Appearing in his first televised interviews in both Egypt and the US, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative and speaking to the New York Times, President Mohamed Morsi gave a comprehensive precursor of what to expect from his speech before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday. Sticking to that script throughout a speech in which he referred to himself as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Morsi spoke primarily about Syria and Palestine, in addition to calling on the world to support the governments of Somalia and Sudan. Notably absent from his speech was any mention of unrest in Bahrain, as well as any mention of Israel.
Morsi began his speech with talk of Egypt’s achievements both in regards to its 18-day uprising and its democratic elections, a move which was likely as much for the benefit of his international audience as for the one watching him from home. He said, “Post-revolution Egypt, having freed itself from the contradictions of a bygone era, is among the leading nations defending justice, truth, freedom, and dignity,” referring to the country again as a civil state.
He spoke of a “New Egypt”, one that is “determined to regain its standing among nations, and assume an effective role in global issues, stemming from the will of its people, as well as the legitimacy on which its regime is founded.”
He dedicated a significant amount of time in his speech to the concept of freedom of expression, tied closely to Islamophobia. Speaking within the context of the anti-Islam film that sparked protests across the Muslim world, he said, “We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural particularities and religious points of reference, and not seek to impose concepts that are unacceptable to us or politicize certain issues and use them as a pretext to intervene in the affairs of others.”
He spoke of a need to combat Islamophobia throughout the world, and described the film as part of an “organized campaign against Islamic sanctities”, saying, “We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred,” while also condemning the violence that ensued.
“Egypt respects freedom of expression,” Morsi said, and despite several references to freedom in his speech, he was quick to give a limiting definition to “Egypt’s” idea of freedom of expression describing it as “a freedom of expression that tackles extremism and violence. Not the freedom of expression that deepens ignorance and disregards others.”
These limitations have been manifested in several blasphemy and defamation cases in Egypt’s courts. Alber Saber faces trial for sharing the anti-Islam film on his Facebook page and has been referred to a misdemeanors court. More recently, three defendants have been referred to trial for defaming Christianity, amid accusations of burning a bible.
In regard to international affairs, Morsi spoke of the need to support an independent state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital. Morsi called for “the end of all forms of occupation of Arab lands, and the implementation of relevant international resolutions.” He added, “I call for immediate and significant measures to put an end to colonization, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of occupied Jerusalem.” Touching briefly, and vaguely, on Egypt’s peace treaty he said, “I say it loudly to those wondering about our position vis-a-vis the international agreements and conventions that we have previously adhered to: we are committed to what we have signed on.”
He also called on continued efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria, but once again expressed his opposition to military intervention. He spoke about his newly formed quartet of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, saying “We will continue to work to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and provide them an opportunity to choose freely the regime that best represents them,” and invited other countries to participate in the initiative.
Turning an eye to the Arab world and Egypt’s role in that landscape, he said, “I cannot omit to reiterate here today Egypt’s commitment to working with its Arab brothers and sisters to reclaim our rightful position in the world.”
View the full speech below or read the English transcript here.
Photo Credit: Reuters