Egyptian PM suggests way to sideline Islamists

Egypt may change the constitution in a way that makes it more difficult for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood movement to win large numbers of parliamentary seats, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in an interview.

Nazif said one proposal was to introduce an electoral voting system which combines voting for individuals and voting for party lists, but this would require constitutional change.

“If we amended the constitution to allow that, then we could obtain better representation for the parties in parliament, even if so far I don’t know whether that would happen or not,” he told the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm in the interview, released in advance of publication on Wednesday.

The Egyptian authorities have never allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to form a political party, forcing its candidates to stand for parliament as independents.

The Islamic group won 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament in elections last year, whereas the recognised political parties, mostly liberal or leftist, fared very poorly.

Analysts said the government made sure the secular parties lost so that it could portray to the West the political struggle in Egypt as one between Mubarak and the Brotherhood.

But it panicked when the Islamists did better than expected.

Nazif was answering a question on how the government might put into practice Nazif’s wish to prevent the Brotherhood from forming a parliamentary bloc in the next parliament.

The government says it objects to the Brotherhood because it behaves like a political party based on religion.

The Brotherhood says the government is frightened of the movement’s popularity and wants to reduce its influence in preparation for installing Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak, as the country’s next president.

The change suggested by Nazif could reduce the Brotherhood’s presence in parliament because its members would not be eligible for seats decided by the party list method, unless the movement formed a tactical alliance with an existing recognised party.

Nazif aired his objections to the Brotherhood forming a parliamentary bloc earlier this month but said the government did not know how to stop this.

Asked again how he could ensure that members of parliament elected as independents remained independent throughout their term, he said: “I submit this question for thought and discussion.

I don’t have a solution by the way.” After the last parliamentary elections in November and December, more than 100 members elected as independents joined the ruling party, preserving its two-thirds majority.

The government says it is planning constitutional changes by the end of the year but in his programme for presidential elections last September Mubarak did not mention any proposal for constitutional changes in the voting system.