Mubarak sends message to Egypt’s Islamists

Mubarak sends message to Egypt’s Islamists

Egyptian leader stresses his firm commitment to respecting precedence of citizenship over religion.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a thinly-veiled message to the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday by stressing the precedence of citizenship over religion in a speech to parliament.

Mubarak stressed his “firm commitment to respecting the principle of citizenship as the basis for equality between Egyptians, regardless of gender, beliefs and religion.”

Without ever directly referring to the Islamist movement that won 20 percent of parliamentary seats in this month’s vote, Mubarak affirmed his commitment to a democracy advocating “religion for God and the nation for all”.

The president was speaking at a joint session of the People’s Assembly and Shura (consultative) Council inaugurating the ninth legislative term.

The Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in parliamentary elections that wound up on December 7, giving the banned but tolerated Islamist group one in five chamber seats and making it the country’s largest opposition force.

The movement, which has spawned many extremist organisations in the region but has itself renounced violence, campaigned under the slogan “Islam is the solution”.

Some leading members of the Christian Coptic minority, which claims to account for 10 percent of Egypt’s 73 million inhabitants, have expressed fear following the Islamists’ spectacular gains.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which advocates an Islamic state, made sure to send conciliatory signals following its electoral successes, vowing to protect the rights of the country’s Christians.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s unexpected surge dented the domination of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, which nevertheless secured the two-thirds majority needed to pass emergency laws and constitutional amendments.

Among the 10 MPs appointed by Mubarak were five Copts and five women.

Monday’s joint session in the People’s Assembly was attended by the heads of both chambers, as well as Coptic Pope Shenuda III, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam.

The regime of Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, is considered secular-leaning although Islamic law, or Sharia, is the main source of legislation.

Mubarak did not make any announcement on the premiership, but the Egyptian press expects the mandate of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to be extended.

In his speech, Mubarak outlined the policies of the NDP and reiterated the main points of the programme he proposed for the September presidential election.

“The legislative elections have demonstrated that we are continuing down the path of democracy and reform with unshakable determination,” he said.

Among the few concrete proposals made by Mubarak in his address were a bill amending the status of pre-trial detentions and reviewing the nature of sentences for press crimes.

Mohammed Kamel, a senior member of the NDP’s policies secretariat, welcomed Mubarak’s speech.

“The president pledged constitutional reforms. I am optimistic. The large number of opposition MPs reveals a genuine political will for democratisation,” he told Egyptian television.