Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q60 Mr. Hamilton: At the moment,
if I am not mistaken, Likud only has 14 seats in the Knesset.
Is that right?
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: At the moment,
but the most recent poll that I read on Ynet, an Israeli internet
service, said that it was going to get 31.
Q61 Mr. Hamilton: That is still far
short of a majority, though, is it not? It would need 61 for a
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: Yes, but it will
get it. If you look at the composition of the parties, it will
not have any problem forming a coalition.
Q62 Mr. Hamilton: Finally, if we
assume that within the next 12 months the likelihood is that the
Olmert Government collapse and there are fresh elections and if,
according to your analysis, Likud becomes the leading party with
Netanyahuwho knows what will happen to the Labour party?what
does that say about the possibility for a future peace agreement
with the Palestinians, assuming that a Government of national
unity are formed and survive within the Palestinian Authority?
Is not the real problem in Israel and the Palestinian territories
the dire lack of any sort of leadership, and leadership towards
a peace agreement? Should not the Israelis be looking beyond this,
and thinking as the public thinks, that Iran is its main enemy.
We know what President Ahmadinejad has been saying about Israel,
so is it not time that Israel made peace with the Palestinians
and Syrians, perhaps? It needs the leadership to do that.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: It would need
the leadership and it does not have the leadership, so at the
moment it (Israel) feels that it is alone and under menace from
Syria, from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa
brigades, and all the different militant groups as well as Iran.
As you know, fear of Iran is certainly something that is dealt
with all the time. The question is not so much whether Israel
wants to make peace with the Palestinians because, as Simon said
earlier, 75% of the population still wants a two-state solution;
the question is how we get there. There is a tremendous lack of
I will take you back a step. You mentioned
Labour. Labour primaries are scheduled for 28 May. The key runners
for the party are Peretz, the current Minister of Defence. If
he wins, that is likely to split the party because a lot of people
are very unhappy with his conduct; then you will see a split Labour,
and you know what that means. The other two contenders are Ehud
Barak, former chief of staff and former Prime Minister and Ami
Ayalon former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security
service and author of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh peace principles; he
is progressive and someone with vision.
Barak also carried Israel to Camp David;
hopefully lessons have been learned and next time he will do better.
Will it (Labour) win the next election? That is unlikely, so in
terms of a timetable you are looking at Labour getting its act
together with a peace platform. Meanwhile, it is a question of
containment and management. I do not think the national unity
Government in Palestine will last more than six months, maximum
a year. So you are looking at a whole set of steps to manage the
situationthis is the optimistic viewbefore you move
into a conflict resolution phase from a conflict management phase.
Q63 Chairman: Did you want to say
Dr. Hollis: Only that in a piece
of work that I did with an Israeli colleague, looking at the spectrum
of opinion among Israelis about a deal with the Palestinians,
we came up with five different substantial views. I think you
could divide the population similarly, with 75% wanting one or
another version of a Palestinian state. But crucially not the
same one. One of those versions involves the Palestinian state
being more Jordan than it is Gaza. That is a hunk of the West
Bank would be attached to Jordan, and Egypt would have to pick
up the impossibility of the Gaza strip and helping it function
somehowthat kind of thing.
You can get the Israelis to hypothesise
any number of solutions to their conflict with the Palestinians.
I think it would need even more than a strong leader to galvanise
them and deliver any one of those. It is not surprising therefore
that they sometimes look to the Arabs to provide the strong leadership,
and they look back fondly on when Sadat went to Jerusalem. If
only an Arab leader would emerge that would make that kind of
gesture. There can be no solution unless there is a cohesive effort
with all the principal players involved: the United States, the
Europeans backing the Arabs involved to back up rewards for Israel
as a result of conceding on statehood, and on and on. If we are
to wait for an Israeli leader to solve the problem, we can forget
Chairman: Sir John Stanley will ask about
the Israeli-Palestinian situation and then we will move on to
the region and the British role.
