An Interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: ‘We’re Learning How to Be Free’

The embattled president talks to TIME about the world after the Arab Spring, President Obama, civic freedoms and the Planet of the Apes

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Patrick Witty / TIME

Bobby Ghosh, Karl Vick and Richard Stengel interview President Mohamed Morsi at the Egyptian presidential palace on Nov. 28, 2012

UPDATED

On Nov. 28, 2012, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sat down for an exclusive interview with TIME managing editor Rick Stengel, editor-at-large Bobby Ghosh and Jerusalem bureau chief Karl Vick. Protocol required President Morsi to answer questions from TIME editors and reporters in his native Arabic, the official language of Egypt.  Instead, as a courtesy to his guests, he spoke for most of the hour in English, which he last spoke regularly three decades ago. He discussed his beginnings with the Muslim Brotherhood, how he sees the world, his dealings with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Gaza cease-fire and his latest crisis: protests from the judiciary and the secularist opposition over his decree assuming legislative and near autocratic power as Egypt awaits its constitution and the formation of a legislature. He remembered watching U.S. television during his years in California studying for his engineering Ph.D. And he detailed his love of certain movies, including Gone with the Wind and the original Planet of the Apes.  (Note: in previous stories, TIME had spelled the President’s surname as Morsy, based on his Ph.D. dissertation for the University of Southern California; his advisers in Cairo say the preferred spelling is Morsi.)  Following are highlights of the interview:

On the state of the world: This is a new period, I think, not only for Egypt or the people of the Arab Spring but, I think, for the whole world. To reconsider what has been done wrong in the past and see how can we make it correct, as much as we can. It takes time. So speed is low, acceleration is high. Somehow we’re pushing in all directions, trying to say to the people of the world and convince the governments and the leaders that we should live at peace. Conflict does not lead to stability in the world. Cooperation [does]. How can we do that? It’s a struggle. It’s a very, very difficult struggle. To have a new culture, international culture, respecting individual countries and people’s cultures, their local ones. But can we have an international culture? Can we do that? A culture of cooperation, a culture of stopping war, bloodshed. A culture of real peaceful means of trade, militant actions to defend, not to attack, of using power in civilian applications, more than in militant applications … We can cooperate, we can integrate as much as we can.  How can we do that? I think leaders in the world have a great responsibility in this. Human beings can live together.

(MORE: Should Mohamed Morsi be TIME’s Person of the Year?)

On the lessons of Planet of the Apes: I remember a movie. Which one? Planet of the Apes. The old version, not the new one. There is a new one. Which is different. Not so good. It [does] not [express] the reality as it was the first one. But at the end, I still remember, this is the conclusion: When the big monkey, he was head of the Supreme Court I think — in the movie! — and there was a big scientist working for him,  cleaning things, [who] has been chained there. And it was the planet of the apes after the destructive act of a big war and atomic bombs and whatever in the movie. And the scientist was asking him to do something … “Don’t forget you are a monkey,” [the man] tells [the ape]. “Don’t ask me about this dirty work.” What did the big ape, the monkey, say? He said, “You’re human. You did it [to] yourself.” That’s the conclusion. Can we do something better for ourselves?

On President Obama and the Gaza cease-fire: President Obama has been very helpful, very helpful. And I can say, really, that his deeds coincide with his intentions. 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.

On freedoms in the new Egypt: I’m very keen on having true freedom of expression. True freedom of faith. And free practice of religious faith. I am keen and I will always be keen on [transfer] of power. I’m an elected President. My chief responsibility is to maintain the national ship to go through this transitional period. This is not easy. Egyptians are determined to [move] forward within the path of freedom and democracy, and this is what I see. Justice and social justice. Development with its comprehensive overall meaning. Human development. Industrial productive development. Scholarly research. Political development. International relations balanced with all different parties, east and west. We are keen in Egypt, and I am personally keen right now, on maintaining freedom, democracy, justice and social justice. The Muslim Brotherhood do not say anything different from that.

