ROME «Minister Bonino, you have a deep understanding of Egypt and its political dynamics. What is going to happen to the democratic process launched by the Arab Spring? And how will the Muslim Brotherhood react to being backed into a corner by the military?
«We never laboured under the illusion that the democratic transition in Egypt would be a linear process. I continue to be convinced that over the long-run it is inevitable, even though at this moment we are witnessing a dramatic involution. The use of brute force by the army against its own people is unacceptable, and is to be condemned in no uncertain terms. The Muslim Brotherhood has a specific responsibility. I am referring to the government’s incapacity over the past one and a half years, and of its desire to take over every institution and power without even minimal consideration of the part of Egypt that, while not secular in the Western sense of the term, believes in a secular State».
Is it possible to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, as Premier Beblawi would like?
«The consequences would certainly be devastating; it would mean sending them underground, with the subsequent risk of empowering extremist groups».
You have repeatedly said that the Middle East is in the throes of an internal Sunni struggle. Since Egypt is a powerful catalyst in the entire region, what could the point of re-equilibrium be?
«If Egypt descends into chaos, the backlash of its instability will ripple throughout the region, of that there is no doubt. Egypt is an essential element in the regional geopolitical power-play, just look at who is offering aid to the Al Mansour regime and the generals. What is under way is a geopolitical struggle within the Sunni family involving, on the one hand, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and on the other, Qatar and Turkey. And this is having dramatic reverberations in Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Lebanon, while also fuelling tensions between the Shia and Sunni galaxies».
Is it possible that terrorism could flare up again, as it already has in Sinai?
«If the Islamist component does not find political representation, the risk is that the more extremist components will opt for terrorism, and not only in Sinai, where an alarming Jihadist presence persists. Obviously, the risk to Europe cannot be ruled out».
Is it true that the majority of Egyptians view the “Nasserisation” by Al Sisi favourably, and authoritarianism as the outcome of the Arab Spring, because order and authority are the history of modern Egypt?
«Certainly, the authoritarianism of former governments cannot be considered a model by anyone who cherishes democratic values. A portion of the Egyptian population, despite being in a minority, has never lost its nostalgia for “non-democratic” regimes that ensured privileges to the few at the expense of the many. It is true that the economic crisis, social instability and rising crime, which have indeed made the lives of millions of people very difficult over the past two and a half years, could have convinced many Egyptians that trading democracy for stability and security was worth it. But that is not the path to take».
Would an Egypt re-Nasserised through violence be stable, in any case?
«I repeat, I think that a return to the past, to Mubarak’s authoritarian model, is not in the cards: the genie has been let out of the bottle and will not be put back in. Egyptian society as a whole has matured since Tahrir Square despite the painful price it paid. But certainly the path to democracy, no matter how long and rocky it is, must be not be strewn with human rights violations. All the Egyptian political forces on the ground – the interim government first and foremost – are duty-bound to show responsibility and contribute to compromise. That goes for the Muslim Brotherhood also, who must stop inciting demonstrations that are becoming more and more violent, with religious and sectarian connotations against Copts and places of worship».
What can the European Union do in concrete terms? Is what today’s Le Monde calls for – the suspension of aid – feasible? Will you be discussing this at the next foreign ministers council meeting?
«I would like to say that we sought mediation for weeks, unfortunately to no avail, so as to avoid the mass killings that later took place. There is no doubt that now we must seriously reconsider Europe’s stance toward Egypt, and not only Egypt; relations need to be “reset”. A few days from now, all 28 of us will meet to discuss this. But we must understand that Europe’s assurance of commitment is no guarantee for success: the world has become multi-polar by now, and the leverage Europe has to work with – €500 million in aid to Cairo –, and the U.S. too for that matter, risks looking like peanuts compared with what Qatar or Saudi Arabia have at their disposal».
You have proposed a weapons embargo. Won’t such a measure seem belated, now that the army has given the police a free hand to shoot into the crowds, who have even been machine-gunned from helicopters?
«Italy has suspended any sort of weapons supply since June, even before the coup took place. We will urge the other members of the EU to follow suit».