CAIRO Former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak said it was too early to judge President Mohamed Mursi, saying the Islamist politician faced a difficult job, in comments billed as his first interview since his removal from power in 2011.
El-Watan newspaper said its journalist broke through security lines to speak to Mubarak on Saturday before his retrial on charges of complicity in the death of protesters killed in the popular uprising that swept him from office.
"He is a new president who is carrying out weighty missions for the first time, and we shouldn't judge him now," Mubarak said in the remarks published on Sunday.
El-Watan, which is fiercely critical of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, said its journalist spoke to Mubarak, 85, just before he entered the court.
Mubarak, who was president for almost 30 years, said he was saddened by what he described as the difficult conditions facing the poor and the Egyptian economy, which has been hammered by political instability that has frightened off tourists and investors.
"This is the secret of my sadness: to see the poor in this condition," said Mubarak, who was toppled by an uprising fuelled by economic hardship.
He said he was worried by the prospect of Egypt concluding an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8 billion loan seen as vital to supporting the economy. The loan would bring austerity measures likely to curb subsidy spending.
Economists fault the Mubarak-era subsidy regime for failing to target state support at the most needy. The Mursi administration says it wants to better direct the subsidies.
Mubarak said the poor were at the heart of his decision-making, especially when it came to subsidy spending on staples.
"I fear for the country because of the IMF loan," he said. "Its terms are very difficult, and represent a great danger to the Egyptian economy later on. This will then hit the poor citizen, and the low-income bracket," he said.
With parliamentary elections approaching later this year, the Mursi administration has yet to conclude an IMF deal.
Mubarak also said he was concerned about lax security, apparently referring to increased crime, and a rise in Islamist militancy in the Sinai Peninsula.
He added, "History will judge and I am still certain that the coming generations will view me fairly."
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Cooney)