A political leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Thursday called on any government that replaces Hosni Mubarak’s regime to withdraw from the 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel.
“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.
The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”
In the past, Muslim Brotherhood leaders have supported the Palestinian branch of the brotherhood, Hamas, that rejects any negotiations with Israel and pledges to destroy the Jewish state.
This week, senior Obama administration officials urged Mr. Mubarak to step down from power. On a conference call this week between National Security Council staff and leaders of the U.S. Jewish community, the White House said there has been no change to the U.S. policy of not talking officially to the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the Clinton administration, however, there have been informal contacts with political leaders affiliated with the group, said former senior Democratic and Republican national security officials.
Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said in response to the interview with Mr. al-Bayoumi, “If they do it, it will be a very unfortunate development for Egypt and Israel. Both countries have enjoyed a peace for thirty years, admittedly not a very warm peace, but a cold peace is better than a hot war.”
Mr. Gillerman added that if the government that comes after Mr. Mubarak cancels the peace treaty, “Israel will have to totally reconsider its whole attitude towards Egypt and its position on our southern border, which has been very quiet for many years.”
The Egypt-Israel peace treaty has been a cornerstone of stability for the Middle East. It committed Israel to return the Sinai to Egypt that it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. In exchange, Egypt, the most populous Arab country, became the first Arab state to recognize Israel.
During the 1990s, when Israeli governments were negotiating under the Oslo Accords, the Egyptian security services trained and supplied their Palestinian counterparts that were created in the peace negotiations to fight Hamas.
“I do not think a government following elections would withdraw from the peace treaty with Israel. Nobody in Egypt wants war with Israel and there is every sign right now that the military will still play a strong role in the government that comes next,” said Michele Dunne, an Egypt expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Stephen Hadley, who served as National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, said Mr. Mubarak was rhetorically tough on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has also periodically let the Brotherhood participate in the political process and has failed to seal tunnels Hamas use to smuggle weapons into Gaza.
“My guess is that while a successor regime may be less hard on Hamas with the rhetoric, the security concerns about Gaza and Hamas will remain. Rhetorically they may be different, but practically I think they could be roughly the same,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, is widely considered the founder of modern political Islam. In 1966, the organization split after a Muslim Brotherhood leader named Sayyid Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The more radical followers of Qutb became the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization that would assassinate Mr. Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat in 1981. Meanwhile, the more mainstream leaders of the Brotherhood renounced violence and began building civil society networks throughout Egypt. In 2005, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates won 88 seats in Egypt’s 454-seat national assembly but lost all but one five years later.
The Egyptian Islamic Jihad was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri who eventually folded his organization into Osama bin-Laden’s al Qaeda. Mr. al-Zawahiri has at times publicly lambasted the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as sell outs and pawns of Mr. Mubarak. Though in 2008, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time, Muhammed Mahdi Akef, said, “Al Qaeda’s violence is justified against occupiers and opponents of Islam” in an interview on the Arab Web site Elaph.com, according to a translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute.
In the last week some al Qaeda affiliated websites have released messages praising the demonstrations against Mr. Mubarak.
In Congress, some members have already started expressing concern about the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over a government that replaces Mr. Mubarak’s regime.
“The people of Egypt and apparently its army are mandating the fall of the Mubarak regime,” Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, said in a floor speech on Feb. 2. “While we support human rights and democracy, we must heed growing warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood, their leaders and plans for taking Egypt back to the 13th century.”
• Eli Lake can be reached at email@example.com.
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