The Carter Center was one of three international organizations accredited to witness Egypt’s historic presidential election last week. Its mission was led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Two days before the official election results were announced, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous interviewed President Carter in Cairo about the landmark vote. “It’s unprecedented to have presidents elected before the president’s duties are defined, but I think it can be done successfully, and I believe it will," Carter says. He adds that the Carter Center will be in Egypt "for the writing of the constitution and even for the referendum, where the Egyptian people can decide to approve or disapprove the drafted constitution." He also discusses the role of the military in post-Mubarak Egypt and the Camp David Accords. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The Carter Center was one of three international organizations accredited to witness Egypt’s historic presidential election last week. Its mission was led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Two days before the official election results were announced, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous interviewed President Carter in Cairo about the landmark vote, the role of the military in post-Mubarak Egypt, the Camp David Accords, and more.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: President Carter, welcome to Democracy Now!
JIMMY CARTER: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What is your assessment on the first round of the presidential elections in Egypt?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, we can’t make a final judgment about the entire process, because the Carter Center’s role here has been limited. We were approved quite late. We could not make comments to the press. We didn’t get a chance to see the preparation of the ballots and the voters list and the conduct of the campaign, the qualification of candidates. So we were excluded from all that. But we did see the voting days, and we did see the counting of ballots in the polling stations. But we were also deprived of a right to witness the final tabulation in Cairo when all of the ballots were brought together. So, with that limitation, I think that the Egyptian people would agree with us that basically it was a good process and that there was no allegation that I have heard that any problems in the voting was designed to hurt one candidate or to help another candidate. So, overall, we’re pleased.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Do you think you can have a freely elected government under military rule, especially one that’s viewed by many as an extension of the former regime? Some of the young revolutionaries have boycotted for this reason.
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I met with some of those leaders after the election day was over. And I think they are now preparing to listen to the two candidates, whoever they might be in the final count, and to try to present their demands or their requests to the candidates and then decide whether or not to participate in the runoff election and which candidate to support. And my guess is that no matter who the two final candidates are, when the election commission makes its final decision, that both of those candidates will be eager to have the support of people who did not support them in the past—women’s groups, very liberal groups, Christians, young people and so forth. So, it’ll be a good process, compatible with democratic elections everywhere.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, you met with the generals. Are you confident—
JIMMY CARTER: Yeah.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: —that the military will hand over full authority to a civilian president?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think they will have some demands. I recommended in the press conference that they might look at America and see what we do and treat the military that way with the election—elected officials—that is, a president and a congress having unquestioned domination over the military, but with the military treated with respect, which we do in my country—I was in the military for 12 years myself—and with the budget and laws that relate to the military and the foreign policy established by others, not by the military. So those kind of things, I think, will be orchestrated, if not immediately, then over a period of a very few months or years.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The United States backed the Mubarak regime for years, with $1.3 billion in military aid. Last year, Congress added a restriction on that aid that conditioned it on the State Department certifying that Egypt’s military rulers are making a successful transition to democracy. Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued a national security waiver to bypass that restriction and to continue military aid to Egypt. This came in the wake of the NGO crisis in which U.S. NGOs were raided. This came in the wake of continued crackdowns on protests that left protesters killed and many more wounded, with thousands of civilians put on military trials. What are your thoughts of this continued U.S. policy of funding, providing military funding to the Egyptian government despite these kinds of abuses?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I believe that the human rights violations that have occurred in the past will be alleviated in the future. I don’t think there will be abuses like there have been under a military dictatorship. So I would guess that the United States would look with favor on the new government in Egypt as honoring human rights more than in the past. So I would like to see the United States and Europe and Arab countries and the World Bank and the IMF be generous with the grants and loans to Egypt. Egypt has suffered a lot during this revolutionary period, with a loss of tourism and those kinds of things. And I think it would be in the best interest of America and the rest of the nations in the world to see Egypt have a strong economic system.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, who’s widely expected to be in the runoff, has said that he would reexamine the Camp David Accords that you brokered in 1978, and saying that Israel has not fully respected the agreement. What are your thoughts?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I’ve talked to him at length about this. And you have to remember, there are two parts of the Camp David Accords. One was a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and that cannot be changed without approval or agreement with Israel. And I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think that that would be violated. The second part, though, was the rights of the Palestinians. And the rights of the Palestinians have not been honored, as agreed by Israel, by Anwar Sadat in Egypt, and by me in the United States. And in the past, I think President Mubarak has been willing to accept this attitude by the Israelis and the Americans—that is, not to give the Palestinians full honor of their rights. And I would guess that in the next Egyptian government, both the president and the parliament, that they will be much more attuned to Palestinian rights. So, the peace treaty will be kept intact. There will be more attention by Egypt now on Palestinian rights.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal yesterday here in Egypt. You discussed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and it was reported that he brought up the U.S. continuing to block reconciliation talks. What are your thoughts on U.S. policy towards Fatah-Hamas reconciliation?
JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think the United States in the last few years has basically deferred to Egypt to negotiate between Hamas and Fatah. And I presume that this is a situation that will continue. The Carter Center is not bound by restraints. We meet with whom we choose, and we choose to meet with Fatah and with Hamas, and with Israel and with Jordan and with Lebanon and with Syria and with Egypt—everybody that’s involved in the future peace for Israel and its neighbors. So, in my opinion, it’s good to see Hamas and Fatah come together. They plan to form a technocratic government. They will not comprise representatives of Fatah or Hamas. And I think that government will prepare the Palestinian community for future elections.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Gaza has been under siege for many years now by Israel, but also by Egypt. Last year, the foreign minister of Egypt, after Mubarak’s toppling, said he would open the Rafah crossing. It was reopened somewhat, but not fully. What are your thoughts on Egypt’s policy towards Gaza?
JIMMY CARTER: In the past, it’s been too restrictive. And my hope is it will be opened up in the future so that there’s easy access to and from Gaza from Egypt.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Finally, President Carter, do you have hope that things can actually change in Egypt? This has been a very badly mismanaged transition. Many say we’ve put the carriage before the horse. There’s been a lot of abuses over this transitional period. Do you have hope that things will actually improve for the better?
JIMMY CARTER: Yes, I do. The one thing that was a departure from previous plans by the Egyptians was the writing of a constitution before the presidential election. That proved to be impossible, because the first constitutional assembly was not constituted fairly. It was not representative of the Egyptian public. And the parliament and others decided we need to make a new list of the hundred people that will write a new constitution. So it will be done after the presidential election. I don’t see this as a fatal mistake. It’s unprecedented to have a presidents elected—presidents elected before the president’s duties are defined, but I think it can be done successfully, and I believe it will. The Carter Center, by the way, we intend to be here for the writing of the constitution and even for the referendum, where the Egyptian people can decide to approve or disapprove the drafted constitution.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: President Carter, thank you very much.
JIMMY CARTER: I enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jimmy Carter in Cairo with the Carter Center. He was observing Egypt’s first-ever competitive presidential election. He was speaking with Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
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