Ambassador Margaret Scobey’s interview with Amal Fawzy, Nisf Al Donya and Al Ahram, and Warda Al Husseiny, Al Akhbar Al Youm

Ambassador Scobey meets with Students in Menoufeya and takes questionsAmbassador: Thank you. Thank you for coming to Menoufeya with me.

Interviewer: Would you like me to ask you all our questions or one by one?

Ambassador: Oh, I think one by one. We have time I think.

Interviewer: Firstly, I’d like to know your visit to Menoufeya Governorate.

Ambassador: It’s been a great opportunity to visit Menoufeya. I’m very grateful to his Excellency the Governor for allowing me to come and taking some time to talk to me. I’ve had a great chance to meet some outstanding educators who have been very successful proponents of improving their schools, working with their communities and really taking advantage of every opportunity they have to turn their schools into real centers of the community and models of bringing Egyptian schools into compliance with Egypt’s own national standards in education. They’ve had support, of course, from the Ministry of Education, from the Governor, but this also very much a local activity really driven by their own desire to improve their schools, and we’ve been very happy that the U.S. Agency for International Development has been able to be a partner with the Ministry and with these schools to help encourage them and provide some incentives for this programs. That was a lot of fun. As you’ve sat with us here, I got to see some of the students of Menoufeya, the older students, and I think that this is always the take away when you come to a new place. I saw on the way up the rich agricultural resources of this governorate. The Governor showed me many of the handicrafts and work that is being done here. He’s talking about plans and the existing industrial component of the economy here, but the key natural resource of Menoufeya is its people. And I think what has really been very wonderful to see is the attention being paid both to students and to finding work and to developing the human potential of this governate, which is very considerable.

Interviewer: I would like to ask about you. I think you have a PhD in History.

Ambassador: No, no, no…Ana mish doctora… I studied toward a Ph.D but I did not finish the degree.

Interviewer: Do you want to finish it, or not?

Ambassador: Maybe that’s what I should do when I leave the diplomatic service.

Interviewer: What’s the relation between history and working in the diplomatic field?

Ambassador: Well, I have always loved history and what it provided for me. It is part of what I call a liberal education. It teaches you how to ask questions. A culture of the distant past is a distant culture. Even though it may be in your own country or a country that your family came from, it’s still distant by hundreds of years. So you’re still trying to learn about a distant and foreign culture. So I think it does help you try to know what questions to ask and how to learn.

Interviewer: Did you study the history of the United States?

Ambassador: I studied mostly European history. I spent a year in Spain doing research in Spanish history.

Interviewer: But nothing about Egypt?

Ambassador: Unfortunately, no. Had I but known what my future held I should have been studying about Egyptian history.

Interviewer: Madam, before you came to Egypt, you made a declaration about the situation in Egypt as a reformist and it was misunderstood in Egypt. I’d like to know your comments about that.

Ambassador: Well, I think there was misunderstanding. The comments that I certainly made at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reflected a very broad, positive, constructive relationship that we enjoy with Egypt. The Egypt-U.S relationship has been strong for many, many years. I predict it will continue to be strong. Certainly when the United States looks to this region, we look to Egyptian leadership. We have been friends with this country for such a long time. We have enjoyed a security partnership and a partnership in economic and social development that we’re very proud of. Egypt itself has articulated a platform of economic and political reform. And it was in that context that we discussed those elements, which are clearly, as I said — in testimony and repeatedly — are issues for the Government of Egypt to resolve. These are Egyptian — not for the government, but for the people of Egypt. These are issues that will inherently be resolved according to an Egyptian timeline and Egyptian interests.

Interviewer: But you agree that Egypt is different from the rest. Now there is a free atmosphere, there is democracy. What do you think?

Ambassador: Egypt has clearly followed a very important road of development. Egypt is different today than it was 30 years ago. Egypt is different today than it was a hundred years ago.

Interviewer: Can you evaluate the political reform which happened in the last 5 years or not? Can you evaluate that?

Ambassador: I think really that is again for Egyptians to do. Egyptians have articulated a number of goals that they have for themselves and will continue down those roads. The United States speaks out very strongly in our promotion of democracy and individual freedom and human rights and will continue to have those views. We have done so globablly and we do it for ourselves. And so it’s nothing specific to Egypt. It’s a global view that we have.

Interviewer: You have now been in Egypt for 4 months, I think. Has your image about Egypt changed?

Ambassador: It changes. It becomes more complex. It’s easy to see a country from far away. I always say that I know more about a country that I served in the day I arrived than the day I leave. Because by the time you leave, you have met more people, you understand that problems are very complex, you understand that there is a variety and a distinctiveness — not just to the countr,y but to the governorate, but to the city, to the individual. I visited Egypt several times in the past. I spent maybe 2 weeks here in the early 1990s as a tourist. And even since then I see remarkable changes in Egypt. As I just said today, listening to what has been accomplished on the educational side, Egypt is a developing country, but I think most Egyptians have said that Egypt needs to do more.