Q64 Sir John Stanley: Can we go for
a moment from the theory of the peace process to the reality of
the land process, because for 80-plus years it has always been
about land and it still is, ultimately, about land? Can you tell
us from the information that you have whether the process of settlement
expansion, new housing developments, outpost creation, land transfers
from Palestinian ownership into Israeli ownership and the squeezing
out of Palestinians from East Jerusalem has been halted or whether
Dr. Hollis: It continues. If you
look at the territory on the ground including the barrier, the
route it takes, the major highwayssome with six lanesthat
carve through the land with embankments on either side, the confiscations
that have taken place to build and install Israel's security arrangements
and then you consider the settlement expansion, which is pretty
much the expansion of the main settlement blocks, and the arrangements
that are being made in the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem that make
nonsense of any kind of city life, it is understandable why the
Palestinians wonder what will be left at the end of the day for
them to call a state.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: There are 102
illegal outposts. Prime Minister Olmert has not dismantled one
since he came to power. The Road Map calls for the halt of settlement
expansion and the dismantling of illegal outposts. That is (Israel's
obligation under) phase one of the Road Map. The Quartet goes
on to demand certain conditions of the Palestinians, but I have
not seen a demand made recently of the Israelis. I think that
it is of utmost importance. You are talking about the policy of
Her Majesty's Government. That is a parallel that is often made
in the Arab world. Every day, I read op-ed pieces that are published
across the Arab world, including Palestine, that say, "Why
are demands only made of the Palestinians and not of Israel?"
That (Road Map) is the plan on the table at the moment. There
are 121 official settlements throughout the West Bank and 102
illegal outposts and construction within those continues, as Rosemary
Q65 Mr. Horam: I would like to look
at the situation rather differently. How are the foreign policy
initiatives of the British Government and Israel perceived by
the Middle East?
Dr. Bar-Yaacov: In Israel and
Mr. Horam: Yes.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: There is a mixed
view. The troop withdrawal from Iraq is encouraging some of the
more optimistic people in Palestine to think that the UK is breaking
ranks with the US and that the Bush-Blair Catholic wedding is
no longer so holy. That is an encouraging sign because the US
is not liked by Palestinians. It is seen by the Palestinians as
completely partial to Israel. Therefore, there is an opportunity
Q66 Mr. Horam: Has the Bush-Blair
theme been very damaging?
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: It has been very
damaging in the eyes of the Palestinians and the exact opposite
in the eyes of Israelis. That is why I asked if you were talking
about Israel and Palestine. In Israel, the press is full of reports
of British academics making anti-semitic statements and boycotts
and that goes on. There is a lot of that in the Israeli press,
more so than one realises here. That is another angle of it. It
is not just the politics; it is also attitude towards Israel,
so the view is mixed.
Dr. Hollis: Over the past decade,
Blair's premiership has made a difference to informed Israelis'
perceptions of Britain. They no longer assume that the Foreign
Office is automatically on the side of the Arabs. What I would
say, however, is that with their political instincts, they can
work out just how much influence Blair has, and therefore the
British Government have, to make a difference. He was riding on
a high for the first few years, including through 9/11, when the
Israelis felt that at last people outside would understand their
circumstances. However, partly because Iraq has gone so badly,
there is a perception that maybe the Brits are losers and maybe
they are not so astute in the way in which they handle the region;
maybe they fail to get anything terribly useful out of the relationship
with the United States.
On the Arab side, I personally found much
more hostility than I ever used to have to endure, just by virtue
of being British. Although I know that there is no question but
that the Governments in the region will deal with visiting Members
of Parliament and official representatives of Her Majesty's Government
with absolute protocol and politeness, and will urge the British
to understand their point of view and tailor policy to it, in
civil society there is a level of contempt for the British now.
It used to be possible to live beyond the Balfour declaration,
although you were constantly reminded of it. Now there is a sense
that the British are back with the new imperialists, carving up
the region. There is a perception that the only reason to go into
Iraq was for oil and the pursuit of material interests. There
is absolutely no buy-in to the notion that British foreign policy
is driven by values or the export of values. That is considered
In Egypt last year, I was asked by a little
group of intellectuals and journalists to explain why Tony Blair
had decided to take Britain into war in Iraq. After I had finished
a 15 or 20-minute explanationthe best explanation that
I could offer of exactly how all this came aboutthey trashed
it completely and said, "Nonsense. It was not for that at
all. It was for the oil and power, and Israel." Repairing
Britain's image in the region or establishing any significant
influence there will take a while.
