Egypt Islamists Ally with Seculars for Key Election


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has joined forces with 17 other parties, including liberals and leftists, to form a common platform for parliamentary elections, as it seeks to allay fears among secular groups and the country's Christian minority.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, the liberal Wafd party, the left-leaning Tagammu and the Noor party, newly formed by Salafist Muslim hardliners, said they would "channel their efforts ... into building a state of law based on citizenship, equality and sovereignty of the people."

Tuesday's meeting also discussed the idea of a unified list for the elections.

In a statement, the parties outlined their common principles including "freedom of belief and worship", freedom of expression and a free media, the independence of the judiciary and "an economic system based on social justice."

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over when mass protests forced veteran president Hosni Mubarak from power in February, has scheduled parliamentary elections for September.

But an autumn election is expected to play into the hands of the well entrenched Muslim Brotherhood, prompting calls from secular politicians for a delay to allow new parties to organize themselves.

Some have also called for a new constitution to be drawn up before the election, for fear that the Islamist group will otherwise have too much influence over the drafting of the charter.

Its alliance with secular parties will help the Brotherhood to put across a softer image, analysts said.

"The Brotherhood strategy is to present itself as a moderate party, not a dominant one," said Mustafa Kamel Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

"That is why they want to associate themselves with others and don't want to have candidates everywhere for the parliamentary elections and don't want to field a candidate in the presidential election," he told Agence France Presse.

Sayyed said the group's goal was to "reassure those hostile to them, and the Christians."

The Freedom and Justice Party picked a Christian number two as it sought to advertise itself as a party for all Egyptians and not just Muslims.

As it reaches out, the group has also faced challenges, including from within its own ranks.

Senior Brotherhood leader Abdul Monem Abul Futouh was expelled after he decided to stand in the presidential election, defying the group's policy not to field a candidate, and a few younger members have broken off to form their own political party.

Throwing the group another curve ball, Al-Azhar -- Sunni Islam's leading center of religious learning -- called on Monday for a "modern, democratic" and non-religious state.

But analysts say such challenges are unlikely to faze Egypt's veteran opposition movement.

The exclusion of Abul Futouh and the conflicts with the Brotherhood youth "show that there are differences within the Brotherhood but, despite these, the group manages to maintain its cohesion," Sayyed said.

Others, like political analyst Issandr al-Amrani, feel it is too early to be making electoral deals.

"Why is anyone forming an alliance of any kind when we still don't even know what kind of electoral system will be used?" Amrani wrote in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, arguing that joint lists will be more difficult if proportional representation is used.

He argues that at this critical phase, joint lists may hide the real powerbases of individual parties.

"The next elections, if they are free and fair ... will give Egyptians what the Mubarak regime denied them for three decades and no amount of polling can accurately predict -- a map of the political landscape drawn by the ballot box," Amrani said.