Dr. Robert Mason is Lecturer in International Relations department at the British University in Egypt (http://www.bue.edu.eg/). He writes, teaches and researches on the broad subject of International Relations, with a particular emphasis on Middle Eastern Politics. His PhD dissertation from Exeter University was published from I.B. Tauris as a book entitled “Foreign Policy in Iran and Saudi Arabia: Economics and Diplomacy in the Middle East”. He has written on the Middle Eastern Politics for the Middle East Journal, Russian Middle East Policy for the Maghreb Review and Omani Security Policy for British Journal of Middle East Studies. He has also written chapters on the Indo-Saudi ‘Strategic Partnership’ (GRC), Iranian Latin American Policy and Turkey-GCC relations. He has contributed pieces to Open Democracy, RUSI newsbrief, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and LSE IDEAS, amongst others. His current research agenda includes the Arab Revolutions, Afghanistan and Saudi Foreign Policy. For details visit his Academia page at http://bue.academia.edu/RobertMason.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Mason, thanks for accepting our interview proposal. You teach at the British University in Egypt and you live in Cairo. You are also an expert on Middle Eastern Politics. So, I think you are the most appropriate person to ask about what has happened and happening now in Egypt. Why do you think elected President Mohammed Morsi lost the support of international community and what could happen in the near future?
Dr. Robert Mason: It’s a pleasure. I think President Morsi lost the support of the Egyptian people and military for a number of reasons: Foremost, his brand of Islamism was corrosive to the unity of Egyptian society as he never sufficiently articulated the common values and aspirations of the Egyptian people. From the start of his presidency, he sought to place himself and his decrees outside the reach of the law and under delivered on engagement with civil society. He failed to adequately address various national security threats facing the state (the free flow of weapons and militants across Egypt must have been a major concern even before 24 Egyptian police were killed in an ambush at Rafah earlier this month). Finally, the economy is not only in crisis but was heading in the wrong direction under President Morsi. He was unable conclude an IMF deal and allowed the Central Bank to support the Egyptian pound to the tune of $10 billion, which really wasn’t affordable or a good use of public money.
Egypt could now take one of two courses: The interim government could remain in deadlock with the Muslim Brotherhood and lose sight of where the country needs to be. That would be disastrous if it goes on too long. Alternatively, the government would be able to convince the Muslim Brotherhood that it is true to its word of creating an inclusive arrangement and bring the MB in under multi-party rules. It is up the MB protestors to decide to support that process or carry on with sit-ins.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: You previously made research on Iranian foreign policy for your PhD thesis. How would you analyze the election of “moderate” Hassan Rouhani as the President of the Islamic Republic? Do you think he could make a change in the relations between Iran and the West while still insisting on proceeding with the nuclear programme?
Dr. Robert Mason: History would suggest caution, because even if Rouhani is a pragmatist, and the indications are that he is, he is neither in full control of foreign policy decision making or the military apparatus in Iran. In answer to your second question: no. Any change between the West and Iran requires a negotiated solution which would necessitate a suspension to the Iranian nuclear programme, conforms to a mix of existing norms, UN Security Council Resolutions and possibly additional confidence building measures. A uranium swap deal is still one of more promising confidence building options still available. In order to get to that point, as I argue in my book, there needs to be ‘active engagement’: a combined effort at frequent and direct talks, US-led sanctions relief (and then suspension), and a series of incremental confidence building measures across the nuclear, economic and regional security domains.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Mason, what do you think about the ongoing civil war in Syria? Is there a chance for decreasing the tension and reaching peace?
Dr. Robert Mason: Contrary to what is happening in the US right now, I think there needs to be an emphasis on strategy rather than tactics. I’m for sending a message to all states that the use of any WMD will not be toleration. However, US or allied military action against Syria won’t decrease tension or contribute to a lasting peace, whereas a robust diplomatic approach at the bilateral and multilateral levels could. Rather than perceiving the Levant and elsewhere as a zero-sum game, both the US and Iran could easily conclude an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme which would lay the foundations for more cooperation on Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The same argument can be applied to Russia in the UN Security Council where clarifying and agreeing on the principles of humanitarian intervention and meaningful measures to counter violent Islamism (including against Syrian opposition groups in which US Secretary of State Kerry recently stated that 10,000+ could be violent Islamists). This negotiation could lead to a UN Security Council Resolution which would give the international community a legitimate and legal basis for broader action against Assad. In the face of unanimous international condemnation and intervention, it is possible Assad would then be forced to the negotiating table.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Mason, how would you analyze Turkish Foreign Policy in relation to the process of Arab Spring and the latest developments?
Dr. Robert Mason: Erdogan was wrong-footed initially by Libya but moved quickly to remain in the NATO camp. His policy on Syria was mishandled quite early on, because as he publicly sided with the demands from Syrians he lost all diplomatic leverage with President Assad. To be locked out of a conflict across the border cannot be a good thing. On Egypt, I’m sure Erdogan and Morsi saw eye to eye as two Islamist politicians and again I’m sure Erdogan was surprised by Morsi’s rapid departure, but his reaction to blame Israel for it belies the lens through which he sees regional events. The sands are shifting quickly in the modern Middle East and have forced Turkey to abandon its ‘zero problems’ policy. The instability has also brought opportunities, such as the ‘strategic partnership’ between Turkey and the Gulf States, based on solid economic and political rationales that could outlive current events.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Mason, what are your expectations for Turkish cooperation and integration with the Western world for the future?
Dr. Robert Mason: Turkey remains a low key but pivotal state for the US and will be valuable on all sorts of issues: in the G20, in NATO, and in the UN Security Council (if it is able to get another non-permanent seat in 2015-16). I don’t see any fundamental shift in EU policy towards Turkey over the next decade, particularly given the current economic crisis that has challenged the union of current EU members, let alone new ones.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Lastly Dr., could you give us some Turkish academics or writers that you follow closely and take their views into consideration?
Dr. Robert Mason: For Turkish international politics, I would point to the work of: Ahmet Davutoğlu, Birol Başkan, Şebnem Gümüşçü, Nuh Yılmaz, Kadir Üstün, Christopher Phillips, Kemal Kirişçi, İlter Tūrkmen and Özden Oktav.
Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Mason, thank you for your time.
Interview: Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