A leading Islamist candidate in Egypt’s presidential election has branded Israel a “racist state” and said a shared 1979 peace treaty was “a national security threat” that should be revised, Egyptian media reported.
Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, a front runner in the May 23-24 election according to polls, had earlier described Israel as an “enemy” in a televised debate with his main contender, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who also served as foreign minister under the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
In an interview with the private Egyptian TV channel CBC, Abul Fotouh said he had opposed the Camp David peace treaty since its implementation.
“I still view the peace treaty as a national security threat to Egypt, and it must be revised,” he said.
“It is a treaty that forbids Egypt from exercising full sovereignty in Sinai and allows Israelis to enter Sinai without visas, while they need visas for Cairo,” Abul Fotouh said.
The treaty, by virtue of which Israel withdrew from Sinai after capturing it in a 1967 war, does not allow Egypt to have military presence in parts of the Peninsula.
Abul Fotouh said Israel was “a racist state with 200 nuclear warheads” that continued to pose a threat to Egypt, a report carried out by Egypt’s Independent said.
His main rival Moussa has also argued for the revision of the treaty with Israel and described its policies towards Palestinians as an Egyptian “national security issue.”
Following the comments on Israel by both presidential hopefuls during the debate, the U.S. urged the Egyptian candidates to respect the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
“We’re not going to get into the back and forth of what’s happening in a campaign,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked to react to their criticism on Israel.
“People say things in a campaign and then when they get elected they actually have to govern,” Nuland said.
“As we have said to all of the candidates that we’ve spoken with, we believe that it is in the best interest of Egypt to maintain its existing arrangements and regional responsibilities with neighbors,” she added, alluding to the peace treaty.
During the TV interview, Abul Fotouh also criticized linking Islam with terrorism, adding that the way al-Qaeda leader Osama bin laden was killed by the United States should be considered a form of state terrorism, the online edition of Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram reported.
The moderate Islamist candidate, who got the support of both hardline fundamentalists and liberals, also refused to describe Bin Laden as a terrorist, saying the term was used by the United States to “hit Muslim interests.”
But he said the killing of the Saudi militant by the U.S. special forces was an “act of state terrorism,” and Bin Laden had deserved a fair trial, although he disagreed with Bin Laden’s use of violence.
“If a just court sentenced him, then the sentence should be applied,” he said.
He said that “all forms of terrorism are unacceptable.”
Abul Fotouh, a former leading member Muslim Brotherhood Group, who was expelled in 2011 for violating a then-ban on members to run for president, expressed his view that while the Brotherhood was forced to work unregistered during the past decades, it should now seek to legalize its status and function in a way that is more transparent, according to al-Ahram report.
He expressed his worries that certain people were warning Copts not to vote for him because of his Islamist background insisting that he believed “Egypt is for all Egyptians.”
Voting for Egyptian expatriates started on Friday and will last until Thursday. Presidential elections will take place in the country on May 23 and 24, and the president will be named on June 21 after a runoff voting round on June 16 and 17.
The election should end a military-led transitional period since an uprising toppled Mubarak in February 2011.
Mubarak is now standing trial on charges of ordering the shooting of protesters, corruption and selling gas to Israel at cheap price. The former president was seen as a close regional ally of Israel.
After his overthrow, an attack by protesters forced Israel to close its embassy and Cairo annulled the controversial gas treaty, alleging lack of payment from Israel. The Sinai pipeline that exported gas to Israel was bombed more than 15 times by Bedouin militants.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)
I still view the peace treaty as a national security threat to Egypt, and it must be revised
Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, a presidential candidate