Egyptian front-runner would modify Israel treaty

Former Egyptian FM Amr Moussa leads presidential race; Brotherhood says it has support to appoint assembly speaker.

Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa 311 R (photo credit: Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa 311 R
(photo credit: Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Cairo will likely maintain its peace treaty with Israel but in modified form, Egypt’s leading presidential candidate said this week. Amr Moussa said regulations for troop deployments in Sinai and Egypt’s sale of natural gas to Israel could be expected to undergo revisions in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.
On Sunday a member of Egypt’s ruling military council said the presidential nomination process would start on April 15, with voting beginning in June.
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Voting for the lower house of parliament has already finished, but full results have yet to be announced because votes in some areas are going to be run again. Still, the broad result of the staggered election that began in November is already clear, with Islamists taking roughly 70 percent of the vote in the lower house and similar results expected in the upper chamber.
An official from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said Sunday that several leading parties are backing a senior figure from the Islamist group to be assembly speaker.
The FJP, which secured the biggest bloc in the parliamentary election, is proposing its Secretary-General Mohamed al-Katatni for the speaker post, party head Mohamed Morsi said after the parties met.
Under the agreement reached between the main parties, which included non-religious and Islamists groups, the two deputy speaker posts would go to the Salafist al-Nour party, the runner-up in the vote, and the nationalist Wafd party, another group with substantial support.
Moussa is the clear frontrunner in polls for president, garnering 39% of votes in the latest nationwide survey conducted in November (his closest competitor was Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister, who received 13% of the vote).
In an extensive interview this week with pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, the former foreign minister and Arab League chief outlined his vision for Egypt’s future.
Moussa said he would uphold the will of the people, even if parliamentary elections signal a majority of Egyptians support religiously oriented parties.
“We, as Egyptians, know that our feelings can be influenced by religion,” he said. “Therefore, I am not afraid of this, because I myself am one of the people whose feelings can be influenced by religion and with the principles and tolerance of religion.”
“As an Egyptian Muslim, I respect the Islamic religion, and so it would not be right for me to go beyond this, and if I did go beyond this, I should return to it,” Moussa continued.
“However I also have another duty, namely to read and learn and work with modern science; to express my opinions; to enjoy literature and the arts. If we wanted it to be without writers, artists, intellectuals and scientists…then this is not Egypt,” he said.
Moussa said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an emotive issue for Egyptians of all stripes: “I visited many villages in Upper Egypt and elsewhere, and whilst talking about various domestic issues such as services to citizens, education and more, no meeting would end without the question of Palestine being raised.”
He continued: “With regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian cause, Egypt must and will continue to be part of the Arab Initiative [for peace]. Egypt’s policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and its resolution, must be based on the Arab Initiative.”
“As for Egyptian-Israeli relations, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is in place, and I do not think there are any circumstances that will lead to its cancellation. I do not think this will happen, and I do not think it would be wise for this treaty to be canceled.
The treaty will continue so long as each party respects it.
“As for the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula and the presence of Egyptian forces there, I believe that the security articles of the treaty should be reviewed.”
On gas sales to Israel, Moussa raised two questions: “Firstly, whether we will sell natural gas to Israel or not, and secondly, how such sales will take place.”
“There is a lot of corruption in the gas deals that occurred in the past. This corruption must be immediately addressed,” he said. “As for the issue of whether we will continue such sales, the political apparatus must look into this and consider how it will manage Egypt’s gas and oil policies, environmental policies, etc.”
The 75-year-old was foreign minister under Mubarak for 10 years, where his consistent hard-line against Israel made him a far more popular figure than the president.
Following Israel’s 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, Moussa accused the Jewish state of having committed an “atrocity” and of violating human rights and international law, while praising Turkey for challenging Israel’s blockade of the territory.
Moussa has also questioned Jerusalem’s commitment to the peace process, denounced US support for Israel and called for a nuclear-free Middle East that includes both Israel and Iran.
In this week’s interview, Moussa said his policies would be neither secular nor Islamist, neither right nor left. “My basis is Egyptian nationalism. This may require me to take a left-wing position, or a right-wing position, or a moderate position. The main thing is to take a nationalist position,” he said.
He said he has no regrets over serving under Mubarak, the aging leader currently standing trial, whom he now describes as a “dictator”: “This is an issue that I do not fear, and my answer is that this is something that is not said by the revolutionaries, but by political campaigns that want to take advantage of the people.”
“If former Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf was a minister under Hosni Mubarak and a member of the National Democratic Party... and was chosen and nominated as prime minister by Tahrir Square, what if I was also a minister?” Moussa continued.
“This is double standards and cheap talk.”

Reuters contributed to this report.