EGYPT'S vice president, Hosni Mubarak, was chosen by Anwar Sadat to be his successor. This rare interview with Mubarak was conducted in Cairo on July 15 by George Nader, who is publisher and editor of a Cleveland- based bimonthly journal on Mideast issues called International Insight:
Q: In your opinion, what is the main block preventing implementation of the Camp David accords regarding autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza?
A: This problem has remained unresolved for 30 years now. During that time, the traditional methods were used to solve the problems, but in vain. The (1973) October War and then the courageous initiative of President Sadat changed all the world's conceptions about peace. We started moving in the peace process, for Camp David and the peace treaty, toward normalization of relations. The last step is the autonomy talks. As I just told you, it has been a 30-year problem. It's not easy to solve it overnight or in a month or two. This autonomy issue is the most difficult part of the whole process. It will take time, but we are very optimistic about reaching a conclusion for full autonomy. Although you hear "No, No, No," from (Israeli Prime Minister Menachem) Begin, we are very optimistic.
Q: The Camp David accords did lead to an Egyptian- Israeli peace. Will the accords still lead to an overall solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict?
A: The Camp David accords were the first document where Israel committed herself to solving the Palestinian problem, the first document since the problem was created. As soon as we agree to full autonomy, the military government in the West Bank and Gaza should withdraw, perhaps to some security points. The civil government should be replaced by a Palestinian government, In these autonomy talks, we will not be speaking in the name of the Palestinians. We will just be laying the main basis for the Palestinians, putting them at the beginning of the road. They should handle the problem directly with Israel. If they are not satisfied when we reach the conclusion of our talks, we must tell them we did our best and could do no more. If you agree to that, carry on. If you don't agree, go ahead, take your problem in your own hands.
Q: Why do you think the rest of the Arab world has failed to support Egypt's peace initiatives so far?
A: Believe me, most Arabs, especially the moderate ones, are not against our initiative, because all of us agree on this treaty. We never differ. Only the rejectionist camp, which contains Syria, Libya, Algeria, Iraq and South Yemen. They have very strong influence and threaten other Arab countries to freeze their relations with Egypt. But most Arab countries, excluding this rejectionist camp, have no objections to our initiative. They are fed up with this problem. They also want to live. They want to stop spending money on arms for Syria and these other places. It is a very good thing for Syria to keep this problem alive and to take money from the oil-rich Arab world.
Q: What about all the new talk of Arab unity?
A: The moderates were under pressure from the extremist or rejectionist camp for a long time. When they find there is no good served by freezing relations with Egypt, when they find they are using more and more of their money with no result, they will get fed up with these forces. The rejectionist camp is very satisfied. Syria gets millions and millions of dollars in aid from time to time. It is in the interests of Syria to keep this problem in existence. (Libya's Col. Muammar) Qaddafi, (Syria's President Hafez) Assad, Algeria and South Yemen are mini-Soviet states. They are in the pro-Soviet camp. It's as simple as that. Many other states have to support them openly because they are in the pro-Soviet camp. It's as simple as that. Many other states have to support them openly because they are small countries. The Kuwaitis have to agree with the Iraqis; they are terrified of them. But I know very well that they, like the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the Gulf countries, are not with the rejectionist camp.
Q: What should be done to approach those moderate Arab countries?
A: It's a matter of time. They are now convinced it is hopeless to follow the rejectionists. Leave them alone. They will understand everything in time, although we are sure they understand it very well now.
Q: Does the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) still represent the Palestinians and what kind of role is the PLO capable of? Do you think it should play a role in future negotiations?
A: We could speak about the Palestinians as a whole. The PLO leaders are selling themselves. There are PLO leaders and supporters on the West Bank. The moderates of the PLO are living there, in the West Bank, in Gaza. They are the people who are suffering most from the occupation, not those living outside in Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. Those people never feel the suffering of those living under Israeli occupation. The PLO cannot move without any Syrian order. They are fully under Syrian control. Only a fraction of the PLO belongs to Iraq, another to Libya. That is what the PLO is. It is used by those three countries against each other, for terrorist purposes. We deal with the Palestinians as a whole. The PLO leadership as it is today is not mature and honest enough to represent the Palestinians.
Q: We hear much about Egypt's new role in defending freedom and democracy, its readiness to give military help against communist expansion in the Middle East. Would you elaborate on this new role? How is it to be implemented?
