Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi speaks to Ahram Online

Amany Maged, Wednesday 2 May 2012

Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) chief talks to Ahram Online about his presidential bid, the party's spat with the government and the controversial El-Nahda Project

Presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi (Photo: Reuters)

The man who is dubbed the "scholarly president," due to his many achievements and awards in the engineering field, has spoken to Ahram Online about the problems plaguing Egypt's transitional period, including the Muslim Brotherhood's spat with the government of Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri.

Mohamed Morsi received a scholarship from the University of Southern California for academic excellence in engineering and earned a Masters degree and PhD in protecting spacecraft engines in 1982. He worked as a professor in University of Southern California, Los Angeles University, Cairo University, Zagazig University, and Al-Fateh University in Tripoli, Libya between 1982 and 1985.

After the conclusion of his academic endeavors abroad, Morsi served as head of the Engineering Department at Zagazig University in Egypt from 1985 until 2010. He has been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood since 1979 and was considered one of their top leaders and official spokesperson before the January 25 Revolution.

Morsi, who heads the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), created after the January 2011 uprising, was not the group's first choice for president. The Brotherhood initially wanted Khairat El-Shater, the group's deputy supreme guide and financer, to be president. However, when El-Shater was disqualified from the race because of a criminal conviction during the Mubarak era, the Brotherhood presented Morsi as a substitute.

Tensions with El-Ganzouri cabinet

In interview, Ahram Online asked Morsi about the Muslim Brotherhood's volatile relationship with the government of Kamal El-Ganzouri. When El-Ganzouri was first appointed in November, the Brotherhood had good relations with him and even visited him in his office. However, things turned sour, with the Brotherhood repeatedly asking for the dismissal of the Ganzouri government, citing incompetence.

When asked about the Brotherhood's initial visit with El-Ganzouri, Morsi said that it was an attempt to clear the air for the sake of the nation. "This happened before the parliament commenced and we wanted to assure him that we don't consider anyone an enemy … We talked about many of the important issues regarding the resources of the country," Morsi said.

However, Morsi added that the Brotherhood was later shocked at the poor performance of the Ganzouri government and its failure to resolve many problems, from reconstructing the Ministry of Interior to the fuel crisis and the way it dealt with the foreign funding of NGOs crisis, where several foreign workers, including Americans, went to trial for working in Egypt without proper licensing.

The Brotherhood since repeatedly asked for the sacking of the Ganzouri government and for authority, as the dominant force in parliament, to form a new government, a request that was repeatedly denied.

Last Sunday, Parliament Speaker Saad El-Katatni, a senior member in the Muslim Brotherhood, decided to suspend parliamentary activities until 6 May to protest the continuance of the Ganzouri government in power. There have been reports that the Brotherhood was offered the option of participating in the restructuring of a new government by choosing five ministers. Morsi denies that the Brotherhood ever received such an offer.

"We never received this offer and even if we did we would have rejected it, because we don't like partial solutions," Morsi said. "We do not accept stop-gap solutions."

When asked if Ganzouri ever threatened to dissolve the government, Morsi said yes. "Ganzouri said in front of General Sami Annan that there is a lawsuit filed against parliament in the Constitutional Court that can be activated at any time," Morsi said, adding that Ganzouri taunted the Brotherhood for reaching such high positions after being repressed under the Mubarak regime. "He also told us, 'Did you ever dream to have all you've got now?'"

Morsi denied any intention to step out of the presidential race in order to make way for former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh. "The Brotherhood studied all available candidates … and decided that I would be their candidate and this is a final decision. The people should choose who they want," Morsi said.

Abul-Fotouh was considered a senior member of the Brotherhood but was expelled after he made the decision to run for the presidential post despite the group's decision effective at the time not to field a candidate in the first post-Mubarak presidential race. Later, the group reneged on that decision and put El-Shater forward as their candidate.

Promising a national renaissance

Since beginning his presidential bid, Morsi was criticised for adopting El-Shater's El-Nahda ('Renaissance') Project. However, Morsi is adamant that the project does not belong to any figure in the Brotherhood and that it is the product of the combined efforts of everyone in the Islamist group.

"We have been working on this project since the 90s and have tried to support our ideas with research and scientific studies," he said. He explained that El-Nahda Project covers many fronts, including setting the proper values for society and human development, a strategic front and an executive front that covers many projects in the fields of health, education and industry.

"I believe that the Egyptians will be very attracted to the Nahda Project because it will lift the country up," Morsi said. "And we have met with investors from Arab and Europeans countries who have promised to pump $200 billion into the Egyptian economy."

When the Salafist El-Nour Party announced that they would back Morsi's rival Abul-Fotouh many were shocked, since the Brotherhood and El-Nour are considered strategic partners. However, Morsi stressed that El-Nour has the right to choose whatever candidate it wants to support.

Diplomatic, domestic crises

Turning to present events, Morsi described the diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the detention of Egyptian lawyer Ahmed El-Gizawi that led Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador as nothing more than a "summer cloud." "We appreciate having good relations with all Arab nations and Gulf countries on the basis of mutual respect, and therefore we should respect the laws of other countries," he said.

Regarding the four-day sit-in by protesters in front of the Ministry of Defence, mainly against military rule, Morsi said that revolutionaries have the right to protest peacefully. "The revolution will continue even if I am elected president. The people have the right to voice their opinions. But I ask officials from the government and the military council, as well as protesters, to consider the public interest and to express their opinions without harming public property ... If injuries occur they should be investigated," he said.

Turning the interview to personal matters, Morsi said that he has five children and three grandchildren. He acknowledged that two of his children have US citizenship from when he was teaching in the US. However, Morsi said that the family has not been to the US since 1985, even though the "American people are kind and welcoming."

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