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Opposition parties are geared to reject election boycott calls, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The National Assembly for Change (ANC), founded last February by ex- director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El-Baradei to lead a campaign for political reform, announced on 9 September that it would boycott November's People's Assembly elections.
The official opposition parties are not expected to pay much heed to El-Baradei's boycott call. With the exception of the Democratic Front party, led by Al-Ahram journalist Osama El-Ghazali Harb, members of the Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP) -- which also includes the Wafd, Tagammu and the Arab Nasserists -- have all indicated that they are likely to participate in the poll.
Following a meeting on Thursday the ANC issued a statement saying the "boycott is necessary to avoid giving the appearance of legitimacy to elections that will, in the absence of guarantees, be rigged".
The statement affirmed that the ANC would continue to collect signatures in support of its seven-article political and constitutional reform manifesto "Together for Change", and push for more coordination with other reform movements.
The 9 September meeting was attended by Osama El-Ghazali Harb, chairman of the Democratic Front Party which has decided to boycott the upcoming polls; Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, the NAC's newly-appointed coordinator; George Ishak, the general coordinator of Kifaya; popular novelist and democracy activist Alaa Al-Aswani, and Ayman Nour, chairman of the Ghad Party.
The ANC statement followed a week in which El-Baradei had issued increasingly strident calls for a boycott of parliamentary elections. Following his return to Egypt early last week after a two-month summer holiday in Europe he used a Ramadan Iftar meal held in a downtown Cairo restaurant with about 200 young activists on 6 September to state that "anyone participating in the polls either as a candidate or a voter will be acting against the national will and in the service of the ruling regime".
"The polls," he told his supporters, "are certain to be rigged. We must be patient because the struggle for democracy is likely to be long."
It could be shortened, he argued, "if all Egyptians boycott the polls" in which case "the regime is likely to crumble within a year".
"Just imagine when the day of the polls arrives and the NDP finds itself alone, with political forces and the public all boycotting the charade. What clearer message could there be that they should pack up their bags and go?"
"In just six months," he continued, "we have been able to collect a million signatures from citizens demanding change after 58 years during which Egypt has laboured under a complete lack of democracy, the absence of any rotation of power and zero respect for human rights."
El-Baradei said he had high hopes that by the time presidential elections are held in September 2011, the ANC will have been able to collect millions more signatures in support of radical change.
"Then we will be able to send the message from 80 million Egyptians that they have broken the barrier of fear and have decided to impose change themselves."
In a second meeting with young supporters held on 8 September El-Baradei expanded his call for a boycott to include the possibility of mass civil disobedience.
"I would like to emphasise that when we decide to embark upon this campaign [of civil disobedience] we will proceed in a civilised manner," he stated.
A day earlier, in a meeting with workers' leaders, El-Baradei argued that eliminating the regime of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) depended on all effective opposition groups working together to boycott "the coming sham elections" and placing "the national interest ahead of narrow, personal agendas".
The general assembly of the Wafd Party, due to meet tomorrow to give a final say on whether the party will field candidates, is, says its leader El-Sayed El-Badawi, still waiting for a response from the NDP on its demands for stronger electoral guarantees.
"Yet even if the NDP responds negatively," Wafdist MP Mohamed Mustafa Sherdi told Al-Ahram Weekly, "most Wafdists will remain committed to participating in the polls."
Sherdi predicts between 80 and 90 per cent of Wafdists favour participation in elections.
"Wafd's decision to boycott the 1990 polls caused the party a lot of harm," says Sherdi, "and no one wants to see that repeated. "The Wafd leadership has already drafted a preliminary list of 160 candidates and a second list of 22 female candidates to compete in the 64 seats reserved for women."
Tagammu Party leader Rifaat El-Said told the party's mouthpiece Al-Ahali on 8 September that "whether or not we participate in the elections does not hinge on the NDP's answer [on allowing stronger guarantees for a fair poll]."
"Opting for a boycott would be a bad move. We believe that there are many tools we can use to pressure the regime to allow greater transparency and integrity when it comes to elections."
"Tagammu," El-Said noted, "has never, since it was founded in 1977, opted to boycott parliamentary elections."
He cast doubts on El-Baradei's signature-collecting campaign, claiming that names collected via the Internet should not be trusted because they cannot be verified.
Ahmed Hassan, secretary-general of the Arab Nasserist Party, told the Weekly that "the party has already opted for participation and a list of 40 candidates has been drafted".
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which is coordinating with El-Baradei over collecting signatures for his reform manifesto, has, says leading Brotherhood Essam El-Erian "not yet taken a decision on whether or not to participate in the polls".
"We believe that all political groups should boycott or none" says El-Erian. "The situation will therefore become clearer when Wafd and Tagammu parties give a final say, at the end of this week or early next week, on whether or not they will participate in the polls."
Brotherhood MP Mohamed El-Beltagui said on Saturday that "the Brotherhood will almost certainly participate in the elections unless both the Wafd and Tagammu parties decide otherwise".
Ammar Ali Hassan, a political analysts with the Middle East News Agency (MENA), doubts the Brotherhood will opt for a boycott. "They have enjoyed the advantages of parliamentary membership since 2000 and the appetite to participate in the polls even if they knew that the regime plans to prevent them from winning seats as it did in the Shura Council polls last June."
Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, told the Weekly he expected all the opposition parties to field candidates.
"These parties realise that heeding to El-Baradei's boycott call would be akin to political suicide," says Shehab. "How dare El-Baradei, who has avoided any dealings with CEOP parties since he came back to Egypt, now appeal to them to join his campaign for boycott?"
The NDP's six-member steering office met yesterday to give a final answer on the CEOP's demands for election guarantees.
MENA's Hassan believes "the main opposition parties will not endorse boycott not only because they dislike El-Baradei but because there are signs that the NDP, which allowed them to win more seats in the Shura Council polls last June, will adopt the same approach