'Political solution only way to avoid further Israel-Hamas clashes'

Egyptian intellectual Tarek Heggy tells 'Post' fundamentalist groups must be given 'fewer playgrounds.'

abbas mubarak 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas mubarak 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian intellectual Tarek Heggy believes that the recent conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas probably discredited Islamists in Egypt. "An average Egyptian has been given the chance to see the detrimental cost of immature decisions, such as what Hamas caused innocent people in Gaza," Heggy said recently during an interview with The Jerusalem Post at an upscale restaurant in Cairo's Marriott Hotel. "Egyptians, in general, are moderate…Even if Israel is a devil in the eyes of some people, many Egyptians said that this devil was given a chance (by Hamas)," he said. "I'm glad people have seen what happens when these people are in charge of decisions. They go and hide underground, or in Damascus, or in the embassy of Iran in Beirut and others get killed." But the prolific author and leading secular liberal thinker in the Arab world also warned that the latest conflict must be followed by a political settlement because there is no military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. "We have seen the results of the wars in 1948, 1956, 1973 and many clashes afterwards," said Heggy, who is also an international petroleum strategist. "We haven't seen any of these wars bring the conflict to an end. The end of the conflict will be a political arrangement." If there is a political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he believes it will be very close to the Arab peace initiative, which he described as a fair and rational solution. The initiative, first proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, offers collective Arab recognition in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the territory it occupied in the Six Day War, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem. The latest conflict between Hamas and Israel could either be a setback for the Arab peace initiative or it could be turned into a positive step forward, he said. "I believe if we work hard, if all parties - Egypt, Israel, America, Europeans and the Palestinian Authority - work hard to create a new reality after the war, it could be a step forward. If we leave things on pause, as many things were left on pause for many years, we will create a very negative status quo," he said. Today, moderate Arabs as well as all Israelis, excluding very extreme religious Israelis, have one enemy called Sunni fundamentalism, which is al-Qaida, and Shi'ite fundamentalism, which is Iran, Heggy said. The more the Arab-Israeli conflict is pending, the more the historic conflict is left on the shelf, "the greater their chances are," he said. "We need fewer playgrounds for the two fundamentalist groups," he said. "They love to have grounds, which are Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. We need to sort this out. We don't want to leave open grounds for them." Had America succeeded and established a secure and democratic state in Iraq, al-Qaida would not have come to play there, he said. Heggy added that he was among a minority in the Arab world that accepted the right of Israel to exist and accepted the idea of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state coexisting side by side. "I don't see the Jews or the Israelis as black boxes, where you can't see what's inside," he said. "When you know about the other side, you deal with different wavelengths, and when you don't know, you assume it's a black box, and you can hate, and you can only deal from a distance," he said. "The difference between me and the average Arab with regard to issues about Judaism and Israel is that I know a bit about these entities," he said. But he also believes that if slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had been able to deliver all he wanted concerning peace with Israel, many opponents of peace from both sides would have jumped on board "because they would have seen people busy building, not fighting, dealing commercially, instead of invading each other." Teggy said he personally feels quite proud of Egypt's latest efforts in bringing about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Despite the flurry of Arab meetings and summits held on the Gaza conflict, it was mainly Egypt - and particularly President Hosni Mubarak and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - who worked systematically until a cease-fire was achieved, and is now working on a broader truce agreement with the support of leaders of the free world. "The Doha, Riyadh and Kuwait summits are nothing but blah, blah," Heggy said. "The only work was done in Egypt. I don't say this because I'm an Egyptian. My books are full of criticism of the political life of Egypt. Omar Suleiman and his boss have done extremely well. They were civilized, they were competent, they were efficient and they got things done." Heggy, echoing sentiments in Cairo, had particularly harsh words for Qatar, which he called "destructive" and compared to an immature boy with a lot of wealth who isn't sure quite what to do with it. When Heggy travels to the country and looks out from his hotel in Doha, he sees a strange hodgepodge of players from rival camps, all in the same vicinity. Doha is home to the largest American military base outside the United States, which monitors all US military activities in the region and even conducts maneuvers on how to protect Israel in the event that it is attacked by Iran, he said. But also near the base is the headquarters of Al-Jazeera (which he calls "the factory that produces the pan-Arabist and Islamist slogans"), the Israeli trade office that Qatar opened in 1999 and then closed during Israel's three week Gaza offensive, and the office of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, the Doha office of Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the largest Syrian intelligence office outside Syria are not far away. Such a mix of players in Qatar indicated that the country wanted to be involved but was not working according to any sort of structure or plan, he said. "It's very dangerous. They are playing with petrol, the matchbox, TNT, and they are all putting it all together, and they are simply not educated and they might one day ignite it," he said. Qatar organized the controversial Doha summit on Gaza, which was boycotted by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and attended by countries that support or are sympathetic to Hamas, such as Iran, Syria and Sudan. But the minute Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, landed in Kuwait for the Arab economic summit, he took aside the emir of Kuwait, Sabah IV al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, for several minutes and apologized for having organized his own summit only 72 hours before the Kuwaiti summit, Heggy said. "He's a boy; he's playing," he said. And "he doesn't mind saying 'I'm sorry.'"