On Tuesday night at Senate House, SOAS University, Middle East Monitor (MEMO) hosted an evening with former Egyptian presidential candidate Abdallah Alashaal. Alashaal founded the Free Egypt Party after the 2011 revolution; he is a former Egyptian diplomat with knowledge of Gulf, Arab, Islamic and African affairs and is currently head of the National Council for Human Rights.
The event, chaired by Professor Bill Bowring who is a barrister at Field Court Chambers, focused on the past and future of Egypt and Palestine's relationship. Bowring stated he had a long time interest in peace in the Middle East after visiting Palestine in 1988 at the beginning of the first Intifada. Prior to this he had "no interest whatsoever in international law, human rights or humanitarian law, but being there, in those circumstances, really opened my eyes." In May 2011, Bowring and a group of colleagues, housing lawyers specializing in eviction, visited East Jerusalem and published the report 'Enforcing Housing Rights: The Case of Sheikh Jarrah' on the results of their fact-finding mission.
Alashaal described the topic of the debate as "chronic," because all generations are talking about peace in the Middle East. He described Israel as "intentionally trying to exclude the Palestinians from the equation," and stated his assessment was that Israel doesn't want peace in the normal sense, it wants "life for the Israelis and death for the Palestinians." He went on to say that if Israel wants peace, it should negotiate with the Palestinians according to legal terms, that is the Security Council resolutions and international diplomacy from the last 30 years." He stated that "the crux of the matter" is the settlement policy and without an end to this there cannot be peace in the region.
According to Alashaal, during the revolution the protestors in the street were not talking about Israel or the United States; they were talking about the despotic regime of Mubarak, who was of course complicit in the conflict. He said that if Mubarak was still in power the Palestinian question would have been liquidated and that the former President was a strategic ally of Israel. For this reason he addressed the people of Israel, "who are innocent," and appealed to them to work together with others and collaborate for peace and democracy. "The Palestinians are an organic part of this region" he added.
On the subject of Syria, he said that if Syria falls, it will not be victorious for the people and that the struggle is not between the people and the regime anymore. There are many different elements involved – Iran, Israel, the USA – and "All forces are now engaged for their own agenda." For this reason, "We need to make a distinction between the regimes and the country. The country is permanent but the regimes are clothes and they are changeable. The interests of the country are permanent and sacred, but the regime is just a tool to serve. If it is good it can be maintained, if it is bad it should be removed. For all regimes this principle should be established."
The following day at Chatham House – an independent policy institute based in London – Alashaal spoke on the issue of human rights in the region. He said that post-revolution Egypt faces three main challenges. The first is the Islamists who were initially imprisoned and are now in power. He said that they are misunderstood by the "foreign quarter" and a lot of what is reported about them is manipulated. Second, is the youth, who "spearheaded the revolution," but have now been left behind. "They wanted all their dreams to be elected immediately" he added. The third challenge, he said, is that a convincing policy is lacking in Egypt.
He explained that a collection of signatures that intend to remove President Mohamed Morsi from office are growing, but that it was important to remember he was democratically elected into power and that this should be respected. He said that "The opposition is wasting its energy and losing its street credibility right before the parliamentary elections." Though the people are calling for the army to come back and fight the Muslim Brotherhood for them, "Morsi should stay in power until he's finished. Criticizing him is ok, but removing him is not."
Alashaal said the security issues present in the country today date back to Mubarak, and without security Egypt cannot have a strong economy and a thriving tourism industry. He explained that torture and therefore "Repeating the atrocities of the past is rejected" and human rights can be established through the government and through the people. He stated that Egypt want to abandon military rule, which is entrenched, and work to reform the legacy passed down to the council, which declared the 2010 elections (in which Mubarak won more than 80% of the vote) as "democratic and transparent."
He said that it was time for Egyptian society to experience freedom and human rights after many years of suffering.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.