Interviewer: I can say that you are a woman of difficult tasks. You worked in Riyadh after 9/11, and Syria after Hariri’s death, and after that in Baghdad. And I think it is not coincidence that you will come here to Egypt. You have a mission or a task. What are the important tasks for you here in Egypt? What would you add to our bilateral relations?

Ambassador: Well, I think any ambassador comes to a new country with a very simple goal. Not an easy goal necessarily, but a simple goal, which is always to build upon the positive elements of the past and to look for areas to strengthen and improve cooperation. As I’ve said earlier, we have a long term relationship with Egypt and one that we value very much. I have had a real wonderful opportunity to serve in a variety of different countries in this region. They’re all different. They all have a very different dynamic. They have a different culture and history and I have enjoyed every one of them in different ways. And obviously coming to Egypt I like to think of as a reward in many ways. As I’ve said, I visited Egypt before but it is certainly one of the most dynamic, complex, rich environments that I have worked in. Anywhere you live in the Arab world, there is influence from Egypt either in the economy and culture, movies, TV, the judicial system. So for me this is a really wonderful thing to come here.

Interviewer: You said that political reform is your important task. What you are doing to help Egypt in that field?

Ambassador: Well, as I said, I think Egyptians will articulate a political reform program that meets their needs and their expectations. The United States has broadly said and will continue to say that we support …

Interviewer: You have some plans?

Ambassador: Do I have a plan? No, we stand ready to support Egyptian people working in a wide range of projects and activities here.

Interviewer: Some people think that you care about American people only. For example, your statement about Said Ibrahim. But when talking about emergency law you said that it is a domestic affair. We would like to know your definition about that.

Ambassador: As I’ve said, the United States and I will have views on human rights and democracy that are broad and general. We understand that every country has a particular dynamic, a particular history and believe that Egyptians will find their way forward. You have many leaders here who have articulated a platform of objectives, both economic and political. The United States wants to be supportive where we can. We do not have an agenda that we’re going to impose. It would be foolish if we did because it wouldn’t work even if we did have it, and we don’t. These are broad based issues that involve Egyptian citizens, and as I said the United States hopes to be supportive across a broad range of activities here as we have for 30 years. And we don’t consider support, when it is offered voluntarily and freely, to be interference. It is up to Egyptians to accept support or not. So I don’t see what the United States has said or done here to be a form of interference at all.

Interviewer: But your declaration before coming to Egypt and what do you said about Saad Eddin Ibrahim I think it has complicated your mission here in Egypt. You need to improve your image in Egypt and the Middle East.

Ambassador: I’d love for you to do that. You are the press. Only you can do that.

Interviewer: Madam, did the attack of the media bother you or not?

Ambassador: I support the free press. I support free expression. I regret any misunderstandings.

Interviewer: How can we explain it?

Ambassador: Well, I think I’ve said what I have to say on this issue. As I said, the press will say what it’s going to say. I try to be clear. I try to talk about the broad range of activities and programs and our broad support for Egypt and desire for cooperation. And hope for that we are not misunderstood in the future and I will do everything at I can to help not to be misunderstood.

Interviewer: Why does it happen here in Egypt and not in Syria or in Baghdad?

Ambassador: You need to explain to me.

Interviewer: Madam, Mr. Mubarak used to visit the United States every year. But recently, for I think three years or four years, there has not been a visit for Mr. Mubarak to United States. Are there any problems?

Ambassador: None that I’m aware of. He and his family are welcome there at any time. We would love to have him.

Interviewer: Some people say that there is an increasing role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and they think that United States has a role in this.

Ambassador: Those are questions that journalists ask and journalists answer for themselves. I’m here in Egypt and I’m focused on working with Egyptians in a variety of different cooperative areas where we can and I continue to see Egyptian leadership everywhere I look.

Interviewer: I’d like to know your condition for donations to parties or NGOs in Egypt.

Ambassador: It’s a simple program that encourages NGO activity. These are plans that are made for a huge variety of activities, and most of the grants are made on the basis of whether the program makes sense, or whether…

Interviewer: …bilateral between NGOs?

Ambassador: These are all bilateral programs from the United States to an Egyptian organization. But they’re mostly based on whether this program makes sense locally and if it’s feasible and do they have a realistic plan and the ability to handle whatever support they get.

Interviewer: But Ambassador, the United States informs the Egyptian government about this?

Ambassador: Of course, absolutely. There is total transparency.

Interviewer: You said there is no dialogue between the United States and groups or parties here in Egypt but you …

Ambassador: No, I said…

Interviewer: … there’s no dialogue or relation between groups or parties here in Egypt between the United States and the groups or parties here in Egypt.

