Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Morsi: Freedom has responsibilities

Mohammed Morsi speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York (AP/David Karp)
Mohammed Morsi speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York (AP/David Karp)

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said freedom of expression must be used responsibly, in a speech that hinted at looming tensions in the newly-democratic nation.

Mr Morsi, a key figure of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, said several times that he was the "first, democratically elected, civilian president of Egypt" and earned applause by asking his audience to "see a new Egypt".

"I never imagined this moment," Mr Morsi told the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. "We really have a new state in Egypt."

That state has faced a chaotic political climate since last year's mass protests brought down Egypt's ageing dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt, now governed by the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, has tussled with military officials and democracy activists over the future of the Arab world's most populous country.

Mr Morsi called for limits on free speech, without providing details, saying the violent protests over an anti-Islam video required "some reflection". The protests have killed dozens of people, including the US ambassador to Libya, since they began last week. "We must acknowledge the importance of freedom of expression," he said. "We must also recognise that such freedom comes with responsibilities, especially when it comes with serious implications for international peace and stability."

His speech at the annual gala of former US president Bill Clinton's foundation followed a Monday night meeting with Mr Clinton's wife, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, that sought to repair ties that were strained severely after Egyptian demonstrators overran the US embassy in Cairo.

Mr Morsi insisted that all Egyptians enjoyed equal rights after the lecture's moderator - Mr Clinton - asked about the rights of women and the country's large Christian minority. In the past Mr Morsi has said he does not believe Christians or women can serve as the country's leaders, based on his conservative interpretation of Islam.

He called for a shake-up of global organisations such as the UN, saying they had to be more democratic - a frequent cry of regional powers who resent the UN Security Council's permanent five members - the US, Russia, China, France and Britain. Mr Morsi appeared to single out Syria's backers - Russia and China - and Israel for criticism. "I can't simply watch the blood that is being shed in Syria, or the children starving in Gaza, and claim that our model of global governance works," he said.

Mr Morsi acknowledged the vast challenges his country faced - high unemployment, a crippled infrastructure, sputtering economy and unchecked violence - but said he remained patriotic and faithful. "As an Egyptian I know there is no limit to what humans can accomplish when people come together for a peaceful purpose," he said. "As a Muslim, I know God helps."

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