Boutros Boutros-Ghali: 'The Power of the Muslim Brotherhood Has Been Exaggerated'

Elisabeth Braw wrote this article for Metro

Boutrous Boutros-Ghali presided over the United Nations at an extraordinarily turbulent time. Yugoslavia fell apart and wars erupted across the Balkans. Hutus butchered Tutsis in Rwanda's genocide. Boutros-Ghali, former Egyptian foreign minister, was the first Arab, and first African, to serve as the UN Secretary-General.

But Boutros-Ghali is also Egypt's preeminent political insider. He rose to prominence under the country's legendary leader, Anwar Sadat, and was closely involved with the Middle East peace process. (Hosni Mubarak became president after Sadat was assassinated in 1981.) Boutros-Ghali, who belongs to Egypt's Christian minority, is a grandson of former Egyptian Prime Minister Boutros Ghali. He has written two memoirs: Egypt's Road to Jerusalem (1997) and Unvanquished: A U.S.-U.N. Saga (1999)

Metro met with Boutros-Ghali for a lengthy interview in Paris; he recently returned from Cairo. His office walls feature politicians' standard photographs -- and modern art.

By Elisabeth Braw, Metro World News

What should happen next in Egypt?
I hope that the plans announced by the Army will be respected and that we'll have three categories of elections: elections to the Parliament, the Upper House and the presidency.

What will happen if the military doesn't keep its promise of holding elections?
They will keep their promise. I can say this with complete confidence, because I've been involved with Egyptian politics for 50 years.

Is the Muslim Brotherhood a dangerous movement or the legitimate voice of the people?
They're the same thing as trying to create a new fascist party in Italy or a new Nazi party in Germany. If someone tried to form a new fascist party in Germany, it would be forbidden by law, and that's the way it should be. But the power of the Muslim Brotherhood has been exaggerated. It's a European obsession more than an Arab reality. What happened in Egypt wasn't planned or done by the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the interpretation in the West is that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over in Egypt now.
The reaction in Europe is connected to Europeans' anti-Islamic attitudes. Because of their anti-Islamic attitudes, Europeans believe that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over.

You belong to Egypt's Christian minority. Do you see a danger of increasing religious violence in the Middle East?
No. Christians and Muslims have coexisted since their religions were founded. In Egypt, Christians and Muslims live in the same villages, even buildings. Sure, attacks on Christians happen. But the world pays so much attention to the Middle East that these attacks become a big deal. If the same attacks happened in Karachi, nobody would care. In Karachi, one week a Sunni mosque burns, the next week a Shia mosque, and so on. Thousands of people have been killed, but nobody cares. Or Somalia. It has been in a state of anarchy for 12 years, but the UN and the international community don't care. So, there's a double standard, which is good for my country: Egypt receives special attention.

Because the Euro-centric worldview still dominates. We still think the Mediterranean is the center of the world and don't realize that the center has moved to the Indian Ocean. When I was Foreign Minister I sent one of my officials to Lagos. He said, "Why, what have I done?" I said, "Lagos is more important than Copenhagen." For the same reason, nobody was interested in the Rwandan genocide.

Did you predict the uprisings?
They were impossible to predict. Some people are suggesting that foreign countries or groups are behind the uprisings, but I don't believe that's the case.

So international Islamist networks were not involved?
In Cairo you see very few anti-Western and anti-Israeli slogans. Conspiracy theories are the basic argument of poor countries that can't find solutions to their problems.

Which problems will Mubarak's successor face?
One of Egypt's mistakes is that we've paid too much attention to Iran, Syria and the Palestinians at the expense of Africa. Africa is more important for Egypt in the long term. Why? Because of water. 85% of the water in the Nile comes from Ethiopia, and 15% from Lake Victoria. African countries will have move from rain-based to irrigation-based farming in order to feed their growing populations. They'll use water from the Nile. Egypt hasn't paid enough attention to this.

So Egypt's main problem in the future isn't the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but water?
It's a mistake to spend so much attention to the Middle East and so little attention to Africa.

Why did France, with its close connections to North Africa, fail to predict the uprisings?
Everyone failed to predict them, including the United States, Britain, Russia and Italy. The main reason for uprisings is poverty and unemployment among young university graduates. Our universities are working in the old system and pay more attention to European history and geography than more relevant topics.

So Europe isn't relevant to Middle Easterners anymore?
Europe is no longer the center of the world. This is very hard for European countries to accept. So is the fact that major problems, like disease, migration and climate change, can no longer be solved at the national level. National sovereignty no longer exists. In the future, two or three superpowers, or international organizations, will have most of the power.

Why has French diplomacy failed in connection with the uprisings?
Why did they perform so poorly in Iraq? I can give you many examples of failed French diplomacy. French public opinion has simply not accepted that France lost World War II and declined as a world power. The Americans won, but in France nobody likes to mention this. They present WWII as a French victory.

Where does this leave Europe?
Just look at Libya. Now the EU is worried about an exodus of Libyans to Europe. This is a problem that can't be solved at the national level.

In 20 years, will democracy be flourishing in the Middle East?
What is democracy? Africans have more confidence in their tribes than in their governments. The same pattern is true in Arab and Asian countries. In these countries, democracy doesn't work by holding general elections. A better way of implementing democracy is including representatives from each tribe in the government. Everybody talks about democracy, but is it democracy when people don't know their government?

So elections are not crucial to democracy in these parts of the world?
Certainly not! This is the mistake the West makes. Elections mean nothing; just look at Rwanda before the genocide. What these countries need are institutions that look after people's needs.

Could elections even be detrimental?
If elections have the same objectives as elections in Europe, they'd certainly be detrimental. When Tribe A represents the majority of the people, it will always be in power. Tribe B, C, and D will be third class.

When Gazans voted Hamas into power, the West responded by imposing sanctions. Wasn't that suppressing the will of the people?
Hamas, like the Muslim Brotherhood, is the equivalent of a fascist party. It's based on a particular religion, which means that people in other religions are second-class citizens. The mistake was holding elections according to the Western system.

So, in order for democracy to work in the Middle East, religious parties should be banned?
Look at Iran. If religious leaders make decisions for everybody, it's not a democracy. This applies not only to the Islamic world, but to different ethnic groups as well.

So what should happen now in Egypt is that elections should be held, but without the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Yes, unless there is, within the Muslim Brotherhood, a group of moderates who accept co-existence with other groups. Groups like these make a lot of promises, but once they reached power they change their minds.

What will the Middle East look like in 20 years?
In 20 years Egypt will have a problem. We'll have more than 100 million people living in 5% of our country's territory. We'll have a problem of lacking water resources. Those two problems need a lot of attention. Should we encourage Egyptians to emigrate? Europe's population is getting older, and Europe will need many foreign workers. Islam as France's second religion is related to the demographic explosion in countries like Egypt. Nobody mentions this problem. They're just interested in what will happen tomorrow in Cairo.

So in 20 years Europe will have millions of Egyptian guest workers?
Oh yes. There are already one million Egyptian workers in Jordan and many more in the Gulf countries.

Would a mass exodus of Egyptians be good or bad news for Egypt and the host countries?
If the government has enough imagination to maintain relations with Egyptians working abroad, it will be a good thing. But if Egyptians working abroad become Brazilian, Canadian or another nationality, and their children don't even know where Egypt is, then it's a loss to Egypt.