BEIRUT: Egypt’s envoy to Lebanon said his country would not support a military strike against Syria unless there was a plan for the “day after” the assault and clear responsibility was established that the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
Ambassador Ashraf Hamdy also defended the clearing of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo protesting the ouster of former President Mohammad Morsi, while condemning the loss of life and urging the Brotherhood’s inclusion in Egyptian political life.
The envoy condemned recent car bombs in Lebanon and urged Lebanese factions to end any interference in the crisis in Syria.
“Striking Syria without having a scenario for the day after of what you want is creating havoc without any reason,” Hamdy said in an interview with The Daily Star.
“Egypt still sees that the Syrian crisis cannot be solved militarily,” he said. “The only way out in Syria is a political solution. We do not want a repetition of the Iraq experience.”
Hamdy was speaking as Western powers appeared to be gearing up for a military strike against the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad, after accusations that government forces used chemical weapons against civilians in a suburb of Damascus, allegedly killing hundreds.
Hamdy said whoever used chemical weapons should be punished, but urged the international community to wait for the results of the United Nations-led investigation.
“You have appointed an international institution to investigate the issue, give it the chance to prove which side is responsible for this,” he added.
He said a strike against Syria risked a wider conflagration in the region.
“The military solution in Syria is very costly, and will have a very high cost on the stability of the region for years and decades to come,” he said.
Hamdy condemned the recent car bombs in the southern suburbs of Beirut and Tripoli, urging all Lebanese factions to avoid involvement in the war Syria and instead to build up support for state institutions such as the Army, to protect Lebanon and its borders, and to resolve political differences.
“Intervention by any Lebanese faction in the internal conflict in Syria is not a correct decision,” he said. “ Lebanon is too small to decide the path of the Syrian crisis.”
He said that Lebanon would be the first to feel the repercussions of further violence in Syria, adding that importing the violence into Lebanon risked dividing the country into sectarian “cantons” if it escalated. “That would be the end of Lebanon,” he said.
Hamdy, who was in Egypt earlier this month, also sought to clarify the events surrounding the recent violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo.
The Egyptian military forced the Brotherhood-backed Morsi from power after unprecedented street protests demanding his resignation.
Then, earlier this month, security forces forcibly cleared sit-ins organized by the Brotherhood at Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares in Cairo, killing hundreds.
Hamdy said the military takeover was not a “military coup, but a popular coup,” describing the protests that led to Morsi’s ouster as a second “wave” of revolution and saying the army merely fell behind the will of the people.
He said Morsi’s fall followed a period of “extreme tension” in Egyptian society caused by the Brotherhood’s attempt to monopolize power and impose a new way of life on Egyptian society, which he said is traditionally moderate and accepting of other traditions and cultures.
Hamdy condemned the spilling of blood in the attempt to clear the sit-ins, but said the Egyptian authorities faced no other choice, saying the price of clearing the protests “can be accepted” to prevent further civil strife in Egypt.
He said that policemen were also subjected to violence and accused the Brotherhood’s leaders of incitement to violence in speeches at the sit-ins, arguing that this meant they were no longer peaceful.
“The speeches that were delivered in Rabaa were ... calls for murder,” Hamdy said.
Still, he insisted that the Brotherhood could not be excluded from political life in Egypt. “There must be reconciliation, there must be dialogue and a correction of the path,” he said. “It must be an inclusive process that does not exclude any part of Egyptian society, including the Islamist movement.”
Hamdy blamed the polarization in Egypt on incitement by the media and a lack of desire to compromise by both sides on the Egyptian political divide, saying Morsi’s concessions to the opposition were almost invariably too late, mimicking the mistakes of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011. “Whenever he would present initiatives, it was always [be] too little too late,” he said.
The leaders of the opposition accused the Brotherhood of relying on a majoritarian style of governing that excluded other political groups, and blamed them for rising religious intolerance against minorities in Egypt.
Hamdy said the Brotherhood should consider internal reforms and re-evaluate the group’s experience in power, but said it was wrong to demonize the movement.
Hamdy urged regional states including Lebanon to support Egypt in its fight against terrorism.
Earlier this month, a letter from Egypt’s foreign minister was delivered to his Lebanese counterpart explaining that Egypt was suffering from “acts of violence perpetrated by outlawed armed groups that threaten stability and security.”
Hamdy clarified that this was in reference to armed groups that attacked the Egyptian military in Sinai.
He also broached the recent release of Mubarak, saying his release proved Egypt’s judiciary was not politicized.
He said the release was legally sound, but that Mubarak should have been prosecuted for causing Egypt’s decline throughout his three decades in power.
“If I am going to prosecute Hosni Mubarak, I am not going to prosecute him over his villa in Sharm El-Sheikh or gifts,” he said. “I will prosecute him for being the reason behind Egypt’s predicament after 30 years of his rule: bad health care, bad education, bad infrastructure, and the decline in Egypt’s position.”