta that
took over after we got rid of Mubarak.
And that no is for very simple reasons. Mohammed Morsi was
elected by a wide cross of Egyptians, I think the best way to summarize it is
through one of the banners being held across the streets of Cairo today as
people march from Tahrir to Ettahadeya Palace and that banner says With
Islam against the Muslim Brotherhood. And that's just to represent the
Muslims in Egypt and obviously not all Egyptians are Muslim or observant
Muslims because we have a substantial Christian population. But that
distinction is really important because I think that -- and this is where I will
broader up to Europe and our Western Allies as well as in Egypt, for the
longest time as long as the Mubarak regime was in power and
suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, it was always thought that Egyptians
given a choice will go to Islamists and that is utterly false.
Egyptians wanted the choice in a way that you have a choice
here and Europeans have a choice. The reason Morsi became president
was because the false choice we were given was a religious
fundamentalist president and a candidate for the military junta. So I have
lots of friends who with great difficulty voted for Morsi because they didn't
want the junta guy.
But when you have this broad base of people voting for you, it
sends you a clear message that we want you to be the president of Egypt
and not the president of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Morsi became the
president of the Muslim Brotherhood and began imprisoning and
detaining political opponents who voted for him.
MS. MITCHELL: But isn't it likely if Morsi is overthrown, isn't it
likely to be replaced by the military by that exact opposite choice.
MS. ELTAHAWY: We don't want that scenario, what many
people in Egypt are calling for and this is where the U.S. administration
can play a role because the U.S. continues to pay Egypt in aid $1.5 billion every year, despite all the failings of the Mubarak regime and now
the failings of Morsi. What Morsi needs to know is that he needs to
broaden his base, he needs to bring in the opposition, he has been
appointing ministers and governors basically from the Muslim Brotherhood,
from the Islamist support and from the former regime.
MS. MITCHELL: Let me ask madam, are we not using the
leverage we have with the Morsi government to force it, to encourage it
strongly given that we're really bankrolling its future. Are we not using the
leverage diplomatically to make it be more inclusive for the minorities?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, I think I do not speak on
behalf of the United States government. But the bottom line is I think one
has to see this a little bit also from the American perspective. Egypt has
been very important to the United States. For many years it is central to a
lot of Middle Eastern policy. We don't always get to choose the leader.
We have to work with the leader, who has been elected. And part of the
issue is, what are American national interests in the region? Our interests
are frankly some stability of a variety of kind, and then also a very
important relationship with Israel. There is no question that -- I worked in
the Carter administration, the Camp David Accords were a central aspect
of this and part of it is this whole aid kind of ratio between the amount of
money that is given to Israel and the amount of money that is given to
Egypt and a lot of the money that is given to Egypt is a guarantee of that
treaty. And I think that's something that Americans know many of them,
many who do not.
We do not control what is going on in Egypt. I happen to
think -- this is again my personal opinion -- that we need to condition the
assistance we give to Egypt but to cut it off completely we would lose all
leverage. We would lose it all. And so, the question is how you
condition it in terms of what they allow. I just said I think Morsi has failed
in a particular part and something that Richard mentioned, democracy,
you can't have majoritarian democracy.
You have to have -- recognize that if you have majority rule,
you have to have minority rights and Egypt is a particularly complicated
country in terms of not being all Muslims. There are the Coptic Christians and a variety of different groups within it and Morsi has forgotten that. The
thing that I had maintained earlier was I do not, and I still do not believe
that the Muslim Brotherhood is a completely monolithic organization. And
I think there was some thought that Morsi was not necessarily run by the
most conservative parts of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And I think he, I do not defend Morsi but clearly there is a very
complicated situation in the variety of groups and a lack of understanding
of the minority aspects. But from an American perspective this is a very
important country to us. And I actually think Anne Patterson is a
MR. HAASS: Can I just say one thing there?
MS. MITCHELL: Please.
MR. HAASS: Which is I'm also, I think, well Evan (phonetic),
we are former colleagues. But I do think the perception in Egypt among a
lot of people, who are not, shall we say, instinctively sympathetic to this
government in Egypt is that the United States is giving Morsi a pass and
giving this government a pass because it got elected and I think that's a
mistake. Yes, they got elected and that's as if you will, you get points for
that but you don't get a pass for that. And since he has governed, he has
not governed in a way that I would argue is democratic.
So, I think and what you have here is a consensus is that USA
needs to be conditioned and Egyptians are going to complain about that.
They are going to say you are infringing our sovereignty and I would say,
so be it. You have the sovereign right not to accept American aid. We
have the sovereign right to condition it. You don't want to accept it on
these terms great, go do without it get aid from other places, which in
some cases by the way they have, and that aid will not be in anyway
conditioned. We have to understand that.
But I think, we should be publicly and privately, we should
speak out for the principles we believe in and we should basically stand
for democratization in Egypt and constantly talk yes about Egypt's
importance and all that but we have got to -- we have got to change the tone and the substance of our policy. It's also possible and so if I haven't
been controversial yet, yet let me be now that you could have the military
get involved just imagine that is a possible scenario. And I would simply
say if that were to happen, United States needs to take a deep breath.
