Editor's note: This SPIEGEL interview was conducted before the Arab League officially requested on Saturday that the UN Security Council impose a no-fly zone on Libya.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary-General, the dictator Moammar Gadhafi is dropping bombs on his own people in Libya, and you, as head of the 22-member Arab League, are merely looking on?
Amr Moussa: That is precisely what we are not doing. For the first time in the history of our organization, we have suspended a country's membership because its leadership is abusing the country's people. In two resolutions, we have condemned Gadhafi's actions and declared our solidarity with the Libyans, whose struggle for freedom of expression and democracy we fully support. We are consulting with the United Nations and the African Union -- two alliances of which Libya is also a member -- partly to discuss imposing a no-fly zone on Gadhafi's air force.
SPIEGEL: Are you trying to influence him? When was the last time you spoke with the Libyan leader?
Moussa: The way he is now behaving means a personal telephone call makes no sense. Gadhafi lacks the insight that Tunisia's (former) President Ben Ali and (former) Egyptian President (Hosni) Mubarak showed by stepping down. Gadhafi truly believes that the unrest is controlled from abroad and that the Libyan people still adores him.
SPIEGEL: Do you think he is irrational or cold-blooded and calculating?
Moussa: I'm not prepared to discuss his psychological state. The situation is too serious for that.
SPIEGEL: Gadhafi sent an envoy to the Arab League. What did the man want?
Moussa: I didn't meet him. We have already adopted resolutions on Libya and will make the appropriate decisions at the next League meeting. Besides, Libya and Gadhafi are a matter for the United Nations Security Council…
SPIEGEL: …which would have to approve the no-fly zone to give it international legitimacy. This is a highly controversial step. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called it an act of war. The Libyan anti-aircraft positions would have to be bombed first, so that surveillance aircraft couldn't be shot down.
Moussa: I'm no military expert. How this zone is implemented, and by whom, remains to be seen. The Arab League can also play a role here, which I will advocate.
SPIEGEL: You support an international military intervention in a fellow Arab state?
Moussa: You are calling it an intervention. I'm talking about a humanitarian campaign. The goal of implementing a no-fly zone is to support the Libya people in their struggle for freedom against an increasingly inhuman regime.
SPIEGEL: Who should lead the campaign?
Moussa: That depends on the Security Council resolution. The UN, the Arab League, the African Union, the Europeans -- everyone should be involved. I just spoke with the Italian foreign minister, and his British counterpart called me the day before. We are trying to coordinate our efforts.
SPIEGEL: While you consult, Gadhafi keeps on bombing. The regime in Libya is waging a war against its citizens.
Moussa: It's a revolution, but it isn't a civil war yet. We are motivated by the desire to protect the civilian population, not by strategic interests, and not by oil. For us, it's the people that count.
SPIEGEL: Not all Libyans are calling for international support against Gadhafi. Some believe that they can topple the despot on their own. An intervention would deprive them of the pride in their revolution.
Moussa: We Egyptians, of all people, know how important it is to bring down an autocrat using only your own power. I hope the Libyans can have the same wonderful feeling. The revolutions in the Arab nations are not all proceeding according to the same pattern, but change is inevitable. And irreversible.
SPIEGEL: What has triggered the unexpected uprisings? Where are the common roots?
Moussa: People are taking to the streets because they are frustrated and because they have no prospects. Because they were being governed poorly. And because they are tired of seeing their freedom of opinion curtailed. Throughout the entire Arab world, it is an uprising propelled primarily by young people.
SPIEGEL: Do you see other autocrats being overthrown?
Moussa: Yes. This is only the beginning. I bow to the Tunisian people, whose brave revolt started it all. I am proud of my fellow Egyptians, who have already achieved so much with their courage and spirit. What happens in our country has always had a critical impact on the Arab world. The revolution in Cairo opened the door wide up for change. In other words, the Libyan regime will not be the last to fall. I see a domino effect.
