Egypt Ambassador: Muslim Brotherhood Chose 'Path Of Exclusion'

Robert Siegel speaks with Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohammad Tawfik about the violence in Cairo and the possibility for reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the interim Egyptian government.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And joining us now is Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohamed Tawfik. Welcome to the program once again.

MOHAMED TAWFIK: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Today in Cairo, the interim interior minister said that the police were told to fire tear gas only and that they showed restraint. You just heard Leila Fadel's story. You heard descriptions of sniper fire. The two just don't match. How do you square that characterization with what reporters like Leila saw?

TAWFIK: Well, what happened was the plan was to surround the sit-ins and to allow people to leave. And as soon as the police forces were in place, members of the Muslim Brotherhood started shooting at the police and a number of police officers were killed and wounded. And unfortunately, the police had to move in faster than had been originally planned.

SIEGEL: How does that justify sniper fire at these crowds or indeed women with fatal gunshot wounds?

TAWFIK: Actually, nothing justifies innocent people being killed. However, there are conflicting stories about sniper fire. There are people who think that it was the Muslim Brotherhood who had the snipers on the tops of roofs and that's evidenced by the fact that 43 police officers were killed.

SIEGEL: Although, again, in conflict with what Leila Fadel said, but moving on. Let me play for you something that Secretary of State John Kerry said today about the Egyptian security force's action today.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: The United States strongly condemns today's violence and bloodshed across Egypt. It's a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion.

SIEGEL: What do you say to that?

TAWFIK: I say that the Egyptian prime minister has just made a statement in which he stressed that the Egyptian government had put forward a roadmap for a democratic process and that we were going ahead with that roadmap. We are not going to allow anyone to hinder our democratic development. The sit-ins, unfortunately, had become a source of criminality.

You had people who had been abducted and tortured there as Amnesty International said. You had reports that there were weapons there, as was - we saw in evidence today. And basically, it was a situation that could not be allowed to continue. In view of the amounts of arms and weapons that were being smuggled into the sit-ins, it became inevitable to take action as soon as possible.

SIEGEL: But would you dispute that most of the people in those big sit-ins were not armed and that most of the people were peaceful protesters, or at least non-violent protesters?

TAWFIK: Yes. I think the majority of the people in the sit-ins were not armed and I think the Muslim Brotherhood leadership used them as human shields. When you put armed people in the middle of an unarmed demonstration, then you are really putting these people's lives at risk.

SIEGEL: A White House spokesman this morning went a bit further than Secretary of State Kerry did later. He said that today's action, and I'm quoting now, "runs directly counter to the pledges made by the interim government to pursue reconciliation." Was this a change of course or reneging on those pledges?

TAWFIK: Not at all. Not at all. I mean, the plan was set forth some time ago. It was announced, everybody knew what it was all about. We are embarking on a political process. We are inviting everyone to join that process. This, however, does not mean that people are free to break the law - to kidnap people, to torture them - without having any repercussions.

SIEGEL: But, Ambassador Tawfik, the process, the roadmap, is I believe a seven-month timetable that will include amending the constitution, parliamentary elections, presidential election. Now the country is under a state of emergency. Doesn't that make a robust discussion and a real political campaign extremely difficult?

TAWFIK: Well, we do have challenges in Egypt, I admit that. But the reason why we are in this position is because the Muslim Brotherhood leadership chose to continue down the path of exclusion. They are not willing to join a political process. And they are willing to use their own supporters as human shields.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, thank you very much for talking with us.

TAWFIK: Thank you very much.

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