And before we start condemning anybody, before we start
talking about aid cutoffs, we need to think for a second and say, what is
our goal here? Our goal is democratization. So, what we should then
do is work with whoever is in power, whether it's Morsi, whether it's the
military, whether it's somebody else and say we'll have a conditional
relationship. We'll talk to you about a roadmap, a schedule, what will be
the principles of governance, what will be the calendar of it, and we will
then figure out how we will react to that, what kind of aid we will give
you to facilitate that process.
We should avoid, if you will, being "show principled" that if we
see setbacks to democracy that our relationship we toss it over the edge.
Madeleine is exactly right, we have a big long-term relationship with this
country that's somewhere between a quarter and a third of the Arab world
one of the great centers if you will of the Arab world and the peace and
the peace relationship with Israel, very much a participant directly and
indirectly in the intellectual and political clashes going on in this part of the
world today. So we have got to play this for the long haul, not just react
MS. ELTAHAWY: There is some --
MS. MITCHELL: Mona weigh in but I want to move on to
Syria and sort of regional impact.
MS. ALBRIGHT: We have solved this.
MS. MITCHELL: We have solved Egypt.
MS. ELTAHAWY: I want to say something, I want to say
something about Egypt before we move on to the easier example of Syria.
I think -- MS. MITCHELL: We didn't tell you there would be any easy
answers to that.
MS. ELTAHAWY: There are moments that come along where
we expect much stronger language, not just you know the conditionality, I
agree with the conditionality on aid. But a very recent example was a trial
of non-governmental organizations in Egypt, the NGO trial. And one of
them was NDI, the NDI office, IR office, German, European, various nongovernment organizations.
MS. MITCHELL: One of the people arrested was the son of a
MS. ELTAHAWY: Exactly. But here is where the U.S. stumbled
and stumbled badly.
MS. MITCHELL: Agreed.
MS. ELTAHAWY: NDI, I mean a very good friend of mine is a
man called Robert Becker, who was running the NDI office. He was the
only American who refused to leave Cairo to stand trial with his Egyptian
colleagues and for that I salute him. And NDI fired him, why? And the
U.S. Embassy did not offer him any support.
MS. MITCHELL: Well we have to let Madeleine respond to
that since she chairs --
MS. ELTAHAWY: Why? I would love to hear what Madame
Secretary says. But the U.S. administration more importantly said very little.
The Europeans were much more harsh on the Morsi administration. Now
this trial began under the military junta continued under Morsi but it bodes
very badly for the kind of democratization building that we are all
speaking about because they are cracking down against NGOs.
MS. MITCHELL: Madeleine?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Robert Becker had different reasons for staying
there than democratization and I don't wish to talk about it. He is not the person that you think he is. The (audio break) has in fact been arrested.
We have been tried and sentenced illegally and we are trying to figure
out what to do about the sentence. But it is a serious problem. And I think
part of the issue here is that the facts are not out there.
There is no question that Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, various
ones have been, our offices were raided. People were -- we had to take
them for safety into the embassy. We had to evacuate them. We have
been trying to deal with it.
But I think that what we need to do is understand you are for
every reason passionate and I admire you so much I could not have
survived what you survived. But I think that what we have is a very
complex situation and democratization is a complex issue. And I -- I do
think I stand by what the NGOs have done, I stand by NDI's work and I
am appalled at the sentence that was meted out to the people on
completely phony charges. But we have to know what the facts are.
MS. MITCHELL: Speaking of the facts, we don't have facts, we
don't have good reporting from inside Syria. There is a lot of anecdotal
evidence, the latest U.N. figures are 100,000 people dead. Madeleine,
when you were in the Clinton administration you were such a passionate
advocate for action in Bosnia. We know what happened when you
argued with Colin Powell memorably about that. What should the U.S.
role be in Syria?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think one of the hardest parts is taking
one event and moving it to another area. I personally wish that we had
done something earlier in Syria. And that often people say too little too
late, but the bottom line is it doesn't get us from here to there. I think we
are where we are on it. President Obama has been very careful about
this for good reason and some of it is some of the stuff that Richard's been
writing about is worrying about what's happening at home.
I think that if I might say I think that President Obama is dealing
with what has been the greatest disaster in American foreign policy, which
is the war in Iraq, that made it very difficult for the United States to move
into another area where our views are do we get involved in another war in the Middle East in Islam.
So I believe that what the president is doing in terms of now
providing some more military assistance to the rebels is a good idea.
What I think has to happen is there is no military solution to this. I think
they need to go to Geneva for a political solution. But if I might say I am
obviously the oldest person on the stage though not necessarily the oldest
MR. HAASS: Not even close.
