Jimmy Carter on Egypt, the Arab Spring... and Tebow

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Khalil Hamra / AP

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, center, visits a polling site during run-off voting in the parliamentary election in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in Egypt this week as part of his Carter Center's mission to monitor Egypt's first parliamentary elections. In between his meetings with various Egyptian political leaders and government officials, he sat down with TIME's Abigail Hauslohner to answer a few questions about Egypt's rocky transition, the Arab Spring — and Tim Tebow.

TIME: We saw you out at a polling station yesterday. You said that the elections had been very successful so far.
So far, but you know.

What's your biggest concern about what's ahead for Egypt, and how were those concerns addressed when you met with General Tantawy and other Egyptian officials?
Well, as you know we've been here since November and we hope to be here and expect to be here all the way through June when the president is finally elected after the new constitution is formed. So it's in the early stages of the election. But I think that meeting with Egyptians from different political parties and from human rights organizations and so forth that everyone has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of elections so far. There have been a lot of problems. There have been complaints made. And the biggest objection has been that the complaints have not been adequately addressed. But in general, I haven't heard any allegations that the mistakes made have been designed by anyone to favor one candidate over one of the other candidates. They've just been honest mistakes. So, so far, to summarize, we are pleased with the results of elections. It still has a long way to go. And I think they will simplify the process in the near future. For instance, in the future, they will not bring all the boxes to a central location for counting, which has created a lot of unnecessary problems. But even in the election of the shura [the upper house of the Egyptian parliament], the votes will be counted at the polling places. So they're making some changes brought about by their own experience in making mistakes.

What kind of challenges do you see Egypt facing in its transition, in terms of military rule?
Well the biggest question that has to be resolved is: who's going to control the government of Egypt in the future? Is it going to be the military, as it has been for 60-something years, or is it going to be the officials who have been elected by the people of Egypt? And my hope, obviously, is that it'll be a democracy. And that the people elected will have control of the government, including all aspects of the government — foreign affairs, collection of taxes, and the writing of laws — and that the military will relinquish this political control. And as you know, the public statements of SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] leaders have been that they want to get out of the political side of it. So the details of how much privilege the military will enjoy in the country in the future still have to be worked out.

Now you've been asked about the Islamists — the fact that they now dominate parliament. And you said that it was an accurate representation of what the Egyptian people wanted.
The ones who voted.

Right, the ones who voted. Would you see that any differently if this newly elected government opts to abandon Camp David?
There is no chance of that in the world, in my opinion.

Because the peace treaty that I helped negotiate between Israel and Egypt is so precious and so beneficial to Egypt [that] to renounce it and to take a chance on going back to war with Israel — as they did four times in the 25 years before I became president — is almost inconceivable. And even the Muslim Brotherhood has made public statements in the past that they support the continuation of the treaty. There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights. This was a major part of the agreement that I worked out with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat 30-something years ago... peace between Israel and Egypt and protection of Palestinian rights. And even the Egyptian leaders in the past few years have not honored their commitment to protect Palestinian rights. And I think that will be one change made by the future civilian government.

The fall of Mubarak has stirred up a lot of debate about different aspects of Camp David — not just questions of whether Egypt will continue to honor Camp David, but other whether the exact terms of the agreement are out of date or need to be revised. Egyptians will tell you that the trade agreements are unfair; that the $1.3 billion dollars a year in military aid is perhaps misguided for a country trying to overcome an authoritarian regime.
That had nothing to do with Camp David. That didn't come until the late 1980s. There was no commitment of any finances going to Egypt as the result of the Camp David Accords. The only finances that resulted from the Camp David Accords was what I agreed: that the United States would help pay for the cost of demolishing the two air bases that Israel had in the Sinai. And that money went to Israel. There was no request by Sadat and no commitment by me or the United States government to give any financial aid to Egypt.

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