Global Viewpoint

Arab League chief: Goal in Libya is to protect civilians, not regime change

Amr Moussa – departing secretary general of the Arab League and Egyptian presidential candidate – discusses the no-fly zone intervention in Libya and Qaddafi's exit. He also touches on Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria and the future of Egypt's relationship with Israel and the Palestinians.

Amr Moussa is the departing secretary general of the Arab League and has declared his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt. He sat down on March 21 with Raghida Dergham in Cairo for the Global Viewpoint Network.

Raghida Dergham: Is this an open-ended military operation in Libya, whatever it takes?

Amr Moussa: Of course not, of course not. There is a resolution, 1973, of the Security Council that determines the mission and the goal. The goal is to protect the civilian lives, and once the goal is achieved, especially through a cease-fire and observers to the cease-fire are put in place, the mission will come to an end. The mission has the task of protecting the civilian population in Libya and against attack threats and against use of weapons, very severe weapons.

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Dergham: When you criticized the application of the no-fly zone, some people wondered if you really meant it. Others went as far as using the word “hypocrisy.” What was the point of your statement?

Moussa: I meant what I said: The goal should be to protect Libyan civilians. Why did I say so? There were reports that civilian casualties started to appear as a result of the attacks by the coalition. As a result, I said that all civilian casualties and attacks that would affect the civilians are our concern – and that is why we needed to establish a no-fly zone and safe areas in the first place.

As for the idea “that there for different goals” beyond safety of civilians, this we have nothing to do with it. We are committed to the Security Council goals, letter and spirit according to what the resolution determines.

No-fly zone: no second thoughts

Dergham: When you went to Paris and endorsed the no-fly zone, you knew that there would be a military operation, and the Security Council resolution spoke as well of a “no-drive zone.” You did know that this would require bombings on the ground?

Moussa: I stressed at the time the necessity to protect the civilian population and that there are limitations by the Security Council; no land invasions, forces of occupation … etc. That there would be some military operations in order to paralyze the launching pads, this we understood. Even some Arab countries have decided to participate in this.

Dergham: Then you have no second thoughts about endorsing the no-fly zone, whatever it takes?

Moussa: No, there are no second thoughts on this. This is our initiative. The no-fly zone is the goal in order to protect the Libyan citizens. Respecting the resolution is also a commitment by us.

Dergham: What if Muammar Qaddafi decides to take a break from the military operations and then get back at it later. If this goes on for very a long time, do you think the coalition is ready to sustain its military operations for a very long time? Or is there a time limit that you discussed in Paris?

Moussa: It is not a question to have some time to relax and then resume the attacks. This would be unacceptable.

Dergham: In the end, isn’t this an operation to embolden and support and enable the rebels to keep Benghazi?

Moussa: You can say it in a different way: To keep the forces of the regime from attacking Benghazi and inflicting a lot of casualties. This operation is to prevent this from happening, not vice versa. It is not to give the rebels support. It is not a question of supporting a regime, a government, or a council. It is to save the situation from further, bloody deterioration.

Qaddafi's exit: 'I cannot discuss'

Dergham: If Muammar Qaddafi maintains his grip on parts of Libya, what would be the exit strategy?

Moussa: Well, I cannot really answer this question, but it would be a prolonged case of civil war and tension and destruction of Libya. This is too much. I hope that there will be no civil war, and I hope that things will be dealt with, with reason.

Dergham: People are speaking of one way out of a prolonged war in Libya: a bullet or bomb somehow lands on the head of Muammar Qaddafi.

Moussa: Some things I cannot discuss and I don’t want to discuss.

Dergham: The Security Council resolution says nothing about getting rid of leadership?

Moussa: This is not dealt with by the Security Council. As I told you, we don’t go beyond the Security Council and what the Arab League decided. The goal is a no-fly zone. We are not talking about anything else.

Dergham: Tell me about the extent of the Arab participation in enforcing the no-fly zone. Is it financial only? The word “assets” is being used. What does that mean?

Moussa: No, it is not financial. It means participation by certain Arab countries, but this is a sovereign decision by them. It is not a mandated by the Arab League. And the participation will be in kind sometime, such as the planes being sent by Qatar, or by other means as announced by the rest.

Concerns about Yemen

Dergham: Should the coalition intervention in Libya be applied to other places, where there is similar bloodshed, such as in Yemen?

Moussa: We requested the Security Council to impose a safe area and no-fly zone in Libya, and this is what happened. You cannot extend a resolution in Libya to Yemen. The situation in Yemen is different.