On whether, in hindsight, he would have handled his decree differently: Oh, no, I don’t see the situation this way. What I can see now is, the Egyptians are free. They are raising their voices when they are opposing the President and when they are opposing what’s going on. And this is very important. It’s their right to express and to raise their voices and express their feelings and attitudes. But it’s my responsibility. I see things more than they do. I think you have seen the most recent opinion surveys—I think more than 80%, around 90%, of the people in Egypt are, according to these opinion measures, they are with what I have done. It’s not against the people, it’s with the people, coincides with the benefits. There is some difference between what’s happening now in expressing the opinions of the people and what happened in January 2011 [during the uprising against then President Hosni Mubarak]. There is now some violence that we haven’t seen before, which constitutes something bad going on.

(PHOTOS: Thousands in Cairo Protest Morsi’s Decree)

This is my responsibility, but in general the expression is O.K. But there is some violence. Also, there is some relation shared between these violent acts and some symbols of the previous regime. I think you and I — I have more information, but you can feel that there is something like this in this matter.

I’m sure Egyptians will pass through this. We’re learning. We’re learning how to be free.

On accusations that he is a new pharaoh and tyrant: New pharaoh? [Laughs] … I went to prison. [He touches his tie.] And I was the chair of the materials department at university when I went to prison. The reason why I went to prison is that I was defending the judiciary and Egyptian judges. I know perfectly what it means to have separation between the three powers — executive power, legislative power and the judiciary. This is the main concept about a state based on institutions. The people are the original source of power. The President represents the executive power, and the President is elected by the people. And I’m keen that the people would have complete freedom of elections, and I’m keen on [transfer] of power through free elections. I went all over the word, whether in the U.S., in Europe or the East, and I know how things are run. I know about technology, about research, scientific applications, culture, civilization, differences between nations of the world, the nature of history.

(MORE: Read the extended version of TIME’s interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi)

On whether Egypt is being pulled apart: No, it’s not pulling apart. It’s not pulling apart. It’s a majority and opposition. I can see it very clear. But the opposition is not like it was before. They have the right, they do what they say. If you have 25% or 30% opposition, that’s a big number.

On how he has been as President: How many months [have I] been in the presidential [palace]? It’s five months. Not 30 years [the length of Mubarak’s rule]. It’s five months … It’s five months after a big destruction, corruption, bad deeds. People have always been marginalized. I’ve been part of the revolution. And from the Muslim Brotherhood, I was in charge of the action in Tahrir Square, representing the Muslim Brotherhood during the revolution. I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued [his decree] will stop immediately, and l have others sharing this with you. We’ll have a parliament. We’ll have elections. [That will happen in] two months.

MORE: Egypt’s Morsi: Has He Started Something He Can’t Finish?

320 comments
NaderSaleh
NaderSaleh

he is the most hated man in egypt

Yasser
Yasser

Once the new constitution voting date is announced, most of the media, as expected, started to focus on how to generate as much lies and misleading information about what's written in the new constitution, and whenever you ask about the proof of what they claim, you hear nothing but dead silence. The most surprising thing, also, is that some Facebook pages have turned off the comment option for the friends who are very well known to have a logic conversations, and may embarrass the admins of those pages. This is how they understand the democracy, and other/different opinion. !!! I do recommend every one to read, carefully, and understand before saying "Yes" or "No", just to be 100% sure the you have done the right choice.

MonaAli
MonaAli

The fact is most Egyptians don't want religious fascists and are in need of democracy and wish the U.S would stop support religious radicalism which will grow and hit back the U.S someday. morsy won by a 1% margin after all the money they paid to those who are poor and ignorant in Egypt to vote for him and many people were afraid of Shafik of being like Mubarak, but after his decree most people regret ever seeing him.

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

Yesterday ,saturday 1 december, The biggest demonstration egypt ever witnessed, A demonstration in support of President Mohamed Mosri Front of Cairo university: the number of crowd amazingly is up to 3 million person and more..........this is a message to Morsi's opponents" You are such some losers" " you are some weak minority" Democracy said its word " Morsi is our president for complete four years" 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNBpWTAOmhA

sheroisle
sheroisle

Supporting Morsi .. Yesterdays 6 millions people were in streets in Alexandria , Assuit and of course Cairo supported Morsi's decision , Anyone who says otherwise is clearly disingenuous, blind or liar

Yasser
Yasser

What a dictator!!!. It's the first time to see a dictator speed up the voting process on a constitution that minimizes his power. President Morsy does!!!