MS. MITCHELL: Can I just say age is a state of mind and
Madeleine was on a panel -- was observing a panel last night, I saw you
leaving around 11:00 'o clock last night. You are the youngest person
on this stage.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Yeah, but I think the thing that what we need
to think about is the things that we have viewed in the last, the last century
and this one, I think what we are seeing in the Middle East generally is the
biggest change in our lifetimes, probably bigger than the end of
communism. And I think part of it is a massive battle between the Shia and
the Sunni and the Persians and the Arabs and lot of it is playing out in
Syria. And if you think that we are in for the long run in Egypt this is a long
story in the Middle East. And I think that's the way what we have to see
what we are doing in Syria.
MS. MITCHELL: Richard, you have spoken of it as a 30-year
MR. HAASS: Ah --
MS. MITCHELL: It's already been more than 30 years since
MR. HAASS: Well that's the -- that's a different fault-line.
MS. MITCHELL: Different nexus (phonetic).MR. HAASS: -- fault-line. That's the fault-line that's for so long
dominated perceptions in the Middle East which was the Israeli/Arab fault
line. And actually I think that's become the least of the fault lines in the
MS. MITCHELL: So do you think that -- I want to get back to
the bigger issues.
MR. HAASS: Sure.
MS. MITCHELL: But do you think that what the Secretary of
State is doing right now is a distraction or a side show if you will?
MR. HAASS: Yeah, well --
MS. MITCHELL: Investing so much time in an issue that is no
longer the central issue of the region.
MR. HAASS: Are those cameras working.
MS. MITCHELL: I hope so.
MR. HAASS: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: It's just between us, it's something I want to
MR. HAASS: Just between us, won't go any further than this
tent. Okay. Yeah, I would make three points on this. And I'd love to be
wrong and the good news is I often am. The first is I think the prospects for
peace between Israelis and Palestinians are bleak. Whether talks begin or
not, I think the prospects are bleak. And that's essentially because the
prerequisites aren't there. You've got a divided Palestinian leadership and
there is virtually no evidence the Palestinian polity is prepared to move on
certain basic issues, from Israel's perspective, you have got an Israeli
government that was cobbled together, far left and far right, not to make peace, essentially rather to make sure that the orthodox minority in Israel
played a larger role in the society and the economy. That's the one thing
they agreed on.
This is not a cabinet, if you will, that is positioned to make
peace. So my first point is I simply don't think on either side you have
leadership that is willing and able to make compromises, that in anyway
wouldn't be what the other side requires.
Secondly, if I am wrong and I hope I am, and there were
significant progress on this front I do not believe it would change one iota,
the debate to the extent there is one, or the drive within Iran to acquire the
prerequisites of nuclear weapons. I do not believe for a second it would
have shaped the dynamic of the intense civil conflict going on in Syria. I
do not believe it would change what we were just talking about on the
streets of Egypt.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute matters tremendously to Israelis
and Palestinians. I do not believe it holds the key to the future of this part
of the world, which I really do think is perched on a multi-decade struggle,
not between -- not simply between Sunnis and Shia but between Islamists,
the various tribes and secularists and so forth.
I think the Middle East 30 years war, possibly longer, but I
actually think maps are going to be redrawn, societies are going to go
through a tremendous, tremendous degree of stress and turbulence.
And lastly, one of the most important things and Madeleine
understands this better than anyone probably in this tent, when you are in
a senior positions in government you have only got so many hours in a
day, you have only got so much bandwidth, there is only so many
countries you can be in any one time, there is only so much political and
diplomatic capital you have.
It's very interesting that Secretary Kerry had to delay his trip, not
simply cancel it to the UAE but delay it going out to Asia. And I simply
think that there is an opportunity cost in doing more on the Arab-Israeli
thing simply because this is -- it sends the signal to Asia, that despite all the talk of an American pivot or rebalancing that we are still pre-occupied
with the Middle East.
And I think when this history of the 21st century is likely to be
written, it's far more likely to be written in Asia than it is in the Middle East
because it's Asia where the great powers of this era of history are present.
They are not present in the Middle East. It's not an either or it's a question
of balance. But yes I would have questions about what's going on there.
MS. MITCHELL: I think Madeleine wants to jump in.
MS. ALBRIGHT: So let me just say, I was in Asia recently and
somebody said so what are you going to do about Western Asia and I
thought what is Western Asia. It's the Middle East, yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: Maybe if we just re-labeled everything, it
would all work out.
MS. ALBRIGHT: But let me just say the following thing, is I think
the Arab-Israeli issue within the whole context of the Middle East is very
complex in the following way, which is that there are those in the Middle
East that always blamed the Israeli-Palestinian issue for not going forward
on a whole host of other issues. I don't happen to agree with that. (Audio
break) Who me? No.
MS. MITCHELL: No. Okay. We're fine.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Anyway I'll --
MS. ELTAHAWY: We're fine.
