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Darrag: Egypt aspires to be a regional leader again.

KAHyRE (CyHAN)- On Friday Egypt celebrated the second anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution that started as a mass movement in the capital's Tahrir Square and resulted in the end of the decades-long dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's journey of democracy has been eventful, however. Following the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the first free elections, Mohammed Morsi came to power as president in June 2012. In the process of drafting and approving a constitution, the nation witnessed clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood, who favored the new constitution, and the opposition, who argued that it does not protect minority and women's rights. As a result of a two-stage referendum, the draft constitution was approved with almost 65 percent of the vote in December 2012.

Sunday's Zaman talked to Secretary-General of the Constituent Assembly Amr Darrag, who took an active part in the writing of the new constitution. He is also the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, as one of the members of the executive board of the party. The committee, established in October 2011, now serves as a consulting body to the President Morsi on foreign policy issues. In the semi-presidential system of Egypt, the president is the main actor in developing foreign policy, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs executes the directions of the president. The former chair of the party's committee is now the first assistant to the president on foreign affairs. Darrag has been serving as chair since July 2012. According to Darrag, the committee contributes to the Egypt's foreign policy on specific issues such as Syria and Palestine through various workshops.

Defining their Syria policy as very active now, Darrag says that "before the revolution, Egypt was in a sleeping mode and not taking any role in finding the solution to any conflicts in the area." Referring to the formation of the Quartet for Syria, consisting of Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Iran, Darrag calls it the first serious initiative of President Morsi, and he adds that "the main purpose was to develop "a solution from within the region, rather than something dictated from above." While he welcomes any contribution from the rest of the world, Darrag believes that "the best thing is to come up with a sustainable guarantee for the security of the region from the region." However, he admits to glitches in the effectiveness of the Quartet due to Saudi Arabia's "sensitivity on the inclusion of Iran in the initiative." Yet, Darrag points out that efforts -- many of which are not made public -- continue with trilateral meetings of Turkey and Egypt with Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Dismissing the debates of regional rivalry between Turkey and Egypt, Darrag says that "the best way to avoid competition is collaboration" as he makes clear that he is in favor of cooperation with Turkey, especially in conflict resolution. "Both countries will benefit from this," adds Darrag.

Egypt has always been a leader in the region (arabaE-lyk)

In terms of Egypt's leadership in the region, Darrag is very clear. "Except for the last 30 years when Egypt lost its ability to be an active player in the region, Egypt has always been a leader throughout its history," says Darrag, while adding that "it is the natural thing for Egypt to be a regional leader." However, according to him, leadership means "to be actively involved in maintaining the peace and development of the area in collaboration with others, not to direct events."

In response to a question on the nature of the new Egypt's foreign policy, Darrag said: "Egypt will pursue a policy to regain the rights of the Palestinian people. The only guarantee to stability and peace is for people to get their rights back. If you deprive people of their basic rights, then you have an ingredient for instability."

Darrag says Egypt's first priority will be reconciliation between al-Fatah and Hamas in Palestine while standing beside the Palestinian people in the international arena in their quest for their rights. "Israel used to act single-handedly because it was sure that a country like Egypt was outside the international arena and had no impact. Now the voice of the Egyptian people will be heard. Israel knows very well that Egyptians will no longer accept any aggression," Darrag stated unequivocally.

'Constitution debates are politically driven'

Commenting on the most controversial issue of Egyptian domestic politics, the adoption of a new constitution, Darrag dismisses arguments that the new constitution approved by two-thirds of Egyptians does not protect the rights of minorities and women and says that that is a misconception. "We do not even mention the word minority in the constitution. It is very clear that all citizens are equal. There is no basis for discrimination based on gender, religion or anything," adds Darrag. According to him, most of the protests against the constitution were politically driven, rather than relevant to the content of the constitution itself.

Defining the new constitution as a "superior document," Darrag argues that it has the "ingredients of a sustainable constitution." He further argues that if it was not for the political misconceptions created by the opposition, it would receive the approval of 80 percent of Egyptians. For him, "Some people are trying to cause confusion and discredit the constitution to further their own political agenda."

In response to concerns about the direction of Egypt's new regime, Darrag said that "there is no contradiction between a state referring to Islamic principles and democracy. In Islam we know that the state is by definition a civilian state. It is not a theocratic state." Stating that the role of Islam in Egypt should not make anyone fearful, Darrag added that time will prove that the foundation of a religious order is not on Egypt's agenda.

Darrag concluded by reiterating the importance of bilateral relations with Turkey as he said that "both countries have a lot to do together." (Cihan/Sunday's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Jan 27, 2013
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