In an extensive interview with Reuters News Agency, Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi explained how he sees Egypt’s place in the changing Middle East. “Egypt is now a civilian state…a national, democratic, constitutional, modern state.” Mursi hopes to pursue a “balanced” foreign policy, stating that “International relations between all states are open and the basis for all relations is balance. We are not against anyone but we are for achieving our interests.”
He stated that Egypt will honor its peace treaty with Israel, an assurance Israel needs in light of the build up of Egyptian military in the Sinai following a Hamas attack on Egyptian soldiers. “Egypt is practicing its very normal role on its soil and does not threaten anyone and there should not be any kind of international or regional concerns at all from the presence of Egyptian security forces.” He siad that the campaign is operating with “full respect to international treaties.” Part of the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel limits Egyptian military presence in the Sinai, but the terrorists who attacked the border post were looping through the Sinai to attack Israel from outside the Gaza Strip. Egypt’s crackdown benefits Israel.
Israeli officials have voiced many of the same concerns American conservatives have about an Egyptian president and parliament associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But Mursi is proving hard to predict or pigeonhole. Israel feared he would be supportive of Hamas in the Gaza, since Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, but Mursi ordered the smuggling tunnels into Gaza from Egypt sealed by bulldozers. In the past, when Egypt did anything about the tunnels, it barely amounted to saying “don’t use these,” with a slap on the wrist.
Mursi has also called for meetings with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to discuss a resolution in Syria. “Now is the time to stop this bloodshed and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene. There is no room to talk about reform, but the discussion is about change.” Mursi called for “the friends of the Syrian people in China and Russia and other states” to back the aspirations of the Syrian people. Mursi adds a new dimension to discussions with the al Assad regime. Though Egypt’s transition from the Mubarak regime is hardly complete, but it more stable than Tunisia and Libya. Mursi is the only Middle Eastern leader who can speak to and for the rebels in Syria from a position of experience. He opposes any military intervention in Syria from any source.
Later this week, Mursi will be traveling to Tehran to attend a summit of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement. It will be the first time an Egyptian leader has visited Iran since the revolution in 1979. Mursi would not be drawn into any statements concerning restoration of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran or any assessment of the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Mursi told the Reuters reporter, “We see that all the countries in the region need stability and peaceful co-existence with each other. This cannot be achieved with wars but through political work and special relations between the countries of the region.”
Mursi is expected to visit the United States in September. Asked about our upcoming election, Mursi stated that he believes that the United States is a “stable institution” and Egypt doesn’t work with the U.S. in terms of personalities.
One of the missions of the Muslim Brotherhood is the creation of Islamic states, but Mursi said that the nature of Egypt, the framework of the new constitution, would be up to the people of Egypt, and not to him or his political party. The new constitution is being drafted by an assembly and then will be presented to the Egyptian people in a referendum. The interview did not go into details about how the voters would be educated as to what is in the proposed constitution, when so many Egyptians are semi-literate or illiterate.
Mursi was born in the Nile Delta in a small village. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cairo University, he attended the University of Southern California where he received his Ph.D. in engineering in 1982. He taught at Cal State Northridge until 1985 when he returned to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University. Mursi lived in America during two unusual periods in our history, the Carter and Reagan administrations. Carter’s was marred by the OPEC oil embargo and the seizure of our embassy personnel in Iran, but characterized by Jimmy Carter’s dedication to human rights in all situations. Reagan’s was filled with belligerence toward the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union, unbridled spending and two major scandals – the Iran-Contra mess and the collapse of the savings and loan industry. It was a time when Mursi could see the basic dichotomy of America, our internal conflict between desiring peace and advocating war, between honoring human rights and ignoring human rights in our allies. Though most pundits claim that Mursi came away from his time in America hating our lifestyles and non-Islamic values (or lack thereof), I think he came away from America understanding the difficulties of governing and leading a diverse nation filled with people who share very little in terms of ideologies and values. It may have been exactly the training he needs to lead Egypt.