Mohamed Hosni


President of the Arabic Republic of Egypt

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 28 January 1986

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, allow me at the outset to express my warm thanks and appreciation to your good selves and to all the friendly European peoples for affording me the opportunity to meet with you and exchange views on issues of mutual concern which are crucial to man at this important historic juncture, where all peoples are confronted by increasingly aggressive challenges and mounting difficulties and hazards, and where individuals and communities alike are gripped by a feeling of anxiety and fear of the future, at a time when man has attained an unparalleled level of scientific advancement and technological progress.

I also wish to convey to you warm greetings of friendship and fraternity from each and every Egyptian; rather, from each and every Arab and Muslim whatever his country. The people I have the honour to represent before you and the nation to which I belong by my thoughts and feelings look forward to strengthening the ties binding them to the peoples of the European continent and enhancing the dialogue with them in a way that transcends the traditional formulas to which we are accustomed and goes deep down to the very roots of fundamental issues.

For this dialogue to bear fruit, it should be conducted through an atmosphere of candour and sincerity, together with a common awareness of the gravity of the historic responsibility and the dimensions of the perils facing us all in the North, in the South, in the East and in the West.

It is with a deep sense of satisfaction and appreciation that we view the accomplishments achieved by the countries of the European continent in the twentieth century. For such achievement is indeed part of the common heritage of mankind. It marks a significant addition to earlier achievements by the human community in ages past in the different parts of the world, since our march is indivisible; rather, it is made up of successive interconnected links where each and every one of us contributes to the best of his ability, to the field open to him by the international and local conditions he lives in.

Meanwhile, it is with admiration that we view the accomplishments of the Council of Europe since its establishment in May 1949, which was the first European political organisation to emerge following world war II. It continued to grow and expand until it included twenty-one countries with a total population of more than 385 million people. More important still is probably the fact that the Council was not established for the mere achievement of political gains or economic benefits for its member states, but the main object of its formation was to enhance the commitment of those states to the principles of the adherence to the rule of law, their respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms of man, as well as the consolidation of the democratic concepts in the various political and social institutions.

Therefore, it was natural that the European citizen should become the pivot of the Council’s activities and the point of departure of its action. This was clearly reflected in your adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European cultural agreement, the agreement for the preservation of the environment, the agreement on the legal status of immigrant labour and other treaties directly affecting man’s life in this part of the world. As Jesus Christ taught us, “Man does not live by bread alone”.

Mr President, the close ties binding the peoples of the European continent and those of the Middle East and south of the Mediterranean are not confined to the interwoven economic interests and the interrelated issues of security, stability and prosperity in these regions. Rather, these ties extend to the promotion of similar concepts and basic values, even though on the surface there may seem to be wide disparity between those values and concepts, since the origin of the European civilisation is based on the principles derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition and the inherited Greco-Roman legacy. It is indisputable that Islam has left its clear print on European thought as well, and thereby on European civilisation, since the seventeenth century, through various channels recorded in the annals of history. Moreover, the civilisation of our region has derived its spirit and basic concepts from the three divine creeds together with the rich heritage of the Pharaonic period in Egypt, the Babylonian civilisation in Iraq and the Phoenician Age, east of the Mediterranean and in North Africa. Interaction continued in all ages between these civilisations and the European civilisations.

If we speak of Egypt’s role in particular, in linking civilisations and cultures, and in enriching their heritage of fine values and noble principles which remained ever prevalent throughout the centuries, we would find that Pharaonic Egypt was the first human community ever to adopt the concepts of equality and fraternity among all peoples. Those concepts were cemented in the age of monotheism beginning with the era of Ikhnaton. Such progressive thought continued to grow and flourish, reaching its peak under the School of Alexandria which prospered in the year 300 bc and shouldered the responsibility of preserving the Greek scientific and philosophic heritage. Even before that time, eminent Greek men of thought such as Pythagoras and Plato came to Egypt and joined Heliopolis University in quest of knowledge. It was no wonder therefore, that neo-Platonism was born in Egypt, out of that ever-flowing source of thought and the freedom of research and study.

It was logical that the emergence of democratic tradition should coincide with that grand intellectual renaissance within a framework that does not differ much from our contemporary frameworks. In the Ptolemic Age, a representative council was established in Alexandria and was invested with great powers and responsibilities in a manner unknown at the time.

Since the dawn of Christianity, Egypt has contributed generously to religious thought and the philosophic trends which emanated from it. The Egyptians were the first to establish monasteries, with a comprehensive school of thought centred on the doctrines of asceticism and the renunciation of temporal affairs. It was from Egypt that the doctrine of “gnosticism” emerged, leaving behind an enormous heritage of religious and philosophic thought in the various parts to which Christianity spread in the Middle East and Europe.

