Radio National – Interview with Fran Kelly

Subject: Egypt

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

4 July 2013

FRAN KELLY: Let's return now to developments overnight in Egypt. And the fast-moving events in the capital Cairo are being watched closely by governments around the world including the Australian Government. And our Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, joins us here on Breakfast from Seoul. He's in South Korea for the inaugural defence and security talks. Minister, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.

BOB CARR: Yes, thank you, Fran, good morning.

FRAN KELLY: Senator, the Egyptian army is on the streets of Cairo as a show of force now. In your view from your perspective is this a military coup?

BOB CARR: I think it's got to be considered as a military intervention whether it can be regarded as a coup I think will depend on what happens now. If there's a quick resumption of democracy, dates for election, elections being held under transparent rules then the impression of a coup will fade. But it's deeply disappointing One was hoping that the Government elected with 51 per cent of the vote last year would be first elected government in Egypt, the first elected president in Egypt and the first to go to a democratic election. This is very – to serve its term and then go back to the people again. So this is deeply disappointing.

FRAN KELLY: So just to be clear. Does Australia then support this intervention by the military in a democratically elected government?

BOB CARR: We're not supporting it, we're not opposing it. We're saying all sides should show restraint, there should be a credible and peaceful process that restores democratic rule and we need orderly and peaceful processes at work and transparent processes. By that I'd emphasise particularly time for an election and rules for an election that are open and transparent and acceptable to all the sides who compete in that election.

FRAN KELLY: It's too early yet to see whether there will be an orderly and peaceful process. So far as I understand it the President, Mohamed Morsi is not bowing to the military direction, the road-map as laid out by the head of the army and he is declaring this a military coup. Should President Mohamed Morsi go quickly and quietly here?

BOB CARR: It's not for us to advise him. I had the honour of meeting him in the middle of last year. I formed the view that he was an Egyptian nationalist, someone who wanted to restore Egypt's leadership in the region. And certainly some signs in his foreign policy positioning confirmed that. He said to me when I raised the condition of minorities in Egypt, I spoke specifically about the Egyptian Copts that he would be a President for all Egyptians. He was not going to lead an undemocratic or a military state. He was going to lead a civilian government. And I thought it was very important that he fulfil that because if he did, Egypt would have the first government elected by its people and the first government to serve a term and then face the people for re-election. So in that context I find this deeply, deeply disappointing.

FRAN KELLY: It is exactly the criticism of all those people out on the streets. The many hundreds of thousands who took to the streets over four years and the 22 million that signed a petition calling for the removal of the President. They say he was a not a President for all Egyptians but elected by 51.5 per cent of the people just a year go. He is – comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. Is there a legitimate leadership role for political Islam in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood representative. It would seem on those numbers that a large portion – proportion of Egyptian society?

BOB CARR: Well, one of the hopes many people had was that the Egyptian brotherhood which has been a force in Egypt from its formation in the 1920s would have an experience in government and undergo the maturation that comes from any political force that accepts democratic rules and participates in government. And many people thought it was the best potential outcome, Muslim Brotherhood, such a organised force, such a mobilising force would actually taste political power and use it responsibly.

Now clearly this government has let down a remarkably large section of Egyptian position and the people are unreconciled to it exercising power – sharing power. A further concern is that while it has mobilised I think about 25 per cent of the vote, the Salafis enjoy about 25 per cent of the vote so representing the relatively moderate wing of political Islam, Muslim Brotherhood had a claim on government, a claim on legitimacy but they've now lost that with the withdrawal of support that the whole Tamarod movement represents.

So it's deeply disturbing for people who expected – people who wanted the Arab Spring to see a normal democratic life in the liveliest and most important Arab country, and one that had been subjected to one-man rule, the old model, the old busted model of Arab dictator for life for so many decades.

FRAN KELLY: Given as you just described Egypt there – the largest and most important Arab country. How important are these events in terms of regional stability? Do you have concerns on that front?

BOB CARR: Oh yes I do. The Morsi Government has adhered to the treaty with Israel that had been settled on by one of its predecessors, one of the Arab dictators for life who ruled in defiance of democratic rules. It was remarkable – remarkably good I think that President Morsi had not abrogated or repudiated the treaty negotiated by President Sadat with the encouragement of US President Jimmy Carter.

So that's was a fi... an encouraging development in foreign policy. One, one hopes that the government that emerges from the expected democratic election will also accept that foreign policy position.

FRAN KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest this morning, is Foreign Minister, Bob Carr reacting to events in Egypt overnight. Bob Carr, the United States has closed its embassy in Cairo for coming days. Australia's issued a travel warning. Are we planning on closing our embassy and do you have concerns for the at least the 780 Australians who are currently registered with our embassy in Cairo?

BOB CARR: No Australians have been targeted. Australian embassies haven't been subjected to violence in the Middle East right through the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring. The Americans of course had a tragic experience in Benghazi in Libya and would be more apprehensive than we need be. I'll take the advice of Dr Ralph King, our ambassador who I've been speaking to throughout this and who I saw in Canberra two weeks ago. All Australian diplomatic missions maintain contingency plans that allow the Government to respond to a range of scenarios and Egypt's no different.

Commercial flights continue to operate normally out of the country of course. We've got no plans to close the embassy.

FRAN KELLY: No plans to close the embassy. What about aid to Egypt? I'm not sure what the state of Australian aid to Egypt is. But for instance the US Secretary of State, just two months ago, quietly approved $1.3 billion of military aid to Egypt just in May. Is this going to compromise the US in this kind of dispute and is Australia significantly engaged – similarly engaged?

BOB CARR: No, Australia doesn't provide sort of decisive budgets support that America provides Egypt and which is so important to the financial solvency of its government. Our aid is pretty modest – some post-graduate scholarships that I discussed with President Morsi for example. No, when you consider the fragile fiscal and economical position of Egypt all this is even more tragic than it appears when you look at the political dimensions, Fran.

Media enquiries