Wednesday

7th Dec 2016

Egypt's Islamo-diplomacy comes to EU capital

  • Morsi: Barosso thanked him for coming to Brussels on his first official trip to Europe. But Morsi's first state visit abroad was to China (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi invoked the Koran while promising to protect visitors to Egypt after the killing of US officials in Libya.

Speaking in Brussels with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (13 September), he said: "We are eager to protect visitors, tourists, diplomatic missions, public and private properties. We are required by god to respect them and to be custodians of those vistors and we know that if one person is killed without justification, it is as if someone has killed all of humanity."

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The pledge, which Morsi reiterated three times, is an allusion to verse 5.32 in the Koran, which can be translated: "He who kills a person unless it be [in legal punishment] ... [it] will be as if he had killed all human kind."

It is also an allusion to Arab mores on hospitality for travellers and pilgrims.

Morsi's statement is his first direct reaction to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya in Benghazi on Tuesday.

Initial reports indicate the Islamist group Ansar Al Sharia carried out the attack.

But popular Arab anger over a US-made film - the Innocence of Muslims, which mocks the prophet Mohammed - also played a part in the events, as well as in violent protests against the US embassy in Cairo this week.

The new Egyptian leader, from the Muslim Brotherhood party, portrayed post-revolutionary Egypt as a "modern ... civilized" place.

He noted that out of his five top officials, one is a woman and one is a Christian. "My team is made up of Muslims and Copts, women and men," he said.

He also interjected when Barroso spoke of respect for "all Egyptians, regardless of gender or creed" to add: "We are fully agreed on this matter."

But the two politicians sounded different when talking about the US film.

Barroso said he has "the deepest respect for Islam," but noted that "freedom of expression should not be confronted with propagation of hate."

Morsi said he told US President Barack Obama on the phone he should stop such films from being made: "I assure you after my conversation with President Obama that the American people is also against this [making offensive films]. This is a minority. I asked him to put an end to such behaviour."

The image of post-revolutionary Egypt is important for the country's economy.

Foreign investment and tourism plummeted in the wake of the uprising which toppled pro-Western dictator Hosni Mubarak in February last year.

Barroso said investor confidence is also important for stability.

"The Egyptian population has high expectations of democratic transition leading to social and economic benefits in the short term. These expectations are diffuclt to manage," he noted.

He said the EU will this year contribute €130 million for "job creation ... technical education" in the country.

It is also "considering" another pledge of €650-700 million to help Egypt to balance its budget and is "ready to start talks" on an EU-Egypt free trade agreement.

In other items, Barroso and Morsi urged Syrian leader Bashar Assad to step down.

"There is no place for a President who is killing his own people. No place," Morsi said.

He dodged a press question on whether Arab countries should intervene militarily, however.

The EU press briefing also skirted past the other big topic in the region: the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"We also mentioned Egypt's role in the [Middle East] Peace Process," Barroso said at one point.

It was the only reference to the issue amid Israeli fears that its old peace deal with Mubarak is under threat.

Morsi is due to meet with EU Council Herman Van Rompuy and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who invited him to Brussels in the first place, later in the day.

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