With the advent of Islam, the sublime human concepts prevalent at the time were enhanced and a long stride forward was taken in consonance with the teachings of Islam which repudiate discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or ancestry, and judge a person’s status according to his deeds and the good he renders, whereas, prior to that, his status was determined by his ancestry.

“There is no grace of an Arab over a foreigner, but through piety”, says the honourable hadith.

“Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct”, the holy Koran says.

Islam has, moreover, forbidden discrimination among people on the ground of their creed, and has further deepened the concept of equality among people before God; it is this very same concept which furnished the basis of equality before the law.

When Al Azhar University was established in Egypt more than one thousand years ago, it became a bastion of freedom of thought and a beacon of science and knowledge, spreading its light to all and every part of the Islamic world and the European continent. For the governing factor in all those ages was the belief that the Mediterranean should never form a barrier between countries in the north and those in the south. Rather, it should be a lake across which intellectual and commercial exchanges flow along with creative interaction among individuals and communities on the one hand, and thoughts and interests on the other hand.

A glance at modern history would reveal that Egypt was the first country in the region to form a parliamentary council in the modern sense of the word, namely the Consultative Council established in 1866. It was not a mere coincidence that its establishment coincided with the flourishing of democratic and liberal thought and with Egypt’s prominent role in the struggle against slavery in Africa.

When the United Nations first came into existence following world war II, Egypt was in the vanguard of those who championed the cause of human rights and the struggle against apartheid and racial discrimination and the liquidation of colonialism. Eminent Egyptian jurists participated actively in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant of Political and Civil Rights and the Covenant of Economic and Social Rights. On the other hand, Egypt has adhered to all international agreements whose purpose is to strengthen commitment to the principles of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

Hence, it was only natural that the democratic practice in contemporary Egypt should flourish and reaffirm the rights of citizens. It led to the establishment of a political system that guarantees the participation of the people in the decision-making process. This emanates from a firm commitment to the axiom that all powers rest with the people alone. It is through the creative interaction among the different opinions that reality emerges. No one has the right to impose his opinion, or dictate his decision, or curb the options available to the masses. It is my firm belief that freedom and democracy form the only guarantee for achieving the balance between the interests of the individual and those of the society as well as solving existing contradictions in society in a rational and peaceful manner.

While democratic practice may sometimes lead to negative phenomena which impede the national effort and jeopardise stability which is a prerequisite to development, the solution of these problems does not lie in resort to the imposition of restrictions and forfeiting fundamental freedoms. Rather, the answer lies in reinforcing democratic thought and rationalising democratic practice. This is what makes the Egyptian democratic experiment a shining model for all the peoples of the Third World.

Mr President, I have no doubt you agree with me that this meeting should not pass as a mere matter of form confined to the delivery of speeches and the raising of slogans. Rather it should be an opportunity to hold a true dialogue that will continue in the future, on all issues which preoccupy our mind and interest our peoples, with a view to bringing our concepts and thoughts closer, whenever possible, and acquainting ourselves with the prospects for joint steps to be taken by both sides for the promotion of co-operation between them for the benefit of the entire world community and to contribute towards safeguarding the future of mankind against the grave hazards facing it.

Now, I suggest that I examine with you very briefly three major issues with a view to contributing to the enrichment of our common perception and take it to new horizons in the coming years:

— first, our shared responsibility in the service of the cause of peace;

— secondly, the required formula for dealing with world economic problems;

— thirdly, the charting of a new policy to come to grips with terrorism.

First, the peace process.

I hardly need, in this context, to dwell at length on the solid relationship between security and stability in the Arab region, on the one hand, and the maintenance of peace and welfare in Europe, on the other.

This is an established historic and geographic fact that has become one of the principles of strategic studies. I have but to refer to the following points.

We view peace in a comprehensive and integrated manner that does not stop at certain geographical or political boundaries. To us, peace is the peace of the world as a whole. It is no longer admissible that any one of us should believe he could establish solid peace in the region where he lives or where his vital interests lie, in isolation from other areas in the world. Therefore, we are highly interested in the current talks aimed at curbing the arms race and total disarmament. We welcome every step conducive to the eradication of the outbreak of a devastating nuclear war. We are a people who, like you, have suffered from the horrors and devastation of war. Moreover, our commitment to peace stems from a deep-rooted, cultural, religious and moral heritage and is not merely prompted by our own interests and the profit and loss balance sheet. Hence, Egypt’s bold initiative to open a new chapter in the Middle East, by striving to establish a comprehensive peace and bring about a grand historic reconciliation between the Arab countries and Israel, is based on respect for the rights and legitimate interests of both parties, commitment to the repudiation of aggression and renouncing expansionist designs, the concepts of supremacy and illusions of domination and hegemony.