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think that so I do think that it's --
MS. MITCHELL: Madeleine, I think it's okay, if you just clip it
on right --
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well I'll just hold it for now. So that -- it's out
there as an issue. I also can understand that Secretary Kerry, who has understood these issues and worked on them for a long time, thought that
he sees -- thinks that sees an opportunity. So I don't see it as a distraction
because it's always out there and let's blame Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian
issue for not moving forward on other issues.
But I can tell you, if I were to ask any of you whether you
would like to go to Camp David, I think you would say yes, I can tell you
after two weeks in the rain with the Israelis and Palestinians I don't ever
want to go back. So the bottom line is this very difficult and I do think that
Secretary Kerry is doing the right thing. But he does have to do other
things, there is no question.
And the United States cannot be the ones to lay down a plan
and solve the problem, but we do have the power to bring the parties
together. So I think I applaud what he is doing but he has gotten an
awful lot of other work that he has to do.
MS. MITCHELL: And just to be clear, what he is doing is trying
to get rid of some of the obstacles that have torpedoed past peace talks so
that they don't get back to the table only to splinter apart. So he is
actually trying to negotiate some of those remaining issues that have, you
know, caused so much difficulty but they haven't been face to face in three
years and they haven't accomplished something for a far longer than that.
MS. ELTAHAWY: I just want to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and how it resonates internally now, because I think, for me, I was
born right after the 1967 war. I had two uncles who fought in '73. I
lived in Jerusalem as a Reuters correspondent so the conflict is obviously
interwoven itself into my life and the lives of the many people from the
Middle East and North Africa.
And I think when you look at what's been happening since the
revolutions and uprisings began in Tunisia, with Mohamed Bouazizi and
then spread across various countries and even in the countries that do not
have protests on the street, but have been watching, they're not watching
passively. What is happening I think was very nicely summed up by a
Tunisian man who said something to a close friend of mine who was visiting soon after they got rid of Ben Ali. And he said, you know, I'm a
Tunisian, my mind is in France and, you know, I follow Western literature
and that you know intellectually you could call me "Western." My heart,
my feet are in Tunisia, because you know, I'm a Tunisian and I'm very
proud of this revolution, but my heart is very much an Arab and I will never
forget Palestine or the Palestinians. So I think what you've seen in the
region for decades is dictators largely supported by the U.S. again, I
mean, as Madame Secretary mentioned, the aid to Egypt is tied to the
Camp David accord, it's tied to peace between Egypt and Israel. So
you've had a succession of dictators who have distracted internal issues
with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that we don't focus on the mess they
have created of our countries inside.
But this moment came along when people were fed up of that
and so they focused on Tunisia, on Egypt, on Yemen, on Bahrain on other
countries, but have not forgotten the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that -- so
don't think, don't think that it's gone, or that people don't care about
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think for me as an Egyptian the best way that I
can help Palestinians end occupation is to make Egypt strong and to have
a strong Egyptian government.
Now when Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood tried
to use the Israel-Palestine card the way that Mubarak did, he can't
because for the longest time Islamists acted like they owned the IsraelPalestinian conflict. And now we have a Muslim Brotherhood president
who is wiling to keep the peaceful relations between Egypt and Israel. I'm
not calling for war, that's not what I'm calling for, what I'm saying is that
when Islamists are outside of government they also try to use the IsraelPalestine card, but once in government they recognize they couldn't
because the people on the streets in Cairo today are calling for bread, are
calling for social justice, are calling to fix Egypt. So we're calling to fix
our individual countries.
And very quickly about the Islamist secular thing because our
panel is about secularists and Islamists. I actually think although it saddens
me deeply that the Egyptian economy is on the brink of collapse that many
Egyptians are struggling to make ends meet and are hungry and that there
are lines -- horrendous lines outside of gas stations. I actually think its the best thing possible that the Muslim Brotherhood are now in government in
Egypt because they have unmasked themselves for the terrible job of
governing that they have done in a way that none of us could have done.
They've done us a huge favor. So what we're now doing is, we're telling
them you can't use this Islam card anymore.
When I was a journalist in Cairo in the 1990s we would ask
them what do you represent, because they would -- they love to play the
victim. Mubarak imprisons us Mubarak tortures us. So we would say
what is your platform and they would say Islam is the solution. And that is
nonsense. Islam is not the solution, the solution is give people jobs, the
solution is to make sure that cars are not lining up outside gas station for
hours. The solution is make sure that torture under the Muslim Brotherhood
government when they themselves were tortured is just as bad as it was
under Mubarak and the junta.
So this is a moment where the political Islamists façade is finally
being removed and that's why I'm telling you when Muslims go to vote we
don't want a vote for Islamists we want a choice, we don't want to empty
slogans like Islam is the solution. We want -- I am going to give your son
and daughter a job. I'm going to make the streets safe. I'm going to
reform the interior ministry which broke my arms and sexually assaulted me
and killed hundreds and thousands of Egyptians throughout decades of
dictatorship. So this is a fantastic moment as difficult as it is for me as an
Egyptian to watch Egypt on the so-called brink. This is a great moment for
us to finally move beyond dictatorship and military and Islamists.
