Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi (photo: Reuters)

Interview with Mohamed Morsi
''We Don't Want a Theocratic State''

"We believe in a modern state, in which the transfer of power takes place peacefully and in which democracy and freedom prevail." With these words, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi expressed the sentiment that his country does not wish to become a theocratic state. Here is the full interview of President Morsi with Markus Bickel and Rainer Hermann

Mr President, the second anniversary of the revolution against the regime of Hosni Mubarak is coming up. During the days of protest on Tahrir Square, Egypt was united. Today, society is split. What are you doing to help reunite your people?

Mohamed Morsi: I'm doing my best. I am pleased that there is diversity of opinion and am glad that we have an opposition. We are still learning how to cooperate in a fully democratic environment – with real freedom – for the common good of all Egyptians so that we can move forward together. No one has the right to use force. At the moment, we do not have a parliament, but that will soon change.

In June 2012, the constitutional court declared the country's first parliamentary election to be unconstitutional. A parliament will be elected again this spring. Will this contribute to reconciliation?

Mohamed Morsi: It is a great opportunity for all parties and political blocks to take part in the elections for a new parliament. It is my duty to guarantee this. I will help to preserve peace at any price in order that all segments of society will be able to participate. I believe that the future will be very much better than the past.

There are huge problems at the moment. The Egyptian Pound has fallen to a historic low. People have been killed and injured at demonstrations.

Mohamed Morsi: Of course we have problems, and it is only natural that there are social discrepancies and political differences. This is normal for revolutions, especially the Egyptian revolution, in which more than twenty million Egyptians took part. At least one member of every family was active in the revolution, and this despite the fact that we lived so long under a dictatorship in which the regime employed violence against the people.

A member of Egypt's Republican Guard stands in front of a wall of the presidential palace bearing caricatures of Egypt's current President Mohamed Mursi (l) and former president Hosni Mubarak (r) in Cairo (photo: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
The two faces of power – Mohamed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak: Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood accuse the President of having created a dictatorship under the guise of religion in Egypt

​​In light of the great challenges facing us, it is only normal that there are differences and demonstrations. But we are moving in the right direction to allow us to reach our goals. Pray for us!

Critics fear that Egypt could become a theocracy.

Mohamed Morsi: We don't believe in a theocracy. The concept of a theocracy is not one that we hold. We always speak of a civil state. In the Al-Azhar University document, which we all signed (on 20 June 2001, leading Islamic and secular scholars rejected the concept of an Islamic state and instead demanded a civil state. Editor's note), refers to a modern and democratic state, adhering to the rule of law, and where freedoms are guaranteed. It is this concept of a state that we represent. Over the course of Islamic history, we have understood that a theocratic state doesn't exist. We believe in a modern state, in which the transfer of power takes place peacefully, in which democracy and freedom prevail, and where social justice and those holding opposing views are respected. In this state, the people are sovereign and the source of all authority.

There is great concern in Europe about the situation of the Copts in Egypt. What are you doing to ensure their protection?

Mohamed Morsi: All Egyptians are equal before the law and have the same rights and obligations, regardless of their faith and their religion. The concept of minority is inapplicable to the Christian citizens of Egypt. They are citizens of the country – just like everyone else. The decisive factor for us is citizenship, as it is anchored in the new Egyptian constitution. Here, Article 2 regulates the role of the Sharia for legislation and Article 3 regulates the concerns of Egypt's Copt and Jewish citizens. For the first time, they are allowed to make decisions on their civil status according to their own statutes. There is a general awareness that the new constitution establishes freedoms for everyone. On the basis of my faith, I am compelled to be fair and unbiased towards all non-Muslims, but I am also obliged to do so by the Sharia and the constitution.

Yet, many Christians remain worried.

Mohamed Morsi: Both Muslims and Christians participate in the national dialogue that we began in December. Its decisions have already been implemented. In accordance with my authority, I have also named 90 members of the Shura Council. Christians now make up 15 per cent of the appointed members – more than ever before. Coptic, Catholic, and Protestant Churches suggested eight candidate and I added another four. My relationship to the Copts is very good. There are no problems.

An anti-Mursi protester holds the Koran, a Cross and the Egyptian national flag on top of a wall in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, December 2012 (photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Polarization of religious communities: Since the outbreak of the revolution, conflicts between Muslims and Copts in Egypt have been on the increase. Already back in October 2011, 26 people lost their lives in bloody clashes between Copts and Muslims in Cairo

​​Attacks regularly take place.

Mohamed Morsi: Yes, on occasion there are incidents, here and there, yet they are presented in a false and distorted fashion. This is basically social strife and is not religious in nature. There are conflicts between Muslims and among Copts. Such is the nature of life. The media sometimes blows things out of proportion. In the past, all Egyptians suffered under the dictatorship. They didn't suffer because of their religious affiliation.

What are you doing to secure equal rights for women in Egypt?

Mohamed Morsi: Men and women are one hundred per cent equal. Women are citizens – the new constitution guarantees them all of their rights. A woman is my mother, my sister, my daughter, my wife, and my colleague, and women participate in the political process. A woman in my staff is responsible for the political dialogue that takes place under my supervision. We do not have any real problems here, as these are artificial problems. Just as everywhere around the globe, the role of women in politics is not as great as it should be. I would be very pleased if a large number of women make it into the new parliament. Egyptian women are very strong. As a whole, they are moving forward, even in the workplace. There are women in business, working as doctors and lawyers, and even women taxi drivers. They are respected and enjoy all the rights that men do – and sometimes even more.

Last November, when you granted yourself special powers in a constitutional declaration, you were referred to by some as a "pharaoh." What are you doing to get rid of this image?

