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Will they, won’t they
Will they, won’t they
The Muslim Brothers will not say whether or not they will join the presidential race, the group’s supreme guide told Omayma Abdel-Latif  "We have candidates who are capable of ruling the world and not just Egypt," Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef told Al-Ahram Weekly. Akef’s self-assured declaration reflects his confidence in the pop
Friday, October 7,2005 00:00
by Ikhwan web

Will they, won’t they
The Muslim Brothers will not say whether or not they will join the presidential race, the group’s supreme guide told Omayma Abdel-Latif

 
"We have candidates who are capable of ruling the world and not just Egypt," Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef told Al-Ahram Weekly. Akef’s self-assured declaration reflects his confidence in the popular support the group enjoys in spite of the state’s systematic attempts to keep it out of the Egyptian political arena.

"We will remain the most popular political group in the Egyptian street," Akef told the Weekly. "And the most organised among the country’s opposition movements," he quickly added.

Many political observers concur with Akef. However, the Brothers’ reaction to President Hosni Mubarak’s constitutional amendments was a something of a mixed bag. In a statement which was, surprisingly, published by most state-owned newspapers, the Brothers welcomed Mubarak’s call for the amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution citing it as proof that "the regime grasps the popular demand for political reform."

Akef, nonetheless, acknowledged that such a step will only be of significance if followed by other steps leading to comprehensive political reform. "The amendments -- as they stand now -- will have very little significance on Egypt’s road to reform," Akef explained.

He believes the regime must begin by lifting the emergency laws. Next, it should release the 20,000 political detainees and amend laws regulating the formation of political parties.

Akef also believes that the 55 articles in the Constitution defining presidential powers must be amended. He disclosed that a Brotherhood legal committee is currently working on influencing parliamentary debate concerning Mubarak’s constitutional amendments. The Brotherhood enjoys the support of 16 MPs in the 454-member parliament making it the main opposition force in Egypt.

The Brotherhood’s views coincide with those of other opposition groups in the country -- they demand the amendment of the more undemocratic sections of the 1971 Constitution governing presidential prerogatives and the selection process of the president. But unlike most opposition parties, which enjoy little popular backing, the Brotherhood seems able to garner a considerable amount of popular support. The Muslim Brothers are also widely perceived to be pragmatic -- they have shelved their controversial social projects for the time being in favour of allying themselves with the secular opposition on the question of democracy and political reform.

Like most opposition movements which consider Mubarak’s move to be in response to their own sustained pressure on the regime to reform, Akef believes the move is a result of years of struggle to achieve political reform in the country. The Brotherhood has in the past participated, together with other political forces, in launching a number of initiatives urging for political change. It also once embarked on a unilateral initiative calling for radical reform in the country.

Last March, Akef disclosed what he described was the Brothers’ vision for political reform in Egypt. He severely criticised what he described as the unlimited powers of the president and insisted that the presidential powers be curtailed. "The president should not lead any political party," Akef said. "And, the president should only stay in power for two consecutive terms." He noted that Mubarak’s amendments fall far short of these goals.

Even so, the Brotherhood’s statement was viewed by many observers as reconciliatory -- as an attempt to woo the regime. The Brothers’ statement stressed that the group was "willing to come to the assistance of the regime in the face of external pressures and international meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs." For most observers such reconciliatory language is not likely to break the frosty, albeit ambivalent, relationship between the 75-year-old Brotherhood and Mubarak’s regime. Mubarak has openly stated that the Brotherhood has a "terrorist past".

Akef was ambiguous when asked if the group will now join the race for presidency. "It is premature to say," he replied, but he said that "all options are open."

"The issue has not been categorically determined," he pointed out. "We might name a candidate from our rank and file, or we might endorse the nomination of a candidate who gets a national consensus from one of the other political groups. The Brotherhood, according to Akef, was even ready to endorse the nomination of President Mubarak himself for a fifth term on the condition that the president pledges to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the group. "We will only work in the interest of the umma," he concluded.


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