CAIRO - Amid Western worries about the rise of Islamists in Egypt's first free elections, the country's biggest Islamist group says it will honor a peace treaty with Israel and boost cooperation with the West.
This is a commitment of the state, not a group or a party, and this we respect, Essam el-Erian, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told The New York Times.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, under which Cairo regained the Sinai Peninsula occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
But concerns have grown that Islamists, who won most votes in Egypt's first parliamentary elections after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak last year, would abolish the deal.
A top US official said last week that the Brotherhood has given assurance to Washington that it would maintain Egypt's treaty with Israel, though the group denied the claim.
Erian said that Israel has to understand the implications of the democratic openings of the Arab Spring.
The Muslim Brotherhood won nearly 41 percent of seats in the new parliament, followed by the Salafi Al-Nour party, which grabbed 27 percent.
The Islamist rise has sparked Western worries that the new rising power would put a brake on democratic changes in the country.
But Erian rebuffed these concerns, reiterating that his party is ready to cooperate with the United States and the West.
If the Americans are ready to support a democratic government in Egypt, this means a lot, Erian said.
Washington has reached out the Muslim Brotherhood in recent weeks, with US officials holding a series of meeting with Brotherhood leaders.
Last month, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, met along with US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson with Brotherhood leaders in Cairo.
Egypt receives more than one billion dollars annually from Washington since signing the Camp David peace deal with Israel.
Erian said he hoped the United States would continue the aid, but without political pressure.
The Brotherhood party leader has downplayed Western worries of the rise of Salafis in Egypt's election.
It is clear that they are a political power, Erian said.
Salafi and Brotherhood leaders have ruled out an alliance between the two Islamist groups in parliament as Salafis are seen as politically inexperienced.
Inclusion in the political process was good for the Muslim Brotherhood, and we hope it will be good for the Salafis too, Erian said.
We hope that we can pull the Salafis toward us, and both of us will be pulled by the people's needs.
Erian ridiculed concerns over calls for banning alcohol and tourism, saying Egyptians are concerned with more important issues.
Are you sure that is very important? We are keen to discuss the major issues, he said.
To have a democracy in the Arab world, to make compatibility between our Arab Islamic culture and democratic values, democratic principles, he said, this is our huge burden.
Erian ruled out a confrontation between the Brotherhood's party and the military rulers over the power handover.
He said the Brotherhood's party intended to let the caretaker government stay on until the military's preferred date for a handover of power, after the new Constitution is approved and a president is elected in June.
Though he believes the military rulers do not want to relinquish all power, Erian says the first step by the Brotherhood's party to remove them is by defending the authority of the Parliament to choose the members of a planned 100-person constitutional assembly.
Of course, the military wants to delay or disturb the composition of the assembly, Erian said.
He said the public is against a continued rule by the military after establishing civilian institutions.
No people can support this now, he said.
Erian, however, believes that governing Egypt for the time being would require cooperation between the military council, the caretaker government and the Parliament.Once a new president is elected and a new constitution is ratified, he said, within three months we can have the military back in their camps safely.