SPIEGEL: Who will be next? Will it be President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria or King Khalifa in Bahrain?
Moussa: The situation in Yemen is extremely tense. But you don't seriously expect me to go through all of the countries with you and predict the next overthrow.
'We Are Experiencing a Dramatic Upheaval in the Entire Middle East'
SPIEGEL: Dissatisfaction is even driving people to protest in wealthy, conservative Saudi Arabia.
Moussa: We are experiencing a dramatic upheaval in the entire Middle East. This region is in the process of undergoing radical change in a short space of time. And even if the change is still associated with risks and setbacks, it's a unique opportunity, the beginning of an epochal development. What we are now experiencing is the discovery of true democracy by the Arab world.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean?
Moussa: For many in the West, democracy means dropping completed ballots into ballot boxes. That's enough for them. This is also the superficial view imparted to us by Western countries, and it hampered our chances for development. But now we have recognized that there is more to democracy: respect for human rights, the observance of basic rights and laws, the development of independent institutions. In taking this path, we are picking up where our own history left off: the parliament of 1866, a development that was interrupted by coups. We are not imitating the West, and we will not be given instructions. We are going our own way.
SPIEGEL: Middle Eastern autocrats consistently claim that they are the bulwark against religious extremism, based on the motto: It's either me or chaos.
Moussa: That sentence comes from Mubarak. Extremism exists in every society, everywhere, not just in the Middle East and not just in Islam. It isn't just the result of religious fervor. It is the responsibility of all of us to fight these bloody superiority fantasies with all our might.
SPIEGEL: That's also the way Mubarak justified his repressive regime.
Moussa: Certain circles in the West were only too willing to accept this. But it was very convenient having a strong man as a partner.
SPIEGEL: And now cooperation will become more inconvenient and unpredictable for our politicians?
Moussa: Don't belittle the West in general. There are many leaders who are genuinely pleased about the awakening of our democracy. I expressly count Chancellor Merkel among them. She has her own experience with lack of freedom and with the triumph of overcoming it. I would be pleased to be able to welcome her here in the new Egypt soon.
SPIEGEL: You served the old Egypt for 20 years. You were its ambassador to the United Nations and Mubarak's foreign minister. Do you regret having been loyal for so long?
Moussa: I can't deny that I was part of the government. But my loyalty was always to Egypt, not Mubarak. I was never in his party. As foreign minister, I represented the interests of my country, and with a good conscience. I adhere to what I did in that position. But I always had my own ideas. That's why I had to go after 10 years.
SPIEGEL: Mubarak sent you off to the Arab League. Was it because you had become too popular for his taste and he feared you as a rival, as many believe?
Moussa: I had a constructive working relationship with Mubarak for a long time, until the president insisted on constitutional amendments in 2005 that were meant to solidify his further control. This was an attack on the dignity of our country, and it shattered our relationship. At the economic summit of Arab nations in January 2011, I spoke clearly to Mubarak about the wrongs in our country: the dissatisfaction of young people, their lack of opportunities, their calls for freedom and a share of power, and their feelings of outrage over corruption.
SPIEGEL: Mubarak didn't want to listen?
Moussa: I was appalled at how little he understood about what was really happening in Egypt. He didn't have his finger on the pulse of the time.
SPIEGEL: And yet you were in favor of Mubarak remaining in the presidential palace for the remainder of his term, until September 2011. The revolution was already in full swing at that point. Why?
Moussa: I wanted to provide him with an honorable exit, under the condition that he would not run for office again or send his son into the race. He agreed to that condition.
SPIEGEL: But it wasn't enough for the hundreds of thousands on Tahrir Square in Cairo. They chanted: "Now it's enough!"
Moussa: Yes. Mubarak's realization came too late. There was no longer any chance of a possible compromise once the regime brutally attacked the people. When that happened, I went to Liberation Square (Tahrir Square) twice. I was moved by how warmly the protesters received me.
SPIEGEL: Did it encourage you to run for the office of president?
