Mursi open Egypt’s National Dialogue amid opposition boycott

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Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi opened Tuesday a national dialogue boycotted by the opposition umbrella group the National Salvation Front (NSF).

In his opening statements, President Mursi renewed his call for “all parties” to join the talks and stressed is commitment to “realize the goals of the revolution.”

The national dialogue, broadcast live on the state television, came days after President Mursi called for parliamentary elections, which the SNF said will boycott for lack of guarantees that the vote will be free and fair.

The boycott by NSF seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the vote, pointing to the polarization that has defined Egyptian politics since Hosni Mubarak was toppled two years ago.

It raises the prospect of a parliamentary election fought out mostly between Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and more hardline Islamist groups such as the Salafi Nour Party. The vote is to be held in four stages between late April and June.

The NSF -- an array of nascent liberal and leftist parties struggling to compete with the Islamists -- said there should be no elections for the lower house of parliament without a law guaranteeing fair polls.

An election law was passed this month by the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, which has been exercising legislative power in the absence of a lower house. The Islamists deny opposition accusations that the law divides constituencies in a way that favors the Muslim Brotherhood.

With deep grass roots networks, the Islamists have won all of the elections held since Mubarak was swept from power in a popular uprising that for a while brought Egyptians together in a display of unity rarely seen since then.

Divisions between the Islamists and their opponents have widened since Mursi won last year’s presidential election. Tensions spilt into lethal street violence late last year when the president was accused of staging a power grab – accusations dismissed by the Islamists as propaganda.

Seeking to convince the opposition to take part, Mursi had invited them to talks on Tuesday to address concerns about the vote. The NSF said it would not attend. “We tell President Mursi: talk with yourself and your party,” Ashour said.

If the past is anything to go by, Mursi and the Brotherhood will press on regardless. In December, he held a referendum on a constitution opposed by the opposition, securing its approval and signing it into law despite fierce protest.