Hungary, a business transport network, says El-Hefney
Please introduce yourself to our readers all over the world (work, service to your country, education, interests etc)
My name is Aly Houssam El-Din el-Hefny. I am the ambassador of Egypt to Hungary since September 2009. I’ve been ambassador to Mexico & Belize and to China & Mongolia. I’ve been in the Ministry of foreign affairs for 34 years. This is my 7th posting having been to different countries such as Denmark, France, Madagascar, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico & Belize, China & Mongolia, and now Hungary. My retirement date is 2013.
I must say that my job takes most of my time. I don’t have sufficient time for my family (my wife and three daughters). Whenever I1m not taking by my job, I like travelling. I’ve been to about 70 countries around the world which has given me a wonderful opportunity to understand more about people, different cultures. It is extremely enriching exercise. I like to work. As a diplomat, it’s impossible to differentiate between your personal and professional life. Your private life is public and your public life is private. So this is my only sport for now despite that I was a sportsman in my early years. I used to play football, table tennis, billiard, and volley ball.
Besides, I like watching latest movies, going to the cinema or theatre, and cinematography. I spend a lot of time on the computer. I follow news; talk show which I believe gives me the ability to keep track of world events.
Obviously you’ve served your country in many countries. Can you briefly compare those places to Hungary
Listen, I am so lucky to have served both in the “developing” and advanced” countries. It has helped me in balancing my view of the world. In fact, there is similarity for example between Egypt and Hungary; between Hungary and Mexico; Hungary and China and so on.
Despite the global economic recession, Hungary still belongs to the group of developed countries. Hungary is the number one country – based on the number of inhabitants that has the noble prize winner in the world. It has important academy, university, science, mathematics. Egypt tries to get the know how from Hungary; or to get Hungarian academician to teach our people. We focus on that aspect and we also focus on the geographic location of Hungary. You know, it is in the heart of Europe. Hungary has a central transport network.
Are you categorically saying that Hungary is better than other countries you’ve served?
Not necessarily. Each country has its own peculiarity. We can’t compare Hungary with China for instance. China for the past 25 years has been witnessing unprecedented development – comprehensive development.
Now, do you see China’s involvement in Africa as another attempt to colonise Africa like the British, France in the olden days?
The role currently being played by china in Africa has nothing to do with colonialism of any sort. In fact, Africa enjoys the on-going relationship with China. There’s economic cooperation between China and Africa. The relationship between Africa and China is full of potential. Remember that China’s population is almost half of the world population.
So you believe China is being sincere about economic partnership with Africa?
Africa-China relationship is full of potential. China has interest in Africa. They need certain commodities from Africa. We can achieve a lot from China because it has a new development which can be of reference to Africa. China is investing more and more in Africa.
What can the continent do in order to get the best from this partnership you’re talking about?
We shouldn’t allow anyone to take Africa lightly, or to play on the divisions that exist among African states. The relationship should be equitable. It should be mutually profitable for both sides as we take the Chinese interest into consideration. Of course we need more Chinese investment. We also need its know-how system which the Chinese has accumulated in the last 20 to 30 years. They could provide us with this know-how. And it should reflex on the social and economic development. We should be careful so that the relationship does not go one sided.
Highlight one particular challenge that Africa faces today
One of the challenges we face in Africa is unemployment. We are not in the position to create more job opportunity because we do not get enough overseas investment and we have not been able to implement sufficient project that would create enough job opportunity so we don’t want anybody to come and take those opportunities.
You said unemployment is one of the major challenges facing Africa. What of corruption?
Yes, corruption. And I can give you examples that we faced in Egypt before the revolution that toppled Mr. Mubarak’s regime. There are many challenges facing us such as economic, social and abuse of power by certain organs of state like the police, but also it was a revolt against corruption because corruption has reached alarming proportion in Egypt lately. It was what prompted the people to protest in the street on January 25 and forced the ex-president, Mr. Mubarak out of power on February 11. We’re focusing on many factors that will help address the issue of corruption which I believe is drawing back the clock of progress. We are trying to recover whatever these corrupted people might have accumulated (illegally) in billions of dollars. They failed to take into account the social problem of the poor people. Imagine 40% of the population are said to be within the poverty line. Poverty of course is an important issue, and corruption seems to be all over the world, and not just Egypt or Africa in general.
But the point is that there seems to be acute punishment for corrupt officials in other countries, especially China sometimes executes corrupt government officials.
