Al-Malki is chief editor of the Daily News Egypt. She spoke with The Media Line
prior to the Military Council’s announcement of constitutional
TML: Rania, a military council is in charge of Egypt. Some
argue that we’re seeing a military coup rather than a popular revolution. How
would you characterize what has happened in Egypt?
Al-Malki: It’s definitely a
popular revolution. It’s not a military coup because it started with millions of
people. First hundreds; then thousands; then millions of people out in the
streets until they took complete control of Tahrir Square. Afterward, the
military stepped in to basically protect the nation and the people of Egypt. So
the military only made an appearance after the people toppled
TML: To what do you attribute President Hosni Mubarak’s regime’s
Al-Malki: There is a slew of issues there that have been plaguing
Egyptian society for many years, mainly the widespread corruption and the fact
that all the wealth was concentrated in a very small minority that benefited the
most from the economic development of the past few years. Food prices were
getting high. People were feeling like their dignity was not respected. There
were so many human rights issues that people have been talking about in the more
open media situation we’ve had in the past five years so the feeling was that
there is very little respect for Egyptian citizens by other Egyptian citizens –
in particular the police, which has incredible powers. The emergency law which
gave the police the power led to the ultimate anger [of the people]. The
triggers were three main things: First, the parliamentary elections which were
rigged like no other parliamentary elections were ever rigged before. This took
place in November. And then of course there’s what happened in Tunis. Obviously,
we can’t ignore the fact that Egyptians were seeing the toppling of another
dictator just weeks before. And before that, there was the issue with Khaled
Said, the young man who was beaten to death in Alexandria. That particular case
gained so much ground and so much sympathy from the public as a whole. From that
point on, it seemed that we were reaching a boiling point. Then came the
elections; then came Tunis; and that was it. That's why on January 25th, when
the young Facebook activists were calling for people to come out, they never
expected people to really come out and join them. But then with all that was
happening so imminently, people just decided, “You know what? We're not going to
take it anymore.” And they went to the streets and voiced their
TML: How is what is happening in Libya being seen by the
Egyptians at the moment and how is it affecting Egypt?
Al-Malki: People are
horrified at what we're hearing. A lot of people have started collecting
donations to help the people who have been injured in the air raids. We've been
hearing all different accounts because there is a complete media blackout inside
Libya so it's very difficult to confirm the accounts. But it does seem from what
we're hearing from some people who are still in Libya that the crackdown on
protestors is more brutal than anything we've ever heard of before. The Egyptian
people are very sympathetic to what is happening in Libya. Some have organized
caravans -- aid caravans -- and collected hundreds of thousands of pounds in
supplies to send over there. It's affecting Egypt and I think the effect of what
is happening there is going to show in the next few weeks because 1.5 million
Egyptians work in Libya and they are now returning. That's going to be a huge
problem because many of the families depend completely for support on the family
member who worked in Libya.
TML: Have any of them come back? Have any of
TML: Have you had access to them to find
out what's happening?
Al-Malki: We haven't had access yet. There are reports we
are working on now so I still have to look at them so I can't tell you any
concrete information or firsthand reports on what people have been saying. But I
heard on the BBC radio for example, people interviewed on the border between
Egypt and Libya who are reporting horrendous things happening there. People with
guns and cars are said to be just shooting at groups that are congregating in
public. Our own reporters are still collecting their data and collecting their
TML: Many in the United States are concerned that quick
elections will favor the Muslim Brotherhood. Is this the case?
we're not so sure. The fear is not just for Egyptians that the Muslim
Brotherhood is going to rise, but that the former National Democratic Party is
going to rise. What political analysts are looking at now is whether it's going
to be a competition between the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. And certainly,
if we have free and fair elections, the two of them are the most organized
parties and the most well-trained and experienced in the election process. At
the same time, the balance of power is not the same. Everything has changed
completely and a lot of the people are not grouping.
The liberal parties are
gaining traction and attention and are trying to organize themselves. It's hard
to predict what will happen. It's very likely the Muslim Brotherhood is going to
have a strong showing in parliament and it's also very likely that the former
ruling party, NDP, is going to have a strong showing. We still don't know what
the state of the NDP is going to be. Some people are calling for the dissolution
of that party altogether. It's all about opening up to the media and also all
related to the constitutional amendments that have not been announced yet. I
think it's more important for us, for Egyptian society, to get used to this new
atmosphere of democratic elections because it's something we're not used to.