The last nail in the coffin was Lebanon
last year. Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister,
were not seen to be quick enough to lament the civilian loss of
life. Never mind that they were correct that you cannot necessarily
implement a UN resolution for a ceasefire immediately. To suggest
that, because of that, there was nothing they could do was to
give away the information that they really hoped that Hezbollah
would take a beating.
Q67 Mr. Horam: Do you agree with
that assessment from Dr. Hollis?
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: I think that the
Government was quite seriously damaged by their position in Lebanon
and by not calling for a ceasefire early on. That caused them
tremendous damage. I think it varies: I was focusing on the positives
earlieron the withdrawal from Iraq rather than the decision
to go to war in 2003, but the Palestinians are very wary. To reiterate
what I said earlier, it is more about the closeness of the UK
to the US and people's total lack of time and appreciation for
US foreign policy.
Mr. Horam: That is a pretty bleak assessment
from both of you.
Chairman: Before you ask another question,
may I warn our witnesses that we are expecting a vote, or possibly
two, at 12 minutes past Four? Could you ask your question quickly,
Q68 Mr. Horam: If you were in Margaret
Beckett's or Tony Blair's shoes, given what you both just said,
what would you be doing?
Dr. Hollis: About what?
Mr. Horam: About Israel and Palestine.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: First and foremost,
they should support the formation of a national unity Government
and try to put themselves in the Palestinians' shoes, both those
of Hamas and those of Abbas. They tried a certain policy with
Abbas and it failed. Why did it fail? Why does Hamas have as much
support as it does? They must come to terms with the fact that
Hamas is there for the duration. Hamas is not going to go anywhere;
it is part of the fabric of Palestinian society. So how do we
work with it in order to stabilise Palestine, because a stable
and prosperous Palestine is in the strategic interest not only
of Israel, but of the whole region and the UK Government. The
focus, first and foremost, should be on Gaza. Gaza is the flashpoint
at the moment.
In the West Bank, the Israelis are in control.
I am not suggesting that that is a good thing. But it is under
control to a certain extent. There was the raid into Nablus where
Hamas is setting up an executive force (this week). But Gaza really
should be the main focus and Gaza is pretty separate at the moment
from the West Bank. We are talking about an economic plan, a political
plan and a security plan and they should all go in tandem. The
security situation is a key to everything so the question is how
do you deal with security sector reform. How do you deal with
the fact that you have two armed factions?
Hamas's executive force is a force that
the Interior Minister set up because it (the Hamas government)
was not recognised and it wanted an independent force. It is an
armed force of at least 6,000 men. You also have the Ezzedin al-Qassam,
the military wing of Hamas, which is well armed and you have Palestinian
Islamic Jihad, which is a faction that does not recognise the
Mecca agreement and does not want to be part of the national unity
Government. It is fully supported by Iran, with a philosophy that
the more Israelis it can kill, the merrier. The question therefore
is how you support the national unity government to be strong
enough to clamp down on Palestinian Islamic Jihad and groups like
You need to have a very broad agenda on
the Palestinian front and to focus on how to revive the economy.
This an urgent matter. Peter Gooderham spoke about the temporary
international mechanism at length. The TIM gives money to employees.
It is not an economy. It does not create jobs. It is a sort of
SOS mechanism. You need to deal with the whole job creation issue.
Then you have to deal with Israel. You have to make certain demands
of Israel in order to make Israel a partner for the Palestinians
to negotiate with. The starting point is the Road Map and the
There are a number of plans on the table
to work with and, as Rosemary said, they are about reaching out
to public opinion. The ideas of two-state solutions are worlds
apart. What are the borders? You have to really invigorate the
peace process with a lot more force: intellectual force and people
on the ground. The people want peace. They do not quite know how
to get there. The Israelis and the Palestinians are not going
to get there alone. There is no way that they will get there alone.
