Julie Webb-Pullman reports

Mahmoud Zahar on Rafah, the Free Trade Zone and more

After this morning’s event I took up the Rafah issue with another attendee, Dr Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas co-founder and politburo member.

Dr Mahmoud Zahar

“Firstly, we need to make it clear that we appreciate and understand that President Mursi has many internal troubles, and he is concentrating on his own country’s national and global interests. Perhaps we were a bit too optimistic. The old regime is still running many things, like security, and no change is possible yet. We need to wait, and not pressure them,” he told me.

“The Free Trade Zone was not an official proposal, it was a Muslim Brotherhood project, but they started talking about it in the media.”

What about the closure of the tunnels we have been reading about, I asked. Is this going to create shortages in Gaza?

“The only tunnels being closed are those being used for illegal purposes, so we are happy about that, the ones being used to bring in drugs, weapons and for other illegal purposes. Egypt will not allow the closure of tunnels to such an extent that it causes food shortages,” he replied.

“1500 people daily are passing through Rafah now, it is open seven days a week. There are still some restrictions, though – the list of names of people banned from crossing is still reliant on Fatah information given to the old Mubarak regime, and the list has to be gone through one by one because many people have similar or the same names – sometimes even babies are banned. The names have to be confirmed, or cancelled, and many have been, but Egyptian security has other priorities than updating the lists.”

The events in Tahrir Square last Friday indicate that despite the lip-service paid to democracy, many are reluctant to accept the results, and subsequent decisions taken by majority governments. Does this suggest that the notion of democracy itself needs attention?

“We need to distinguish between the instruments or models of democracy, and its conceptualisation. In the Arab world we are moving from dictatorships to elected presidents, and building our own models will take time. We are not just adopting a US model, we are developing our own. It is not just how we choose our representatives, but also how we punish wrongdoers, how we reward people who succeed in doing well, the sort of administrations we create to enable public participation and to end corruption. President Mursi has achieved a lot of successes already. Sudan and Syria are much bigger problems for him right now than Palestine,” Dr Zahar said.

How do you see Egypt’s role in relation to Syria?

“ Egypt has a big role to play as the peacemaker in Syria, with the help of Iran and Turkey. I think the current situation between Turkey and Syria will finish. Turkey and Iran and Egypt are all seeking a political solution, and that will enable the Syrian regime to be replaced with a democratic administration. Recovery will take time.”

So the Rafah situation will not change quickly?

“We need to speak to the people around the President, he is surrounded by groups from the old regime who don’t understand, or don’t want to change. We need to wait.”

ends

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