ElBaradei calls for big-tent coalition including Islamists

Move by Egypt's top reformer adds to fears of resurgent Brotherhood; women's groups launch campaign to assert equal rights.

Mohamed ElBaradei 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Mohamed ElBaradei 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Egypt’s leading reform candidate called Tuesday for the formation of a wide coalition of political parties – including Islamists – to run in the country’s first elections since the February ouster of president Hosni Mubarak.
The call by the Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the UN nuclear watchdog added to growing concerns that Islamist groups – including the Muslim Brotherhood – will be the predominant force in post-Mubarak Egypt, and will have considerable influence over drafting the country’s new constitution.
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“We don’t have the luxury today to enter into fierce competition between the different streams, especially when we are building the house from the start,” ElBaradei told reporters in remarks quoted by the Associated Press. “I talked today and before about the need for a national coalition. At this stage, there must be a parliament that represents all Egyptian forces.” ElBaradei’s comments came a day after a member of Egypt’s ruling military council dismissed unease over threats the Brotherhood poses to democracy as exaggerated.
“Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track,” Maj.-Gen. Mohamed Said al-Assar said in an address at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. “They have the willingness to share in the political life... they are sharing in good ways.” ElBaradei differed from Al-Assar in welcoming the possibility of international election monitors, a provision the general rejected Monday. “I don’t know of any democratic country that rejects international monitors,” ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei, 69, served a 12-year stint as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency until 2009. In 2005 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes, is used in the safest possible way.” The final years of his term were marked largely by the IAEA’s frequently hobbled attempts to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. Opponents of that program have criticized ElBaradei for dealing softly with the Islamic Republic, and for diverting attention from Tehran toward Israel.
“I do not believe that the Iranians are actually producing nuclear weapons,” he told Der Spiegel magazine last year. “In general, the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran is overestimated; some even play it up intentionally.”
A year earlier, he told the New York Times’ Roger Cohen, “Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,” a move that would “turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.” He later told Reuters the cause of nuclear non-proliferation had “lost its legitimacy in the eyes of Arab public opinion because of the perceived double standard” over Israel’s reported nuclear-weapons’ program.
Still, even opponents concede that the veteran diplomat is Egypt’s most appealing presidential candidate, though the Western- educated technocrat lacks the mass appeal of populists like former foreign minister Amr Moussa. A Newsweek poll this week found Moussa ahead of all candidates with 16 percent support among voters, followed by ElBaradei at 12% along with former prime minister Ahmed Shafik.
ElBaradei’s proposed big-tent coalition would include Islamists as well as smaller leftist and secularist factions that played prominent roles in Mubarak’s ouster in February.
ElBaradei met Tuesday with the leftist liberal Social Democratic Party and with the Free Egyptians Party, a secularist movement sponsored by telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris. Sawiris – a Coptic Christian and longtime advocate for a secular state – was formerly chief executive of Orascom Telecom, the holdings of which included 10 percent of Israel’s Partner Communications Company, better known as Orange.
A meeting between all potential coalition parties has been scheduled for next week, and a key consideration will be trying to agree on candidates to send to a delegation drafting Egypt’s new constitution. The liberal groups pale in size and scope with the massive Brotherhood apparatus (now represented by the newly inaugurated Freedom and Justice Party), but Islamists worry secular groups will nonetheless try to remove an existing constitutional clause stipulating that all national legislation be based on Sharia law.
Meanwhile, 15 women’s groups are waging a campaign to ensure the constitution protects equal rights.
“We are not proposing a new constitution, but we want women’s rights to be included,” Amina ElBendary, a professor of Arab and Islamic Civilization at the American University in Cairo, told a news conference, AFP reported.
Egypt’s military rulers recently announced that the women’s quota in parliament, created by Mubarak, would be eliminated. In the 2010 parliamentary elections, women had a quota of 64 of 445 seats, or 13%.
The groups are calling for quotas to ensure female representation in parliament and local government, for equal rights at work and school, and for a civil state that treats both sexes equally.
“The women are not questioning the Sharia, but they want the law clearly defined because the interpretations can vary,” said Azza Soleiman, a long-time women’s rights activist. “We don’t want Egypt to adopt the same interpretation as in Saudi Arabia.”