MS. MITCHELL: So Richard, this brings us back to
MR. HAASS: Sure.
MS. MITCHELL: Because the real origins, as Mona has just
said, in Tunisia and in Egypt were economic and political privation. And
a young generation that had no opportunity. And when I talked to my
friends and colleagues in Cairo in the past year, increasingly what they
complain about is lack of civil order.MR. HAASS: Sure. I heard what Mona said and I listened to
it carefully and I hope she is right but here is my concern. My concern is
twofold. And they come actually from the opposite sides. One is the
Iranian example. Iranian revolution now is 34 olds -- 34 years old and
what we've seen is once, in this case the Iranian "Islamists" who have I
understand a fairly unique fusion of the political and the religious. Well,
once they got in power have entrenched themselves and we have now
had an extremely illiberal dangerous Iran for three and a half decades.
So one of the things -- I remember we used to call in the State Department,
one man one vote one time. Once these groups get into power what --
and we've seen Morsi's actually try to do it is entrench themselves. To use
democracy at least through the voting box to get into -- the voting booth to
get into power and then to systematically weaken some of the constraints
of democracy. So that is one of the concerns I have. It doesn't necessarily
turn out well. Secondly, simply because people march in the street does
not mean they put themselves into a position to challenge for political
We saw that in Tahrir Square originally. What we've seen
repeatedly the one thing the Egyptian opposition seems to be able to do
besides marching the streets is boycott. What we have not seen them be
able to do is organize. They have not posed a serious political organized
alternative to the Muslim brothers. So and until they do the two most -- you
have basically the people in the street who are not organized, you got the
Muslim brothers and other Islamists and you've got the military which can't
decide what its role is in the political system.
So what we're not yet seeing in the Middle East is the
emergence of a serious largely secular or at least somewhat a religious, if
you will, role in politics but one that is limited. A real commitment to
constitutionalism we are not seeing it. And until we do I for one am not
confident of where we're going and it's one of the reason I personally
never used the phrase Arab Spring. I'm un-persuaded that in any we have
seen the evidence in this part of the world that we have passed the point
where that -- we have reached a point where we can assume that
democracy has a serious future any time soon.
I would love to see it I don't think though the evidence is in.MS. MITCHELL: Madeleine, you were just a week ago in
Jordan at the refuge camps, which have now become an enormous
burden for King Abdullah who some feel his clock is ticking because of the
increasing economic burden, refugees still from the Iraq war in Jordan.
We have other what you might call more moderate monarchies more
moderate I'm using that phrase very, you know, advisedly Mona. Who
are facing increasing challenge from Islamists and others, and others
simply wanting more -- more democracy.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we're dealing as I said earlier
with a hugely complicated phenomenon and a lot of people have
compared this to the post-communist time, very different, there is no
question that the countries in Central and Eastern Europe they all wanted
to be part of the West are very -- I constantly keep being asked the
comparison of the two --
MS. MITCHELL: And are much homogenous.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Very different and so we're -- I agree with
Richard there are a whole host of issues that are very different and with --
this is economic. The man who immolated himself in Tunisia did so
because he didn't have the money to buy the vegetables and things that he
was selling because his mother could not inherit the land after his father
because of the laws about women not being able to inherit the land. This
would be a great women's story except that one of the things that
happened was that he was disrespected by a woman officer which is one
of the things that made him mad. So -- but it has been an economic story.
Then -- and I have to say, I listened to you, Mona, and I so am
moved by what you say. But your -- the Tahrir Square is a leaderless
movement and that is part of the problem. And the leaders that are there
theoretically ElBaradei and Amr Moussa are not doing the job for
whatever reason there is. And so I have spent a lot of time working on
various pars of democratization, it is really difficult. And it does require
some kind of institutional structures.
And then I also say in a Muslim country it is more than likely that Muslims will be elected to office. So we have to figure out which ones
are the ones that can be worked with, but this -- the institutional structure is
important. So one of the things we've been talking about, King
Mohammed of Morocco is -- when one looks at, you divide things into
which are the monarchies. And there are King Abdullah and then crown
-- two King Abdullahs and then also King Mohammed.
And they are trying to figure out, in their own way, how to
liberalize their system. I think so far King Mohammed of Morocco is the
more successful, but King Abdullah is trying to deal with a country of seven
million people that if they had the number of -- their equivalent number of
refugees is if we had 14 million refugees in this country, we can't even
deal with 11 million people that are here.
So I think we have to understand the job situation in Jordan, its
proximity to Syria, the fact that it is host to all of these people and some
attempt to try to get some kind of institutionalized change -- pretty tough
MS. ELTAHAWY: Can I --
MS. MITCHELL: I want to bring in the audience, so --
MS. ELTAHAWY: Can I ask something very quickly? About
Libya and Tunisia -- and I think Libya and Tunisia give great examples, but
can move us a bit closer to the direction we're talking about. In Libya it
was thought, you know, in fact, completely Islamists are going to win and
they didn't. And the Libyans have different set of problems and the Libyans'
problem are to do with militia and rule of law and justice. And they are
currently trying to figure out who is going to write their constitution.
