x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Morsi seeks to allay western concerns on direction of his Islamist government

Egypt's first democratically elected president vows that Egypt will become a modern, democratic state but also uses his maiden UN speech to criticise Israel over its settlement activities and nuclear weapons.

The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, told the UN General Assembly that Arab nations could not accept what is widely believed to be Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.
The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, told the UN General Assembly that Arab nations could not accept what is widely believed to be Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

NEW YORK // Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, sought to allay western concerns of the direction of his Islamist-led government, vowing to the UN General Assembly yesterday that Egypt would become a modern, democratic state.

"We have taken several steps on the road towards establishing the modern state the Egyptians aspire for. One that is in tune with the present, is based on the constitutional rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights," he told world leaders.

But his speech was short on details of domestic policy and how he would lead his country toward this goal. He declared only that the Egyptian revolution, which brought nearly 60 years of military rule to an end, had "established a genuine legitimacy, through the efforts of all Egyptians, inside and outside Egypt".

Instead Mr Morsi focused on his nation's place in the region, which had been central until the 1970s, vowing that the "New Egypt is determined to regain its standing among nations and assume an effective role in global issues."

This, he said, would stem "from the will of its people, as well as the legitimacy on which its regime is founded."

Mr Morsi sought to downplay concerns about the future of the 1979 Camp David agreement that brought peace between Egypt and Israel. "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."

But he sharply criticised Israel for its "colonisation, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of Occupied Jerusalem".

"It is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence," he said.

He also said Arab nations could not accept what is widely believed to be Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

"The will of the people, especially in our region, no longer tolerates the continued non-accession of any country to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the non-application of the safeguards regime to their nuclear facilities, especially if this is coupled with irresponsible policies or arbitrary threats," he said.

Iran, as an NPT member, had a right to nuclear energy but should honour its "commitment to provide the necessary guarantees to the countries of the region so as to remove any doubts surrounding their intentions", Mr Morsi said.

He also had sharp words for those who criticised Islam in light of deadly demonstrations across the Islamic world against a video produced in the US that denigrated the Prophet Mohammed.

"We stand opposed to those who oppose him and his work," Mr. Morsi said. "Egypt respects freedom of expression. One that is not used to incite hatred against anyone."

Responding to US criticism that he did not quickly enough condemn protesters against the film scaling the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo to rip down and burn the US flag, Mr Morsi said Egypt "also stands firmly against the use of violence in expressing objection to these obscenities".

Having called for the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad to step down earlier this month, Mr Morsi yesterday called for a democratic country that units all factions and "spares Syria the dangers of foreign military intervention that we oppose".

Earlier at the General Assembly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, in a speech boycotted by the US, toned down the rhetoric from previous UN appearances, concentrating on a condemnation of an unjust, global economic system and an attack on the American electoral system, six weeks before the US general election.

The Iranian president blasted "world capitalism" for victimising the global economy "to make up for their own mistakes". Half of the 60 trillion of industrial nations' debt could wipe out world poverty, he said.

Mr Ahmadinejad sharply criticised the US electoral system, asking, "Are we to believe that those who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on election campaigns have the interests of the people of the world at their hearts?"

He said that despite "what big political parties claim in the capitalistic countries, the money that goes into election campaigns is usually nothing but an investment."

In a speech infused with religious imagery, Mr Ahmadinejad said that only the return of the Mahdi and Jesus Christ could save a morally bankrupt world.