02/25/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Interview on events in Egypt with Fawaz Trabulsi, historian and professor at the American University of Beirut


written for us by

Erminia Calabrese


"In the wake of the revolution in Egypt, Israel has discovered that signing treaties with a regime is not the same as making peace with a nation." Fawaz Trabulsi is a historian and a professor at the American University of Beirut, an author of various books and a co-founder of the Organisation for Communist Action in the 1970s in Lebanon, a group whose priorities consisted of resisting Israel and bringing about social and economic reform in Lebanese society. He has also translated the works of Antonio Gramsci into Arabic.


What role will the US administration play in the transitional government of Egypt after the fall of Mubarak?

I think that at the beginning of the revolution Washington's aim was to prop up President Mubarak and his regime at all costs, at the price of a few cosmetic concessions. At a certain point, such a stance became patently untenable, so the US opted to support Omar Suleiman, and when this attempt floundered they decided to hand the country over to the army. Now America's main concern is the choice of the new Egyptian President and - even more importantly - to keep the Camp David accords in place and preserve Israeli-Egyptian relations.


Are the peace accords with Israel in danger?

No. The new regime will almost certainly not scrap these agreements, not least because they were not really Mubarak's creatures, but that's not to say that Israel hasn't lost something. Mubarak was effectively the man who detached Egypt from the mainstream of Arab politics and placed it in a position where it could become the mediator between Palestinians and Israelis. He was the man who supplied the services and signed various economic agreements with Israel, including the sale of Egyptian gas at rates below the international average and with prices frozen for a 20 year period. Today Israel is discovering that this Accord was made with a regime and not with a state... and still less with a people.


What will the post-Mubarak era be like?

We'll just have to wait and see. We can't make any forecasts just yet. The important thing is to underline the economic factors contained in this revolution, which right from the second day took the form of a wave of demands from workers, functionaries and students. For once, the political and the social aspects went hand-in-hand. People took to the streets demanding the end of Mubarak's regime, asking for freedom, a more equal distribution of wealth, a rise in salaries and free trade unions.


Tunisia and then Egypt: can we say we have witnessed the reawakening of the Pan-Arab movement in the region?

Rather than a fully-fledged Pan-Arabism, these revolutions have shown the West that the Arab world is interconnected by solid ties. These revolutions have put the spotlight on the Arab identity, while the hegemonic perspective of the media in the West was really aching to shift the focus onto Islam. In any case, this is a new kind of Arabism which is taking the place of the old ideological movement. This new phase is based on the fact that the countries that comprise the Arab world share many of the same problems: unemployment, poverty, and a generation of young people which represents almost half their countries' populations and that is both well-educated and without job prospects.


How do you judge the tendency of the international media to focus on Islam, seeing the increased power of the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, when the Middle East already has one state - Israel - created by a "Jewish brotherhood"?

Events in Tunisia and Egypt have revealed the true state of Islamic support in these nations, namely somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, and in both cases the Islamic parties wish to be part of a democratic process. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative force that now seeks to express itself through the political process and claim its rightful place within the institutional system. But there is a third force, neither Islamic nor in favour of ruling regimes, and which is not only left wing or Nasserite: this is youth, a new and largely middle class generation which no one is talking about. Whatever happens, if we are democrats we have to accept people's choices. Just as Arabs accepted that the United States had elected a criminal president like George W. Bush, so the West has to accept the will of the Arab people even if they choose Islamic representatives. And as far as the Muslim Brotherhood goes, it's being very ambiguous about its attitude to Camp David.


Do you think that the Turkish model may be imitated in Egypt and other Arab countries?

I think that this whole Western idea of wanting to see Turkey as some kind of model is based on a typically Western perception that the Islamic parties are the only viable governing option, something I'm not at all convinced of. Turkey is wealthy industrialised nation, with a strong army and strong state structure. It's not easy to offer this as a model elsewhere.


And is the Lebanon waiting for its revolution?

For Lebanon, revolution is a very big word. It's such a divided country. Its real revolution would be the creation of a new current capable of putting an end to political polarisation, between the 8th and the 14th of March. A national-popular current transcending religion. A current that accepts Hezbollah's weapons and minimises its role as a cushion-state defending Israel, and that carries out the social and economic reforms which the country so badly needs.



Christian Elia