Egyptian Ambassador: 'It's Not A Military Coup'

Robert Siegel speaks with Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Tawfik, following the ousting of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Joining us is Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Tawfik. Ambassador Tawfik is a career diplomat. He joined the Egyptian Foreign Ministry some 30 years ago. Welcome to the program, Mr. Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR MOHAMED TAWFIK: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

SIEGEL: First question. Under U.S. law, military aid to armies that stage coups is cut off. Why shouldn't Washington plan to suspend aid until the army relinquishes power to an elected government?

TAWFIK: First of all, it's not a military coup. What happened was that 22 million Egyptians signed petitions for early elections, and then they were followed by millions and millions of people demonstrating on the streets. So basically what the people were saying - they were not saying, we want the military to rule. We want early elections.

And the then-President Morsi, rather than saying to his people, I hear you, I hear what you're saying, what he did is he started gathering his own supporters. And together with the top leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood, there was a lot of incitement to violence.

And so the major political parties in Egypt - leader - religious leaders, civil leaders - they all came together with the army and said we have to stop this before there's too much bloodshed on the streets.

SIEGEL: But - I understand the argument. This was a popular military intervention. But those are armored personnel carriers and tanks in the streets. That was the commander of the armed forces who opened that meeting, surrounded by other important, powerful Egyptians. Still seems an awful lot like the military stepping in and deciding who should be president.

TAWFIK: No, not at all. First of all, the person who was - who is currently Egypt's president or Egypt's interim president was the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court. He was Egypt's top judge. So it's a very neutral...

SIEGEL: For a week, for about a week, wasn't he?

TAWFIK: That's true. But before that, he served on the court...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

TAWFIK: ...and he took that position, by the way, under the presidency of Dr. Morsi. So he's not a political figure of any kind. He is just there to make sure that we go back on track towards our democratic future. The Egyptian people insist...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

TAWFIK: ...on having human rights respected and having a true democracy.

SIEGEL: Is President Morsi, or former President Morsi, free, or is he under house arrest?

TAWFIK: I don't know. I don't have his exact status.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Tawfik, your country, Egypt, has this problem, which is how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, a very old and powerful institution in Egyptian life. And one reading of what's happened this week is, if you're an active member of the brotherhood, is, well, so much for electoral politics. You can win the presidency. You can win the parliament. You can win a referendum on the constitution that your guys drafted, and it'll all be negated. Take other means of trying to advance your cause, not elections. Try to subvert the state instead, the way perhaps you used to do.

TAWFIK: That would be a completely wrong way to proceed. What we want to do now is we want to correct the mistakes made by President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We want an inclusive process. We want everybody to be included. We want every single Egyptian, including Muslim Brotherhood members, to feel that they own the country. Everybody should enjoy their rights.

We cannot accept to have a situation in which the whole country is run for the interests of a particular group. This was the case with Mubarak, and this - again, unfortunately, Morsi repeated the same mistake. We have to stop making that mistake. This is the time for true democracy. The people of Egypt will accept nothing less.

SIEGEL: The other day, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, the head of the military, announced that the constitution would be temporarily suspended. The man he named interim president, Judge Adly Mansour, pledged to support the laws and the constitution, he said. What constitution? I mean, what is the basis on which anyone is governing right now in Egypt?

TAWFIK: Well, Egypt has had constitutions for nearly a century. So we have well-known constitutional principles. Today, a constitutional declaration has been made and, I think, in the coming days more constitutional declarations will be made, which basically set forth the basic principles of the constitution. But I think the interim president, being himself the past chief of the supreme...

SIEGEL: Chief justice, yeah.

TAWFIK: Exactly. He knows very well what constitutional principles are.

SIEGEL: But do Egyptians know what their constitutional rights are right now?

TAWFIK: I have no doubt about that. You have had millions and...

SIEGEL: But don't you think there would be a justifiable confusion right now about what one's rights are?

TAWFIK: Absolutely not. I think it's clear as daylight. Everybody knows what democracy is, everybody knows what human rights is, and everybody demands that this be respected.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Tawfik, thank you very much for talking with us about it today.

TAWFIK: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik is Egypt's ambassador to the United States here in Washington.

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