In 2010, Mohamed Morsi, then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and not yet Egypt’s president, told a TV interviewer that Israelis were “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Caught on video at a rally the same year, Morsiexhorted Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists.
These despicable comments, unearthed by researchers and published last week by The New York Times, while hateful, are not surprising. Such views are, unfortunately, common in Egypt and in the Arab world and even among leaders of the Nation of Islam in this country.
The U.S. responded to the news quickly. White House spokesman Jay Carney described the comments as “deeply offensive” and called on Morsi to “make clear that he respects people of all faiths and that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt.” A delegation of U.S. senators visiting Cairo when the story broke conveyed its disapproval to Morsi, who, for his part, said his comments were taken out of context.
We’re not sure what context Morsi had in mind that could excuse such venom. There simply is none. But we hope that the public exposure and denouncement of hate speech was instructive to Morsi about the norms in the world outside of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian society. Morsi now knows that the world is watching him and listening to what he says. That may not change how he feels or thinks about Jews and Israel. But it may affect what he says publicly and, more importantly, what he does.
The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing in English and an entirely different thing in Arabic. Shining a light on what Morsi says in all languages may help clarify a relationship as important to Egypt as it is to the U.S. and Israel.