Most people who are even educated, informed and are quite politicized have never
even voted in elections before. So this kind of exercise is important and at the
end of the day, if this parliament is not reflecting the people's demands, I'm
sure according to the new constitutional amendments, it will be possible for the
people to vote no-confidence and force it from power. So it is definitely a
possibility that the Brotherhood or former NDP will take over the parliament --
but if that happens, it's not the end of the world.
TML: Who are behind
the new political parties that are popping up and are they going to be part of
the election process?
Al-Malki: Well, the newest political party that was just
recently given a license is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood with a very
moderate message. It's called the Al-Wifaq party and it's been trying to get a
license for 15 years. It was only just approved a week ago. This is officially
the newest party. Until now, we still had an old law that makes it impossible to
set up a political party. We used to have a political party committee that was
made up of members of the ruling party that vetoed or gave a license to any
party that wanted to be set up. Now I don't know what's going to happen with
that law but it needs to change for new parties to be set up. But there were
existing parties before like the Democratic Front Party that's a very liberal
party but it wasn't a popular party in any way, shape or form. Not a lot of
people knew anything about it but that was because the entire atmosphere in
Egypt was very apolitical. But now I'm assuming the Democratic Front Party is
going to start gaining ground.
A youth oriented party is going to pop up at some
point in the next few months, perhaps headed by someone called Amr Hamzawy. I'm
not saying it has happened, but I've been hearing that he's going to be heading
up a party. He's a very well-respected political analyst with the Carnegie
Endowment. Everything is very up in the air and there's always talk about new
parties but at the same time, a lot of these old parties are worried -- and
rightly so -- that if we have elections too soon, they are going to lose out. In
my opinion, that's just part of the process. There has to be a transition and
that transition is going to take time.
TML: Does the world need to worry
about the Islam-ization of Egypt?
Al-Malki: No. I don't think so at all. Even
the Muslim Brotherhood is thinking of setting up a new party called the Freedom
and Justice Party.
It's very clear that they are changing their tone.
They want to be more immersed in the political mosaic in Egypt and they feel
this is a way to get more immersed. Everyone knows who they are. It’s not going
to be a secret that it’s part of the Muslim Brotherhood. It's going to be a
battle for the polls I guess. People will go and vote for what they believe in
TML: Western nations are greatly concerned whether or not the
new regime in Egypt will honor the 1979 treaty with Israel. The leader of the
Muslim Brotherhood went on record saying this treaty needs to be revised at
best, or scrapped at worst. What's your take?
Al-Malki: I think not only the
Muslim Brotherhood feels that way but I think the leftists and socialists groups
are even more militant against the Camp David Accords and against the treaty
with Israel than the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, one of the first
communiqués by the army stated clearly and unequivocally that Egypt will honor
all its treaties and all its international covenants that it has signed up to.
At the end of the day, it's the army. The fact that a lot of political powers in
society that reflect a lot of people's views that are asking for the treaty to
be revised, it's not something we shouldn't have the right to do. There are
certain elements in that treaty that perhaps do need to be revised and there's
nothing wrong with that. But I don't think it would ever lead to a conflict with
Israel at all. That's partly because the army has decided there's not going to
be that type of conflict and partly because the Egyptian people in general don't
have a big problem with having a treaty with Israel. They just have a problem
with certain aspects of how that has affected our policies abroad.
Egypt has played a major role between the Israelis and Palestinians in the past.
In this transition period, they're going to take a back seat. How do you think
that will develop in the future?
Al-Malki: I'm not so sure Egypt will take a
backseat in the transition period. Obviously, we will have to tidy up our own
house before we can help other outside organizations get back together and start
pushing for the peace process. But I think the role of Egypt on that front is
going to continue as it was. The thing is, I don't think it was very successful
before. I don't think Egypt had the kind of leverage it was touted to have,
unfortunately. We were paying a lot of lip service to a lot of people on all
sides, but in terms of getting anything done, I think Egyptian diplomacy has
failed. What proves that is that until now there is no reconciliation between
Fatah and Hamas. There are still the same issues that have existed over the past
years. Maybe taking a backseat could help the situation, but it won't make it
worse. It was bad enough already and I don't think our intervention was helpful
TML: What about Gaza's reliance on Egypt and the opening and
closing of its doors and borders?