While Egypt takes leading strides along that path, we find her in the vanguard of the powers which endorsed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. She was the first country to call for the Middle East and Africa to be declared a nuclear-free zone, and supported the establishment of a peace zone in the Indian Ocean.

Probably, the question which sets itself today in a pressing manner and rightly too in many a European capital is: What can Europe do to enhance and accelerate peace efforts? Since we consider such questions to be legitimate and constructive, here I am putting before you my conception of an effective European role in the coming stage.

There is dire need of an effective European role for it is not in the interest of peace in the area to isolate the European peoples from settlement efforts. The European peoples are those most affected by the course of events in the Middle East.

Again, Europe is the most perceptive of all foreign powers of the impact of development in the area and is the one that understands most the factors governing the course of history in it.

From the practical point of view, we believe that an active European role is the best guarantee against the polarisation of forces inside the peace conference, which could undermine the entire peace efforts.

What is required is not the issuing of additional statements and declarations, since the European position regarding major issues under consideration has become well defined and known to a great extent. Thus, there is no need for any quantitative addition to this stance. What is needed is the qualitative development of that position.

Any talks of an earnest role to be assumed by any party in the current stage should be based on contributing to an agreement on the holding of an international peace conference, with the participation of all the parties concerned, including the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. When we speak of an international conference, we mean a real conference where negotiations are conducted among the parties directly involved in the conflict and where the outside parties can play a conciliatory role with a view to bridging the gap and facilitating the conclusion of an agreement.

Efforts towards holding the international conference should be focused simultaneously on both substantive and procedural aspects. As to substance, we believe that Europe should focus on the principle of negotiation with the aim of achieving peace without any preconditions on the basis of equality regarding the rights of both parties and the necessity of an equilibrium between Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. In this way alone can peace be just and eligible, able to last and stand firmly in the face of the crises and difficult trials which will inevitably come its way in the future.

On the other hand, we consider that the European family should participate in such a conference and that the PLO should be afforded an equal opportunity to take part, in co-ordination with other Arab countries participating in the conference, particularly the Kingdom of Jordan.

I believe that the countries of the European continent can play an active role in preparing for the convening of the conference through the formation of a group whose task would be to contact the parties concerned and try to reconcile their views on issues still blocking agreement on the holding of the conference.

It goes without saying that such a role will not result in curbing any role assumed by other parties, since the gates are open before all endeavours. Again, co-ordination among these roles is always possible.

Hence, the European Community would be able to contribute effectively to the revival of the peace process and to end the stalemate which jeopardises our interests and dissipates our hopes for a comprehensive settlement before it is too late.

Permit me to add that commitment to the cause of peace in the Middle East calls for additional efforts exerted towards the termination of the war raging between Iran and Iraq. It is a war whose continuation and escalation are totally unjustified. Furthermore, this war is fraught with hazards for all parties, even those who believe they can reap some profits from the continuation of that war and from fanning its flame.

This war, with the complications it has brought about, together with the deplorable events plaguing brotherly Lebanon and other Arab countries, has probably blurred the image of the Islamic world and the Arab world in the minds of many of our friends in the different parts of the world; for they are unable to reconcile this deplorable reality with the presence of strong factors of cohesion and integration within those two families. These factors are, most certainly, stronger than those which prompted the European countries to unify their ranks and their movement in the post-war period.

To explain this regrettable situation, not to justify it, we have to take into consideration two facts.

The first one is that Europe has reached this level of co-ordinated stands and policies and unified institutions after devastating wars and bloody disputes, some of which went on for a hundred years. The trend toward unity and the priority given to the factors of harmony and agreement over those factors of repulsion and disaccord forged ahead after the peoples had perceived, from recurring events, the perils of the pursuit of conflicts and recourse to violence in order to settle disputes.

Secondly, much of the reality facing the Islamic world and the Arab nation is attributed to the remnants of the colonialist era which are still present in new forms. There is nothing inherent in the Islamic culture and the Arab civilisation that may generate such a state of affairs.

I was keen to dwell on these points, prompted not by a wish to find excuses, justification or defence of this realtiy, but to bring to your kind attention the error of assuming that matters will continue as they actually are today, in both the Arab and Islamic domains, and to stress the importance of dealing with those two notions on the basis that the conditions prevalent at present will never be able to stop the course of history or impede the natural course of events. History has its rules, its governing factors and its logic.

