Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

‘No instructions to embassies’

The recent constitutional declaration has raised controversy over how far the Foreign Ministry should abide by official state policies, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The independent daily Al-Watan published an account earlier this week in which it said that Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr had given instructions to Egyptian diplomatic missions abroad to justify the recent constitutional declaration made by President Mohamed Morsi on 22 November.
However, if the story were true, said Mahmoud Shokri, a senior diplomat and writer, then it would be a great mistake. “Diplomats should be unbiased. They should not be affected by political changes,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
But Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, former editor of Al-Ahram, said Kamel had taken the right action, adding that when important decisions are taken it is natural for other countries to approach the country’s Foreign Ministry asking for an explanation of them.
In addition, the state sometimes itself issues a document explaining to other states via its embassies and consulates the motivation behind its decisions. In the Egyptian case, he said, the president had asked Amr to explain the reasons behind the recent constitutional declaration.
However, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry denied reports that the ministry had ordered Egyptian diplomatic missions overseas to defend Morsi’s constitutional declaration.
In a statement issued on Sunday, ministry spokesperson Amr Roshdi said that the ministry served the national interest and not the political regime.
“In response to what has been circulated over instructions given to Egyptian consulates and embassies abroad to defend the recently issued constitutional declaration, the reports that referred to letters between the ministry and foreign missions including a statement by the cabinet were untrue,” the statement said.
Notifying Egyptian embassies and consulates abroad about official statements was a routine procedure that the ministry undertakes periodically to inform them about local developments, Roshdi explained.
Abdel-Hadi agreed, saying that this was a normal procedure that all governments take. “The US, for instance, sent an explanation to all its embassies after it had taken the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, giving the reasons for the decision,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry should be solely responsible for foreign policy, Shokri said. “Its role is to defend national interests, which don’t change even when regimes or presidents do,” he said, asking how the Foreign Ministry could support a controversial decision like the constitutional declaration.
The Foreign Ministry document cited by the newspaper, described as top secret, apparently stated that the constitutional declaration did not add any powers to those already held by the president and that it aimed to create a suitable atmosphere for completing the draft constitution.
The document defended the declaration by saying that it sought to put an end to the current state of concentration of all powers in the hands of the president by speeding up elections to state institutions, namely the People’s Assembly.
It also pointed to the fact that the president had tried to recall the People’s Assembly, but that the Supreme Constitutional Court had overruled his decision.
It claimed that the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution had been working since 12 July “in a state of complete consensus” and that it had produced a comprehensive draft that “did not contain Islamist ideology” and that respected rights and freedoms.
With very few exceptions, the Foreign Ministry has in the past never deviated from state policy. Perhaps the most famous exception to this rule was when a group of diplomats wanted to make changes at the ministry after the 25 January Revolution, setting up a Facebook page in order to do so.
Prompted by the violent confrontations with peaceful protesters during the revolution, the diplomats issued a statement, signed by more than 300 of them, calling for measures to be taken to end the violence, including ending all attacks by the security forces on peaceful protesters, prosecuting those charged with assaults, and holding parliamentary elections.
The group presented itself as a group of diplomats who had taken part in the 25 January Revolution and was appalled by the encroachments on the dignity of the Egyptian people and the spilling of the blood of Egyptian youth.
Abdel-Hadi described the move as a temporary deviation that was soon corrected. “Nabil Al-Arabi, the then foreign minister, met with the group and convinced them as diplomats representing the state they should not voice political viewpoints,” he said.
During the meeting, the diplomats had submitted a list of demands including the reform of the ministry, clear rules on sending diplomats to dangerous or unstable areas, and excluding diplomats who were part of the previous regime from the reform process.
In response, Al-Arabi started a reform process that ended when he left the ministry to become Arab League secretary-general.
Other similar incidents showing a move away from official state policy included the resignation of the then foreign minister Ismail Fahmi when informed of former president Anwar Al-Sadat’s plan to visit the Israeli Knesset in the 1970s.
Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel was another foreign minister under Al-Sadat who resigned on the eve of the signing of the peace accords in 1978 in protest at what he considered to be unacceptable concessions made by Sadat.

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