Moussa: I am available. But we don't know yet when exactly the elections are to take place. It also isn't clear yet whether there will be parliamentary elections or presidential elections first. I would argue for the latter. New parties have to first be set up in Egypt so that a parliament can be representative of the people.
SPIEGEL: With all due respect to your vitality, you will be 75 this year, which doesn't exactly make you the standard-bearer of the young Egyptians who were largely behind the revolution.
Moussa: I don't believe that my age is a handicap. The new Egypt needs fresh people, but also politicians with experience.
SPIEGEL: An initial poll suggests you are a frontrunner for the presidency. When will you resign from your post as head of the Arab League?
Moussa: Irrespective of a candidacy, I decided some time ago that after 10 years at the head of the Arab League, I would no longer be available for a new term. As far as my role as a favorite goes, I've been in politics long enough not to place too much faith in opinion polls. There are also other candidates.
SPIEGEL: Who is your main rival? Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei?
Moussa: I hold him in high regard. I'm looking forward to a political contest with him.
SPIEGEL: What does your political platform look like?
Moussa: I'm a supporter of the free market economy, but this doesn't mean that we should forget social issues and justice in society.
SPIEGEL: The Islamic political organization Muslim Brotherhood also hopes to win votes by running on a justice platform.
Moussa: The Muslim Brothers are a part of society, and they indisputably have their followers. But they did not play a key role in the Egyptian revolution. Now they have the right to form an independent party and to take part in free and fair elections. They have to prove themselves with a political platform. This is better than marginalizing and persecuting them, as Mubarak did.
SPIEGEL: What do you think the Muslim Brotherhood's prospects are in elections?
Moussa: They are a strong force. But I don't believe that they will come into power.
SPIEGEL: Your neighbor, Israel, fears that the Muslim Brotherhood's influence is growing to a dangerous degree, and that religious extremists will revoke the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Is that fear justified?
Moussa: Our policies will be moderate and geared toward balance. As president, I would naturally uphold all international agreements, including those with Israel.
SPIEGEL: You would, but the Muslim Brothers probably wouldn't.
Moussa: Should they become the most powerful force, against all expectations, Israel will have to live with it. Democracy is democracy. I'm sorry, but you can't choose who wins the election.
SPIEGEL: You too are considered highly critical of Israeli policy.
Moussa: Egypt fully supports the joint Arab position toward Israel. The Palestinians need their own, viable state, and Israel has to withdraw from the occupied territories. And as a very first step, the blockade of the Gaza Strip…
SPIEGEL: …which is controlled by the radical Islamic group Hamas…
Moussa: …has to be lifted, immediately and in full.
SPIEGEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a long way from doing that. Could you still sit down with him and find political compromises?
Moussa: First of all, Netanyahu would have to show that he is interested in a just peace. That would reduce the tensions in the region.
SPIEGEL: You already visited Israel during your time as foreign minister. Back then, you refused to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Moussa: That was many years ago. I didn't want the agenda of my visit to be dictated to me at the time. But that has nothing to do with my revulsion for the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews.
SPIEGEL: The Egyptian military has to give up its power as a precondition for real democracy.
Moussa: I'm convinced of that. They have shown great responsibility. You know that they are only managing the transition. As with all other democratic forces, I am in close contact with the military council. But Egypt's new era will only begin when our constitution is reformed and the first freely elected president is inaugurated.
SPIEGEL: Should the crimes of the past be punished or forgiven?
Moussa: The crucial thing is the rule of law. Criminals need to be punished. But it's not about revenge. For us, the most important thing is to look to the future.
SPIEGEL: Should Mubarak be pardoned? Are you in contact with him?
Moussa: No, I have no contact with him. He is living in his villa in Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, and he's well guarded. He should withdraw from public life completely. The former president is now an ordinary citizen like anyone else. Hosni Mubarak will also have to answer to the law. Everyone is equal in the new Egypt.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary-General, we thank you for this interview.