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Interview: Beleaguered Egyptian Opposition Leader Says 'Freedom Is Infectious'

Opposition politician Ayman Nour speaks during a rally on Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 1.
Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was imprisoned by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime for four years before being released two years ago this week. Nour had made the unfortunate mistake of challenging Mubarak's rule, officially winning 7 percent of the vote in the 2005 election.

Since his release, Nour has become a leading voice for democracy in Egypt, and as the head of the El-Ghad (Tomorrow) party he previously declared his interest in running in the 2011 presidential election. In recent days he has draw attention for his views on the future of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Speaking to RFE/RL correspondent Joseph Hammond, Nour says of recent events that "freedom is infectious," and argues that the Camp David Accords, one of the cornerstones of Middle East policy, need to be "revived according to new Egyptian interests and realities."

RFE/RL: You ran for president against Hosni Mubarak in 2005 and were subsequently jailed on forgery charges that clearly had a political hue. You were released from jail by the Mubarak regime on February 18, 2009. Could you have imagined then that within two years of your release the Mubarak regime would be toppled?

Ayman Nour:
The Mubarak regime fell a long time ago. This regime's time expired when it fell [deteriorated] from a presidential system to a Pharonic dynasty. He handed the keys [of the government] to his son and his wife. At that time the regime was bankrupt and had nothing to give [Egypt]....

I participated in the 2005 presidential election to topple this regime through the polls, but the regime closed [rigged] the polls. We were unable to bring down the regime democratically. [In the end] there was no other way but the Tunisian way for be free and for us to breathe liberty. The Egyptian people knew...this was an expired regime and so they just issued the regime its death certificate.

'Updating' Camp David

RFE/RL: Recently you were quoted as saying that you think the Camp David Accords should be repealed and that the treaty was not in Egypt's interests. Could you elaborate on how you think this policy would be in Egypt's best interests?

This statement was reproduced in different controversial ways in different newspapers. What I did say was that Egypt is committed to international obligations. Egypt has to respect international obligations and other parties must respect them as well.

The [Camp David] treaty is old and it needs to be updated. After 30 years, this agreement needs to be revived according to new Egyptian interests and realities. This part of the world is facing big changes and renegotiation of this agreement must happen with the acceptance of all parties.

We want to receive all our proper rights and defend our natural resources...[through] dialogue. We can reach a better deal that will serve the interests of all parties, which is in the interests of both Egypt and the Egyptian people. In the end we want [an agreement] so the Egyptian people can live with respect, justice, and peace.

RFE/RL: Do you worry perhaps that there are those in the international community who will find these comments worrisome or against the best interests of the region? Perhaps there are those within the Egyptian Army as well who favor the status quo?

What we are saying is not against the interests of anybody; it is in accordance with the interests of Egypt. We are not against peace at all and we will make all other parties aware [of our proposal]. We are not willing to have war. Egypt does not want another war.

Continuing The Revolution

RFE/RL: You are the chairman of the El-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and a founding member of the Keffiyeh (Enough) Movement. What is the role of the protesters and opposition groups now that Egypt's struggle is no longer being waged on Tahrir Square?

I'm speaking to you now as president of El-Ghad and I'm speaking on behalf of my party. We are seeking the establishment of a civil government with a civilian [nonmilitary] background. We are working to obtain real reforms and a democratic state that respects human rights, the rights of the nation, and improves social conditions after long years of economic neglect.

RFE/RL: People in Egypt are saying different things about future presidential elections there. Some are calling for elections within three months; others want to keep to the constitutional schedule. What timetable do you prefer?

Elections, perhaps in six months or a year from now.

RFE/RL: Do you worry that if the country is ruled so long by the military, the military officers will grow comfortable interfering in Egyptian politics either now or at some point in the future?

I don't have a lot of fear of the military or the rule of soldiers. There was a revolution in which the military was not a part. They just helped. I'm not afraid of a military putsch.

The guarantee [of civilian rule] is not only the revolution but, the continuity of the revolution. We will be vigilant and we will watch closely the implementation of the revolution's goals. I think the army understands this. The army is not an alternative to the legitimate rule of the people.

RFE/RL: As we speak protesters are in the streets in cities across the Middle East. What is your message to those facing authoritarian regimes as we speak?

Well, I think that freedom is infectious. What happened to Tunis had an impact on Egypt. Egypt, because of its geographical location and cultural significance [in the region], she can play a big role in spreading democracy and freedom in the Middle East.