Amr Moussa, the departing secretary general of the Arab League who has declared his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt, was interviewed on Monday in Cairo by Raghida Dergham, columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat. Following are excerpts from that interview:
Raghida Dergham: Is this an open-ended military operation in Libya, whatever it takes?
Amr Moussa: Of course not, of course not. There is a resolution, 1973, of the Security Council that determines the mission and the goal. The goal is to protect the civilian lives, and once the goal is achieved, especially through a cease-fire and observers to the cease-fire are put in place, the mission will come to an end. The mission has the task of protecting the civilian population in Libya and against attack threats and against use of weapons, very severe weapons.
Dergham: When you criticized the application of the no-fly zone, some people wondered if you really meant it. Others went as far as using the word “hypocrisy.”
Moussa: I meant what I said: The goal should be to protect Libyan civilians. Why did I say so? There were reports that civilian casualties started to appear as a result of the attacks by the coalition. As a result, I said that all civilian casualties and attacks that would affect the civilians are our concern — and that is why we needed to establish a no-fly zone and safe areas in the first place. We are committed to the Security Council goals, letter and spirit according to what the resolution determines.
Dergham: When you went to Paris and endorsed the no-fly zone, you knew that there would be a military operation, and the Security Council resolution spoke as well of a “no-drive zone.” You did know that this would require bombings on the ground?
Moussa: I stressed at the time the necessity to protect the civilian population and that there are limitations by the Security Council: no land invasions, forces of occupation, etc. That there would be some military operations in order to paralyze the launching pads, this we understood. Even some Arab countries have decided to participate in this.
Dergham : Then you have no second thoughts about endorsing the no-fly zone, whatever it takes?
Moussa: No, there are no second thoughts on this. This is our initiative. The no-fly zone is to protect the Libyan citizens. Respecting the resolution is also a commitment by us.
Dergham : In the end, isn’t this an operation to embolden and support and enable the rebels to keep Benghazi?
Moussa: You can say it in a different way: To keep the forces of the regime from attacking Benghazi and inflicting a lot of casualties. This operation is to prevent this from happening, not vice versa. It is not to give the rebels support. It is not a question of supporting a regime, a government or a council. It is to save the situation from further, bloody deterioration.
Dergham: If Muammar Qaddafi maintains his grip on parts of Libya, what would be the exit strategy?
Moussa: Well, I cannot really answer this question, but it would be a prolonged case of civil war and tension and destruction of Libya. This is too much. I hope that there will be no civil war, and I hope that things will be dealt with, with reason.
Dergham: People are speaking of one way out of a prolonged war in Libya: A bullet or bomb somehow lands on the head of Muammar Qaddafi.
Moussa: Some things I cannot discuss and I don’t want to discuss.
Dergham: The Security Council resolution says nothing about getting rid of leadership?
Moussa: This is not dealt with by the Security Council. As I told you, we don’t go beyond the Security Council and what the Arab League decided. The goal is a no-fly zone. We are not talking about anything else.
Dergham: How afraid are you of the disintegration of Yemen given that there is a history of north-south conflict, of the Houthi and Al-Qaeda?
Moussa: I hope this won’t happen. That’s why the situation in Yemen has to come to a quick solution and perhaps consensus solution in order to prevent further deterioration that would perhaps lead to that. In Yemen there is an opposition, there are demonstrations and there are clear requests from the people. They all have their own grievances. Therefore, we need to know what happened to those demands and how are the government is dealing with them.
Dergham: And Bahrain?
Moussa: Bahrain is a different situation but also cause for concern.
Dergham: It seems different yardsticks are being applied in the Arab world?
Moussa: Why different yardsticks? Why? We have done the right thing when we resorted to the Security Council in Libya. There will be no different yardsticks. We saw the situation in Libya, and we are going to consider the situation in other Arab countries and then decide what to do.
Dergham: You haven’t said much about Syria. Why so quiet so far?
Moussa: Because the situation there is still unclear.
Dergham : Do you want to wait until a lot of people die before it is clear?
Moussa: No, certainly not. We do not have the full picture as to what is going on. Is it in Deraa alone, or is there violence and crackdown in other places?
Dergham: You have seen the people asking for change, and you supported them strongly in Egypt, but you are hesitant to support them in Syria? There are demonstrations, and people are dead and people are wounded in Syria. What is your message as secretary general of the Arab League on that issue?
Moussa: I am certainly on the side of the free expression of the people, and I am certainly on the side of revolutions and the new uprising in the Arab world. No question about that.
Dergham: You are running for president of Egypt. Are you afraid that there is not enough time for preparation for parliamentary elections by others than the Muslim Brotherhood, who are better organized?
Moussa: We need all political forces to be ready at the same time to get a parliament that is representative of all parties of our society. Now, only one or two groups are ready, but the rest are not. The new parties have not been formed and the old parties are not ready. So quick elections will not do. Be that as it may, now we have to make the best out of this election and respect the result of the referendums.
Dergham: If you are president, will you amend or touch the treaty with Israel, or will you respect it fully?
Moussa: It is there to stay.
Dergham: How would you change toward Israel and Palestinians and Gaza?
Moussa: We are committed to the rights of Palestinians to have their own state. We are committed to that. We are committed to two states. But we are certainly against building settlements or against changing the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and we disagree with many aspects of the Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.
Dergham: Some are criticizing President Obama as being too slow in embracing the Arab revolutions. Do you agree?
Moussa: Arab revolution has happened because we revolted. We welcome any support today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So why should we blame him? It is our revolution.
Dergham: You have no worries about the future of this revolution?
Moussa: We have to be concerned. The road is long and arduous and there will be a lot of problems. We have a very difficult economic situation. There are still question marks on what kind of political structure we are going to build.
Dergham: What worries you most as a candidate for president of Egypt? As someone leaving the Arab League after a decade, what legacy do you hope for?
Moussa: In this drive toward freedom, these revolutions towards democracy, there are no U-turns. Whatever the result, I am really happy that our people — the people of the Arab world, Egypt and Tunisia and the rest — are revolting. They want a better future. I want to help in achieving this.