They need the UK Government's help and it is urgent.
Dr. Hollis: Nomi has given us
a huge long list of all the things that the British Government
have got to do, but I do not think that the British Government
can do all those things. I would also caution that the British
Government have tended to help with security in the past and they
may want to stop doing that.
Chairman: Can I ask you to be patient
with us? We will go and vote and then we will come straight back.
I am not sure whether it is one or two votes; we hope that it
is only one. If it is two it will take half an hour; if it is
one it will take 15 minutes. The meeting is adjourned until then.
We will be back as soon as possible.
Sitting suspended for a Division in
Chairman: I apologise for the delay.
We were told that there would be two votes, but then of course
there were not. The Opposition obviously know much better than
the Government what is going on.
Dr. Hollis, you were in the middle of a reply
when we adjourned. Please conclude what you were saying, and then
I will bring in Dr. Bar-Yaacov too.
Dr. Hollis: Basically, I was saying
that, of the long list of things that need to be done and that
Britain might dothe list that Nomi gave usBritain
ought to be careful about rushing in to do practical things to
help in the way that we have done so far. Tremendous work was
done by the British in helping the Palestinians to develop a prospective
legal framework that structure the economy and that they could
put on the negotiating table when they entered detailed negotiations
with the Israelis. Ever since the beginning of Oslo, the Brits
have helped with the training of Palestinian security personnel.
As of the Gaza disengagement, they again sent a team to help with
the training of Palestinian security personnel. It was the Brits
who sent people to oversee the detention of Palestinians in Jericho
who were wanted by the Israelis, after the siege of Arafat's headquarters.
I was simply saying that the British, given
their problematic reputation in the region today, had better be
careful, in the ways that they help, that they do not end up appearing
to be deputy to the jailer if you like, and facilitating the occupation
rather than helping to end it. If that happens, then Brits will
be in the firing line.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: I just want to
clarify my answer to the question that John Horam posed to me,
which was what were Her Majesty's Government to focus on? The
United Kingdom is part of the EU, and the EU is part of the Quartet.
It is very important to keep the Quartet as the main vehicle through
which initiatives are funnelled. All the issues that I mentioned
are very much the Quartet role. The UK should push these initiatives
through the EU and ensure that everything that I said before is
dealt with contemporaneouslyI can go into details about
the economic plans, security plans and peace plans. One of the
mistakes that was made in the past within the Quartet was that
the US dealt with security and the political process unilaterally,
meaning that they acted without consulting or showing any regard
for the EU, the United Nations and Russia. It is very important
to work on those three heads together: on security; the economy,
and the political process, all in tandem. Otherwise, they do not
work. It is a very delicate issueI fully agree with Rosemary
on thatbut these initiatives are very welcome and very
urgent, and they should be pushed through the EU.
Q69 Chairman: Can we move on? We
have spent quite a lot of time on Israeli politics. Do you think
that the Israeli foreign policy approach, given their fear about
Iran, should involve a new initiative to the Syrians? We know
that there have been secret talks going on between Israel and
Syria for two yearsthat has just been revealed. Do you
think that there is any mileage in an Israeli-Syrian leg of a
comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, or is that just
impossible at the moment?
Dr. Hollis: The Israelis must
be careful that they do not hang themselves to dry, by getting
into something that is part of a comprehensive scheme for engaging
all the players in the region. As of yesterday, we know that the
Americans are prepared to go to this round table meeting of all
the major players about the situation in Iraq. That seems to be
a positive development, because in Iraq, just as in Israel-Palestine,
you probably will not get a solution unless all the stakeholders
have got buy-in. Otherwise, you will leave a spoiler outside.