Ambassador: No, I never said we don’t have any dialogue. I said we don’t have any interference. But just as the Ambassador of Egypt to the United States consults broadly across the political spectrum in the United States and is welcome to do that, I consider it part of my job to understand a wide spectrum of political ideas here in Egypt.

Interviewer: You met the leader of Hizb Al Wafd. Some people said that he meet you to support him against Noman Gomaa.

Ambassador: I cannot get myself involved in what people say. All I know is that we do not have any support for any particular party or group. I’m just interested in talking and listening.

Interviewer: I’d like to know the situation now for the American assistance program. I think after 2009 there will be some new procedures or something like that.

Ambassador: The U.S. Administration has proposed a level of, I think, $200 million for the Economic Support Fund for 2009. The U.S. Congress has not acted upon it yet. This is a bilateral program between the United States and the Government of Egypt so it’s a little premature to know what shape it’s going to take because it hasn’t really been passed.

Interviewer: There are negotiations now about the new shape of that program?

Ambassador: As I said, this is something we have to work out with the Government of Egypt. It has always been a bilateral program and at this point it has not even come before the Congress, yet, so there’s nothing new to say about it. It is a continuation of the program we have had in effect here for nearly 30 years.

Interviewer: What about Free Trade Agreement between Egypt and the United States, what will happen?

Ambassador: Well, President Bush said that his goal was to have a regional free trade agreement for the Middle East and we know that Egypt – you cannot achieve that, of course, without Egypt. It’s one of the largest economies, if not the largest economy, in the region and I think that remains our goal. When this is going to be able to be concluded or to be able to be taken up again, I don’t know. As I said, it remains a goal. I’m hopeful that it will happen before I leave Egypt but I can’t really say for sure. Much depends on the interest from the Government of Egypt. Much depends politically on our side. This whole issue of free trade agreements has been the subject of some political debate in the United States. So we will see. I can say that, historically, both Democrats and Republicans have supported free trade agreements. They raise questions, but at the end of the day we see that free trade is good for America and it’s good for our trading partners.

Interviewer: Especially after the end of the aid in the next year?

Ambassador: We don’t have a free trade agreement, yet, but we do have a very good and solid growing bilateral trade between the United States and Egypt — even without the advantages of a free trade agreement, I think bilateral trade has grown over 70 percent in the last two or three years. Egyptian exports to the U.S. are growing. U.S. exports here are growing, and we also have other programs to facilitate trade. We have already a program called the Qualified Industrial Zones, which are primarily located now in the Delta, near Alexandria. We believe over a hundred thousand Egyptians are employed in these enterprises and they offer very advantageous free trade entry directly into the U.S. market and, hopefully, we’ll at some point be able to expand this to some other parts of Egypt.

Interviewer: How can you help the women here in Egypt? You have some plans to empower women?

Ambassador: This is one area where, I think, Egyptian women are very, very capable of speaking and acting. We do have programs that work with women’s groups but women in Egypt have remarkable opportunities.

Interviewer: What is the difference between the Egyptian woman and other Arabic women?

Ambassador: I don’t want to make comparisons because I have met remarkable successful women in every country I’ve worked. I can honestly say that Egyptian women have, I think, been at the forefront of women’s advancement and women’s empowerment in the world, certainly in this region. And I hear from the Foreign Ministry that maybe there are more Egyptian women Ambassadors than there are American. I’m not sure that’s true, but I know there are a lot. And you see that in the world of government, in the world of business and finance, in education, in science. Egyptian women have already established enormous progress for themselves. And as in most countries, problems tend to multiply in areas where there is poverty. In the United States, women, the poorest women are the ones who have many difficulties. I suspect that’s true in Egypt, as well. So it’s in common, I think, for women everywhere to work within their own countries to help the least fortunate. Give them a leg up.

Interviewer: What about your plans for increasing American investment in Egypt and I’d like to know the current volume of that.

Ambassador: I’m going to have to get back to you on the current volume, it’s high.
We have a very active Commercial Section here. We just very recently signed a new agreement that the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation is going to help the Commercial Industrial Bank of Egypt to create a mortgage industry, a mortgage finance industry here in Egypt. In November, the Export-Import Bank is going to be conducting a workshop here to encourage investment and trade. So we have a lot of active programs to do that. The private sector has a way of identifying opportunity. What we see ourselves doing is ensuring that there is a good flow of solid information about opportunities here and opportunities in the United States and trying to encourage the private sector to find partners and programs here. So that’s an ongoing thing and we will continue to do everything that we can to do that.

Interviewer: I don’t know if you’ve heard about the sensitivities of the Egyptians here from the women who are working in leadership positions in the United States, like Madeleine Albright or Condoleezza Rice. Did you hear about it or not?

Ambassador: I’m not sure I know what the question is. What is the question?