Yasser
Yasser

Many millions are protesting now in different places in Egypt, of course Cairo demonstration is the biggest, and guess what! no office for the opposition parties was destroyed, no attacks against governmental facilities was recorded, no harassment. Just to see who is/are working for Egypt and who is/are working against!!!

mghoneim2004
mghoneim2004

We are supporting you Morsi. Continue cleaning Egypt from the remnants

Yasser
Yasser

Having the constitutional document done and ready for voting means that previous regime and every one against new democratic Egypt, for a reason or another, will fight as if it's their last battle; i.e. it's alive or death battle. coming days will tell us. May almighty Allah protects Egypt and Egyptians, Amen.

ImanBaghdady
ImanBaghdady

I was being sarcastic.. Dr. Morsi is the best thing that has happened to Egypt in a very very long time. Most of the people protesting in Tahrir are either doing it because they hate the muslim brotherhood period. Or because they're pissed off their presidential candidate wasnt elected or theyre part of th3 previous regime. Those who left the constitutonal assembly did so after it had concluded 95% of the work. The real reason because they don't want the country to go on to the next step of parliamentary elections. Its a simple equation and we alll know whats really going on.

Karim_7ussein
Karim_7ussein

I am proud that Prof. Mursi is my president, God bless him and bless Egypt. 

Khaled
Khaled

President Moursy announced after his election that he shall be a president for all Egyptians after he won only by 1-2% margin. Given the fact that 37 members withdraw from Constitution committee (let alone all 3 churches withdraw from it as well), while that didn't concern him or led him to make any adjustments. Not all Egyptian people ranks are assembled in that committee. Also there are several of his appointed deputies stepped down.  That is not right or acceptable.

Disagreement on Judges and its organization, is not constitutional either, whether they let go those who were responsible for the killing protesters during the uprise, or President Moursy discontent of the verdict of innocence is not acceptable. The law suit was likely to fade due to lack of evidence and no judge can rule a guilty verdict without sufficient evidence.

President Moursy didn't expect a rosy road or gardens of Eden when he ran for president. His performance and his team are classically performing even worse that Moubark's or Nasser eras.  I am seriously disappointed and saddened by what is happening and what he is doing, despite I was in agreement with him being a president.   God shall not forget Egypt and Egyptians, He shall guide them through this tough time. Egyptians are very conscientious people, however currently poverty, ignorance and sicknesses are so much around them.  God shall protect Egypt. 

LailaAbouzeid
LailaAbouzeid

PROUD

On the state of the world:This is a new period, I think, not only for Egypt or the people of theArab Spring but, I think, for the whole world. To reconsider what hasbeen done wrong in the past and see how can we make it correct, as muchas we can. It takes time. So speed is low, acceleration is high. Somehowwe’re pushing in all directions, trying to say to the people of theworld and convince the governments and the leaders that we should liveat peace. Conflict does not lead to stability in the world. Cooperation[does]. How can we do that? It’s a struggle. It’s a very, very difficultstruggle. To have a new culture, international culture, respectingindividual countries and people’s cultures, their local ones. But can wehave an international culture? Can we do that? A culture ofcooperation, a culture of stopping war, bloodshed. A culture of realpeaceful means of trade, militant actions to defend, not to attack, ofusing power in civilian applications, more than in militant applications… We can cooperate, we can integrate as much as we can.  How can we dothat? I think leaders in the world have a great responsibility in this.Human beings can live together.Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/11/28/an-interview-with-egypts-president-mohamed-morsi-were-learning-how-to-be-free/#ixzz2DhGDOso9

HebaRaafat
HebaRaafat

WHAT    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

hdc77494
hdc77494

The man gives himself dictatorial powers and claims they are learning how to be free? NOBODY has to teach anyone how to be free. You teach how to take responsibility for nurturing freedom. I pray he will stick to his word and allow the new constitution to be approved, though with Sharia law, if you're not a Muslim male, you are doomed.

