‘Our problem with deposed President Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood’
Speaks on how Sisi is coping with country’s ‘baby democracy’
The Egyptian Ambassador to Nigeria, Ashraf Salama, speaks on how his home country is collaborating with his host nation to combat the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also explains Egypt’s ‘baby democracy’ under President Sisi and the administration’s battle against Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Morsi.
What are the immediate challenges before the new government in Egypt?
The challenge facing us is how to develop and promote our country which has been in crisis for almost a decade. This task is not one to be undertaken by the government alone but also involves everyone.
In terms of population, we are the second largest in Africa after Nigeria with 92 million people and everybody has to work together for the progress of this country and this is the promise upon which the choice of the president was based.
The president ahead of the election presented issues based on reality rather than fabricating a make-believe story and was elected by the people to lead them. As a result of the love of the people for their leader, we are sure of achieving positive results by promoting ourselves to another level.
The Muslim Brotherhood ousted from power is feeling isolated. With the new elected president, do you call this democracy?
They are not isolated, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t start two years ago, they have been around but their operations have been underground. The Brotherhood wasn’t a political group in the light, when we had our 25th general revolution memorial, they were already a brotherhood.
They were an underground group and never a sector of government, they were a sector of pollution that never declared if they are Christians or Muslims or members of any religious sect, they are a sector that has special ideology for themselves who try to promote this ideology to influence others.
We can’t say we are all from this sector because it was just an ideology that you want people to take to power and when we had the 25th general revolution memorial, it was a revolution about what we need to do because people were getting tired and saying we need to be free.
For the first time in the political history of Egypt, there was no leader and this prompted the people to come out en masse to reject the person presented to them. Unfortunately, the vacuum created by the absence of a leader paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to jump in and take advantage of the situation and because they were a small organised group, well funded, to address the ravaging poverty by distributing bread, not even money, to buy people and promising them a better life, they had an upper hand.
So, if you look at the pattern during the election of the past president,, you will find about 21 or 22 million people going to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and the remaining population of about 11 million or 12 million for the other candidate who was pro-Mubarak and 12 million out of almost a 100 million people is not a majority. Many people including myself didn’t vote because I didn’t know who to choose, I didn’t want to escalate the problem and also didn’t want to cheat.
They (Muslim Brotherhood) were funded and the others weren’t; so it was a very strange competition but we were willing to give them a chance saying maybe there will be an agenda for development but unfortunately our debts doubled.
During Mubarak’s time, we had an external debt of about 30 billion dollars; that means a billion every year , but in one year of Morsi, the country’s external debt was 15 billion dollars. The people didn’t see any improvement because they (Muslim Brotherhood) had a feeling of being unpatriotic. We are Egyptians and we are very patriotic, we love our country. The Brotherhood had connections everywhere, they had a lot of conspiracies going on everywhere.
Can you mention some of the conspiracies and connections they had in the region?
It is glaring. Every country has problems; in Libya there are problems, Tunisia has problems, there are problems in many places but there are so many countries rejoicing that Islamic brotherhood didn’t continue because it wasn’t in favour of the people.
Still on the Muslim Brotherhood, some months ago, protesters were taken to court and also sentenced to death for demonstrating against Morsi’s arrest. Does your government have room for freedom of expression?
We have over 50 independent satellite channels and several newspapers and social media that are owned by individuals, so you can’t control the freedom of the people. You can see people making fun of the president and government and talking about the things going on in the country all the time, we even tried to tell them to stop for the safety of the people.
If I say this is good for you, some channels may say it is not good for them, this is the freedom of speech we are talking about, but it gets to a point when it hurts the people due to distortions. We have a baby democracy; so you have to be very sincere and honest to give out the right things to elicit understanding from one stand point. We are organizing our house by addressing a lot of issues; there are dramatic changes in Egypt that we need to address.
What you hear are instigated remarks to destroy the country, our image. An example is the case of Nigeria officials going to Egypt where they saw in Al Jazeera Television reports that the streets were full of demonstrators but, in reality, there were no demonstrations. Last April, there was a new development in our country when we had election .
The election was overwhelming to the candidates and, for the first time ever, we had a very high turnout for the polls. A lot of regional groups who came to monitor the election witnessed the efficiency of the arrangements and we are very proud to have had Nigeria present.
The head of Nigeria’s Electoral Commission, Professor Jega, was invited to attend. He told me that transparency was the key to a free and fair election, an opinion I respect. Nigeria was the first country that congratulated us after the election and gave us support.
Let me bring you back to Nigeria. In what way is Egypt assisting Nigeria to tackle its problem with insurgency?
Egypt has always been a very close friend of Nigeria. Since the time of Biafra, Egypt has always supported Nigeria. And we have offered assistance to Nigeria on many occasions to fight terrorism because Nigeria is a strategic country and vice versa. The continent is small; what separates Nigeria from Egypt is just Chad; so we are not far away from each other.
When things happen in Mali and Chad, when weapons are smuggled, they go to Nigeria and Egypt too. So there is a lot of things we need to tackle together and both countries are very much ready to cooperate on a lot of issues especially security.
Do you agree with the statement by the Nigerian president that Boko Haram is an affiliate of Al Qaeda?
The Deputy General was here and he said Boko Haram is a dangerous, terrorist group that doesn’t relate to Islam. I am a Muslim and we don’t accept what they do to others because it is not in our principle. First of all, Islam is a religion that is spiritual and not about bloodshed, Islam is all about tolerance, it is not about committing sin, being peaceful to others and regarding God before you make any decision.
If I lie or rape or kill, am I being true to God’s teachings? No! In our religion, there is a punishment for adultery, lying, stealing, we have really strong ethics for abuse against humanity.