Arab League leader says nations shouldn't fear revolts

Inspired by demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters are taking to the streets in Bahrain, Iran and Yemen.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CAIRO - As Arab League ambassadors convened for an emergency meeting Monday, the organization's secretary general said he had told the group that "we should not be afraid or concerned'' about revolts now sweeping the region.

It was in some ways a surprising message from the leader of a 22-nation group that embodies the existing order. The Arab League meeting at the organization's headquarters was the first since the toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, two important member states.

But the leader, Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, is making plain that he no longer sees his role as being to defend the status quo.

"I conveyed the message that the winds of change are sweeping our societies," Moussa said in an interview Monday. He urged a "feeling of optimism that this is the future,'' and said that in day's session the Arab League ambassadors had "saluted'' and "greeted" the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Moussa is steping down from his position as early as next month. He said in the interview that there was a "good possibility'' that he would seek to become Egypt's next president, once constitutional changes are put in place to allow for open elections.

"Let us see how a private citizen like me can use the constitution and move on to be a candidate or to be an active private citizen,'' he said. A "new Egypt needs new people,'' he said, "but with a touch of experienced people.''

Moussa remains unapologetic about his past. During a decade as foreign minister in the 1990s, he was a member of President Hosni Mubarak's government but not his party, he said in the interview. He said he had maintained a "constructive relationship'' with Mubarak until the final days of his regime, but had warned both publicly and privately that young people, who make up a disproportionately large share of Egypt's population, could not be ignored.

"I told him that there are difficulties; definitely he knew," Moussa said of Mubarak. "I don't think he was unaware."

With Egypt now controlled by the military, under what amounts to martial law, Moussa expressed faith that a group headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was committed to putting Egypt on a path toward democracy.

"I have no reason to doubt their intentions," Moussa said of military leaders. About Tantawi, an official he knows well, Moussa said: "He's a man who has a deep feeling about Egypt and about how Egypt is a country that should be respected and should move on. Now he is in the driver's seat and I trust this will be his intention and his policy."

Moussa said he had watched the youth-led demonstrations from the ninth-floor balcony of the Arab League headquarters in downtown Cairo, overlooking Tahrir Square, and he set he had met with a slew of protesters. He said the broad cross-section of ages, classes and religions that was represented among the protesters should also be reflected in a new Egypt.

"I believe the role of the youth, educated young people, should be promoted in any new government," he said. He said that the leaders of a new Egypt should pursue democracy and reform, as well as recognize "that we are living in the 21st century and no other century.''

Moussa said it was important that Egypt honor its international agreements and remain a steadfast ally with the United States, as equal partners. "We have major interests with the U.S." and "the U.S. also has major interests with us and the Arab world," he said. "I'm against those that believe the U.S. is an automatic enemy."

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