AnisaA
AnisaA

Clearly the man has got some issues with apes, given that he uses the world stage to talk about them and err, scratch his private parts in public like one.

mmorsica
mmorsica

i do trust, support & pray for the best for him  &Egypt

Yasser
Yasser

I'm really shocked! most of the comments are just repeating media lies, although all of them seem to be highly educated. Please analyse what you hear, first, then pass, only, whatever is/are logic.

SalmaElsaidy
SalmaElsaidy

How can someone  give freedom to people , when he is not himself free

tracycaride
tracycaride

watching both the videos was just wondering where are the woman in the crowd? 

MonaAli
MonaAli

@MohamedAbdoA google earth measured and it wouldn't take more than one hundred thousand mostly ignorant people who took money and were shipped by Muslimbrotherhood buses to stains there. Dictators are disgusting.

MonaAli
MonaAli

@sheroisle that is not true but what does the Muslimbrotherhood say that is true? google earth's measurements of the areas they were in doesn't take more than one hundred thousand people and we know the kind of people who support religious fascists are 90% ignorant people and unfortunately we have many of them in Egypt. I wish the U.S would stop supporting tyrant dictators and thinking that is the only way to get what it wants. enough, the U.S needs to to give a more moral image. even the Muslimbrotherhood in Egypt uses this image to tell ignorant people that Islamists are the ones to stop the U.S.

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@sheroisle This is a fantastic demonstration , Anyone against Mosri should put his head down and follow the majority's rule.

I fully support the new constitution, thats the best constitution egypt will ever have......Your vote for the new constitution

Viva Morsi!

Shreef
Shreef

@sheroisle There are much more people on the opposition side.  The thing is opposition is spontaneous and much less organized than Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists which makes it really huge to see opposition in millions like what happened during the past week.

Shreef
Shreef

@Yasser He is speeding up the voting process to pass the constitution that gives him and his brotherhood sweeping controlling power over Egypt for decades to come and maybe centuries. This is the kind of dictator he is.

HamdyHelaly
HamdyHelaly

@AnisaA It is just your primitive ability to understand the metaphoric language he used to say that If we fail to control our actions, our world would be destroyed, civilized people would go down to the bottom and Apes, with such primitive abilities as yours, would come up to the surface to tell us what to do and what not to do!!!!!!!!!!!!

salwa
salwa

I agree with you, we have to read more and omre to know the truth, before we say or write about this.

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@tracycaride there is some women in between the crowds but the camera may not show them, dont forget that many women are scared of sexual harrassment because between the crowds some filthy sick cowards intentionally dive to harrass women

Shreef
Shreef

@MohamedAbdoA and millions have protested against hid decisions.  This doesn't prove anything. 

HafezOttobi
HafezOttobi

@MonaAli retards exist all over the planet..but their highest population live in egypt, people like shafiq, el baradei supported by disgusting people like you

Abdou7abibi
Abdou7abibi

@Shreef @sheroisle if what you say is true so why do they fear the vote so much?? isn't it democratic to let the people choose their own destiny and accept or refuse the new constitution?!

Abdou7abibi
Abdou7abibi

@Shreef @Yasser my guess for you Shreef is that you haven't read the constitution because if you did you would find that it's a very progressive one and grants all the right any citizen in the world would ask for but the problem is that the oppositions can't stand the idea that the muslim brotherhood president Morsi succeeds as a president because if he does the oppositions will be limited and won't be able to compete the MB in political life afterwards so they are fighting their last battle along with the old regime figures who are collaborating with them right now .. HINT: why noone of the opposition leaders spoke of one catastrophic subject in the new constitution?? haven't they read it??? or they haven't found a subject that they can present to the people as a deadly subject?? in both cases they lose their roles as good political oppositions

Yasser
Yasser

@Shreef @Yasser I do respect your opinion  but would you please elaborate more which part, exactly, in the new constitution gives Morsi and Muslims brotherhood that power! by the way I'm neither member in the Muslims brotherhood nor any other party or group.

tracycaride
tracycaride

Well I can understand that... I just wouldn't think with a huge crowd like that that no one would not see something like and protect the women