If you jump over to neighboring Tunisia where you have
Islamists in power and you have a constituent assembly that was voted in,
they've now -- they're now on to the fourth draft of their constitution.
They're doing a much better job on their constitution than we did in Egypt
where Morsi just assumed tremendous powers for himself and just, you
know, basically kind of fast-boiled a constitution.Now I'm watching the Tunisian example, I'm worried obviously
about women in Tunisia because Tunisia had a very progressive
constitution especially regarding women's rights. But what I'm seeing
happening in Egypt that I hope is going to move us beyond the problems
and the questions you both have is that the movement, the call to the
protest that they call tamarod, which means rebel, is not affiliated to any of
the political opposition leaders because quite frankly many of the political
opposition leaders are out of touch with the street.
So you now have an emerging group of young people who
are going to be our future. It's the gap between now and then that is the
problem, but they're moving ahead.
MS. MITCHELL: I think the argument still holds that it's so far
leaderless in the -- in terms of a political movement.
MR. HAASS: Just 10 seconds. Any group that calls itself rebel,
that tells you they've got a problem. They know what they are against,
they do not know what they are for and that to me is emblematic of what's
going on in the Middle East. Everybody knows what they are against --
they're all against the Mubaraks, the Assads, whatever. But as soon as
you succeed at getting rid of the (inaudible) regime, that's when the
consensus completely just gets dismantled.
And what we're not seeing are the tolerant, liberal, secular
voices who have a -- are accepting of religion, but in a limited, still limited
place. We are not seeing them coalescing and becoming politically
meaningful movements. And that is why I am still skeptical.
MS. ELTAHAWY: But what about if you are seeing them?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, let me -- Mona, let's -- let people in the
audience -- because we're running out of time and I can see people
already lining up. We've got microphones, so -- right there.
SPEAKER: It's been a wonderful panel, thank you all.
(Applause)MS. MITCHELL: Thank you all.
SPEAKER: Many Americans view our policy in the Middle East
with great frustration because it seems to have no impact or little impact.
My question is really, what are the levers that we should be using that
MS. MITCHELL: Madeleine?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think that first of all this is a very
hard -- I do not believe that the United States is a declining power, let me
just say that flat out.
MS. ALBRIGHT: But what requires is to cooperate with other
countries. Americans don't like the word "multilateralism," it has too many
syllables and ends in an ism.
MS. ALBRIGHT: But what it means is partnerships and I think
that what needs to be developed is more international approach towards
the Middle East. That's one part of the leverage and we need to do that.
The other is that our assistance programs are leveraged, there is no
question. And if you look at what the budget is and what Congress is
allowing for what is known as foreign assistance, which is a mistake to put
those two words together, it needs to be national security support.
And that is leverage in the way that you give it do you
condition it. I also do think that we need to figure out which groups we
support in a country. And the hardest parts is that the groups do not agree
within themselves. And therefore Richard, when you rebel, part of the
problem is there -- these opposition and this and that and so that part is
very hard. And we always have a various other parts of our national
security toolbox which is the threat of the use of force. But we need to
keep all the options on the table, but also recognize that this is not solely our story this time.
MR. HAASS: That's what I think the key is. If you look at the
kinds of things we've been talking about here, the question for political
order and legitimacy in Egypt, the civil war in Syria, the possibility of
instability in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, I would simply suggest that these
are exactly the kinds of scenarios where the United States -- where our
influence is extraordinarily limited.
That -- you know, we had -- more than 2-1/2 million Americans
served at one time or another trying to remake the societies of Iraq and
Afghanistan. And I would simply say we ought to have learned some
lessons that despite extraordinary sacrifice and effort, there were real limits
to what it is the United States can accomplish when our goal is to remake
or heavily influence the trajectory of societies and political systems.
And I would simply say if I am right, then when I look at the
next couple of decades in the Middle East, we had better be prepared for
the fact that we will have at best limited influence, no matter what it is we
do. So yes, we should condition our aid, yes, we should say things, yes,
we should use all the levers of our power. But if tomorrow there is massive
instability in Saudi Arabia, I would simply suggest that American options
are quite -- I'll use a generous word -- finite.
So there is things we can and cannot do. In Syria, again, we
could do massive amounts of things that I would oppose. But no one
should assume that simply because we do a lot we would have a lot to
show for it. The kinds of situations we're looking at tend to be the sorts of
situations that history suggests resist the efforts of outsiders to meaningfully
MS. MITCHELL: There's a question over here. Can we have a
microphone over here? The gentleman right there. Thank you.
SPEAKER: Where is the -- MS. MITCHELL: Do you want to stand up so we can --
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you.
SPEAKER: Where is the Iran nuclear program headed and is
there a solution?
