Islamist group says it will work with rivals; U.S. says NGO crackdown unacceptable


The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said it would not use its success in Egypt’s parliamentary election to impose its will on the drafting of a new constitution and would work with all rival political groups on the blueprint as Washington said it was “unacceptable” for Egyptian authorities to maintain a crackdown on non-government organizations.

Egyptians go to the polls for a second day on Wednesday in the final stage of the election for the lower house of parliament, the first free legislative vote since military officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has led after two of the three rounds of voting so far, and the rise of Islamist parties in the poll has prompted Western concern for the future of Egypt’s close ties to Washington and peace with Israel.

Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s best organized political force, emerging stronger than others from three decades of autocratic rule under Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by mass protests last year. The new parliament will pick a 100-person assembly to write a new constitution.

“The party’s winning of the majority in the new parliament does not mean going it alone in writing the constitution without consideration for the rights of other Egyptians, or ignoring the political forces which did not get a majority or failed in the parliamentary elections,” said FJP head Mohamed Mursi, according to Reuters.

“All political forces and intellectuals in Egypt, regardless of their political and religious allegiances, will take part in writing the constitution,” said Mursi, whose comments were published on the Muslim Brotherhood's website on Tuesday.

The more hardline Islamist al-Nour Party has come second in the voting so far. It is a Salafi group promoting a strict interpretation of Islamic law and its success has raised the prospect of a chamber dominated by Islamists.

Some analysts believe, however, that the Muslim Brotherhood could seek to build a coalition with secular groups.

That could ease concerns at home and in the West about the rise of the Islamists in a country whose economy is propped up by tourism.

The staggered lower house election concludes with a run-off vote on Jan. 10 and 11, with final results expected on Jan. 13. Voting for the upper house will be held in January and February.

The election will produce the first Egyptian parliament with popular legitimacy in decades, raising the possibility of friction with the military council which has governed since Mubarak stepped down in February.

Activists arrested

The military council has been the focus of street protests held by activists who accuse it of seeking to hold on to power and privilege. Saying they do not want to govern, the generals are due to hand power to an elected president by mid-year.

Some still doubt their intentions. In an echo of the Mubarak years, four activists were detained on Tuesday for putting up posters critical of the military council, activists and a source in the public prosecutor's office said.

They were detained while hanging posters comparing images of soldiers after the 1973 war with Israel with pictures of troops beating women in Cairo during protests last month, said Amr Ezz, an organizer of the April 6 movement to which the four belonged.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said the arrests were part of a trend including raids last week against 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups.

Crackdown on NGOs unacceptable

Meanwhile, the United States said Tuesday it was “unacceptable” for Egyptian authorities to maintain a crackdown on non-government organizations (NGOs), including US election monitoring groups, AFP reported.

U.S. State Department said Washington is also concerned that some of the most “strident” statements in the row are being made by “holdovers” from the former government of toppled president Hosni Mubarak.

“We had been assured by leaders in the Egyptian government that this issue would be resolved, that harassment end, that NGOs would be allowed to go back to business as usual and that their property would be returned,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

“It is frankly unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal,” she told reporters.

The targeted U.S. groups were the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House.

The U.S. government hinted it could review the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo if the raids continued, underscoring Washington’s concern over political developments in a country seen as the lynchpin of the Middle East.

But U.S. officials said later they had been assured by top civilian and military leaders that the crackdown would stop.

Egyptian government ministers have described the crackdown as part of an investigation into illegal funding of political activities, which they said has increased since Mubarak was toppled in an uprising last year.