Nabil Ismail Fahmy is an Egyptian diplomat, from a family with a long diplomatic history. His father, a former Egyptian foreign minister, Ismail Fahmy, resigned during the Camp David negotiations in 1979. Nabil Fahmy served as foreign minister following the June 30 revolution and played a major role in resisting the isolation imposed on Egypt after the ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi.
He previously served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, and in August 2009, he was the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.
Daily News Egypt sat down with him for a wide-ranging discussion, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity and flow.
How do you see the situation in Syria after the agreement for a 30-day ceasefire?
At the beginning, we must admit that the world has become more accepting of violence against peoples. The international community has become inhumane. Syria is totally destroyed and those killed in the past few years since the beginning of the events there are more than those killed in all Arab wars with Israel.
Here, I talk about all sides; everyone bears the guilt. What happened over the years in Syria is a disgrace to everyone.
As for the ceasefire agreement, I strongly support it. And I must emphasise that it is an opportunity for serious and constructive dialogue that must be used to begin to resolve the crisis.
What caused the delayed approval of the ceasefire for more than a day in the UN Security Council?
The reason for this is the disagreement between the pro-regime and pro-opposition camps over the definition of who the terrorists are.
There is agreement that the ceasefire does not apply to fighting terrorists such as the Islamic State group (IS) and the Nusra Front. But there is disagreement over the other factions fighting the regime. While one party may regard them as terrorists, another considers them to be mere opposition factions. There are money and double standards at play here.
There was something resembling a Russian victory in Syria when Putin visited it a short while ago. Was this a temporary victory, lost to the other parties?
There is no victor in Syria and there will be no victor. Whoever claims a victory overlooks many facts. For the Russian side, it played a positive role in Syria when it restored the balance on the military’s side and also tried to find this balance on the political path.
And where does the political path go?
In any case, it is no longer acceptable to go ahead with the political process. The path of Astana, which resulted from the Sochi Conference—which included Russia, Turkey, and Iran—is not enough, and perhaps has a certain advantage at a certain stage.
But what should be done now is a three-level dialogue. First, a serious Russian-American dialogue on what is acceptable to both parties. In parallel, there must be a serious regional dialogue between Arab countries on the one hand and the stakeholders that intervene legally and illegally in Syria (Iran and Turkey) on the other.
Then, in parallel with those tracks, there should be a serious Syrian-Syrian dialogue for the original stakeholders in the matter.
We must not forget that the basis of conflict is the role and sovereignty of democracy, so the decision must ultimately be purely Syrian.
Without that, there will be no solution and no one side, or party, can resolve the conflict alone.
Of course, the solution is difficult, but the situation remains difficult and impossible.
Syrians are dying while major countries are arguing about a chapter, a point, and a word!
What about the Turkish intervention in Afrin? Were they obliged to intervene?
I do not see Turkey as being forced to intervene, but it is clear that Turkey is taking advantage of the imbalance in the Arab situation, to trample what it considers to be connected to Turkish territory, an ambition that ends with its desire to restore the glory of the Ottoman caliphate.
But in any case, it is totally unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
What about the Iranian role in Syria?
The Iranian role in Syria cannot be seen in isolation from its role in the region as a whole. I generally support dialogue with Iran, but this dialogue must be preceded by confidence-building steps by Iran, especially on the security side.
Iran must start this with Saudi Arabia with measures that restore a minimum of confidence to start a dialogue that includes Syria and others. Iran now claims to have the upper hand in six Arab countries, and this is dangerous and unacceptable.
What about America’s role and its escalation against Iran?
America is not really showing a very high interest in Iran, as reflected in the statements of White House officials. America is currently busy with itself. If there is an American obsession, it is that of Trump himself, who is now facing state institutions.
Is there a movement towards American institutions isolating Trump or not enabling him to continue in office?
Indeed, there is strong opposition to him even amid the large blocs that elected him. Crises pursued him. Approval ratings reached the lowest records.
Do you think the American-Russian conflict is developing?
In the US, most institutions have a belief that Russia is the number one enemy, and this creates a crisis between the presidency and those institutions. During Trump’s campaign, his position on Russia was more positive than those institutions. He is now accused of coordinating with Russia during the presidential election. This is a very serious accusation, which, if proven, could have him ousted.
Yet, a new trend in America is emerging and highlighting the upcoming main danger: China. These matters are more important to the US than the Middle East.
Can you see a direct American intervention in the region?
I do not think so. Despite all that is said, the US is not threatened by the events in the Middle East. A direct intervention from America is not on the table so long as Israel is not in danger.
Even for Iran and the upcoming visits of a number of Gulf rulers to America, I do not think they will lead to direct confrontations and may be limited to the tightening on Iran in countries where it has intervened such as Yemen, Syria, and others.
What about the so-called deal of the century?
The so-called deal of the century is not clear. I do not expect that under those circumstances a final solution to the Palestinian issue will be passed. The situation is not appropriate on the ground. I only see that the expected outcome is just a kind of entertainment for the Palestinians. Of course, this has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause.
But what I fear so much is that the Palestinian issue will be traded in exchange for solving the situation in Syria as part of an agreement among a group of countries.
Everyone asks about China and its role. How do you see it?
China is coming but slowly. This is its approach. It has become the largest creditor to America and sometimes occupies the top position in the world. Economics will inevitably force it to play a political role to protect its economy. China has begun to deploy its forces in international waters after piracy started in Somalia. However, China does not tend to play an imperial or colonial role.
How do you explain Western media attacks on Egypt in the recent period?
Anyone who thinks that everything we are going through is a matter of a grand conspiracy is exaggerating, and vice versa. Not all attacks are rightful. We must not lose sight of it completely and not believe it all. It is certain that there are forces that do not want the emergence of a strong Arab country in the Middle East to become a model celebrated by others. There are also countries and political currents that always oppose us and strengthen the negative role against us.
How do we face it?
The first thing is to have great confidence. Egypt is a country that is already ancient, with a great civilisation and history.
We have held on during the past years. We must continue to endure, because independence in decisions does not come by talking, but rather, by the ability to compete in all areas. We are far behind. How come we import iron and steel from Saudi Arabia and Turkey after previously being the number one exporter of these products?
How can we strengthen our position in the region and the world?
Through expanding participation with others and with ourselves. The shrinking of the Egyptian political role is always harmful. Egypt has always been the source of all ideas and currents. We must not expand in dependence on foreign aid. Sometimes the increase in aid imposes certain opinions on you. We must continue to build ourselves economically and diversify our external relations. We have already begun to do so. Egypt is a country with a nature that forces it to improve its relationship with all parties.
What does the world expect from Egypt?
Egyptian leadership is not always economic, but intellectual, and political. The world is waiting for our initiatives and us moving towards resolve the crises of the region. I get asked a lot abroad: what do you want, as Arabs, in the future? Do you want a region divided on a sectarian basis or are you waiting for a new Sykes–Picot Agreement? We must look ahead to the future.