So the reason to try to get Syria in the tent, on Iraq or on Israel-Palestine,
or on one in order to get the other, is to stop Syria being spoilers
from the outside. However, in order for such an approach to work,
ideally not only the Americans, the British and the EU members
will all be conscious of where they are trying to take matters
and pulling in the same direction, but so will most of the regional
players. The trouble for Israel is that the value of an Israeli-Syrian
dialogue about their bilateral relationship is not very great
unless it is part of a regional initiative or dynamic.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: Israel has nothing
to lose by talking to Syria at the moment. Earlier this week,
the Israeli Cabinet had a very long and detailed briefing about
Syria, among other subjects, from the Israeli security agencies,
at which the military intelligence held a very different view
on Syria from that of Mossad, the external security service. Some
members of the military intelligence service were of the view
that Syria is interested in genuine peace negotiations with Israel,
and that Israel should pursue that. The problem is that the Israeli
Government is very weak at the moment, and a weak Government cannot
afford to take that sort of step, so I do not think that it is
going to happen.
Q70 Sir John Stanley: Do you think
that there are circumstances in which the Israelis could resume
a shooting and bombing war in the Lebanon? If so, what would those
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: It is highly unlikely
that Israel will resume a war in Lebanon. The circumstances (which
would lead to war) would be if Hezbollah were to launch attacks
into the heart of Israel, which we know that it has the military
capability to do with weapons such as the Zilzal, Fajr-3 and Fajr-5.
At the moment, Hezbollah is concerned about asserting its power
internally in Lebanon, and it is highly unlikely that it will
launch an attack on Israel. Under no circumstances would Israel
launch an unprovoked attack on Lebanon, so I do not think that
that is going to happen any time soon.
Q71 Chairman: Can we move on to some
of the other regional players. Is the Mecca deal a sign of an
ongoing struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence not
just on Israel-Palestinian issues but on wider questions? Is the
engagement of the Saudis to which you have referred part of a
wider sense that the Sunni world has to assert itself, otherwise
the Iranian influences will grow among Saudi's neighbours in the
Gulf and elsewhere
Dr. Hollis: That is very much
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: I think that it
is part of it, but I also think that they started playing a role
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by coming up with a peace
proposal, later known as the Arab initiative, in 2002. This role
is not new; it is not just in the light of Iran's expanded nuclear
power programme. Part of the picture is that they want to minimise
the Iranian influence, but they also have a genuine interest in
seeing peace and stability in the region.
Dr. Hollis: In the mix, there
are concerns about their own internal stability.
Q72 Chairman: But that is also linked
to what is going on in Iraq.
Dr. Hollis: Exactly.
Q73 Chairman: How many links are
there between the internal Iraq conflict and the wider Middle
East peace process? Is it impossible to get solutions to the wider
issues while the ferment is going on and the situation is deteriorating
Dr. Hollis: The only way to understand
what is going on in the region is to take a 90-year chunk of history,
and to look at the break-up of the Ottoman empire and the introduction
of a state system. That was the first time that such a system
had existed in the region. Prior to that it was millennia of empires
and city states. In dividing up the Arab world into separate states
and introducing the Jewish homeland, a competitive system was
set up. Since then, the leaderships in the different Arab states
have had to establish legitimacy and, naturally, given the nature
of the system, have done so in a competitive manner with each
other. Who is going to stand up to the imperialists and chuck
out the British or the French? Who is going to be the better socialist?
Who is going to be the better defender of the Arab cause against
Israel or, indeed, against the Persians, which is something that
Iraq was pushing for? Who is going to be the better Muslim or
defender of Islam and the holy sites, and on and on?
In that mix, there was an assumption that
the Sunni would be on topSunni or secular, and that is
very secular, as in Syria. The disintegration of Iraq has thrown
the whole system, the whole mosaic, up in the air. Personally,
I think that the struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians
can be understood as unfinished business of the state-building
project that began in the 1920s. Now, because of Iraq and the
potential for the collapse of Iraq as it has been for the last
90 years87 yearsyou have all these issues back up
for grabs. What is necessarily the logic of a certain split that
more or less follows what the UN said in 1947 should be the split
between Jews and Palestinians in Mandate Palestine, and on and
on? So all these questions are now up in the air and if all the
guys in the region are connecting them, I think perhaps we should.
