Egypt Salafist says party will honor Israel peace

Leading Islamist Nour party officials backtrack from remarks, leaving mixed signals.

December 21, 2011 00:53
3 minute read.
ABO EL-MATY of the Salafist Al-Nour Party

ABO EL-MATY of the Salafist Al-Nour Party 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

The head of Egypt’s leading Salafi movement said Tuesday the party would respect Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Representatives of the party quickly backtracked, however, saying the matter was still being looked into.

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“Treaties Egypt has signed must be upheld – we intend to respect them,” Nour party chairman Emad Abdel Ghaffour told a press conference in Cairo, adding though that Israel has not implemented certain clauses in the agreement regarding the Palestinians.

These include “a solution to the Palestinian issue, their right to self-determination, self-governance and the creation of a Palestinian state on Palestinian land,” Abdel Ghaffour said.

“There are several clauses that must be enacted in order for the Palestinians to feel they have gained from the peace process.”

Ghaffour – a physician from the Islamist stronghold of Alexandria – said his party would consider making “changes” to the peace treaty, but did not elaborate. Many Egyptians hope to see the downgrading or elimination of troop deployment limitations in the Sinai Peninsula and the natural gas deal between the two countries.

Salafis represent a fundamentalist religious stream that seeks to create an Islamic state according to strict social codes and a legal system based entirely on Islamic law. The various Salafi parties have thus far been the biggest surprise of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, taking about 30 percent of votes to place second after the Muslim Brotherhood which garnered around 40%.

The Brotherhood, hardline but more pragmatic Islamists, has been cagey about its own views on relations with Israel.

The movement has said it would respect all of Egypt’s international obligations – implicitly including its treaty with the Jewish state – but on other occasions has insisted it would not engage in direct diplomatic negotiations with Jerusalem.

The Brotherhood has striven to show the outside world it follows a “moderate” brand of Islamism, and that its foremost priorities are not religious but nurturing Egypt’s nascent democracy and tailspinning economy.

The Salafis, improvising their public relations after decades underground and an unexpected election windfall, may be trying to do the same.

In an ironic turn Tuesday, a Salafi spokesman chastised the Brotherhood for being “unrealistic” in refusing to negotiate with Israel, and said the Nour party’s executive council was still deliberating whether to “engage in dialogue with Israeli diplomats.”

The spokesman told a Kuwaiti newspaper there was nothing preventing Egypt from engaging in dialogue with Israel, and that such talks would be held transparently, under the supervision of the Foreign Ministry.

“We will not allow any secret negotiations,” he said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt said he “needed to learn more” about the electoral results when asked by Egyptian journalists whether he was concerned by Islamists’ strong showing at the polls.

Yaakov Amitai, who entered the position just a week ago, said he does not intend to intervene in Egypt’s internal politics.

Amitai heads a small delegation at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, which three months ago was ransacked by rioters who tore down its security wall. The assault followed the fatal shooting of six Egyptian troops by IDF forces pursuing gunmen who had crossed into Sinai after killing eight Israelis in a terrorist attack.

A top Israeli diplomat said Tuesday the ambassador would try to open channels of communication between Israel and Islamist groups.

“We should make every effort to explain we are not the enemies of the Egyptian people or of the Palestinians,” he said.

“The Palestinians cannot continue to hold the Arab world by the tail.”

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