They make strange bedfellows. Mohammed ElBaradei is a staunch secular liberal; Mohammed Said al Katatni is the head of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in Egypt’s parliament, a group of Islamist politicians. Both have agreed to work together for political reform in Egypt. Their vision of Egyptian politics is vastly different from the others, as one might expect given their divergent ideologies.
Perhaps that is why Mr al Katatni was so keen to downplay their level of co-operation during a joint press conference on Saturday. The Muslim Brotherhood is not supporting Mr ElBaradei’s expected bid for the presidency, only his attempts to seek constitutional reform. Egypt’s political system makes it extremely hard for anyone other than the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to be elected to parliament and anyone other than Hosni Mubarak, or perhaps his son, to be elected president. The two men hope to collect a million signatures urging Mr Mubarak to change the constitutional provisions designed to keep him in office.
If it seems that the alliance amounts to little more than a fig leaf to broaden the appeal of both parties, that is not far from the truth. But it is also Egypt’s best chance for political reform.
Neither man holds much respect for the other’s beliefs, but they have little choice but to work together if either is going to have any chance of achieving their respective visions for Egypt. Barring a change of heart from Mr Mubarak and the NDP, the only way to make politics more inclusive in Egypt is concerted and co-ordinated effort from the opposition. If they split the vote of those dissatisfied with the status quo, as they have done in the past, the only beneficiary will be the ruling elite.
That point was driven home for the Muslim Brotherhood after elections on Wednesday. They failed to gain a single seat in the upper house of parliament. They accused the government of vote-rigging and voter intimidation. The National reported that during the polls election monitors were turned away despite having credentials from the government. Presumed supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were turned away from polling stations, and at least one candidate on their ticket was shot.
It is clear that Egypt’s politics needs to change to keep up with rapid modernisation.
Who actually leads that change may be secondary to the greater desire of Egyptians for a greater say in shaping their government and a sense of things advancing.