I cannot end my talk on peace without referring to the deplorable conditions gripping brotherly peoples, struggling in the southern part of our African continent.

While we record with appreciation and recognition the rejection by all the European peoples of the policy of racial discrimination and apartheid practised by the racist regime in Pretoria, I wish to remind you, in all frankness, that the need is still there for a more decisive stand against these practices which are a violation of the fundamental rights of man and a denial of the dignity of mankind everywhere.

The second issue: how to deal with existing economic problems. Here, I wish to state that our point of departure should be admitting that we all, to some degree or other, suffer from the recession still prevalent in world economy. There is no doubt that what we constantly keep in mind is the fact that, in the world of today, where interests overlap and are interconnected, and where interdependence has reached an unprecedented level, it has become difficult for any country, or group of countries, whatever its resources or potential, to overcome the recession all alone, and restore its ability to score high growth rates in a constant and continuous way that would rid it of unemployment. Developments in world economy in the past five years stand witness to this view. Hence, it is no longer rewarding that some countries should try to come out of the recession by imposing restrictions on international trade, on the movement of capital or on labour.

Furthermore, economic studies, recently conducted, have pointed out that the difficulties surrounding development efforts in the Third World countries curb, quite clearly, the growth rates in the industrialised countries. This is revealed by the prospects of growth until the year 1995, forecast by the OECD.

We, in the Third World, are burdened by the continuous recession in the industrialised countries in the form of a sharp drop in the prices of raw materials and mounting obstacles to our manufactured exports, a fact which drains our potential to meet and service our debts.

Therefore, we believe it is imperative to treat the problem of the debts of the Third World in a way that will ensure the continuation of development. For, without progressive development, we cannot, in the best of cases, but defer the problem of our inability to service the debts. Moreover, rationalisation of the economic performance while development is halted or declining to the same level of population growth imposes on our peoples unbearable sacrifices. It also brings about an atmosphere of social and political instability, a fact that makes resumption of the development process, in the foreseeable future, a matter of extreme difficulty.

It has proved almost impossible for countries of the Third World to allocate huge sums of money in their budget for the settlement of debts, at a time when the real interest rate has jumped to a level never experienced in the past. We should also bear in mind the dwindling resources of foreign currency in those countries, as a result of the deterioration in the prices of raw materials and restrictions on their industrial exports.

We consider that the radical solution to this problem lies in achieving an acceptable solution through mutual consent between the two parties to link export revenues to debt-servicing instalments.

Again, conditions in the least developed and poorer countries call for particular consideration, prompted by the necessity for writing off part of the public debts borne by these countries confronted by the hazards of famine and lack of minimum food requirements for their people.

The third and last issue I wish to put before you is the phenomenon of mounting terrorism on the international level and the necessity for the adoption by the international community of a strict and effective policy to counter it.

What urges me to raise this issue for discussion from this rostrum, is my conviction that this phenomenon constitutes a grave threat not only to the safety of the international community, but to the civilisation established by man throughout the centuries. It is a violation of the principles unanimously agreed upon by all divine revelations and legal orders alike.

I am also prompted to discuss this phenomenon with you by the fact that your distinguished Council and its Assembly have taken the initiative of putting this matter on its current agenda, and concluded in 1977 a European agreement combating terrorism, which reveals your special concern over this deplorable and worsening phenomenon, the evils of which have spread in recent years.

We do know that the international community has covered some ground in its confrontation with this menace, by signing international agreements, mainly the Tokyo Agreement signed in 1963, The Hague Agreement in 1970, the 1971 Montreal Agreement and the International Agreement on Prohibiting Hostage Taking, signed in 1979. The United Nations has also taken the initiative of adopting several measures in this context, the latest being the General Assembly resolution of 9 December 1985, Security Council Resolution 579, adopted unanimously on 17 December 1985 and the statement made by the President of the Security Council on 30 December 1985, following the attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports.

Yet, it is only fair to admit that there are several loopholes in the international mechanism for confronting that phenomenon, either because of the existing shortcoming in the agreements signed so far and their inability to deal with the new forms of terrorism, such as the hijacking of ships and their passengers, or because of the fact that only a few countries have ratified those agreements, or because of the blurred image some peoples have as to the true goals of the campaign launched against terrorism.

To face this situation, I would like to propose some guidelines to you as we consider the issue of terrorism, then I would like to put before you my conception of an approach to deal with terrorism in the months ahead.