Al-Malki: There is a very strong public
opinion issue here. The public opinion in general is for helping the people of
Gaza who have been under siege for over four years now. The opening of the
borders is something that used to happen. It used to happen very intermittently
and the Palestinians were treated very badly on the borders. I'm hoping this
mood is going to change and I'm hoping there will be more openness and
cooperation and help given to the people in Gaza. The idea of opening the
borders all the time, completely, I don't think is going to happen and I don't
think it's what the Egyptian people want. But I think the Egyptian people in
general want to feel we're helping the people who are desperately surviving
during this Israeli siege. It's not going to be a complete opening up of the
borders but there's going to be a loosening up of the situation
TML: Do you think that United States diplomacy will be welcome in
Al-Malki: What will be welcome is more economic exchange. Any political
intervention on issues of sovereignty are never going to be welcome here. I
think people would very much welcome economic cooperation, the idea of exchanges
of all kinds. But in terms of political intervention, I think it's very clear
and very important for most of the people who started the revolution, the young
people, to disassociate themselves from any foreign entity whatsoever. That's
paramount to the reason why the initial group gained a lot of trust and a lot of
backing by the entire society afterward. We knew these young people were going
out on their own: because of their own initiatives, their own love for their
country, and not because they are playing out any foreign agenda.
So far, I was
very happy and heartened by President Obama's speech after President Mubarak
stepped down. It's wonderful to get these kind of kudos from the biggest
superpower, the United States. But the word “intervention” is so negative and
people just don't want to hear it, don't want to accept it. It also undermines
the renewed feeling of national pride and people power that we have.
kind of tarnishes that very pure kind of feeling of control of your fate and
taking control of your country. I think economically it would be very much
appreciated that we would continue having a good economic relationship with the
United States but I'm not sure politically. Of course, the U.S. used to give
Mubarak a lot of military aid but at the end of the day, this also helped the
Egyptian people because the military is very strong and it is in the military's
favor that it keeps good relationships with the US I think people in general are
aware of that relationship and have no problem with it as long as it's not
outspoken intervention into national issues.
TML: Rania, you were
speaking earlier about people power. What was the women's role in the
demonstrations and the toppling of the government?
Al-Malki: I can't say that
there was a separate women's role – a role separate from men. It wasn't like
that. If you went to Tahrir Square, you would have seen a slice of life,
everyone doing everything. It was like the ‘People's Republic of Tahrir Square.’
TML: There have been serious issues in dealing with
women's rights in Egypt. Do you think these issues will take a backseat at the
Al-Malki: At the moment yes. Everyone is concerned with much bigger
issues at the moment because we are now concerned about how the constitutional
amendments will play out -- what they are going to look like -- much bigger
political issues. But in a few weeks, everything is going to go back to normal.
Women's groups that have been active for years are going to go back to what they
have been doing. Society has not changed 180 degrees because Mubarak has stepped
down. There have been major political changes but at the same time, many things
haven't changed yet. It's the same people, the same institutions; so I don't
think it would be right to talk about different groups of society or sectors or
their issues in society taking a backseat because the details haven't changed --
just the big picture has changed.
TML: Have you, as a woman editor, seen
any censorship in any way in your reporting?
Al-Malki: Well before the
revolution, yes, of course. It was very difficult to say different things,
naturally. Censorship was not direct. It was very indirect and it was more
intimidation that lead to a certain degree of self-censorship even though I
always boasted about having a lot of freedom to publish all kinds of things. But
there were certain areas I couldn't write about.
TML: Such as?
Like criticize a person or the president or his family. Even though some Arabic
newspapers really used to push the envelope at their own risk, a lot of them
would be taken to court or things like that. But there was no way we could
report on a lot of the corruption allegations against people in power and people
very close to the president. You couldn't report a word about the army. That was
the biggest taboo.
TML: Has that changed in the last few weeks?
Of course. We are talking about the army every day. The military council is now
ruling the country. Just a few weeks ago, three members of the military council
appeared for the first time on a prime-time television program and the host of
the show was asking them questions about all kinds of things. They were
basically being grilled live on-air for everyone to see. The threshold has
shifted completely and it's never going to go back to how it was before. The
rules have not changed. The laws haven't changed but for sure we are going to be
working towards that, toward changing the laws that were used so badly
TML: Rania Al-Malki, thank you.