Egyptian candidates vow to review Camp David accords (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH and AP 05/11/12)
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In first televised debate, Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh
split over whether Israel is an enemy or adversary
The two top contenders in Egypt’s presidential race said Thursday
night they would review the country’s peace accord with Israel should
they come to power.
Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh were split, though on whether
their neeghbor was an enemy or just an adversary, during a televised
debate that for many heralded the genesis of Egyptian democracy.
Egyptians crowded around television sets in outdoor cafes for the
four-hour debate, aired Thursday evening on several independent TV
channels — a startling new experiment for Egypt after nearly 30 years
of authoritarian rule under President Hosni Mubarak, ousted last year
after a wave of protests.
For most of Mubarak’s rule, he was re-elected in referendums in which
he was the only candidate. The last presidential election, in 2005,
was the first to allow multiple candidates, but Mubarak was
considered a certain winner and campaigning was weak — and a direct
debate was out of the question.
The debate repeatedly turned combative, as the two candidates, each
standing behind a podium, were also given time to throw questions at
Abolfotoh, a former Muslim brotherhood activist who later moved to
the moderate flank of the movement, called Israel an “enemy state,”
and said Egypt was strong enough that it did not have to worry about
the rise of Iran in the region.
Moussa also had harsh words for Israel, which he said threatens Egypt
with its nuclear weapons and steals land, but stopped short of
calling the Jewish state an enemy, instead using the term “adversary.”
“From my point of view Israel is a combative country that you can’t
enter in an agreement with,” he said.
Moussa, a former Arab League head, added that most Egyptians
considered Israel an enemy and had no faith in it, but he saw no
reason to put the country on a collision course with Jerusalem.
Egypt and Israel have maintained a cold peace since the Camp David
Accords signed in 1979. Mubarak’s ouster has led to fears in
Jerusalem that the peace accord will be invalidated, a fear backed up
by statements by candidates that they intend to review or change the
Relations between the two countries have been icy since the popular
uprising in Cairo last year. In September, mobs in Cairo attacked the
Israeli Embassy, forcing it to be evacuated. The suspension of a deal
for Egypt to sell Israel gas in April also raised fears over the
future of the countries’ ties.
Israel recently completed construction of a large fence on its long
border with Egypt, though the stated aim of the barrier is to prevent
Africans from sneaking across. Construction was sped up following an
August attack in which terrorists infiltrated Israel from the barren
Egyptian border, firing on buses, cars and soldiers on the desert
road along the border and killing eight.
Most of the debate in Cairo centered on domestic issues, though.
Abolfotoh sought to taint Moussa as a key member and supporter of
Mubarak’s regime. Moussa, in turn, painted Abolfotoh as beholden to
the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamists.
“My point of reference is the nation, your point of reference is the
Brotherhood,” the 76-year-old Moussa, who has sought to appeal to
Egyptians worried about the rising power of Islamists, told his
rival. He pushed Abolfotoh to explain his stance on implementing
Islamic Shariah law, suggesting that he had “made commitments” to
“I want to hear one word of opposition you said under Mubarak’s
regime,” Abolfotoh, 60, shot back, pointing out that Moussa said in
2010 that he would back Mubarak for another term as president.
At one Cairo coffee shop near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the
protests that brought down Mubarak, supporters of either candidates
broke out in claps and cheers when either candidate hit on the
other’s perceived weakness— scenes of public support mostly seen in
Egypt only around football games.
“This is the first time in the Egyptian and Arab history. We really
are changing,” said Ahmed Talaat, a 36-year old accountant. “The
uprising is really bearing fruit.”
The two touched on their economic platforms, the role of the
military — which is due to hand over power to whoever wins the
presidency — women’s role in politics and even on their own health
and what salary they would take if they won.
But the debate gave Egyptians a taste of the tactics common to
presidential face-offs in the United States and Europe, as each tried
to enshrine his image. Moussa presented himself as the voice of
experience that can bring security to a country rocked by turmoil
since Mubarak’s fall. Abolfotoh depicted himself as the candidate of
the revolution — kicking off the debate with praise for the “martyrs”
killed by security forces and troops in protests against Mubarak and
against the military that took his place in power.
In his campaign over past months, Abolfotoh has gathered an unusual
coalition, with support from some secular liberals, youth who have
broken away from the Muslim Brotherhood and some followers of the
hard-line Islamist movement known as Salafis.
Moussa stepped down from the Arab League post after Mubarak’s fall.
He has sought to play up his experience as a diplomat and has played
on the fears of many over Islamist domination.
At least one more debate is expected, though it has not been
announced which candidates will participate. Along with Moussa and
Abolfotoh, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Mursi and
Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq are also seen as strong
If no candidate emerges with a majority in the May 23-24 first round
of voting, a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held
June 16-17. (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 05/11/12)
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