Interviewer: Egyptians are still sensitive from women who are holding high ranking posts. Modern men are sensitive when they deal with women in high ranking positions. Do you have the same sense?

Ambassador: I think that’s a process of gradually accustoming people to women in higher positions. And certainly, U.S. society has gone from a time when women did not occupy very senior positions to today when they do. We have not totally eradicated bias, gender bias, in the United States. It’s a process — it’s a long term social and educational process. But we’re obviously not going to turn back and certainly Secretary Rice and Secretary Albright hold, and have held, their own and have done more.

Interviewer: The image that Secretary Rice gives, she’s very hard, she’s very firm.

Ambassador: I think if you listen very carefully, the Secretary is always seeking to be very clear. But she has expressed time and time again, her hope for peace in this region. Her desire for the United States to be a partner in progress on political and economic and social reform and she is, I think, going to spend a lot of time of her career working on the problems of this region in partnership with leaders in this region. I look at what she has done as a very important contribution, not because she is a woman, but because she is an American Secretary of State trying to implement the President’s vision and trying to work very closely with our partners in this region towards our common goals for peace for this region.

Interviewer: Do you have any certain message about for the public opinion in Egypt about our bilateral relations and friendship between Egypt and the United States?
Ambassador: Well, I hope that we all look at what we have accomplished together over many, many years. The United States and Egypt as partners have contributed a lot, I think, to the promotion of peace in this region. Years and years and years ago, people thought that the answer was war. And I think very courageous and brave Egyptian leadership, with American support and encouragement, said that war is not how you achieve peace. And I think that now people realize that it is a negotiation process. And I think that has been, that achievement, that people look to peaceful ways to solve problems has been with the United States and Egypt together have really helped to set that as the standard. I think we have worked together on economic development in this region. I think, as I said, I look with some degree of satisfaction that the investment that we have made mutually in Egypt has been successful. We have in the early years of our assistance program here focused an awful lot on infrastructure, on water, on electricity, on power, on storage and water cleanliness and those have largely been achieved. Not solely by the United States but in partnership with Egypt. Now we’re looking at elements of a relationship that have more to do with developing human capacity, health and education. Again, led by Egyptians. These are Egyptian programs but where the United States can offer some financial and technical support, according to Egyptian priorities. So I hope we keep a long term view and that we realize that, at least from the United States’ point of view, we see ourselves as being long term partners with the people of Egypt. That’s how we want to be seen.

Interviewer: You were in Iraq for one year. Can you tell us about your experience there and what’s the solution for the crisis there? Withdraw the troops?

Ambassador: The solution in Iraq is an Iraqi solution. I was there from May ’06 until last July ’07. It was a very tough year, but it was a year where you saw Iraqi citizens facing some of their most difficult problems of the year. Violence was very high. It had just come after the bombing of a mosque in Samara. The Iraqi parliament and the government were brand new. These were people who had no experience of governing themselves. And it was a difficult year. In the year since I left, remarkable progress has been made. And it is not that everything is perfect but this is progress that has been reached because Iraqis have said now we’re tired of the fighting, the Parliament has passed some good legislation, the Iraqi security forces have bit by bit become more capable of not just executing an order but figuring out what they need to do and engaging locally. They’ve gone to Basra, they’ve gone to Mosul. The government itself is able to exert more national authority and it has been a remarkable improvement. And again, the United States, we believe, has contributed to this. We think that the effort to bring more soldiers, both Iraqi and American, at a time when violence was very high, out to the streets, to the neighborhoods of Iraq was important. But those numbers are already dropping. The Iraqi government and the people of Iraq clearly are on the path toward being capable of running their security on their own and that will be a function of a dialogue between them and the multi-national forces that are there at their request.

Interviewer: Would you consider commenting on the judges, any judge’s sentence or ruling as a domestic affair. Do you accept that Egyptians comment on your rulings and sentences in the United States?

Ambassador: They do it all the time. I mean, that’s why this surprised me. They even have shows in the United States where people call in when they don’t like a judicial ruling and some say good, some say bad. So it’s a fairly normal thing.

Interviewer: My last question. Some people think there is a contradiction between working in the diplomatic field and marriage or having a family. What’s your opinion?

Ambassador: I’m not married and don’t have a family so I’m not sure I’m the best example, but I don’t think there’s a contradiction. Any number of our diplomatic staff, in the United States and I’ve seen generally around the world …

Interviewer: Madeleine Albright also isn’t married,

Ambassador: Secretary Albright had been married. She has children. I don’t think there’s a contradiction, but you’re giving individual examples. I don’t think it’s necessarily a requirement. We have seen many, many successful women who combine marriage and family and children. I don’t think it’s easy. I admire them very much for being able to do all of that. I think raising a family requires enormous time and attention but clearly women are capable of careers, very meaningful careers.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

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