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Western realpolitik and Egypt

Western realpolitik and Egypt
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Antoine Sfeir, director of online magazine Les Cahiers de l’Orient, speaks to euronews about the prospects for reform in Egypt, and how changes in the Arab world are putting western realpolitik under pressure.

Frederic Bouchard, euronews: Mr Sfeir, the European Union says it wants a transition in Egypt… Compared to the events in Tunisia, where the EU was pretty discrete, this is a clear change of tone. Why such a u-turn?

Antoine Sfeir: Doubtless because the Tunisia experience came before, and the European Union was absent from the unfolding of the Tunisia crisis, and it would like to be more present in the Egyptian crisis. And then, there is a far bigger strategic interest where Egypt is concerned, than in Tunisia’s case. That’s the explanation for the EU not wanting to be totally absent from what’s going on in Egypt.

euronews: But the countries of Europe and above all the United States are not asking Hosni Moubarak to leave. Why?

Sfeir: One simply has to realise to what point Hosni Moubarak is the regime, but the army equally so. He was commander in chief of the air force. His confrères on Saturday evening made him name a general as vice-president, a post vacant for 30 years, and to name a general for prime minister. The army has totally taken the reins of power. The army is the regime; the regime is the army.

euronews: And does the Egyptian army consider there’s an islamist threat today?

Sfeir: Yes, certainly. First of all there’s the nomination of General Omar Suleiman as vice-president, the arch enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood weren’t following the popular movement in the beginning. They issued a statement saying they weren’t going to demonstrate, and then when things really got going they had to run to catch up, which is why they’re present in the important centres Alexandria and Suez, and want to avoid being sidelined.

euronews: But could the Muslim Brotherhood win eventual elections?

Sfeir: No, I don’t believe so, because the Muslim brotherhood has attacked tourism, through small groups that were offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, and tourism provides a livelihood for two to three million Egyptian families. Therefore, today there’s a fear of the Muslim Brotherhood winning elections. The army won’t let that happen. And the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t looking to walk away with the elections immediately. Their priority is to carve up society and then take part in a democratic game, a democratic process, to have a strong argument against the West, western powers, telling them, ‘look, we came to power democratically; you can’t refuse us.’ Today, unfortunately, the West, or at least the US, doesn’t know how to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood, and is not taking into account what a double-edged sword they represent.

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