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@Shreef @MohamedAbdoA The majority are with morsi ya ostaz shreef and you are lost behind  the phobia of muslim brotherhood"  Again, I'm not muslim brotherhood member.....But i do support morsi, because we are in very bad situation now"""""" Remnants will be back if morsi step down"""  you should be smart

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@georgen13 @MohamedAbdoA  No, you wrong.......both are in support of morsi, this demonstration was front of Ithadiya presidential palace  and president morsi spoke out to the audience.......i'm not muslim brotherhood member but i do support morsi

HafezOttobi
HafezOttobi

@MonaAli mona, learn from romney's supporter. they've lost against obama and ACCEPT IT. your side lost so suck it up, this is democracy

MonaAli
MonaAli

@Abdou7abibi @Shreef @sheroisle democracy is having freedom and courts to say what we want. morsy is destroying the Egyptian supreme court. he is a worse dictator than Mubarak. please stop the U.S support for religious fascists. It will grow and come back to you.

Yasser
Yasser

@tracycaride Hi Tracycaride, if you still have further questions, or you need to know more about Islam, just drop me an email and I'll be more than happy to answer.

my email is elsharkawy.y@gmail.com

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@tracycaride We do provide women the protection but sometimes you know some cowards from slums do bad stuff and run hidding between the people, we couldn't catch them, if they get arrested, they will get a great lesson in beating lol

tracycaride
tracycaride

I'm not sure if I agree with you Egypt I know being here in US that the government when they are wanting supporters they will tell them anything they want to hear to get the support they need.that don't mean the government does what it say just need to be clear on that.lol...I agree with you Yasser it makes no sense for them to make themselves look bad at a time like this. Besides they have many days in a year to do that without even trying.

Yasser
Yasser

@egyptmyegypt @tracycaride Small request, please, can you proof that Morsi's supporters are paid supporters, in the same context there are proofs (youtube videos proof that other powers supporters are given money to protest and make chaos everywhere, and attack different targets (Ministry of interior, US embassy, KSA embassy, Shura council, etc)  just to embarrass the government and to show it as a powerless and cannot control Egypt. 

egyptmyegypt
egyptmyegypt

@tracycaride Tou can find much more women in the demonstrations of the civil powers. Morsi's supporters are paid supporters. The radical Islamist parties pay for buses that bring them from different villages and governorates. They are given pocket money and a meal for the day. They are ordered not to leave the place where they're ordered to demonstrate except after receiving orders to end the demonstration. You can easily get my point if I tell you that the crowds of supporters gathered outside the Egyptian High Court of Justice to support Morsi's constitutional declaration more than 4 hours before announcing that presidency will make a statement. 

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@georgen13 @MohamedAbdoA hehehe its the opponents's lying, they spread lot of lies about this issue.

are you egyptian??? if so....Go read the constitution papers, its the best constitution egypt will have ever, In the new constitution" Egypt even gave rights to the non-egyptians who live on its land"

I think the bitter hatred toward islamists drive you to hate morsi isnt it true?

MohamedAbdoA
MohamedAbdoA

@georgen13 @MohamedAbdoA  I'm not really a muslim brotherhood member, why shall i lie or not tell the truth? if i was a muslim brotherhood guy, I would proudly say it, I dont follow any political party, i have admired 6 April movement since our revolution started,hence they made unity with the remnants of mubarak the last weeks, I dont respect 6 april anymore

I support Morsi....because the fair democratical elections brought him to the power, We should all give him the chance " a complete 4 years"....No need for protests each time against the gov, We are looking for stability.......its enough.........we need a true progress in the new country

georgen13
georgen13

@MohamedAbdoA @georgen13 Seriously, it is obvious when you say you are not a Muslim brotherhood member, then you are. your electronic militias are all over the news and site we know that very well. Also, can you tell me what are these supported saying if you even know!!!

Go look at the constitution and see where it allow the president to gave up a land to any country in international agreement with the acceptance of the majority of Egyptian congress member, then tell me how can you support such a amendment. (please do BS me with this is not going to happen ever because if it is not then they should take it out)