Israelis and Palestinians need to begin speaking about what they have in common if they want peace in the region to have a chance, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said in an interview published by Time magazine late Wednesday.
Speaking to the weekly from Cairo days after helping broker a ceasefire that ended eight day of fighting between Israel and Gaza, the country’s embattled president appealed for an end to bloodshed all around the Middle East and North Africa and said he and US President Barack Obama were working toward that goal.
“President Obama has been very helpful, very helpful. And I can say really that his deeds coincide with his intentions,” he said, speaking in English. “We’ve been talking together about the cease-fire, that’s very important, then we can talk about differences between Palestinians and Israelis. It’s not easy. It’s very difficult. Both sides are talking about differences. We want them to talk about similarities…. We are now doing this job as much as we can.”
Morsi, under fire at home for pushing through a serious of unpopular measures that essentially place him above judicial oversight, dismissed claims that he was a “pharaoh” and said the country’s ills were a product of its lack of constitution.
“I’m sure Egyptians will pass through this. We’re learning. We’re learning how to be free,” he said. “We haven’t seen this before. We’re learning how to debate. How to differ. How to be majority and minority. … We don’t have a parliament now. That’s too bad. We don’t have a constitution now. That [situation is] urging us, pushing people, to finish this but in some sort of stable climate and situation so people can go and vote on the constitution. We want to finish it.”
An activist for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood before rising to power, Morsi said the group would protect freedom of religion in Egypt and not seek to clamp down on non-Muslims.
“We cannot get stable unless we have freedom, democracy, rights for everyone, equal rights, equal rights for men and women, for Muslim, Christians, for whoever is carrying any opinion,” he said.
He also said he would work to protect democracy in the country.
Despite his words, Morsi is facing serious challenges at home from protesters and judicial figures, as anger over his recent decrees crests.
Judges in the country’s top courts went on strike Wednesday to protest Morsi’s seizure of near absolute powers, while Islamists rushed to complete a new constitution, the issue at the heart of the dispute.
The moves came a day after at least 200,000 protesters filled Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to denounce the decrees Morsi issued last week, which place him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts.
Threatening to turn the dispute into violent street clashes, the Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Islamist Salafi Al-Nour party, called for a counter-demonstration this weekend in Tahrir Square, where Morsi’s opponents have been holding a sit-in for over a week.
Morsi has said the decrees are necessary to protect the “revolution” that helped drive Hosni Mubarak from office last year as well as the nation’s transition to democratic rule. The constitutional declaration also provides the 100-member panel drafting a new constitution with immunity from the courts.
In a sign the dispute may take a sharp turn, the Supreme Constitutional Court said in a statement that it will go ahead with plans to rule Sunday on whether to dissolve the assembly writing the new constitution, which is dominated by the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.