Dergham: So there will be no such request for a no-fly zone in Yemen?

Moussa: I don’t think they need that.

Dergham: How afraid are you of the disintegration of Yemen given that there is a history of north-south conflict, of the Houthi and Al Qaeda? It’s a gateway to countries like Saudi Arabia. Are you afraid that if there is a void, there now will be disintegration of the country and things will be worse?

Moussa: I hope this won’t happen. That’s why the situation in Yemen has to come to a quick solution and perhaps consensus solution in order to prevent further deterioration that would perhaps lead to that.

In Yemen there is an opposition, there are demonstrations, and there are clear requests from the people. They all have their own grievances. Therefore, we need to know what happened to those demands and how the government is dealing with them.

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Dergham: In general, let me ask, do you think [Yemen's president] Ali Abdullah Saleh has been forthcoming in trying to satisfy the opposition?

Moussa: I believe that we need in Yemen more clear steps in order to satisfy the situation.

Dergham: Should he step down?

Moussa: This is left for the people themselves, his people. They should tell him, and they should respond to him. It is not my call as the secretary general of the Arab League to say that.

We aren't using different yardstick for Bahrain

Dergham: And Bahrain?

Moussa: Bahrain is a different situation but also cause for concern.

Dergham: It seems different yardsticks are being applied in the Arab world?

Moussa: Why different yardsticks? Why? We have done the right thing when we resorted to the Security Council in Libya. There will be no different yardsticks. We saw the situation in Libya, and we are going to consider the situation in other Arab countries and then decide what to do.

We don't have the full picture in Syria

Dergham: You haven’t said much about Syria. Why so quiet so far?

Moussa: Because the situation there is still unclear.

Dergham: Do you want to wait until a lot of people die before it is clear?

Moussa: No, certainly not. We do not have the full picture as to what is going on. Is it in Deraa alone, or is there violence and crackdown in other places?

Dergham: You have seen the people asking for change, and you supported them strongly in Egypt, but you are hesitant to support them in Syria?

There are demonstrations, and people are dead and people are wounded in Syria. What is your message as secretary general of the Arab League on that issue?

Moussa: I am certainly on the side of the free expression of the people, and I am certainly on the side of revolutions and the new uprising in the Arab world. No question about that.

Elections in Egypt: We need more time

Dergham: Did you vote against the amended constitution in Egypt’s referendum this week because you were afraid of growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Moussa: My question was whether to have the parliamentary elections first or after. In all cases, there will be elections, parliamentary elections. So, it is a question of priorities, and the difference is three months. It has nothing to do with fear or concern.

Dergham: You are running for president of Egypt. Are you afraid that there is not enough time for preparation for parliamentary elections by others than the Muslim Brotherhood, who are better organized?

Moussa: We need all political forces to be ready at the same time to get a parliament that is representative of all parties of our society. Now, only one or two groups are ready, but the rest are not. The new parties have not been formed, and the old parties are not ready. So quick elections will not do. Be that as it may, now we have to make the best out of this election and respect the result of the referenda.

Egypt's treaty with Israel

Dergham: If you are president, will you amend or touch the treaty with Israel, or will you respect it fully?

Moussa: It is there to stay.

Support for the Palestinians, opening Gaza crossing

Dergham: How would you change toward Israel and Palestinians and Gaza?

Moussa: We are committed to the rights of Palestinians to have their own state. We are committed to that. We are committed to the issue of two states. But we are certainly against building settlements or against changing the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and we disagree with many aspects of the Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.

Dergham: What would you do for the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt? Would you open it up?

Moussa: It has to be open so that people can move back and forth. We should not be part of the siege. We are against the siege.

Why blame Obama? It's out revolution.

Dergham: Some are criticizing US President Obama as being too slow in embracing the Arab revolutions. Do you agree?

Moussa: Arab revolution has happened because we revolted. We welcome any support today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So why should we blame him? It is our revolution.

Worries, hopes for the future

Dergham: You have no worries whatsoever about the future of this revolution?

Moussa: We have to be concerned. The road is long and arduous, and there will be a lot of problems. We have a very difficult economic situation. There are still question marks on what kind of political structure we are going to build.

Dergham: What worries you most as a candidate for president in Egypt and on the level of the Arab world? As a man who is leaving the Arab League after a decade, what legacy do you hope for?

Moussa: In this drive toward freedom, these revolutions towards democracy, there are no U-turns. Whatever the result, I am really happy that our people – the people of the Arab world, Egypt and Tunisia and the rest – are revolting. They want a better future. I want to help in achieving this.

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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