President Mohammed Mursi vowed in an interview published Wednesday to surrender his new special powers when a new constitution is in place, and pleaded for patience as Egypt learns to be free.
Mursi dismissed criticism of his power grab and said protests on the streets of Cairo were a positive sign that Egypt was on the path to democracy after overthrowing dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
“The world stage is very difficult. It’s not easy to be on the world stage,” admitted Mursi, who won a cliffhanger election in June, speaking briefly in English at the start of his interview with Time magazine.
“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,” he said.
Mursi’s remarks amounted to a plea to the international community for patience after his decision to grant himself sweeping powers until the new constitution is ratified in a referendum.
Egypt’s highest appeal court is on strike over Mursi’s decree putting his decisions beyond judicial scrutiny, and protesters have flocked back to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, epicenter of the protests that toppled Mubarak in February 2011.
Tens of thousands protested in the square on Tuesday, in the largest opposition rally since Mursi’s election in June.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the formerly banned opposition movement through which Mursi rose to power, and its Islamist allies have called their own protest in Tahrir for Saturday.
“I’m not worried. I’m concerned,” said Mursi. “We’re learning. We’re learning how to be free. We haven’t seen this before. We’re learning how to debate. How to differ. How to be majority and minority.”
The president referred to a two-month process of drafting and vetting the new constitution before it went to the people in a referendum.
But the interview was overtaken by events as it was announced that the panel considering the constitution was going to rush out the draft on Wednesday in a bid to quell the mounting protests.
The state news agency MENA reported that the panel would vote on the draft on Thursday morning. It will then be put to a referendum.
In his Time interview, Morsi, a 61-year-old former engineering professor who earned his PhD in California, indicated that he would give up his special powers once the constitution was ratified.
“If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop,” he said, wiping his hands to stress his point. “I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued will stop immediately.”
Asked about warnings from critics that he wants to become a new pharaoh, Mursi repeated “New pharaoh?” disbelievingly before letting out a big laugh. “Can I be?” he asked incredulously. “I’ve been suffering, personally!”
“I am keen and I will always be keen on transfer of power,” he said. “I’m an elected president.”