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Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood denies contact with US officials | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- The political conflict in Egypt has reached a new turning point after major parties signed a document of understanding with the ruling Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] regarding the transfer of power from military to civilian control. SCAF will not take part in the battle that is taking shape in the heart of Egyptian politics, namely the competition at the forthcoming parliamentary elections. This represent the first Egyptian elections since the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime whose National Democratic Party dominated Egypt’s parliament.

Signs of this conflict can be seen in two of Egypt’s most prominent political parties, the Al-Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, backtracking on a tentative agreement to contest the forthcoming elections on a joint-party list. This represents an escalation of the electoral competition that will start later next week when Egyptian parliamentary candidates can begin to officially announce their candidacies.

Commenting on the Reuters report that senior Freedom and Justice Party officials were in direct contact with US officials, Dr. Essam al-Aryan told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we are at a critical and pivotal moment as we are approaching the most important parliamentary elections ever conducted in the country. Everybody is using their tools to distort the image of their opponents.” Dr. al-Aryan, who is the Vice President of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, strongly denied the existence of any contacts between the leadership of his party and US officials.

Replying to a question as to whether the Freedom and Justice Party believes that being in contact with US officials could affect the Muslim Brotherhood’s image in the eyes of the Egyptian public, Al-Aryan said “naturally taking part in a public meeting [with US officials] will not affect our image.” He added “the US administration said that it wants to communicate with us, and we welcome this. Our position is clear; we do not take part in secret meetings.”

Washington had announced that it will conduct direct talks with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose role has increased following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Washington announced these plans in June 2011, and portrayed these contacts as a resumption of a policy that was previously in effect. However many analysts consider this policy to reflect a new way in which Washington is dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned during the Hosni Mubarak era.

A senior US diplomat told Reuters that “we have had direct contacts with senior officials of the Freedom and Justice Party.” The US official added “we don’t have a policy that makes a distinction, that one or the other [party] is off limits” although he failed to mention when these meetings took place.

When asked to comment on this statement, Freedom and Justice Party Vice President Dr. Essam al-Aryan denied that any such meetings had taken place.

The unnamed US diplomat told Reuters that the US contacts had been with “high-level” members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, but did not specify any names. From the US side, he also revealed that the contacts were not at ambassadorial level, refusing to give any further details.

The diplomat said “we had occasionally had contacts in the past…the difference is in the past we had seen parliamentarians.” Muslim Brotherhood figures were previously able to win parliamentary seats during the Hosni Mubarak era by standing as “independent” candidates, as the Muslim Brotherhood was a banned organization.

The Egyptian parliament was dissolved after the collapse of the Mubarak regime. Egyptian parliamentary elections [for the People’s Assembly] are scheduled to begin in November, whilst Shura Council elections are scheduled for early next year.

The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to perform strongly at the forthcoming elections, although many Egyptian and foreign political analysts do not expect any party to emerge with a parliamentary majority.

The US diplomat also stressed that any contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood is part of Washington’s attempt to understand Egypt and explain US policies. He said that “from our perspective it is important to be in touch with all of the emerging political forces here in Egypt, across the board, that are peaceful and committed to non-violence.”

He added “it helps to understand Egypt and the way the political system is developing, and it helps us to deliver our message and get them to understand where we are coming from.”

For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood – that is trying to maintain a certain distance from its political group, the Freedom and Justice Party – had denied that any of its “high-level” members are meeting with US officials. Official Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmud Ghuzlan – who is himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau – stressed that “this report is completely untrue.”

Although the Al-Wafd Party and the Freedom and Justice Party have taken the joint-decision to dissolve their electoral ties, this does not necessarily signal the complete end of any political alliance between the two parties, or the end of the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt.

The National Democratic Alliance for Egypt is the largest political coalition in Egypt, formed by a number of political parties in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

In a joint-statement issued by Al-Wafd Party President Al-Sayed Al-Badawy, and Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy, both leaders stressed that “the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, which includes more than 40 political parties, has not been established only for electoral coordination, but also in order to agree a document of principles that will enjoy political consensus within parliament.” They stressed that the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt “is not merely for obtaining seats in parliament.”

The Al-Wafd Party, which traditionally enjoys the support of Egypt’s capitalist elite, will compete for two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, in an electoral list exclusively made up of Al-Wafd Party candidates. Al-Wafd Party Executive Committee member Essam Shihah informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the [Al-Wafd] party expects to win between 30 percent and 35 percent of the parliamentary seats.”

As for the remaining third of parliamentary seats that are set to be elected based on votes for individual candidacies – as opposed to votes for political parties – Shihah revealed that the Al-Wafd party will coordinate with all the Egyptian political forces –including the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party – to challenge for these seats.

The old and well-established Al-Wafd Party relies on a record that goes back to the 1919 Egyptian revolution, which was triggered by members of the Egyptian Al-Wafd Party – led by Saad Zaghloul – demanding Egyptian independence. The party will also rely on its vast financial resources which allow it to engage in serious political competition, especially in light of the expansion of electoral constituents under the new law of division of constituencies.

Political observers believe that the Al-Wafd Party is aspiring to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which is probably the most organized political group in the country following the dissolution of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, to win a parliamentary majority. However the Al-Wafd Party lack the grass-root support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sources within the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt say that the Al-Wafd Party is coordinating with all other parties in this electoral coalition, however the Al-Wafd Party’s aspiration to win a majority at the forthcoming parliamentary elections may prevent them from allying with the Egyptian Islamist trend, led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, in addition a number of Salafist political parties established following the 25 January Revolution.