The Muslim Brotherhood is being squeezed between the official opposition parties and the ruling NDP, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
Working together with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood on political reform and a potential boycott of the upcoming People's Assembly's elections has been dismissed by most official opposition parties. Leaders of the Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP), which includes Wafd, Tagammu and the Nasserist parties, stayed away from the meeting which the Brotherhood called on 20 July in an attempt to build a consensus on the parliamentary elections scheduled next October. Some found it enough to send representatives while others ignored the meeting altogether, arguing that they are uneasy about any potential partnership with the Brotherhood.
El-Sayed El-Badawi, the newly-elected chairman of the Wafd Party, sent Ashraf Balba, a member of the party's Higher Council, to attend the 20 July meeting.
"We accepted the Brotherhood's invitation because Wafd is not against dialogue with any opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood included," said Badawi. "What Wafd does not accept is that the Brotherhood impose its own positions on other opposition parties."
Fouad Badrawi , deputy chairman of the Wafd, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "most party members are against a boycott the People's Assembly elections."
"The absence of guarantees that the elections will be fair is insufficient reason not to participate. If Wafd opted for a boycott it would not be in a position to judge whether the elections had been rigged," he argued, "whereas if we participate, we will be able to expose any irregularities."
Badrawi believes that "the Brotherhood seeks coordination and dialogue with legal opposition parties because it believes that this might pressure the regime into stopping the heavy security campaign against the group and allowing it to win some seats in the next parliamentary election".
El-Badawi visited the Brotherhood's headquarters on Sunday in an attempt to clarify the group's positions on several controversial issues including its perception of the status of women and Copts.
Wafd sources said Badawi was also keen to ask the Brotherhood's leaders about how they intended to reconcile their emphasis on the implementation of Islamic Sharia (law) with a democratic and civilian state, and why their 2007 draft programme for a political party limited the right of women and Copts to hold senior political positions.
Unlike Wafd, the leftist Tagammu and Nasserist parties ignored the Brotherhood's invitation.
Tagammu Chairman Rifaat El-Said insisted that "the Tagammu had not received an official invitation from the Brotherhood".
"The group's Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei invited some Tagammu figures on a personal basis, fully aware that the figures involved held no official positions within the party's ranks," says El-Said.
Tagammu spokesman Nabil Zaki told Al-Ahram Weekly that "Tagammu's history clearly shows that it rejects any collaboration with the Brotherhood, and does so on the grounds that it could risk further empowering a movement whose Islamist and fundamentalist ideology threatens to sweep Egyptian political life."
"The Tagammu," continued Zaki, "is strongly in favour of participating in the upcoming People's Assembly elections and is in the process of preparing a list of official candidates."
"Brotherhood attempts currently centre on rallying the legal opposition parties behind it in a bid to compel the regime to allow it some seats in the next parliament. They suffered a big setback in June's Shura Council elections, winning no seats at all, and now fear the scenario will be repeated in the upcoming elections, forcing them into greater isolation," says Zaki. "The legal opposition parties should not be bound to this Brotherhood agenda. They did well in the Shura elections and expect to secure more seats in the People's Assembly."
Ahmed Hassan, secretary- general of the Arab Nasserists, told the Weekly that "the party ignored the Brotherhood's 20 July meeting because it is bound to collaborate only with CEOP members."
"The CEOP's three major parties -- the Wafd, Tagammu and Nasserists -- always coordinate on election matters and have made it clear that they do not share any agenda with the Brotherhood," said Hassan.
Osama El-Ghazali Harb, chairman of the Democratic Front party, also a member of the CEOP, was the only party leader to show up at the Brotherhood's meeting.
"The Shura elections were a disaster in terms of fraud and vote rigging. The conduct of the poll provided reason enough for opposition forces to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections en masse unless the guarantees necessary to ensure transparency, including international monitoring, are provided," he said.
Calls for a boycott of parliamentary elections, led by Mohamed El-Baradei, grew following the widespread perception that June's Shura poll was fundamentally flawed. The Muslim Brotherhood and Harb support El-Baradei's demand that the elections be boycotted.
Harb believes that should the Brotherhood and official opposition parties begin to work together "they may be able to secure conditions for fairer elections from the regime".
The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badei, announced in a press conference on 20 July that El-Baradei's call for a boycott would top the agenda of the group's meeting with representatives of opposition parties and independent activists.
"We won't give up participating in the elections unilaterally, but would take part in an agreed boycott," said Badei. "From now until parliamentary elections our slogan will be 'let's all participate together or boycott together.'"
Between 25 and 30 independent political activists participated in the meeting, including Hassan Nafaa, a Cairo University political science professor and the General Coordinator of the National Assembly for Change (NAC) which El-Baradei founded last February. Nafaa indicated that the assembly would send a delegation to the Wafd Party headquarters on 26 July to discuss the potential boycott with its leaders.
Nafaa emphasised that the Brotherhood was ready to accept El-Baradei's boycott call but had stipulated that it would do so only as part of a collective position. "
Saad El-Husseini, Brotherhood MP and a member of the group's Guidance Bureau, told the Weekly that the "Brotherhood prefers entering elections and not to leave the political arena solely to the ruling party to continue imposing its hegemony on parliament and political life".
El-Husseini denied press reports that the Muslim Brotherhood had already decided to field 200 candidates in the parliamentary elections. "We are still engaged in discussions with the opposition parties on whether to participate," he said.
El-Husseini believes that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is working hard to sow divisions "and prevent any kind of coordination between Brotherhood and opposition parties".
"Opposition parties should know that the minute they give in to NDP pressure is the minute they lose the confidence of the people," he said.
While the Brotherhood was debating elections on 20 July Interior Minister Habib El-Adli was stepping up attacks against the group. In a Police Academy ceremony attended by President Hosni Mubarak on 20 July, El-Adli warned that "the main faction responsible for fomenting religious extremism is currently doing its best to undermine legitimacy and push the country into the darkness of sedition".
"This faction exploits a climate of political dynamism and pluralism and wears the mantle of democracy to give an impression that it is working for consensus while in fact it seeks only to impose its own agenda on society and to sow the seeds of terrorism."