Q74 Mr. Keetch: I want to follow
on from that, Dr. Hollis, because that is a fascinating insight,
particularly on Iraq. Specifically on Iraq, earlier you heard
the Foreign Office people tell us that there were direct links
of Syrian and Iranian influence with insurgents in the south and
throughout Iraq, but they were not quite sure whether that was
sanctioned by the Tehran Government or not. What is your assessment
of that? Do you believe that there is military support, if you
like, for the insurgents? Do you believe that they are supported
by the Tehran Government or not?
Dr. Hollis: A couple of thingsfirst,
I have been to Iran a number of times, including twice last year,
and am fascinated by the Iranian-Iraqi connection. You would have
to say that the situation in the 1990swhen there was very
limited coming and going, except smuggling, on the Iraq-Iran borderwas
more abnormal than the situation after the collapse of Saddam
Hussein's Government. In other words, normality on that border
should involve a lot of interchange, with trade and family connections.
There is, after all, a minority of Arabs in south western Iran,
who are not considered as elite as Persians in the Iranian context.
When the Iraqis, especially Sunni Iraqis, want to be rude about
fellow Iraqis, and you hear this in Jordan and Saudi as well,
they say, "They've got a touch of the Persians about them."
They are going back to the Safavid empire, which was a Persian
empire encompassing Iraq. So there is this mix, this cross-over
of the populations and their religious identities. In that situation,
I do not think that you can draw a line, separate the two and
say that they have no business in each other's affairs.
Secondly, the Iranian Government are made
up of a number of power centresI would say not unlike the
US Government. You do not have the US Government on board if you
only have the White House and not Capitol Hill: we know about
the rivalries between the CIA and the State Department, and so
on. Iran has something akin to that. The only major distinction
in political science terms is, of course, that a cleric is ultimately
Imagine the investigation into the Iran-Contra
affair to find out exactly who was doing what from inside the
White House. I think that that level of investigation with the
Iranians will probably be a luxury that we will not have. In the
circumstances, it sounded pretty encouraging that the British
Government were taking on the issue and discussing it, among other
things, directly with the Iranians.
Q75 Chairman: May I throw in the
quote from the Prime Minister about the "arc of extremism"
in the Middle East? He seems to group together the Sunnis, Shi'as
and others. Do you think that that is a helpful concept?
Dr. Hollis: Only for about five
seconds. It just does not take you very far. It simplifies the
issue far too much.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: May I add one
thing? Governmentsnot just this oneoften make the
mistake of lumping everybody in one box. To return to an earlier
discussion, that is one of the mistakes made by Israel. Very few
people distinguish between Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the
al-Aqsa forces and numerous other groups. The lack of distinction
is extremely unhelpful. It is important to scrutinise separately
every group that commits violent acts.
Chairman: We now move on to questions
Q76 Mr. Purchase: The west, broadly
speaking, has regarded Egypt as a key font of information, and
even wisdom, on Middle East affairs for many years. Unsurprisingly,
when the west looks clearly at Egypt, it sees that it is not an
entirely democratic state. It has encouraged, and at times worked
quite hard, to bring about a more democratic, open and transparent
societyto make it more like ours, so we think. It has not
been tremendously successful by any measure and the continuing
difficulties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was started in
the 1920s, have not made things any easier. Do you think that,
by and large, the west's quest for an open and more democratic
Egypt has borne any fruit at all? Or should we just leave the
Egyptians to get on with it?
Dr. Hollis: I think it is worth
noting that the European Union, through its neighbourhood policy,
and before that, the Barcelona declaration, on which it is built,
has had a complex and multifaceted reform initiative under way.
The Americans launched their broader Middle East initiative as
well. The Department for International Development moved from
concentrating on Africa and poverty alleviation to work on the
Middle East and has some theories about how corruption can interfere
with development. The Foreign Office has been more straightforward
with its democracy initiative. I understand that, with the arrival
of new Labour, the Foreign Office stopped talking about good governance
and started talking about democracy. It was more up front about
With all those initiatives, there is the
problem that the westerners, as you have called us all, have not
quite made up their minds about how crucial democracy is to economic
development, or whether Government initiatives can really make
a difference at a grass-roots level. Almost by definition, it
is inappropriate to the good that you are selling. If you are
selling democracy, you do not go and do it to people. In those
circumstances, the Egyptian Government have put up a very sophisticated
resistance to all efforts to "democratise" them. The
lack of real conviction that it would serve their needs and serve
the needs of stability in the region is one reason why not much
progress has been made.
