Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi made his UN debut Wednesday as he took up the case of the Palestinian people in addressing the body’s General Assembly in New York.
Charging the Israeli administration of denying the Palestinians their rightful dignity and freedom, through their “shameful” and internationally-contested settlement building activity, he further contested that “what Muslims and migrants are going through in a number of regions worldwide, in terms of discrimination and violation of their human rights...is unacceptable”.
His condemnation of Israel comes after an uncertain period for Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with its near neighbour, in light of the Islamist leader’s rise to power.
Whilst he initially claimed he would honour Egypt’s international agreements, Israeli fears have mounted as some factions of his Islamist administration have called on it to be reconsidered. In addition to this, no direct contact have since taken place with the Israeli administration and Morsi’s advisors slammed President Shimon Peres’ claims in July that he received a letter from the Egyptian leader expressing his commitment to Israel’s security.
Morsi apparently sought to allay Israeli concerns of a rift with the announcement of a new envoy to the Jewish State, earlier this month. However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry seemed keen to downplay suggestions it signified an upgrade in relations between the two close neighbours, with spokesman Yigal Palmor describing it as “totally natural and normal”. The Egyptian foreign ministry similarly mirrored his tone insisting current consul to Eilat Atef Salem el-Ahl’s appointment formed part of a wider government reshuffle which included 34 other ambassadors.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Morsi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to urge him not to abandon dialogue with Israel. Clinton previously travelled to Egypt to meet with Morsi following his election victory, where she similarly called on him to honour its 1979 peace accord with the Jewish State, which the president has outwardly committed to do.
Elsewhere in his UN address, Morsi insisted Egypt remains “committed to pursue the sincere efforts it has been exerting to put an end to the catastrophe in Syria within and Arab, regional and international framework”, further describing the escalating civil war perpetuated by Bashar al Asad’s authoritarian regime as "tragedy of the age".
However, he insisted, international intervention was not the answer, rather a solution “that preserves the unity of this brotherly state, involves all factions of the Syrian people without racial, religious or sectarian discrimination”, reiterating that the Syrian population should be spared “the dangers of foreign military intervention that we oppose”.
In apparent contrast to Qatari leader Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s call to the Arab world Tuesday to seize the initiative from as yet unsuccessful western powers and intervene themselves to halt the violence, he said he would work to provide the Syrian people themselves with “an opportunity to choose freely that regime that best represents them”.
In so speaking, he appeared to align himself more closely with European rhetoric, following the precedent set by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy a day later, who paid tribute to the example of Egypt as he told the same forum “a democracy can only flourish when it gives all its people -- whatever their gender, religion, language or ethnic identity -- an equal say and equal rights, guaranteed in law and in practice”.
An expected focus came in the form of the Egyptian leader’s reflections on the recent violent protests which took place in Cairo, as well as outside US embassies in Yemen and Libya, claiming the lives of the US Ambassador to Libya and three consulate staff, as a result of the release of an Islamophobic film with apparent US-based connections.
Whilst he condemned the violent outbursts and committed his administration to the defence of “freedom of expression, one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone”, he condemned the “pervasive” practice of anti-Islam words and action, appearing to contradict his US counterpart Barack Obama’s insistence that freedom of expression must be maintained, countering that with freedom should come responsibility.
Raging against the “discrimination and violation of Muslim human rights” across the globe, he called on the UN to take a definitive stance on religious and racially-motivated discrimination, "especially when it comes with serious implications for international peace and stability”.