Egypt’s ruling military reassured its international allies Shabbos that there would be no break in its peace deal with Israel following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, and it lay out the first tentative steps to keep Egypt’s economy and state functioning while it figures out how to overhaul the country for greater democracy.
The military statement, aired on state TV, was its first, cautious attempt to define the next steps after Mubarak handed over power to a council of his top generals and resigned on Friday in the face of an 18-day wave of popular protests.
Israel was pleased with the statement. “The long-term peace agreement between Israel and Egypt has contributed much to the two countries and is a cornerstone of peace and stability for the entire Middle East,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said Shabbos in a first official comment on the matter.
In addition, Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with the head of Egypt’s military council, Mohamed Tantawi, in an apparent preservation of ties between Egypt’s interim leaders and the Israeli government.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also spoke of the occurrences in Egypt, during a ministry meeting called to discuss the matter. “Israel will not get involved in Egypt’s internal affairs, and our only concern is that regional stability is maintained and the peace treaty honored,” he said.
The preserving of Mubarak’s last government was likely to disappoint protesters, thousands of whom remain in their camp in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square. Many of them have demanded more dramatic steps like the dissolving of parliament and the scrapping of the current government to form a broader-based transitional body to oversee reforms until elections can be held.
The military’s statement did not rule out these steps might still be carried out.
A spokesman for the Armed Forces Supreme Council underlined the military’s “commitment to all Egypt’s international treaties.”
Israel has been deeply concerned that Egypt’s turmoil could threaten the 1979 peace accord signed between the two countries. The United States, Egypt’s top ally, is also eager to ensure the accord remains in place. The military strongly supports the accord, not in small part because it guarantees US aid for the armed forces, currently running at $1.3 billion a year.
Anti-Israeli feeling is strong in Egypt, and many of the hundreds of thousands of protesters expressed anger at Mubarak’s close cooperation with Israel on a range of issues. Still, few seriously call for the abrogation of the treaty, realizing the international impact.
Muslim Brotherhood ‘not seeking power’
Israel’s fears may be further allayed by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group viewed with suspicion by the United States as well, which said on Saturday that it was not seeking power and praised the efforts of the new army rulers to transfer power to civilians.
“The Muslim Brotherhood … are not seeking personal gains, so they announce they will not run for the presidency and will not seek to get a majority in the parliament and that they consider themselves servants of these decent people,” it said, adding that they were not “seekers of power”.
“We support and value the sound direction that the Higher Military Council is taking on the way to transfer power peacefully to create a civilian government in line with the will of the people,” it said.
Military spokesman Gen. Yahya el-Fangari asked the public, particularly the millions in the government sector, to “work to push the economy forward,” a call for the economy to keep running after the disturbances of the past three weeks.
The military also called on the “current government and provincial governors to continue their activities until a new government is formed,” el-Fangari said.
The military is “looking forward to a peaceful transition, for a free democratic system, to permit an elected civil authority to be in charge of the country, to build a democratic free nation,” he said.
The statement left unanswered the key question of how long the current government would stay in place: Whether it would continue on a longer term until a new one is elected, or whether the military intended it only as a stop-gap to keep the state functioning until it appoints a transitional leadership.