Q77 Mr. Purchase: What would you
to say to those who would encourage totally open elections? If
the Muslim Brotherhood stood in its own name, with its own party
and its own views, and got into government in Egypt, which would
not be impossible, what would you say as an adviser to western
Governments about our relations with Egypt?
Dr. Hollis: You are suggesting
a repeat of what happened in Algeria when the French, on behalf
of the west, decided: "Enough". They did not like the
idea of Islamists in power. I think that there is much to be said
for exposure to power as a more effective way of changing radicals
than excluding them from power, which increases radicalisation.
The recipe for Egypt is probably more of
some of what you have had so far. The Muslim Brotherhood did very
well in all the seats that it went for when it ran in the last
parliamentary elections. It contrasts very well with the Government
in terms of corruption: the Government were found to be guilty
of brutality and paying bribes to get people to vote in the elections.
Because of the corruption, there is enormous cynicism among the
Egyptian population that any of this means anything. There is
a huge perception that the Government are corrupt, but that does
not mean that the state is discredited, or that there is a love
affair with Islamism. A version of democracy or reform that brings
such opposition into the system but does not overthrow the system
overnight and introduce an Islamist Government, which I do not
think will happen anyway, would be a more interesting test of
the questions that you are asking than one extreme or the other.
Q78 Mr. Purchase: At another level,
the Egyptian Government clearly believe that the Muslim Brotherhood
is a real threat to national security and that its influence spreads
far and wide. If you were seeking a fifth or sixth term as president
in the belief that the Brotherhood was a growing threat, not only
to your power but to national security, how would you deal with
that? Do you believe that the Brotherhood is a threat to Egyptian
Dr. Hollis: The Egyptians sometimes
describe their state as a pharaonic state: it is all pervasive.
Egyptians therefore have great difficulty in getting their heads
around the idea of progressive reform. There is a sense that everything
is forbidden except what is permitted and that you are therefore
most likely to be breaking some law just by leading an ordinary
life. The authorities will turn a blind eye, however, in the realisation
that if they need to arrest you for something on you, they probably
can. You know that, and they know that you know that, so there
is a kind of psychological game going on.
Egyptians have enormous difficulty describing
to the likes of me how you would effect change. On freedom of
the press, for example, you might say, "Reverse the system.
Let's permit everything except what is forbidden when it comes
to the press." That is a very exciting idea. However, the
Government would interpret that as removing the finger from the
dyke, because you have will have demonstrated that in one area
at least you could operate in that way and the whole system would
not come down. For fear of experimentation that could demonstrate
that the state does not need to be as all-pervasive, they are
not having any experimentation. Up against that, I simply do not
know what to advise; I do not think that you can make much change
from the outside.
Q79 Mr. Purchase: Given that analysis,
the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is not that surprising, and
I broadly agree with you. What is the impact across the Islamic
movement of the growing strength of the Brotherhood, with Hamas
and others? Do you see them as an inspiration, as giving support
or assistance to the growing Islamic movement? Are they a major
Dr. Hollis: The Egyptian Islamic
heritage has been an inspiration across the region, and it is
considered that scholars in Egypt and the scholarly tradition
there of Islamic teaching are looked to for authority and have
been for hundreds of years, and the last 100 years in particular.
I suppose I have just introduced a parallel
for myself with Nasser. He was an inspiration in the region for
Arab nationalism. Whether that meant that you were going to conduct
your nationalist campaign on your own behalf or on behalf of EgyptI
suspect it would be on your own behalf. It is an inspiration to
Islamist movements in the absence of any other mechanisms for
opposition, but if you think that you can introduce a secular
opposition in any of the countries of the region it is too late.
So you either accept a version of Islam in your opposition movements
or you do not have more democracy.