Ali dwells on coronavirus, oil prices in interview with Atlantico news site
Friday 15/May/2020 - 11:58 PM
Alexander del Val interviews Abdel Rahim Ali, an Islamism expert who follows developments in the Middle East very closely in his capacity as the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies in Paris. Ali tirelessly backs an open-minded and modern secularism in Arab countries in the face of the Islamist terrorist threat and Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi ideologies.
Ali's views might be overoptimistic. However, they show that despite its tough financial conditions, compared with Europe, Africa fights the coronavirus more efficiently. He shows us that the West can sometimes be arrogant and inefficient. This is true in the case of the coronavirus and in the case of other challenges, including Islamist terrorism, which Ali and his center fight ferociously.
Ali shows that Western countries can sometimes learn a lesson from their former colonies. Some of these former colonies will become even stronger in the future than their colonizers.
French media is so preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic that we no longer hear about terrorism. What do you think of this? Is the situation the same in Egypt and other Arab countries?
The coronavirus pandemic has rightfully occupied the world's attention. Even here in Egypt, the pandemic is in everybody's mind. Nevertheless, together with the coronavirus, we face another challenge, namely terrorism. Egyptians cannot overlook this challenge. We have lost more officers and troops in confrontations with terrorist groups than ever before. Army troops arrested dozens of terrorists, confiscated dozens of vehicles and seized huge amounts of arms and explosives during these confrontations. The army is in a real war in Sinai against well-financed terrorist groups. We wage this war side by side with the war against the coronavirus. However, this war has not sapped the Egyptian determination in the fight against the virus. Egypt has the world's highest coronavirus recovery rate, according to the World Health Organization.
So you do not agree with French progressives who believe that the Islamist terrorist threat will stop for now. These people say this threat is not the problem at present.
I do not agree with them of course. Terrorism is an integrated project. The financiers of this project have an interest in maintaining its threat. These financiers will lose their edge if the threat ends. Countries like Turkey and Qatar have no real value without the terrorist groups they sponsor and the revolutionary Islamism they back.
In your view, what is the French political movement most capable of facing these challenges and threats and dealing with our multipolar world? Who are the politicians closest to your way of thinking?
I said this for years and wrote a large number of articles in France and Egypt about my preference for the De Gaulle political school. This school calls for national independence and for a nationalism that is both smart and open. De Gaulle had the gut for standing against other totalitarian dangers. General De Gaulle refused to surrender to Nazi totalitarianism. To me François Fillon was the perfect embodiment of the De Gaulle school. I feel sorry for his political disappearance, even as I have deep respect for the people in power at present. Fillon had a very aspiring and comprehensive geopolitical and social program. He wrote a book about Islamist totalitarianism where he says the Muslim Brotherhood is the main ideological source of extremism. I also talked to historical figures of the same school, including Jacques Godfrain, a former minister and an expert on Africa, who in 2011 became the head of the Charles De Gaulle Foundation. In the past period, I also talked to a valuable politician who epitomizes the future of this great political family, namely Bruno Daniel Marie Paul Retailleau. I put his defense of the western civilization in the face of totalitarian ideologies and threats in high esteem.
How do you view the latest drop in the price of oil and the agreement between the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia to raise the prices by reducing production?
I think the drop in the price of oil came against the background of disagreements between Russia and Saudi Arabia. It also boils down to the coronavirus pandemic and the suspension of industrial production. This caused the price of oil to drop beyond $20 a barrel in April. However, the price started to pick up again after the OPEC plus countries reached an agreement. The price rose to $29 a barrel. There are expectations that the price will reach $100 a barrel in 18 months, as the world economy starts reopening and operating. This will make up for the losses the world economy sustained because of the coronavirus.
You said earlier that Egypt faces two threats: the coronavirus and terrorism. Do the results of action against these two threats rise up to expectations?
Let me tell you that the Center for Middle East Studies in Paris and I work independently from the Egyptian government. I speak for myself, not for the government of Egypt. The coroanvirus has caused the closure of hundreds of factories, companies and administrative offices in Egypt. The terrorists also kill a large number of people from the army and the police. These people pay the price for defending their country against the terrorists' attempts to undermine its stability. The fact is that some European countries adopted contradictory positions during the Cold War that caused radical Islamists to be stronger. These countries welcomed these Islamists at the time we were fighting them in our countries.
But there is not a radical solution to Islamism in Egypt, even as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi makes strenuous efforts in this regard?
Egypt has been fighting the terrorists alone for decades now. It has been fighting groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda and others. No country can eradicate extremism in ten years. The world needs decades to eradicate this extremism. Egyptians have pinpointed the financiers of the terrorists. They know why these terrorists strike at specific times. They strike when the army starts to offer support to state institutions, like in the case of the coronavirus. They staged an attack in the North Sinai town of Baer al-Abd, leaving ten army personnel dead, including an officer.
Let us go back to the health crisis: How did Egypt deal with this unprecedented challenge? What is the number of infections and fatalities in the country?
Egypt reported around 11,000 infections and 500 fatalities so far. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that countries can respond differently to the same health crisis. However, the fact is that the Egyptian case deserves study.
Are you afraid that a major economic crisis can happen in Egypt?
I think there is an economic crisis already and this crisis will get worse in the next two months. States will try to make up for their losses by increasing industrial and agricultural production. This will bring the economy back on track.
Why is the infection rate low in Egypt, compared to European countries, for example?
Egypt responded strongly to the virus emergence in it from the very beginning in coordination with the World Health Organization. You can verify the real infection and fatality figures yourself.
What did Egypt do at the beginning of the crisis?
Egyptian authorities took a series of measures against the virus from the very beginning. On February 14, the Ministry of Health reported the first coronavirus case for a foreign national. This case was dealt with very seriously in the light of the guidelines of the World Health Organization. The patient was a Chinese national who worked for a transport company in Cairo. He turned out to have contracted the virus from a colleague of his at the company who had just arrived from China. Lab tests showed that the Chinese national was positive for the disease, even as he did not show any symptoms. He was the first coronavirus patient in the world not to demonstrate disease symptoms. Egypt coordinated its response to the virus from day one of the crisis.
What were the other measures taken by Egyptian authorities?
The authorities specified a hospital in each governorate for the treatment of coronavirus patients. They specified a large number of medical facilities for quarantining suspected cases. They provided the labs with the equipment and human resources needed. They imposed a nationwide nighttime curfew. They closed down the schools, the universities, the cinemas, the theatres and shopping malls.
Most of these measures were taken in western states. Is there anything innovative about the Egyptian response to the disease?
The authorities took a series of measures to mitigate the economic effects of the virus outbreak. These measures included the allocation of 100 billion Egyptian pounds for the national response to the disease, the reduction of the price of natural gas for the factories, delaying the payment of taxes for factories and industrial facilities for three months, and backing the stock market.
Do you think the measures taken by countries like France and the United States so far are enough?
The Egyptian government took firm action against the disease from the very beginning. Egyptian television channels were asking ordinary people to stay at home and socially distance themselves at the time French President Emmanuel Macron went to the theatre. The Egyptian government acted quickly and applied an important set of preventive measures. This shows that poor countries can fight diseases even more efficiently than rich ones.