Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Mursi, urged the United States late Saturday to change its approach to the Arab world to be able to repair relations and revitalize an alliance with Egypt.
Mursi will travel to New York on Sunday to take part in a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
“Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” the president told The New York Times in an interview.
According to the paper, he was referring to U.S. backing of dictatorial governments in the region and Washington’s unconditional support for Israel.
The remarks followed days of violent anti-American protests in Cairo sparked by an amateur anti-Islamic film posted on YouTube. During these events Mursi called on demonstrators to show restraint while condemning the film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed.
Mursi praised U.S. President Barack Obama for moving “decisively and quickly” to support the Arab Spring revolutions, arguing that the United States supported “the right of the people of the region to enjoy the same freedoms that Americans have.”
But he also expressed concern about the plight of Palestinians, who still don’t have their own state, the paper said.
Americans, he pointed out, “have a special responsibility” for the Palestinians because the United States had signed the 1978 Camp David accord, which called for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza to allow for full Palestinian self-rule.
“As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled,” he said.
According to The Times, Mursi was evasive when asked if he considered the United States an ally.
“That depends on your definition of ally,” he said, adding that he considered the two nations “real friends.”
The issue was thrust to the forefront of bilateral relations earlier this month, when President Obama suggested that Cairo was neither an ally nor a foe.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland and other top administration officials then tried to distance from Obama’s comment by acknowledging that officially Egypt was still “major non-NATO ally.”
Egypt was granted such status under U.S. law in 1989, allowing it to enjoy a close relationship with the U.S. military, along with other allies including Australia, Japan, Jordan, Israel and Thailand.
In his interview, Mursi also reaffirmed his links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious organization viewed by many in the United States with suspicion.
“I grew up with the Muslim Brotherhood,” the president said. “I learned my principles in the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned how to love my country with the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned politics with the Brotherhood. I was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
He also pointed out that the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules as the West, underscoring a cultural divide between the two nations.
“If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”
Mursi initially sought to meet with President Obama at the White House, The Times said, but he received a cool reception, and the idea was dropped.
Obama thanks Mursi over embassy protection
Meanwhile, Obama thanked the Egyptian president for securing the U.S. Embassy during the protests against the film.
Obama’s rival in the U.S. presidential race, Mitt Romney, called for a tougher line with Egypt after protesters scaled the compound wall and tore down the U.S. flag on Sept. 11.
Police clashed with demonstrators for four days after that incident and barriers were erected to stop them getting near the compound.
In a letter, Obama repeated Washington’s condemnation of the film and said he looked forward to working with Mursi to build on the “strategic partnership,” Mursi’s official Facebook page said on Sunday.
“In his letter, President Obama thanked the Egyptian president for Egyptian efforts to secure the mission of the United States in Cairo,” according to the site.
Egypt was a close ally of the United States under Hosni Mubarak, whose 30-year rule was ended by a popular uprising last year. The U.S. government, a major aid donor to Egypt and long wary of Islamists, only opened formal contacts last year with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled Mursi to power.
Obama told a Spanish-language network this month that the United States did not consider Egypt’s Islamist government either an ally or an enemy.