During an interview with Reuters, Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohammed Mursi vowed to pursue a ‘balanced’ foreign policy. Mursi also repeated his position that Egypt will continue to abide by international treaties, including its 1979 peace deal.
“Egypt is now a civilian state … a national, democratic, constitutional, modern state,” he told Reuters in his first interview with an international news organisation since taking office. “International relations between all states are open and the basis for all relations is balance. We are not against anyone but we are for achieving our interests,” he added. Mursi’s emphasis on balance suggests that he is seeking a less explicitly pro-American role in the region, whilst at the same time attempting to reassure Cairo’s traditional allies.
Without mentioning Israel by name, he indicated Egypt’s neighbour had nothing to fear from an Egypt’s military campaign in the Sinai Peninsula – which he ordered after gunmen attacked an Egyptian border post, killing 16 police, and tried to infiltrate across into Israel earlier this month.
“Egypt is practicing its very normal role on its soil and does not threaten anyone and there should not be any kind of international or regional concerns at all from the presence of Egyptian security forces,” he said, referring to the extra police, army and other forces moved to the area.” The military campaign was in “full respect to international treaties”, he added. The Egypt-Israel peace deal, signed in 1979, includes limits on Egypt’s military deployment in the Sinai. Reports in the Israeli media last week suggested that Egypt had not sought approval from Israel to deploy extra forces in the Sinai, another provision stipulated in the treaty.
During his interview, Mursi also made a particularly strong call for Assad to be removed from power. ”Now is the time to stop this bloodshed and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene,” Mursi said. ”There is no room to talk about reform, but the discussion is about change,” Mursi said, adding Egypt had repeated that “the friends of the Syrian people in China and Russia and other states” need to back ordinary Syrians. However, Mursi said he opposed foreign military action in Syria “in any form”.
In what could be an important sign of a shift in the region, Mursi will visit Iran this week, the first Egyptian leader to do since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations at the time over Egypt’s support for the ousted Iranian Shah and its peace with Israel, and have yet to formally restore ties. Officially, Mursi visit is to attend a summit of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement, and during his interview with Reuters would not discuss whether Egypt would resume full diplomatic ties with Iran.