Speculation that Egypt will dissolve parliament

Seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested last week as rumours spread that President Mubarak is about to dismiss parliament.

An unidentified Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood MP reacts during a parliamentary session held in Cairo on May 26, 2008 to extended a controversial decades-old state of emergency by two years. The extension was approved despite pledges to replace it by new legislation, in a move slammed by rights groups as anti-constitutional. "Parliament has accepted during its afternoon session today the decision by the president of the republic to extend the state of emergency for two years starting from June 1, or until a new terror law is drafted, whichever comes first," the state news agency MENA said. The state of emergency was first imposed in 1981 after the assassination by Islamists of president Anwar Sadat and has been repeatedly renewed since then despite protests from rights groups and regime opponents. AFP PHOTO/STR
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CAIRO // Speculation is growing in Egypt that parliament will be dissolved this summer as a means to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from political power and to ease the path for the president's son to inherit the office. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's oldest and strongest Islamic opposition group, is facing a renewed effort to shut it down. Authorities arrested 33 members, including senior leaders, in mid-May, signalling the most determined move against the group in more than two years. Last week, seven members, including three senior leaders, were arrested.

The Brotherhood stunned the regime by winning 88 parliamentary seats in 2005, and the group was expected to replicate its success in legislative elections scheduled to be held next year. But its growing popularity is fuelling speculation that the ruling party will dissolve parliament in a bid to halt its growing power. Officials, including the speaker of parliament, and senior members of the ruling party, have not confirmed the reports, but political pundits continue to debate the issue.

Khalil el Anani, an analyst with the Ahram Centre, specialising in political Islam, said he was not surprised by the speculation. "The regime has been waging a comprehensive campaign against the Brotherhood since their success in the 2005 elections, to eliminate them completely from the political scene. All the cases against them are political, not legal, to weaken and distract them against resisting the inheritance of power or any upcoming elections," he said.

But Gehad Ouda, a political analyst and member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), dismissed the speculation and even suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood had concocted the "rumours" to make the government appear intimidated by the opposition group. "I do not believe the government will dissolve parliament," Mr Gehad said. "They [the Muslim Brotherhood] spread these rumours to make it look like the authorities fear them." He added that the recent spate of arrests were consistent with official policy on dealing with "banned" political groups.

Saad el Katatny, the head of the loose Brotherhood bloc in parliament, said the clampdown was related to his group's stance on the recent Israeli war on Gaza. "We are paying the price of our support of the Palestinians during the Israeli aggression on Gaza, as our stance was different from the stance of the regime." He claimed that his name, along with those of two other Brotherhood MPs, was on the top of the arrest list, in the same case of those who were arrested in May and in late June.

"They don't want us in the parliament; they want tamed opposition," said Mr el Katatny, 57, who said he is waiting to be arrested "any minute". Hosni Mubarak, 81, has been in power since 1981 and speculation about his desire for his youngest son, Gamal, to inherit his post is rife. Such talk goes back to 2002 after Gamal Mubarak's swift ascendancy in the ranks of the NDP. He is now the head of the policy committee in the party and deputy to the secretary general.

Despite denials from both Mubaraks about any inheritance of power, speculation continues, with Gamal Mubarak's recent tour abroad to meet foreign officials receiving criticism from the opposition. Unlike his predecessors, the president has never appointed a second in command. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011, but some say that one of the goals of dissolving the parliament would be to have earlier legislative and presidential elections.

"Mubarak's son's influence is urging his father to dissolve the parliament, to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and any radical opposition in it, and to hold the usual shameful legislative and presidential elections," said Abdel Halim Qandil, a spokesman for Kefaya, or Enough, an opposition movement that has lead the protests against the inheritance of power. Hosni Mubarak, like his three predecessors since the 1952 revolution, was an army officer. His son, however, is a business administration graduate from the American University in Cairo.

"We don't know exactly what the army's stance is and how it will react regarding transfer or inheritance," said Mr el Anani, the political analyst. "Talking about dissolving parliament ? represents a test to gauge the street reaction as well as that of the political forces to the transfer of power issue," Mr el Anani said. "I believe that both the people in the street and political forces, except for the Muslim Brotherhood, are in a coma."

The only person who can dissolve parliament, which is adjourned for the summer, is the president, so although speculation may continue, the country must wait until its leader makes a move. "Nobody knows what the president is thinking and what is he planning. Even those who are very close to him don't ask him about the decisions that he is going to make," wrote Mohammed Ali Ibrahim, editor of the state owned Al Gomhouria daily, in an editorial last week.

"Therefore, no one from our colleagues at independent dailies should spread these reports about this mixed with other news," he said. "The rumour might be true or not, but even if the parliament is to be dissolved, this would have nothing to do with Egypt's political future or what they claim to be inheritance of power in Egypt, it would be for a necessity that the president has seen and that's enough."