Presidential hopeful offers vision for 'new Egypt'

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2011 5:49 PM
Presidential hopeful offers vision for 'new Egypt'

Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is running for president of Egypt, suggested Tuesday that he would maintain a peace treaty with Israel and promised to fight corruption and turn the Middle East's most populous country into a modern democracy.

A popular career diplomat and former foreign minister, Moussa announced last month that he plans to run in Egypt's presidential election later this year. Former President Hosni Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11 after 18 days of popular protests demanding his ouster.

Speaking to a few hundred Egyptians packed into a cultural center in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, Moussa said he would "listen to the young people of Egypt" and work with them to make Egypt a regional powerhouse.

When asked about Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, he said: "We as Egyptians have a responsibility to lay the foundations for peace."

"We cannot rebuild Egypt ... while adopting an adventurous foreign policy," he said, adding "we would be kidding ourselves" if Egyptians didn't recognize Israel as a state.

However, Moussa said he would possibly reconsider the terms of a controversial gas deal under which Egypt sells Israel 60 billion cubic feet (1.7 billion cubic meters) a year for 15 years.

The deal has drawn criticism at home, with some saying the gas was being sold at below-market rates. Others resent Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and say Egypt should not supply energy to Israel.

Although he offered mostly vague promises of reform, his speech was often interrupted by cheers, whistles and applause. Still, many audience members took him to task for past statements, including a TV interview before the uprising in which he apparently said that he would again vote for Mubarak for president.

Moussa defended himself by saying that at the time the only two candidates were Mubarak and his son, Gamal, whom the senior Mubarak was reportedly grooming as successor.

Moussa talked around pointed questions about why the Arab League didn't have more influence in Middle Eastern affairs, and why it hadn't had a stronger position on the war in Iraq. He also did not answer questions about his relationship with Mubarak or his opinion of the former president.

Moussa enjoys wide popularity in Egypt, largely because of his scathing criticism of Israel, a country seen by most Egyptians as an enemy despite the 1979 peace treaty between the two neighbors.

As foreign minister, Moussa had gained such a strong following among Egyptians that his nomination for the Arab League post was seen by some as an attempt by Mubarak to sideline him before he posed a political threat.

During the uprising that forced Mubarak out, Moussa visited Cairo's central Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests. His convoy was greeted with chants of "We want you as president, we want you as president!"

Before becoming the Arab League's secretary-general in 2001, Moussa served as Egypt's foreign minister for 10 years.