A: It is a very complicated problem. We are ready to help any Arab or Moslem country. We are ready to give facilities in case there is a threat coming from the Soviet Union. We are also ready to give facilities to the United States to defend them -- only facilities, not a permanent base. This aid would be to our Arab friends, if they ask for our help, without any hesitation. During the October War, we had some help from the Moroccans and Iraqis.
Q: How do you foresee the future of the Soviet Union's involvement in the Middle East?
A: If the Middle East countries and the United States do not realize early enough what is going on with the Soviets' covert intervention in the area, it will be a disaster. That also includes Africa.
Q: What are the causes of the Lebanon tragedy? What can be done to restore peace to the country?
A: There is only one thing that can restore peace in Lebanon. All the foreign forces should leave, especially the Syrians. They should return to Syria. If they want a peacekeeping force in that country, it should be multinational, exclusive of Syria. The Lebanese factions then could sit around the table and solve their own problems, without any foreign intervention. The division of Lebanon is the result of the Syrian presence. As long as Syria is occupying Lebanon there will be no solution to the crisis. President Sadat warned Lebanon's people against the Syrians. The Syrian army should go home.
Q: What is the status of democracy and freedom in Egypt?
A: I think you can feel democracy yourself here in Egypt. We are still correcting the concept of an opposition. To me an opposition should be for the sake of the country and the people and not just for itself. An opposition should analyze a project, see its pros and cons, come out with a better alternative before opposing any project. Opposition for the sake of opposition will not help anybody. We have only been practicing democracy for three or four years and it's a matter of time to fully understand it. We are putting together the pieces for a mature democracy in our country. It is going to take some time.
Q: Considering the close relationship and cooperation between the United States and Egypt against the Soviet Union and communism in general, can Egypt still be considered a true and active member of the nonaligned group?
A: Why not? We have no Soviet bases here. We have no American bases. We are still a nonaligned country. We are not pro-this or pro-that. The United States is a friend which is helping us. If the Soviet Union were ready to help us in any problem on an equal basis, we would have no objections. To interfere in our internal affairs, however, to do anything or to deal with us from a superpower standpoint because we are a small country, we will not agree to that. The United States is dealing with us on an equal basis. When they are wrong, President Sadat has said, "You are wrong. We don't agree to that." The Soviet Union does not accept such a thing. They just want to give orders. We are an independent country. We can't take orders from here and there. But we are ready to cooperate with anyone, with any country, on any equal basis, without any intervention in our internal affairs.
Q: How are events in Iran going to affect the Middle East situation?
A: I don't think they will have a big affect on the Middle East. Iran is not a country anymore. If you go to Iran and want to speak to someone who could make a decision, I think you will find there is nobody capable of doing anything. there are different factions in the army. You have (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini and those around him ... the mullahs, ayatollahs and so many people and students. There is no central figure in Iran now. Its future is terrible. Iran will need a very strong leader. The problem in Iran will not be solved before a strong military coup. The common leader may be much stronger than the shah was. Otherwise the country will stay fractured.
Q: What is the future of Egypt and the Middle East in general?
A: I'm always optimistic. President Sadat is also very optimistic. As the Arab proverb goes, "As long as there is life, you cannot be pessimistic. Once you become pessimistic, it is the beginning of the end of life. Therefore, you should always be optimistic and hope for the best." We have to fight our problems. It will take time. Since 1948, every time there was a possible solution, Arabs would say no. They kept saying no, no, no, until Israel took the Sinai, West Bank and Gaza. Are we just going to sit down and listen? We started the October War to change the procedure of solving this conflict. That was followed by President Sadat's initiative for peace. He turned everything upside down. Israel was not ready for peace at that time. They were shocked by Sadat's initiative and couldn't believe it. They are well in accord since that time. The whole world listened to President Sadat's speech in the Knesset. Israel always blames the Arabs. But Sadat changed that image. We hope to reach a resolution of the autonomy issue in the future. Our friends, the Palestinians, should take the problem in their own hands and start negotiating with the Israelis. Israel is an existing state. It's established. Its existence is guaranteed by the superpowers. We concluded a peace treaty with Israel. We started the normalization process. We are dealing with Israel, as with any other country with whom we exchange diplomatic relations.