For this we have to do our very best in Africa to create a state of law where we give the upper hand to the judiciary whose duty is to deal with such cases. The state has to empower the judiciary in order to curb corruption in Africa. I am afraid it cannot totally disappear but certainly it can be minimised to the extent that it will not hurt the interest of the people, especially the poor and the needy.
Briefly tell us the current situation in Egypt
We had the revolution that started on the 25th which was initiated and ignited by the young people who are part of our intelligentsia. These are people who have finished their education and have the important tool – communication tools – like the internet, face-book, mobile phones etc. It was a sporadic movement. Nobody not even themselves – the youngsters – expected their action to transform into such a revolutionary moment adopted by the people expressing the same legitimate demand to change the whole political system to oust a long lasting regime. You see, this movement does not have leadership! It does not have an organisation to represent them. It was sporadic like I said earlier. And it has been adopted quickly by the people.
As Egyptian citizen, what would you say was responsible for the revolution & what does it mean to the people of Egypt?
There was a lot of injustice. There was lack of democracy. There was violation of human rights and social demands which eventually led to the 25th January Movement and then metamorphosed into what can now be described as revolution. Unfortunately there are lot of people that were killed during the confrontation by the police especially on the 28 of January and on the 2nd of February. However the people trust the military and President Mubarak had handed over power to the Supreme Military Council. That’s the guarantee that he was going, signalling the transition period that would last about six months or more. It depends.
We are busy now modifying constitution amendment, referendum and then the general elections. And the military has guaranteed that we are going to have free and fair elections with the full observation of our judiciary which we trust and which has been quite powerful and of good judgement. After the elections, the power would be handed back to the president and then the army will go back to the barrack.
How would you describe the Egyptian people, especially the youths who helped bring down a tough regime?
They are marvellous. I am really proud of our revolution; proud of those youngsters that have provided for the first scientific revolution in the history of mankind. It is a revolution without clear leadership, organisation, but based on smart use of those new methods of communication such internet, especially face-book. I don’t think that face-book has gained such an important recognition as it did during Egyptian revolution (of January 2011). The most important is the insistence of the people that the revolution should be peaceful in spite of the confrontation with the police force and pro-Mubarak people. They organised themselves as civilised protesters and in a marvellous manner. The people organised themselves in what we call the popular committees by taking care of the traffic after the police had abandoned their duties. They ensured the security and safety in residential compounds in all the districts. Even people volunteered to clean the Revolution Square where millions of people had marched. They turned the square to what it was before by washing, cleaning, sweeping, and getting rid of the garbage. In fact, we are proud of those youngsters because they have succeeded in forcing out what people had been wishing for – for years. We are now enjoying the free democratic society. Se we want the police to come back and serve the people in a new democratic society where every citizen are treated equally. We would like to have the parliament that work for the interest of the people – not the interest of the political parties or the ruling party. We want the president that will represent the people. And we would make sure that all the legitimate demands of the people during the revolution and after will be respected.
You said Egyptians trust the judiciary. Does that trust extend to the military?
Egyptian people appreciate very much the role played by the armed forces because once they had taken over, they protected the people. The military adopted and recognised the revolution. They continue to dialogue with the youngsters. They were in constant dialogue with the media, intellectuals, and political powers.
Do the political parties now include the Muslim Brotherhood which was banned during Mr. Mubarak regime?
Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood was considered an illegal organisation, but nowadays the organisation is being treated on equal foot as other political parties. They are going to be given the same right. So we would like them to integrate the society and to play their role as one of the political components of our society.
As Ambassador, have you ever thought that the people would be able to oust Mr. Hosni Mubarak who had ruled for 30 years?
Nobody could expect what happened in Egypt. And don’t believe anybody who tells you that we had predicted that. Although there are lots of injustices, hard condition of life, inflation, low salary, high cost of medical treatment etc, nobody ever thought his oust would come in this way. At the beginning, nobody could have thought it would go as far as demanding a regime change.
Having stayed in power for so long, Mr. Mubarak must have done some good things. What would you say is/are the achievements of Mr. Mubarak?
There are a lot…there are a lot. We shouldn’t forget that president Mubarak is considered one of the most important figures during the 1973 war. He was the Chief of Air forces at that time. And this is why the late former president Sadat entrusted him with the vice president post. After the assassination of Mr. Sadat in 1981, the people voted for him to be the new president. Since then president Mubarak played an important role in changing the shape of Egypt. He did a lot for the re-establishment especially the infrastructure. I am talking about electricity, roads, communication system. He was instrumental in providing a lot of housing for millions of Egyptians. He was also instrumental for the unprecedented development of our tourism especially around the Red Sea area. He was behind the creation of a lot of industries like our export. But all these achievements have invariably widened the gap between the have and have-not due to corruption, injustice, unemployment. So this is what the people revolted against. To start the beginning of a new era based on different policies and different orientation.
