EGYPT: Tensions, arrests and threats of boycott ahead of parliamentary elections [UPDATED]
Rising tension between Egypt’s government and the two biggest opposition groups has resulted in one announcing that it might boycott next month's parliamentary elections and the other condemning the arrest of dozens of its members.
The boycott threat, issued by Al Wafd's spokesman this week, came after state television blocked the broadcasting of the party’s advertisements. “Al Wafd would boycott the elections if the government's obstinacy towards the party and the refusal of its right to air its political advertisements continues,” spokesman Mohamed Sherdi said at a news conference.
The head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, Osama El Sheikh, earlier said that state television doesn’t restrict political advertisements as long as they are approved by the electoral committee.
Al Wafd's boycott threats coincide with complaints made by Egypt's biggest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose top officials accuse the government of suppressing their group through mass arrests ahead of the elections.
A security official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed that about 50 Brotherhood members were arrested in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria this week. They were putting up posters promoting their group's candidates that “bore religious slogans which violate electoral laws,” the official said.
The electoral committee previously said that candidates are obliged to preserve national unity between Muslims and Coptic Christians by not using religious symbols in campaigns. The Muslim Brotherhood's most recognizable slogan is: “Islam is the solution.”
But Brotherhood lawmaker Hussein Ibrahim said the Alexandria posters contained only the words “God is greater.”
“The streets of Alexandria are rife with posters for [ruling] National Democratic Party candidates, which carry Koranic verses and no one considers that a violation,” said Ibrahim, who is running to keep his parliamentary seat on Nov. 28.
Despite being officially banned as a political party, the Muslim Brotherhood has members running in parliamentary elections as independents. They formed the largest opposition bloc in the People's Assembly, the lower house, after having won 20% of the contested seats in the 2005 elections. The group said that it will be competing for a third of the 518 available seats this time around in an expanded assembly.
The National Democratic Party was formed in 1978 by then-President Anwar Sadat and has dominated Egyptian politics since — according to opposition groups, through fraud, intimidation and control of the local media. The current 454-seat People’s Assembly is dominated by the party, which holds 317 seats.
Egypt’s ailing 82-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, has led the party since Sadat’s assassination in 1981 and reportedly is considering a bid for a sixth term in elections next year.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badee. Credit: Amr Nabil / Associated Press