June 28, 2005

Egypt’s Brotherhood calls for opposition alliance

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood groupsaid on Tuesday it was inviting opposition groups to aconference to set up a permanent alliance to push for politicalreform in the Arab world's most populous nation.

The conference on Thursday could form the basis for thebroad opposition front the Islamist group has been trying tobuild to campaign for political freedoms and enable theBrotherhood to play a full part in national politics.

The Brotherhood is probably the country's largestopposition group but the government refuses to recognize it orallow it to compete in elections as a political party.

The Brotherhood said it had invited prominent members ofthe liberal Wafd Party and the leftist Tagammu Party to takepart in the founding National Alliance for Reform and Changeconference, along with newer groups such as the Kefaya (Enough)Movement.

It will submit to the conference the conclusions of threeworkshops the organization has held in recent weeks with civilsociety groups, intellectuals and politicians, Brotherhooddeputy leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters.

The Brotherhood statement said the alliance's demands willinclude the peaceful rotation of power, an independentjudiciary and the freedom to form political parties.

The Brotherhood wants the alliance to organize jointdemonstrations, on the grounds that it would be more effectivethan single groups in pressuring the government not to mistreatdemonstrators, Habib said.

Kefaya and the Brotherhood have organized recent pro-reformprotests throughout Egypt. Some Kefaya members have facedviolence and around 800 Brotherhood members have spent time incustody after protests.

Authorities later released nearly all the Brotherhoodmembers but at least 37, including two senior figures, remainin detention.

A senior member of Kefaya said the group was ready tocooperate with the Brotherhood. Officials from the Nasseristand Tagammu parties said they were discussing the proposal.

Analysts say the Brotherhood hopes an alliance with largelysecular groups will make it seem more acceptable to the UnitedStates, which has called for reform in Egypt.

"The Brotherhood is trying to appeal to the Europeans andthe United States ... They are trying to show they are part ofa national movement," said Abdel Moneim Said, director of theAl-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"They are trying to show they are not seeking atheological, theocratic government," he added.

On a visit to Cairo last week, Secretary of StateCondoleezza Rice echoed many of the demands of Egypt'sopposition, criticizing violence against protesters and callingfor an end to Egypt's Emergency Law.

But she also said the United States had not, and would not,talk to the Brotherhood because they were banned by theEgyptian government. The government says it will not allowpolitical parties based on religion.

The Brotherhood says it will not seek a dialogue with theU.S. government until Washington changes Middle East policy.