Muslim Brotherhood differs with opposition over pre-election strategy

A meeting called by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) opposition movement with leaders of Egypt’s top political factions appears to have yielded more differences than unity among opposition forces. 

MB General Guide Mohamed Badie held the closed meeting with several opposition leaders–including liberal Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, pan-Arab Karama Party leader Hamdein Sabahi, and representatives from the liberal Wafd Party–after an iftar banquet last night.

Mohammed Morsi, MB media spokesperson, announced the banquet two days earlier to the press, saying that the breaking of the fast, held on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, would be followed by deliberations between politicians and human rights leaders from across the political spectrum.

During the meeting, leaders took turns giving statements on where their parties or groups stood on various issues, especially in relation to upcoming parliamentary elections. The elections have become a point of conflict between opposition parties, which are divided over whether to boycott or participate in the races. 

At the conference, Badie stressed the need for unity, saying that “everyone present is looking for some light at the end of the tunnel,” noting that attendees “have shown by their presence that they realize the immensity of the problem that Egypt is facing… No change can happen without any of those present.”

However, reports that surfaced following the conference suggest that differences had overshadowed points of agreement, with Nasserist Leader Sameh Ashour and Kifaya leader Abdel-Halim Qandil walking out of the event–for different reasons–in protest.

Prior to the meeting, Wafd head El-Sayed el-Badawy had declined the invitation to the event, dispatching a delegation of top Wafd members in his stead.

Anis al-Beya’, deputy leader of the leftist Tagammu Party, for his part, attended the meeting, and was quoted in the Brotherhood announcement as saying that his party would resume talks with the Islamic group, “who are a force that cannot be ignored. Tagammu has to enter into dialogue with all groups.” However, during the meeting, he was quoted as saying that the MB should reconsider its conduct with other “official” parties.

Before the meeting, Tagammu head Refaat al-Saeed had insisted that his party did not hold talks with the MB, nor would it form an alliance with the banned group in the future. He insisted that al-Beya’ had not attended the dinner in his official capacity as a Tagammu member.

Earlier this year, a coalition of Egyptian opposition groups, which included both the Wafd and Tagammu, had refused to include the MB in a national front inaugurated by Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and potential presidential contender.  At the time, al-Saeed had said that the Brotherhood’s disregard for civil rights, in addition to women’s and Coptic rights, contradicted the party's principles of pluralism and respect for rights. The leftist leader warned that an alliance with the MB would "drag the country backwards."

According to the MB Guidance Bureau, which sends out daily statements to the press, a number of other politicians also declined to attend the meeting. “They’re free in their decision to turn up or not,” Morsi was quoted as saying, adding that “it’s the Muslim Brotherhood's wish that all political forces unite as one front.”

During the meeting, leaders discussed reports issued by four committees appointed by the group and its allies to study and provide recommendations on the country’s constitution, legislation, elections and the “future of government in Egypt.” The reports also explored “ways of peaceful transition of power.”

The elections committee was assigned to study the opposition's stance regarding the question of boycotting or participating in upcoming parliamentary elections slated for late November. It is expected that licenced parties, such as the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and Wafd Party, will elbow out the MB–members of which ran as independents in 2005–in the upcoming races.

Brotherhood MPs Ashraf Badreddin and Saad El-Husseiny have told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the number of candidates that the group intends to field in the elections is still unknown, “but will be announced very soon,” said Badreddin.

The MP revealed that there were differences inside the MB as to whether or not they should field candidates for all parliamentary seats or opt for a more limited presence.

“I can safely say that the majority of the MB shura councils in the provinces support the idea of having a strong presence, even if it means facing up to harassment from the country’s mobilized security forces,” said Badreddin. “We’re used to this. For the past 20 years, election season for us has also been a season of arrests and falsified court cases. But we’re going strong despite the anticipated arrests and crackdowns.”

However, at Wednesday night’s meeting, the group’s decision to field candidates was subject to criticism.

After the meeting, Kefaya's Qandil told Al-Masry Al-Youm that it was "clear that the Brotherhood had no desire to give the podium to those who were calling for boycotting elections.” Qandil had left the meeting in anger after having been denied the chance to speak at the conference. According to the MB, the decision had been the result of "time restraints."

“The highlight of the iftar was the fact that [political] forces were supposed to reach an agreement on whether or not they would all take part in elections or they would all boycott,” said Abdel-Moneim Mahmoud, MB member and Islamist analyst.

Former reformist Judge Mahmoud al-Khodeiry, speaking on behalf of the Egyptians for Free and Fair Elections initiative, reiterated that the MB, in addition to all opposition forces, were “in agreement that there would be no elections without guarantees,” according to the MB's official website, echoing what Wafd leaders had said less than two weeks earlier at their annual conference.

But it remains unclear how the motto “No elections without guarantees” corresponds to the MB’s decision to participate in elections.

Mahmoud confirmed this, saying that “through inside knowledge, I know that the Brotherhood has decided to forcefully participate in elections.” 

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