How has the regime change affected Egypt and Hungarian relationship?
The relationship between Hungary and Egypt is state to state and people to people relationship. It is not regime to regime relationship. It is quite old and solid. It is a very special relationship and it will continue like that. Our relationship goes back to over 1000 years ago. From this point of view, the relationship is not affected and will never be affected. Of course, as a result of the event of January 25 to Febvruary 11, many countries advised their citizens to return home until security is back to normal in Egypt. Now things are returning back to normal in Egypt. The security has been restored so many European countries are now advising their citizens they can go back to Egypt as a tourist or resident. We are expecting the same decision to be taken by Hungary as well in the coming days. So that Hungarian tourists can start going to Egypt. Last year 100,000 Hungarian tourists visited Egypt which is a significant figure. We consider Hungary as one of the important source of tourism to Egypt. We have 2million Russians. Britan, Germany and Italy also have large numbers of their citizens as tourists to Egypt. We hope the travel advise will change soon.
Egypt being one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East, how will the revolution likely affect other African and Middle East regions?
Most populous after Nigeria…Egypt is an important country in Africa, in the Arab world and the Middle East. Whatever happens in Egypt reflects upon the African States, Arab states and the Middle East States. But I believe that even if the event in Egypt has an impact on other countries, but it will be a slight impact because such events and movements we are witnessing in the region have their own roots in those countries. They have their own reasons, motivations, problems, dreams and challenges. So it is not because it happened in Egypt.
Why do Africans need visa to go to other African countries?
We have achieved a lot among Africans in the last two or three decades. We have developed a lot in different aspects of our interrelationship. But we still have a lot to do. This is one of the aims of the African states to lift the ban on the restriction of free movement of our people. There is another challenge which is that the African trade relations are very much limited to compare to the trade between Africa and the rest of the world. We like to be more independent.
Why is African zone not visa-free to its citizens?
There are certain cases for instance; between Egypt and Sudan we don’t need visa anymore.
So this is basically an agreement between African countries
Yes. But I think the African Union is working on that. I guess we have not reached that development of our interrelationship among African countries. You know the freedom of movement; of personnel; of goods; of capital. We have been focusing on our regional, sub regional groupings. We are working at that level in such a way that we could create the conditions for a bigger economic community in Africa. So we have not yet reached that stage. We definitely need to encourage trade among us as Africans. We need to reach that stage where we must allow the freedom of movement, of personal, of goods, of capital as in the case of European Union nowadays.
Now, what is your take on the foreign intervention and dictation in which Mr, Mubarak accused of meddling in Egyptian affairs and which he earlier said he would not listen to?
You know, it was not only the opinion of Mr. Mubarak of former regime but that of people in the street as well that we want to handle our affairs our own way. We don’t need recipes from abroad. If anything would be done, it would be done in Egyptian way. So we don’t want pressure from abroad. We don’t want interference in our internal affairs. That was the opinion of the former regime and that was the opinion of the people; even that was the opinion of the military. We’re very sensitive when it comes to foreign interference in our internal affairs. We have told the western countries that we do not want any interference in our affairs. This is an Egyptian affair and it will be among Egyptians according to Egyptian recipe. The outcome will be Egyptian outcome and not an outcome dictated by foreign countries no matter how good or excellent our relationship with that country.
What is your message to the Hungarian investors, tourists in order to relieve them of the anxiety the revolution might have caused?
What I would like to tell the Hungarian public is that the situation is back to normal in Egypt. We are working very hard in such a way that we could ensure 100% return to normal situation. Universities and schools have resumed. Banks have reopened. So they can resume their visit or living in Egypt. We have not registered a single case of lack of security in any tourist destinations in Egypt. It is true that in Cairo and Alexandra there was clash between the police and the people but it is now the thing of the past. The situation is getting back to normal. People are getting back to their work. The economy is re-functioning. So there are all the elements that would encourage Hungarian people to resume their activities in Egypt. As far as the investors are concerned, I assure those that have projects in Egypt that the situation is back to normal so they can go back to Egypt to continue their lives as before. We can assure them that the situation is calm.