Mohamed Morsi: With the new constitution, all Egyptians are equal – from the state president down to the most humble citizen. The era of dictatorship has past. We only have but one further important step ahead, and that is the election of a new parliament that will take place in just a few months. The constitutional declaration was urgently necessary in order to protect the achievements of the revolution. No one has suffered any harm or injury, neither individuals nor institutions. Some of the articles in the declaration were falsely interpreted and wrongly understood. I have made no use whatsoever of my legislative powers, not against person or against any institution.

And yet the atmosphere has become so charged that there have been fierce riots in the streets.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwlle (r) and Egypt's foreign minister Kamel Amr in Berlin, November 2012 (photo: Rainer Jensen/dpa)
Egypt as the most important gateway to Africa: President Morsi stresses the special economic and political role Egypt plays in the region. He thereby desires a stronger German commitment in his country and in the region as a whole. Pictured: German foreign minister Guido Westerwlle (r) and Egypt's foreign minister Kamel Amr in Berlin, November 2012

​​Mohamed Morsi: Normality has returned since the adoption of the constitution. Do you really believe that after the revolution of 25 January it would be possible for a new dictatorship to arise? I respect the opinion of others and work so that freedom of opinion holds sway. My work consists in safeguarding the interests of all Egyptians.

You have stated that a "deep state" consisting of members of the security forces and the judiciary have been responsible for counterrevolutionary activities. How strong do these forces still remain?

Mohamed Morsi: The corruption proliferated not only under the dictatorship, but even today it still has the potential to block the path to freedom and democracy with all the means at its disposal. However, this corruption wanes with time. I am using laws and the judicial system, within the framework of the constitution, to fight the dictatorship and the bureaucracy that ruled for decades. I have chosen to take this path with all my might, but not through the use of special measures.

You will be traveling to Berlin at the end of January. What do you expect from this visit?

Mohamed Morsi: Germany has a great deal to offer that we could use – science, technology and a stable economy. On the other hand, Egypt has much to offer that could be of use to Germany, such as being a location for investment. Egypt is the most important gateway to Africa. I wish that Germany would play a bigger role – both economically and politically – in Egypt and in the Middle East, and thereby contribute to peace and stability in the region. We are moving towards stronger relations with Germany, especially in the area of technology transfer, in particular in research and development.

What do you want to do to create more employment in Egypt?

Mohamed Morsi: Investments are the key. Many Egyptian and foreign companies want to invest in Egypt. We therefore have to establish the right conditions with a legal framework. Egypt has great potential in comparison to other countries and those investors who want to come to our country and create jobs here are aware of this fact. Economically, we still have a long way to go. However, we have already experienced success on our path of democratization and the political stabilization of the country.

Will Egypt continue to be a partner of the West or will it pursue a policy of independence?

Mohamed Morsi: Is there a contradiction between independence and partnership?

Egypt's rapprochement with Iran is viewed critically in Europe and the United States.

Mohamed Morsi: We aim towards balanced relations with all states in the world – in a spirit of independence and sovereignty and with the aim of safeguarding our common interests. When I refer to balanced relations, this means that we do not interfere in the affairs of other states. The division of the world into camps tends to be counterproductive. Just because I maintain strong links to Germany does not mean that links to other states should be weaker or even negative.

Egyptians protesting against president Mohammed Morsi during a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, December 2012 (photo: Nasser Nasser/AP/dapd)
Opposition to Egypt's new constitution: The opposition has criticised the numerous vague provisions of the text as offering insufficient guarantees for civil rights and paving the way for a further Islamisation of the country

​​The Egyptian revolution was carried out for the sake of freedom, democracy, and social justice. Egyptians want an economic upturn and social justice. On this basis, we have devised our foreign policy positions.

Why is Egypt not as active in Syria as Qatar and Turkey?

Mohamed Morsi: Syria is currently experiencing a dramatic situation. First of all, we are attempting to put an end to the bloodshed. Only then can the Syrians clean house themselves. The current regime has no place in a new Syria after having killed over 60,000 people and wounding many more. This is something Syrians will not be able to forget. The opponents of Assad, through their representatives in the National Coalition, have already taken matters into their own hands. We try to assist them in the process.

Isn't stronger external support necessary?

Mohamed Morsi: Egyptians are attempting to help, yet the changes can only be carried out by the Syrians. We are opposed to a division of the country. This would pose a threat to the entire region. Egypt, along with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, has formed a quartet and together we hope to find a solution. In the process, we are working closely with other Arab countries, with the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, and the United Nations. The situation is getting worse day by day, and more than forty per cent of the country's infrastructure has already been destroyed. Egypt is not pursuing any particular interests in Syria, but instead desires stability and security. This will require a great deal of time.

Even two years after the revolutionary upheavals, the region remains in turmoil. A civil war is raging in Syria and only two months ago there was an armed clash between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Are you working towards raising the presence of Egyptian troops on the border with the Gaza Strip and with Israel?

Mohamed Morsi: Ensuring peace in the Middle East requires cooperation first and foremost. The new Egypt and its state president are committed to peace and stability in the Middle East. We will defend the borders with all of our neighbours in order to guarantee our security. We are working hard in this respect and have already achieved great progress. We have no problems on our borders, yet we remain alert to any sort of aggression across the borders. We respect what we have signed and we respect the right of people to live in peace and security. We want a Middle East as it has been agreed upon in the peace treaty, with a just and comprehensive peace.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi spoke with Markus Bickel and Rainer Hermann.

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / 2013

Translated from the German by John Bergeron editor: Lewis Gropp

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