The first of all these guidelines to adhere to is to avoid confusing the terrorist acts which we denounce and condemn everywhere, and national liberation movements which are compelled at a certain stage to resort to armed struggle in order to end occupation of their national territory and enable peoples to practise their basic right to self-determination, as recognised by the 1949 Geneva Convention and the International Agreement on the Combating of Hostage Taking, which excluded from the sphere of terrorism all acts committed during armed conflicts, including those waged by peoples against colonial domination, foreign occupation and racist regimes, thus exercising their right to self-determination, as provided for in the United Nations Charter and the Declaration of the Principles of International Law on Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States.

The second of these guidelines is that our concern to combat and condemn terrorist acts should never be extended to passing generalisations on peoples and distorting their image in the minds of others; for, it is in the interest of the international community to isolate those small groups which take terrorism as a profession and admit it openly.

In this context, I would like to emphasise that it is a grave error to level the accusation of terrorism against the Palestinian people or against a given religious sect. Again, it is a flagrant injustice to say that the terrorist phenomenon originated in a certain geographic region. I wish to add, that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – the PLO – has proved its commitment to the principles of international legitimacy when it issued the Cairo Declaration on 7 November 1985, clearly discriminating between terrorist acts and resistance to foreign occupation.

Having talked of the basic precautions when confronting the terrorist phenomenon, I wish to proceed to bring before you Egypt’s conception regarding the practical approach acceptable in order to attain this goal. I also wish to begin this brief presentation by recalling that Egypt was in the vanguard of the countries that have endorsed all the international agreements previously referred to, and has always been in the forefront to co-operate with other countries showing particular concern for the combat against terrorism.

The proposed approach can be summed up in the convening of an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations to reconsider all international agreements pertaining to international terrorism, with a view to concluding a more comprehensive international convention to combat and deter terrorism.

The proposed agreement should cover all aspects related to terrorism, together with the required co-operation among states to confront and deter terrorism. Such co-operation would include the exchange of information among the competent authorities, coping with terrorist schemes, as well as with the individuals and groups involved, the training of special units for combating terrorism and terrorists, the provision of equipment used in such combat, and co-operation for the arrest of terrorists, their extradition, subsequent investigation and putting them on trial. This co-operation should also cover the collective measures to be taken against the countries that assist, instigate, train and shelter terrorists.

All that should be undertaken in a way which would ensure that deterrent measures are not invested with a nature hostile to a national group or to a group of countries, or stemming from a certain political bias. Rather, they should be bound by one single factor: the line of conduct followed by those governments vis-à-vis terrorism.

For such a conference to bear fruit, it should be preceded by intensive contacts and consultations through which the peoples in the various continents of the globe would be informed of the real objectives of this move, and would be convinced that the intention is not to form a new grouping that would be hostile to their legitimate aspirations.

It is imperative that the international move in this direction be collective and comprehensive, where no single country or a particular regional or political group would impose an opinion or move in isolation from the rest of the other countries, so that we might afford this new confrontation ample international approval and endorsement.

If we succeed in this endeavour, we shall have saved mankind a tragic plight that threatens its stability and jeopardises its security and safety and will have opened a new promising chapter heralding greater hope for all peoples and peace-loving forces.

There was a time when the poet Kipling said: “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet till earth and sky stand presently at the Lord’s great Judgment Seat.”

Nevertheless, I feel as I talk to you from this rostrum, that it is high time that East and West should meet around one objective, common cause and interwoven interests, since the challenge facing us is “to be or not bo be”, to climb together the steps of advance and progress, or face collectively the hazards of annihilation and collapse.

I do not believe we have a choice between these alternatives, because perseverance is the people’s will and the road to tomorrow. Moreover, pursuit of the rehabilitation of the land is the sacred mission which not one of us could abandon or betray.

It is imperative that we fulfil this mission through dialogue rather than confrontation, in peace, and not through war and violence, with the faith that we are all partners and companions on the same road and not enemies torn apart by strife, swayed by contradictions and drained by wars.

I look into the far horizon and, through the dark clouds, see the dawn of light and the heralds of hope. I see the forces of peace and progress forging ahead in their triumphant march hoisting high the banners of freedom and guiding man to his own position in the course of history. Thank you.

(The members of the Assembly rose to their feet and gave the speaker a standing ovation.)

The President of the Parliamentary Assembly

I know that I speak on behalf of the whole Assembly in thanking you, Mr President, most sincerely for attending our sitting this morning and for the speech which you have addressed to us. Our debate on the problems of the Middle East and international terrorism will be the longest and most important of this part-session; and it is particularly useful for us to have had the opportunity of hearing your thoughtful and stimulating speech right at the beginning of our debate. It has been an honour for us to be able to receive you in our Assembly.