x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Main Salafist party vows to honour Egypt treaty with Israel

A spokesman for Al Nour made the plea as voting resumed in the country's election, which has been marred by clashes between protesters and security forces that left 14 people dead this week.

CAIRO // Egypt's main Salafist party pledged to respect the nation's peace treaty with Israel yesterday.

A spokesman for Al Nour made the plea as voting resumed in the country's election, which has been marred by clashes between protesters and security forces that left 14 people dead this week.

Al Nour has been a surprise winner so far and the party has come second in the polls, trailing the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

In an unprecedented interview with with Israel's army radio, Al Nour's spokesman, Yusri Hammad, said the party was not against the 1979 peace deal.

"If there are some clauses that the people of Egypt want to change in the agreements, then these belong on the negotiating table," he said. "We respect all treaties."

Al Nour is the main party of the Salafists, whose members follow a strict form of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Hammad said the Salafists' image had been "distorted" by the media and others who were against Islamists ruling Egypt.

"We were surprised by this interview," an Israeli government source said. "It gives us, without any doubt, something to think about regarding what is happening in Egypt."

Mr Hammad's remarks came as Egyptians trickled into polling stations in the run-off of a second round of legislative polls.

Voting began at 8am in a third of the country's 27 provinces, with a visibly lower turnout than in previous rounds.

The run-off in the second phase of legislative polls, taking place over two days, will see Al Nour and Freedom and Justice go head- to-head for 59 seats in the lower house.

The interim ruling military has decided on a complex election system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, which will comprise two thirds of parliament, and for individual candidates for the remaining third of the lower house.

Yesterday, voters chose individual candidates in nine provinces and party lists in three provinces where voting was postponed due to administrative problems in the opening phase.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has repeatedly pointed to the elections, the first parliamentary polls since a popular uprising deposed Hosni Mubarak in February, as proof of its intention to hand power to civilian rule.

The procedure to elect a full assembly ends in March and presidential elections are expected by the end of June.

The elections have exposed a deepening rift among Egyptians. Some see them as the first step to democratic rule, while others say the new parliament - whose function remains unclear - leaves control in the hands of the military.

Scaf has faced domestic and international outrage over its heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators. Liberals and Islamists have united to condemn their handling of the transition.

Deadly clashes erupted on Friday, with troops and police pitted against protesters demanding an end to military rule.

On Tuesday, the military apologised for attacks on female demonstrators and the generals - facing a backlash after videos circulated of soldiers beating females and partly stripping a veiled woman as they dragged her along the ground - pledged action against those responsible.

The apology came hours after the country's forensics chief cast further doubt on the generals' credibility, when he said most protesters died of gunshot wounds, despite military denials they had fired on demonstrators.

The Egyptian foreign minister said yesterday that Egypt would not accept any interference in its internal affairs, in response to comments made by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, about the way security forces dealt with women protesters.

She criticised the actions of Egyptian security forces on Monday, citing the "systematic degradation" of women that "disgraces the state", some of the strongest US language against Egypt's new rulers.

Footage showed Egyptian soldiers beating protesters with batons, often after they had fallen to the ground, in what activists described as a forcible attempt to clear a sit-in demanding a swifter transfer to civilian rule.

"Egypt does not accept any interference in its internal affairs and conducts communications and clarifications concerning statements made by foreign officials," the foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, was quoted as saying by the state news agency.

A dozen pro-democracy movements have called for a mass rally tomorrow in Cairo's Tahrir Square to denounce the military's violent tactics against protesters, dubbed "the Friday to redeem honour and save the revolution".

Despite clashes before and during the elections, the voting process itself has been orderly.

The Freedom and Justice Party said it won 39 per cent of votes in the party lists, with 49 individual candidates vying for seats in yesterday's run-off.

Al Nour has claimed more than 30 per cent of the votes in the lists and has 36 candidates competing in the run-off.

* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by Reuters