MS. MITCHELL: I'm so glad you asked that question, because
Richard Haass is one of the few people here who's actually negotiated
and dealt with the Iranians in a previous regime.
MR. HAASS: And you can see with what success.
MS. MITCHELL: Richard, was there a window before the "Axis
of evil" speech where we actually were working with the Iranians on
Afghanistan and other issues? Was there some chance under Khatami to
MR. HAASS: It's one of those things, Andrea, that'll be
debated. Basically, we're talking about in the couple of years after 2001
and there were some indication, shall we say, that what the United States
did after 2001 got the attention of the Iranians and that then there were
possible signals from them that there might have been greater willingness
to be flexible. We didn't particularly test them. So one answer is we
The other is, though, I would still say the Iranians have had
repeated opportunities to show their moderation and I haven't seen them
exploit them. So even if there were moments right after 9/11 where for
tactical reasons they might have been willing to adjust some of what they
were doing, I don't think strategically we've seen an indication that they
were willing to either fundamentally moderate their ambitions in the region,
many of which by the way were enabled by the Iraq war, and I don't see
that they have been willing to significantly do more than adjust the pace and scope of their nuclear program.
My guess is we're going to have the big test now. I actually
think with the election of Mr. Rohani we can debate all we want what
real power he' going to have. I would simply say, let's find out. Let's put
forward a very ambitious offer, let's be generous on what (inaudible) the
Iranians what -- were they to accept significant limits on their nuclear
program and give us confidence that they weren't cheating, let them have
a public debate, put pressure on the regime, let the regime try to explain
why it's rejecting a reasonable offer from the world that would, among
other things, raise the standard of living of all Iranians.
And if they accept something like that, great. If they don't, then
at least we will have clarity and then we can have a serious debate about
the use of force or whether we are prepared to live with certain Iranian
MS. MITCHELL: Madeleine, is there a military option?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, there always is. But I think that the issue
is what does it bring. And what we're looking with Iran is unintended
consequences of previous foreign policy decisions. And so we have to be
very careful about. We were in office when Khatami was first elected and
I did deal with the Iranians. But I think a lesson here is the following, is --
and I think a mistake we made in many ways was embracing Khatami too
much. He became kind of our favorite --
MS. MITCHELL: That discredited him internally.
MS. ALBRIGHT: And I think it did. So I think we have to be
careful with Rohani in the same way. On the other hand, I agree with
what Richard has said in terms of trying to put forward some plan. I think
this came up in the panel last night -- bottom-line is the Iranians are
signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They have a right to a peaceful
nuclear program if in fact it is fully monitored by the IAEA, which is a big if.
But that is one of the things that people have to look at. We
need to negotiate with them and we need to put forward some good ideas.
MS. MITCHEL: I was in Geneva in 2009 when we thought
we had negotiated with them a deal where they could keep their medical
reactor, the Tehran reactor, send the enriched fuel to Russia. And we
thought that was an agreement. Their negotiators held news conferences
with us, they went back, and the Ayatollah said, I never agreed to that.
MS. ALBRIGHT: He is the one in charge.
MS. MITCHEL: So that is the --
MR. HAASS: That's why they call him the "Supreme Leader."
MS. ALBRIGHT: Yeah.
MS. MITCHEL: That's why they call it the Supreme Court,
there's this word supreme, you know the --
MS. ELTAHAWY: Andrea, can I say something really quick?
It's not specific to Iran, but it touches on what Richard said about
American influence in the earlier question. I think it's a good thing that it's
perceived more and more that the U.S. has less influence in those countries
because it's something that you said, Madam Secretary, which is that it's
seen to discredit people. But I think that the reverse of that is to recognize
the U.S. foreign policy.
And I say this as an Egyptian American now because I became
naturalized in 2011. U.S. foreign policy was not sacrificed. The cost for
freedom of the people on the ground for the sake of stability -- this is the
big challenge now. How are American/U.S. interests met, but not at the
expense of the people who are putting their lives on the line for the kind of
freedom that America has preached to the world for so long.
MS. MITCHELL: And we've got a question right here, if we
can get a microphone to -- close to the front. Thank you. We only have a few minutes left, so.
SPEAKER: Yes. Since we're running out of time, I'm really
interested in hearing your perspective on the rights of women in the Middle
East and sort of what is --
SPEAKER: Thank you.
SPEAKER: Yes. You're very welcome.
SPEAKER: I was waiting for it. So if you could talk a little bit
about what you see in terms of prospects --
SPEAKER: -- for some of the freedoms that women have been
working towards in some of the – these economies, that would be great --
MS. MITCHELL: And let me just also expand it to say that I
spent a lot of time with Afghan women who had achieved so much but
are now at such risk. They are business owners, we've met with them.
They've been encouraged by administrations going back to the very good
work that Laura Bush did. There is a co-ed American University in Kabul
and their graduates, their students are really impressive.
And they are -- and these students are standing up to their own
fathers, in some cases, to go to this university. But a lot of this is now at risk
under the withdrawal. Madeleine has worked very hard on this, yeah.
