Muslim Brotherhood stokes fears over Israel pact

THE Muslim Brotherhood indicated yesterday that it would review Egypt’s landmark peace treaty with Israel should it form part of a future government after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The comments from the opposition group, which Israel and many in the West fear could hijack the country’s popular revolt, will cause alarm in the Jewish state.

The Camp David peace accord was signed by the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

“The position [on Israel] will be decided by the people according to the free choice of parliament,” Essam el-Erian, a senior representative of the Islamic group, said. The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt, despite being invited to talks with a government that is struggling to curb the popular uprising.

Mohammed el-Mursi, another senior member, said that the “treaty has in its introduction an independent state for the Palestinians where they can decide their own destiny … Where is that complete and just peace?”

The Brotherhood, formed in 1928, is the country’s most organised opposition movement, but it was taken by surprise by the massive street protests led by secular, middle-class youths.

The demonstrators have rejected any attempt by mainstream political parties to take control of the powerful grassroots movement. Many of the protesters on Tahrir Square have said that they want the peace treaty with Israel to remain.

The Brotherhood admitted that it had little chance of taking the lead in a future government. “We couldn’t dominate this movement even if we wanted to,” Mr el-Mursi said.

“The Muslim Brotherhood does not seek power. We will not put forward a candidate for the presidency.” He added, however, that they would participate in a future parliament.

Aware that they are feared by the West, the Brotherhood stressed yesterday that they wanted a secular, democratic Egypt, rather than one dominated by Sharia, or Islamic law.

Analysts believe that the Brotherhood could muster about 25 per cent of the vote in immediate elections, but note that the share could drop as long-suppressed secular parties gain ground.

On Tahrir Square, which has turned into a tent city as the protest movement gains strength, the Army did nothing as large crowds marched to the nearby parliament building and demanded the resignation of its members.

The pro-democracy masses were undaunted by a threat from Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who has effectively taken power, that there could be a coup unless the demonstrators agreed to enter negotiations with the Government. The message of the people on the square was simple. “We will not leave until Mubarak goes,” repeated a steady stream of defiant demonstrators.

As the protesters stood firm on the streets, a new judiciary committee appointed to review Egypt’s Constitution agreed to amend six articles, including placing term limits on the presidency and easing restrictions on who can run for the highest office in the country.

Meanwhile, violence spread to the far-flung western desert, where five people were killed and several injured by gunfire when police clashed with about 3,000 demonstrators in the remote oasis of Kharga, state television said.

In the southern town of Assiut, some 4,000 protesters blocked a railway with wooden planks and bricks and shut down a major highway with burning tyres.

Several smaller strikes broke out in Cairo and the Nile Delta to the north, where textile workers demanded higher wages and better conditions.

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