Muslim Brotherhood to form party in Egypt

By OREN KESSLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 16, 2011 03:57

Army charges expert panel with amending constitution; Mubarak said to be in failing health.




Muslim Brotherhood leaders

Muslim Brotherhood press conference 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Egypt’s long-banned Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday it intends to form a political party once democracy is established, as the country’s new military rulers launched a panel of experts to amend the country’s constitution enough to allow democratic elections later this year.

The panel is to draw up changes within 10 days to end the monopoly that ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party once held, and which it ensured through widespread election rigging.

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“The Muslim Brotherhood group believes in the freedom of the formation of political parties. They are eager to have a political party,” spokesman Muhammad Mursi said in a statement on the Brotherhood website.

Essam el-Arian, a prominent Brotherhood figure, said the movement would not run a candidate in the next presidential elections, acknowledging that such a move would be too controversial.

“We are not going to have a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

It’s time for solidarity, it’s time for unity, in my opinion we need a national consensus,” he said. But he said the Brotherhood’s top leadership had decided on the creation of a party.

The constitutional changes put in motion on Tuesday may not be enough for many in Egypt who are calling for the current constitution, now suspended by the military, to be thrown out completely and rewritten to ensure no one can once again establish autocratic rule. Two members on the expert panel said the next elected government could further change the document if it chooses.

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The military’s choices for the expert panel’s makeup were a sign of the new political legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group that was the most bitter rival of Mubarak’s regime.

Among the panel’s members is Sobhi Saleh, a former lawmaker from the Brotherhood seen as part of its reformist wing. Saleh said the goal was to “cleanse” the constitution to ensure freedom of political parties and other rights ahead of the elections. “After the transition to a democratic life and freedoms, parties and political forces can get together and work on a complete constitution,” he said.

The Brotherhood’s charter calls for creation of an Islamic state in Egypt, and Mubarak’s regime depicted the Brotherhood as aiming to take over the country, launching fierce crackdowns on the group. Some Egyptians remain deeply suspicious of the secretive organization, fearing it will exploit the current turmoil to vault to power.

But others – including the secular, liberal youth activists who launched the anti-Mubarak uprising – say the Brotherhood has to be allowed freedom to compete in a democracy alongside everyone else. Support by young cadres in the Brotherhood was key to the protests’ success, providing manpower and organization, though they never came to form a majority in the wave of demonstrations.

Also on Tuesday, an Egyptian security official told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Mubarak’s health has been “deteriorating drastically,” but that he is refusing to leave Egypt to receive medical care.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if word of Mubarak’s death will be received at any moment,” a former Egyptian security official with ties to the Military Council told the newspaper.

Mubarak “wants to be left alone and die in his homeland,” the source said.

“His death is just a matter of time. It’s unfortunate that this is how things will end.”

Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, said on Monday that the 82-year-old former leader was “possibly in somewhat of bad health,” providing the first word about him since being ousted on Friday.

Speaking on Monday on NBC’s Today show, the envoy said he had received the information about Mubarak but could not be more specific.

Two Cairo newspapers said Mubarak was refusing to take medication, depressed and repeatedly passing out at his residence in Sharm e-Sheikh. There was no immediate confirmation of the reports.

The eight-member committee appointed on Tuesday includes a Christian Supreme Court judge, along with other judges and legal experts. The panel is headed by Tareq el-Bishri, a widely respected former judge and scholar who was once a secular leftist but later became what Egyptians refer to as the “moderate Islamic” political trend and is seen as a bridge between the movements.

The panel’s convening indicates the military is trying to push ahead quickly with a transition after Mubarak resigned on Friday. The military is now also urging an end to labor strikes that spread wildly across the country on Sunday and Monday.

The strikes, many hitting state agencies and industries, are a further blow to Egypt’s economy, damaged by the three weeks of upheaval. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to provide aid.

The new constitutional panel is mandated to draw up amendments to the current constitution within 10 days to be put to a referendum, paving the way for elections.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council, grouping the defense minister and top generals, has vowed to hand over power to an elected civilian government. It has dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution – steps that encouraged protest leaders because both were pillars of the Mubarak regime. But it has kept in place the last government installed by Mubarak, as a caretaker until a new one is named.

On Monday, the coalition of activists who organized the protest movement pushed the military for further steps.

In a list of demands, they called to dissolve Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and for the creation of a cabinet of technocrats within 30 days. They want it to replace the caretaker government.

“It is unacceptable that the same government which caused this revolution with its corrupt ways oversees the transitional period,” said Ziad al-Oleimi, a member of the coalition.


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