Amr Moussa remained Secretary-General of the 22-nation Arab League for over 10 years, earlier serving as Egypt’s Foreign Minister for 10 years and a diplomat for over 40 years. His rejection of Israeli positions on Palestinian issues inspired a hit 2001 Egyptian pop song called ‘I hate Israel, but I love Amr Moussa.’ Later, he was credited with playing an influential role in the Arab peace initiative with Israel in 2002 and onwards. One of the few statesmen in the Middle East respected by the Arab street, who at the age of 74 stood as a Presidential candidate in Egypt’s 2012 elections. He sat with GVS Editors for an exclusive interview at the sidelines of Salzburg Forum, near Vienna.
GVS: It has been over 17 years since 9/11, do you think that Muslims will have to live in fear forever?
Moussa: Since 9/11, young Muslims in the United States have been portrayed as misguided young people for perpetrating attacks. However, their way of thinking – not only them but all of us – needs to be reconsidered; we cannot express our views and our position by bombing, attacking, etc. It is our responsibility to change the way we act on our religion, the way we are living and the way we are thinking.
GVS: You have been in key positions in the Arab world, including the Secretary-General of the Arab League; is a ‘united’ Muslim world that can speak with one voice on the international theatre a mad man’s dream?
Moussa: It is a dream for all of us, the sane, the mad and the humane. The Muslim world will have to stand up to defend Islam and Muslims; in fact, to defend is not to say we are not like that, but to talk while staying patient – with the mullahs, with the sheikhs and with the imams.
The time has come for all of us to reform – in our way of thinking and expression – in order to live in the 21st century as Muslims, we have to live up to the challenges of it without pretending to live in the 18th century. We are living in a different era now, especially after 9/11.
GVS: So, why is Muslim unity on the international stage so elusive?
Moussa: The Arab league is one thing and the Islamic community, another. The Arab league is not a religious organization, it is a regional organization and there are responsibilities that come with it. But, we also have to understand our responsibilities as Muslims.
As a Muslim, I feel that I have a responsibility to defend my religion – not by shouting or denying but by putting forward ideas, principles and with expressing views. We have to link up with the century we are living in!
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GVS: If we extrapolate beyond the Arab League, a 57-member OIC exists which is believed to be very dysfunctional. What are your views on the workings of the OIC?
Moussa: I believe this is due to the confusion over what is the OIC’s role. Is it a religious organization, a political organization or just an international organization. The OIC was established after the attack on the Masjid al-Aqsa to defend and highlight our attachment with the Mosque and our responsibilities as Muslims to protect our shrines.
Now, take the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, what has the Islamic world done? This is the responsibility of such organizations.
GVS: Why hasn’t the OIC and the Muslim world done anything signify cant to deal with such issues?
Moussa: I believe because of the same confusion I just mentioned and because every country is too busy with their own problems, for example, the effects of the so-called Arab Springs and the different interests and policies of Muslim countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Arab world, and in the former Soviet Republics.
These countries haven’t sat together to chart a road to the future, to discuss the different interests they have– three or four of us will have to come together, make decisions and stand firm on them. What happened and what is happening in Burma, is really a shame. We haven’t lived up to our responsibilities and to the challenge of such crimes committed in Burma.
GVS: On many occasions, you have defined the Palestinian problem as the main problem. Yet, the Muslim world has not been able to come on a united front regarding the issue and in fact, their position is increasingly becoming more and more fractured?
Moussa: The Arab-Israeli conflict is a very specific and concrete issue about the state of Israel and the Arabs. It is the occupation of the Palestinians, denying them the right to self-determination, the right to have a state, and the issue of Jerusalem. It is very clear as to how important it is for Muslims and Christians – and also the issue of Jerusalem which is the capital of the state of Palestine.
The issue of Kashmir is not as burning as the issue of Palestine you have not been that vocal. Of course, I hope that India and Pakistan can get a deal on this issue, in accordance to the International law and the UN resolution.
This is the issue; occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights – it is a simple thing. We don’t have any historical conflict with Israel or the Jews. In fact, in our constitution in Egypt, we treat Islam, Christianity, and Judaism as the three main religions whose rights and interests have to be protected by law.
Israel and the Palestinian question is the main problem for us; even though we are all busy with Iraq, Libya and Yemen, we know that these problems will come and go because there will be solutions. Perhaps you heard some voices in America, Europe, and Israel which say that the Arabs are not interested in this issue anymore. That is completely false and untrue.
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GVS: These voices point out that Iran, which has a helpful position on the Palestinian problem is actually perceived as an ‘enemy’ by the majority of the Arab states.
Moussa: We have problems with Iran, but I don’t want to use the term ‘enemy’. I stand firm against some of the Iranian policymakers and high officials who talk about their influence on the four Arab capitals [Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and Sana’a] and that the Arab capitals cannot work without Iran. I cannot accept that.
GVS: There was a time when you said something to the effect that ‘Iran should be an honorary member of the Arab League.’
