Call for Muslim Brotherhood boycott grows

Opposition groups use annual iftar to warn Egyptians against participating in 'rigged' elections in November.

CAIRO // Most of Egypt's opposition parties are urging the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest and oldest opposition group, to boycott legislative elections in November. Mohamed ElBaradei renewed his call through Twitter on Saturday that "only by boycotting the elections and signing [the] petition for change can we be credible and impose our will on a repressive regime. Let us all unite."

Mr ElBaradei, 68, who many see as a viable candidate for president in 2011, has been urging Egyptians to boycott the November elections unless the constitution is amended to restore local judicial supervision over elections. He also wants international monitors to observe elections and Egyptians living abroad to be able to vote. He believes engaging in elections under current laws would be giving the regime a legitimacy that he says it is desperate for but does not deserve.

Mr ElBaradei's National Association for Change (NAC) as well as the Muslim Brotherhood have been collecting signatures for a reform campaign. They have a joint website that says they have gathered 675,000 signatures so far. The petition lists seven demands, including allowing independents to run for president and lifting the country's emergency laws, which critics say stifle dissent. Mr ElBaradei, a Nobel prizewinner and the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he believes that the regime cannot ignore those demands if at least one million Egyptians sign the petition for reform.

He is expected back in the country in early September after spending his summer abroad. The Brotherhood had said it would help Mr ElBaradei collect signatures, but said the decision to boycott the elections or participate in them must come from within the group. The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954, but its members have run as independent candidates in every legislative election since 1984, except for 1990.

They won 20 per cent of the seats in parliament when they ran in 2005, but have not won any seats in any city council or parliament's upper house in elections since then. For the fourth consecutive year, state security orders prohibited hotels and clubs from hosting the Brotherhood's annual iftar. The group used to host iftars in the spacious ballrooms of five-star hotels, where more than 1,000 members, prominent figures and media representatives regularly attended.

This year's event was instead held on Wednesday at the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters for its 88 lawmakers last week. About 50 leaders of political parties, opposition groups and activists attended and almost all urged the Brotherhood to boycott the elections. "Rigging the upcoming elections is inevitable," said Hassan Nafaa, a political scientist and leading figure with the NAC. "We shouldn't take part in rigged elections, as we don't want to participate in forgery. Can we, the opposition, all boycott the upcoming elections? If we can't, that would be a catastrophe," he said.

Mr Nafaa added that an effective boycott would "shake the pillars of the regime". Ayman Nour, leader of el-Ghad opposition party, who finished a distant second to Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, said he has changed his mind about taking part in November elections. "I used to be a staunch believer and caller for participating in elections," Mr Nour, 45, said. "Today there are no elections to start with. It's absurd."

Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) is often accused of rigging elections through intimidation and bribery. Many believe that Mr Mubarak's youngest son, Gamal, 46, is being groomed to succeed him. Over the past month, posters of Gamal, a former investment banker and head of the NDP's influential policies committee, have been plastered around Cairo and other provinces by a group called the Popular Campaign to Support Gamal Mubarak. Other groups are collecting signatures for a petition supporting him as presidential candidate.

Although the NDP denies any involvement in the campaign, reports claim that businessmen close to Gamal Mubarak and who are senior members of the NDP are behind the campaign. Hosni Mubarak, 82, has been in power since 1981 and has not yet announced if he will run in 2011. He urged political parties and citizens last week to "actively take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections". He vowed that they will be "free, transparent and fair".

Saad Aboud of Al-Wafd, Egypt's oldest liberal party, also urged the Brotherhood to boycott elections. Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood leader, told those at the iftar that he wants the Brotherhood to carefully consider the implications of a boycott before making a decision on it. "We need a calculated study, as it's the Egyptian people who are the ones who will either participate or boycott. "Unite your stance, and we won't let you down."

nmagd@thenational.ae

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