CAIRO, Egypt, AP – The influential Muslim Brotherhood has declined to endorse any candidate in next month”s presidential elections, but it made clear Sunday that supporters should not vote for President Hosni Mubarak.
In a long awaited statement on the Sept. 7 polls, Egypt”s largest Islamic group urged people to vote in the elections, the first in which Egyptians have a choice of candidates.
"All the brothers should know that we could not support an oppressor or cooperate with a corrupt person or with a tyrant," said the statement, which was signed by the group”s leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef. Akef told The Associated Press on Saturday that the Brotherhood was opposed to Mubarak.
A leading Brotherhood member, Ali Abdel Fattah, said Sunday”s statement meant the group was urging its supporters to vote for any candidate except Mubarak.
"President Hosni Mubarak has been in office for 24 years and yet he didn”t cancel the emergency legislation or implement any kind of true reform," Fattah told the AP. "We refuse to let the status quo continue."
As a banned organization, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot contest elections but it has a history of endorsing candidates.
Some reports forecast that it would strike a deal with Mubarak”s ruling National Democratic Party, endorsing the president in return for the release of detained Brotherhood executives.
The Brotherhood”s influence was demonstrated on Aug. 14 when the leading challenger to Mubarak, Ayman Nour of the Tomorrow Party, visited the group”s headquarters and asked Akef for his endorsement.
In Sunday”s statement, the Brotherhood called for judicial supervision of the elections, the release of political prisoners and the abolition of the emergency laws — which have been in force since President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
Meanwhile, in a campaign speech on Sunday, Mubarak said that job creation would be his first priority if he won a fifth-term in office.
Mubarak, who has ruled since Sadat was killed, is expected to easily win the election.
Government opponents have criticized the polls as being tilted in Mubarak”s favor. They say the pro-government media gives him a massive advantage and that the electoral controls are insufficient to ensure free and fair voting.
Amr el-Choubaki, an analyst and expert on Islamic groups, said that despite the Brotherhood”s popularity, the result of the elections is "already known."
"No candidate has a chance to compete against the authority of the state, and the security and administrative bodies that have been led by Mubarak for 24 years," el-Choubaki said.
He described the Brotherhood”s statement as deliberately vague. It avoided naming Mubarak to "keep the channels open with the regime to achieve gains in parliamentary elections" scheduled for November, he said.
Similarly, the Brotherhood declined to back an opposition candidate so as not to burn bridges with the ruling party or alienate other opponents, el-Choubaki said.
The Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954, says it seeks an Islamic state through peaceful means. The government allows the Brotherhood to exist, although it tightens and relaxes its grip on the group as the political climate changes.
Fifteen Brotherhood-backed candidates form the largest opposition bloc in the outgoing parliament.