Moussa: I presented a proposal in 2010, submitted by myself as the Secretary-General of the Arab League to the summit held that year. It said that the time has come for us to consider a neighborhood policy which would take non-Arab countries in West Asia: Iran, Turkey, and Israel; in Africa: the belt south of North Africa; and also, in the Mediterranean, which brings more than 40 countries into the fold of the Arab League and their policies.
And I said that this will be a forum called the Arab Neighborhood Forum, but with two exceptions. One for Israel, where it had to cooperate and accept the Arab initiative along with establishing a Palestinian state.
And the other for Iran, but not by the same token as Israel. Iran has problems; they talk about their influence and their role in certain Arab countries, and they make statements about rebuilding the Persian Empire. We cannot accept this. Their regional policy is to challenge Arabs who are the majority of this region.
GVS: This year in May, when President Trump drew out of the Iran- US nuclear deal, two countries welcomed it – one was Israel and the other was Saudi Arabia.
Moussa: I believe Israel welcomed that, but not Saudi Arabia. The fact is that when this deal was negotiated, Arab countries were neither invited nor properly briefed. I expressed – in my capacity as the Secretary-General of the Arab League and afterwards also just as an Arab citizen – that this should not have been dealt in such a way.
This, of course,e happened during the Obama administration, unfortunately, the Gulf countries were not invited to the negotiating table, neither were they invited to be official observers of what was going on. The Arabs should have been either involved or invited to have a formal consultation on issues that were negotiated with Iran since it had to do with the future of the region.
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GVS: This situation also affects the politics in the non-Arab Muslim world, such as Pakistan where Shias and Sunnis are affected by the Arab-Iranian conflict.
Moussa: I would like you to know that the issue of Shia and Sunni is destructive for us Muslims. We, in Egypt, hate to talk about the divisive language of Shia and Sunni. Don’t forget that in Egypt, the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, then Crown prince of Iran married Fawzia, the sister of King Farouk of Egypt, in 1939.
Nobody spoke about the groom’s Shia sect or the bride’s Sunni sect because this is not how we feel in Egypt. But to use the Shia-Sunni feud and to feed it in order to divide the Muslim world, to divide the Arab world and to divide a country like Iraq and affect the stability of countries like Lebanon, in my opinion, is the wrong thing to do.
GVS: In a country like Pakistan, it has been felt that the Pakistani government has always supported the Arab world on the Palestinian issue. However, on a parallel level, the Arab world has not shown the same support for the Kashmir cause.
Moussa: It’s not a question of trading support, it’s a question of justice for the Palestinians. I cannot say that Pakistan has supported the Palestinian cause and there is a prize for that.
As for the issue of Kashmir, it is still kind of left to the UN and there is no active war going on. In all honesty, I don’t accept the logic that Arabs should support Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir just because they support the Palestinian cause.
GVS: Why aren’t Arabs as vocal on the issue of Kashmir?
Moussa: The issue of Kashmir is not as burning as the issue of Palestine you have not been that vocal. Of course, I hope that India and Pakistan can get a deal on this issue, in accordance to the International law and the UN resolution. So, we take a position according to the UN and international law. But, the Palestine issue is very different.
GVS: Pakistan was expected to contribute troops militarily on the Yemen issue in 2015. And when the Pakistani Parliament decided not to, many Arab countries were hurt, straining Pakistan’s relationship with them.
Moussa: This is an issue that has to do with bilateral relations. It wasn’t the Arab world that was negotiating, and it wasn’t an issue that was put before the Arab League, instead, it was a bilateral issue between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and its allies. Hence, this has to remain in that context.
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GVS: Do you think that if Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and even the Palestinian authority have recognized Israel, Pakistan should also move forward and recognize the state of Israel?
Moussa: Well, I hope that you would continue to support the Palestinian question and that you will continue to oppose the playing havoc with the Palestinian rights. And I think, especially after the recent law that has been adopted by the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] about considering the Palestinians as second-class citizens, should not be accepted by any of us.
I don’t intervene or even venture to intervene in the decision- making the process in Pakistan. But Pakistan is known to be in the forefront of supporting the Palestinian question, the Palestinian rights and also for establishing peace. So, you have to root for those who really cooperate to establish peace.
As I told you, the problem is simple with Israel as compared to other problems because the question of withdrawal of occupation is concrete – there are concrete resolutions by the UN, concrete initiatives by the Arab world, concrete events that have happened between Egypt and Israel and between Jordan and Israel.
And you will see, in the Middle East when this happens, you will certainly take note of it and make proper decisions. But until this happens, I don’t want to intervene.
GVS: So, what do you think of the new government in Pakistan?
Moussa: Let me seize this opportunity to extend my best wishes to Pakistan and the new leadership. Pakistan is a dear brother country to us and we wish you well. And I wish the new Prime Minister well in pulling Pakistan out of its problems.
I hope also that the upcoming meeting with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of the State of USA and the high officials of the new team in Pakistan would produce something positive for Pakistan and take things in the right direction.
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GVS: There is a really tense relationship between Washington and Islamabad, and the new government has inherited those tensions. How would you advise the Prime Minister Imran Khan to deal with them?
Moussa: I don’t think that I’m in a position to advise Prime Minister Imran Khan, but I’m in the position to wish him luck!