Egypt's Envoy To U.S. Clarifies Mubarak Speech

Melissa Block speaks to Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's ambassador to the U.S., about President Mubarak's speech Thursday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm joined now by Egypt's ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry.

Ambassador Shoukry, welcome to the program.

Mr. SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S.): Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And help clear up some confusion here, if you would. President Mubarak tonight announced he is remaining as president. He's not stepping down but transferring powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman. Can you explain what those powers are that have been transferred, and how complete this transition is, if it is one?

Mr. SHOUKRY: Well, thank you. He has declared very categorically - I have text in black and white in front of me - that he is transferring the authorities of the office of the president to Vice President Suleiman. That constitutes all authorities that are accorded to the president under the constitution are now effectively in the hands of Vice President Suleiman to undertake whatever measures, both internally or externally, that are delegated to him by the constitution.

BLOCK: Would that mean then Vice President Suleiman could dissolve parliament, amend the constitution, lift emergency law?

Mr. SHOUKRY: According to the constitution, the only three things that the vice president cannot do is he cannot make recommendations to amend the constitution. He cannot dissolve parliament, and he cannot fire the Cabinet. These are issues that are, according to the constitution, not transferable.

BLOCK: Well, those are huge issues, though, Ambassador Shoukry, wouldn't you say?

Mr. SHOUKRY: The president has transferred the findings and the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Committee to parliament before he has transferred power to Vice President Suleiman. That is so that the reform process may proceed with the amendment of the constitution, so that the reform process will be under way so that the next presidential elections will be held in a fair, transparent and inclusive manner when Parliament ratifies and the people go to a referendum on these specific recommendations that were formulated by a composition of jurists and judicial personalities, mostly comprised from the opposition.

BLOCK: Ambassador Shoukry, what do you - how do you respond to the voices of the protesters such as the one we just heard, who said this is a sham, this is completely unacceptable, that these are, as we heard from the opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, these are twins. There's no distinction between President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman?

Mr. SHOUKRY: Vice President Suleiman has already undertaken a dialogue with the opposition parties from which a consensus on the way forward and a roadmap was decided. So that was, I think, an important part of his responsibility to carry out the reforms and has demonstrated a success in that regard in consultations with all the various segments of the opposition in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

BLOCK: If that's the case, then why are there still so many protesters in the streets of Cairo? They're calling for bigger demonstrations tomorrow for the day of martyrs.

Mr. SHOUKRY: I heard some of the comments of your last guest, and I understand also that maybe there was a confusion related to the extent to which the president has transferred power. He referred to some power, but it is categorical that the president has transferred all power.

BLOCK: Do you realistically, Ambassador Shoukry, think that what happened tonight will salve - will assuage the concerns, the anger of the protesters in the streets of Egypt?

Mr. SHOUKRY: It is up to the protesters to decide, and they are accorded every opportunity to do so in terms of expressing their opinions freely, in a peaceful manner under the protection of the military.

And the military has indicated on several occasions that it will never resort to any form of violence against the demonstrators, that it is the protector of the right to freedom, to demonstration, to expressing their opinions.

BLOCK: Well, that's an interesting point because if the army is standing with the people's demand - we heard a general today addressing the crowd in Tahrir Square saying their demands would be met. How does that square with what we're hearing now from the presidency - from the president of Egypt?

Mr. SHOUKRY: Well, some of the demonstrators have already indicated their acceptance of the president's transferral of power and consider that their demands have been met. So I think it's a matter for - to ascertain to what extent that is the message that will be transmitted by the demonstrators.

BLOCK: OK. Ambassador Shoukry, thank you for being with us.

Mr. SHOUKRY: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's the ambassador to the United States from Egypt, Sameh Shoukry.

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