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Egypt's president rejects idea of a theocracy

Egypt’s president has used an interview with a leading German newspaper to stress his commitment to building a modern democratic state. His seizure of extra powers late last year had raised doubts about his intentions.

Mohammed Morsi told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that although he has his political roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, there would be no question of establishing an Islamist government as long as he was Egypt's head of state.

"The state in which we believe is a modern state, in which power is transferred peacefully, in which democracy and freedom reign," Morsi said in the interview in the newspaper's Saturday edition. "We don't believe in a theocracy. The very term theocracy does not exist for us. We always speak about a civil state," he added.

Morsi - the first president elected since longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in the face of mass protests in early 2011 - stressed that Egypt should become a country in which all citizens enjoy equal rights "no matter what their belief or religion."

The Egyptian president - who faced widespread international criticism late last year after he seized sweeping powers ahead of a referendum on the country's new constitution - also promised that there would be no return to dictatorship under his watch.

"I am using the law and judiciary under the provisions of the constitution to fight against the dictatorship and the bureaucracy that ruled for decades," Morsi said. "I am pursuing this path with all the strength (available), but not through special provisions."

The president played down mass protests against his seizure of those special powers in his November 22 decree, saying the reaction was understandable given the fact that Egyptians had endured many years of dictatorship under Mubarak. After the constitution was passed, Morsi rescinded his extra powers, which he had argued were needed to expedite democratic reforms.

Morsi also told the paper that his government would respect Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Speaking about the country's future foreign policy in general, Morsi said Egypt would seek "balanced relations with all states."

With a visit to Berlin scheduled for the end of January, Morsi said he would support a bigger "German role in Egypt and the Middle East."

pfd/lw (AFP, EPD, KNA,)