BEIRUT: Egypt’s new envoy to Lebanon said his country stood ready to assist the Lebanese in their fight against jihadist groups, and that the militants had ties to other extremists in Egypt and Libya.
Ambassador Mohamed Zayed said Egypt backed a political solution to the crisis in Syria to prevent the country’s division.
“Egypt’s position on Syria is clear: Egypt supports the political solution and calls for a solution that brings Syria out of the dark tunnel that it is in, and rejects the partition of Syria,” he said. “This is a fundamental issue – the division of Syria is unacceptable and a red line for Arab security.
“The important issue is a political solution that puts an end to the violence and bloodshed and protects the unity and peace of Syrian territory and the Syrian state, and the return of institutions in Syria to growth. Syria is more important than any individual.”
In his first interview since taking up the post in Lebanon, Zayed discussed Egypt’s policy priorities in Lebanon, his country’s views on the presidential vacuum and the expected dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, the crisis in Syria and Egypt’s regional role.
Zayed, a longtime diplomat, former ambassador to Yemen and South Africa and the former assistant foreign minister for the affairs of neighboring countries in Egypt, said he sought to expand trade and cultural exchange with Lebanon.
“The Arab cultural renaissance was a result of Egyptian-Lebanese cooperation,” he said.
But he also said Egypt would provide complete support for Lebanon’s stability, dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, and the election of a Lebanese president.
“There is a strong Egyptian desire and commitment to the return of stability to Lebanon,” he said.
“We support the current calls for dialogue and we hope that it leads to the election of a new Lebanese president. The first path toward stability in Lebanon is through the election of a president.”
He said Lebanon must be isolated from regional crises to maintain its stability, and said Egypt would provide security assistance if needed.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk visited Egypt last month to discuss security cooperation with the government there.
“Security support for Lebanon is on the table whether through training or through any other way to support Lebanon in its fight against terrorism,” Zayed said.
Zayed explained Egypt’s support for the fight against extremists in Lebanon as being linked to a broader regional strategy.
“Let me be clear: If you look at the regional situation today, you will find that there are links between all the extremist elements,” he said. “Extremism has the same roots even if it takes on different names, but it has the same takfiri goals.”
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an extremist group based in the Sinai, has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Egypt and recently pledged allegiance to ISIS.
On the political situation in Lebanon, Zayed said Egypt definitely supported dialogue between rivals the Future Movement and Hezbollah, adding that the country had strong relations with all components of Lebanese society. He emphasized Egypt’s historic role in mediating in Lebanese crises.
“Egypt does not discriminate between Lebanese Christians, Lebanese Sunnis or Lebanese Shiites,” he said.
When asked about Egypt’s views on the coalition targeting the jihadist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Zayed said Egypt took part in meetings with the coalition but believed the confrontation against terrorism should not be limited to those countries and should expand to Libya.
“You cannot talk about confronting them in Syria and Iraq without confronting them in Libya,” he said.
Libya is in the throes of militia warfare, with a weak central state that has remained unable to impose its rule after the Western intervention that eliminated longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
“Terrorism is ... all connected and there are indicators of relationships between these movements,” he said. “Takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria are the same as those in Libya, and in Egypt. They are all linked.”
Zayed said the solution to the crisis would be to cut off funding to such groups at the source, and end their support from regional powers and factions.
Egypt currently has a diplomatic presence in Syria that is limited to handling the affairs of Egyptian expats there, and Zayed said there were no current plans to expand that presence.