MS. ELTAHAWY: I'm so glad you asked this, because if no
one had asked it I would have jumped in at the end and brought this up
anyway because I feel very strongly about this. When I talk about the
Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S., I like to compare them to what I call the
Christian Brotherhood in the U.S. -- and this is the religious right and
conservative men in this country who are successfully trying to roll back
reproductive rights.And I always bring up Wendy Davis and what happened in
Texas. And I say that Governor Rick Perry is an example of the Christian
Brotherhood in this country. Now, what they have in common is -–
MS. ELTAHAWY: Thank you. Wait, wait, there's more, there's
more. What they have in common is religious -- the religious right and
especially the men in the religious right are obsessed with our vaginas.
And I always say, stay away from my vagina unless I want you in there.
MS. ELTAHAWY: That is the lesson. So this is what we're
going through in Egypt right now. And I bring Wendy Davis in Texas in
because it doesn't help to say "over there" and "over here." We have to
look at women's rights and the successive fights to roll back reproductive
rights. The Beijing platform from 1995 -- I was in Beijing at the
conference. If we had a global conference today, we would not achieve
a third of what we achieved in Beijing because of the growing
conservatism, especially regarding reproductive rights.
Now, what's happening in many parts of the Middle East and
North Africa is that you've had lots of women side-by-side by -- with men in
the various revolutions. But because we're seeing a louder voice of these
Islamists who are being voted in, they do not believe in gender equality.
The Muslim Brotherhood does not believe in gender equality. But you're
seeing grass-roots feminist movements formed in the various countries.
In Egypt, for example, we have a host of groups out there
helping women to fight against sexual assault that is targeted at getting
them out of public space. When I speak to U.S. audiences and especially
when I think of the U.S. administration, I always say resist cultural
relativism. Women's rights are women's rights, whether they are Muslim
women, Jewish women, Hindu women, wherever they are from.And do not, by arguments, stay out of this because it's our
culture and religion. Women's rights are human rights and they must not
be sacrificed, again, for the sake of stability. So, even though it might look
dire in some countries, trust me, we're fighting. I moved back to Cairo in
March to fight
MS. MITCHELL: Mona --
MS. MITCHELL: -- I just want to say, I was covering the
conference in 1995 with Hillary Clinton on that delegation. The
declaration that women's rights are human rights and human rights are
women's rights would not have happened without the leader, co-leader of
that delegation, Madeleine Albright.
MS. MITCHELL: So, Madeleine - and I -- then I -- we are just
about out of time -- Richard, and then I want to give Madeleine the last
MR. HAASS: Two last things. One is on the issue we've been
talking about. One of the many reasons the Middle East has not
succeeded and indeed in some ways it's the least successful region in the
world compared to other regions is the issue we're talking about. You
can't deny opportunity to half your population, and hope to succeed. I
also want to talk about one woman in particular -- not so much rights, but
accomplishment. This week marks Andrea's 35th year with NBC News.
MS. MITCHELL: You see, Madeleine is not the oldest person
on this. Thank you, Richard. Madeleine, this brings it full circle because
the economic future of Egypt, of Tunisia, of any of these countries really
relies on the inclusiveness of those societies. They cannot deny half of their
populations economic opportunities because they are -- it's a self-defeating policy.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Yeah. Well, I was with Hillary when she
made the statement and she electrified the whole place. And the Beijing
platform has been a really important one. I was the first secretary to bring
women's issues central to American foreign policy not just because I'm a
feminist but because in fact if half the population or more in any country is
not part of the system, then the country is robbed of an awful lot of smart
people and resources.
Women have to be politically and economically empowered in
their societies. There is no question about that. I think the issue is, how we
keep pushing it, what we do, how we unite in terms of -- it's very hard to
argue with anything that Mona has said. But the truth is that people don't
want to live in a completely unstable society. This is the problem that we
have partially and this happened in a number of revolutions. There are the
revolutionary leaders who want to move forward.
And then there are ordinary people who do not know how to
get bread, who can't send their children to school, who just plead for
some kind of order and organization. And so the thing that we have to
do is pull these two concepts together of having people that are dynamic
and are leaders in this and at the same time try to develop the institutions
that allow for some kind of stable societies. You cannot live with only
people in the streets. It does not work.
And so therefore what I would argue for is to motivate and
have people such as Mona and her colleagues pushing and at the same
time try to develop some kind of organizational structure, which is what
NDI tries to do, IRI, a lot of other organizations, in order to -- stability is not
a bad thing. I think we have to think about it and we have to figure out
how to really marry these two concepts together and women are much
better at that -- believe it or not.
MS. MITCHELL: Hear, hear. I just want to thank -- (Applause)
MS. MITCHELL: This is -- this is arguably the best audience in
Aspen. Thank you so much. Madeleine Albright, Mona Eltahawy,
Richard Haass, thank you. It's been a privilege.
* * * * *
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