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Muslim Brotherhood claim 21,000 signatures for reform petition

The petition supports the reform demands of Mohammed ElBaradei, which include ending emergency laws and supervising judiciary.

The former UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei, right, wants to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process.
The former UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei, right, wants to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process.

CAIRO // The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, said it had so far gathered more than 21,000 signatures in an online campaign for the reform demands of Mohammed ElBaradei The launch of the signature campaign was announced last Wednesday by Mohammed Badie, the group's supreme leader, a month after Mr ElBaradei made a visit to the headquarters of Brotherhood MPs.

The group is technically banned, but 88 members won seats in Parliament by running as independents in the 2005 legislative elections. Mr ElBaradei, 68, has said that the Brotherhood, which has hundreds of thousands of supporters, should be included in the political process and that he needs them to reach one million signatures on the petition to pressure the regime for change. Rashad Bayoumi, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, said he wishes 80 million Egyptians would sign the petition.

The seven reform demands on the petition include ending the emergency laws, which have been in place since President Hosni Mubarak, 82, came to power in 1981; complete Egyptian judicial supervision and international monitoring of elections; allowing Egyptians abroad to vote; and amending the constitution to ease the conditions for independent candidates to run for president. The Muslim Brotherhood has managed to gather 21,211 signatures on its own since it started its electronic campaign. Supporters of Mr ElBaradei's National Association for Change (NAC) have managed to gather a total 73,425 signatures in support of his demands since he returned to Egypt in February after almost 30 years abroad to campaign for political reform and possibly run for president in next year's elections. Mr ElBaradei says he would consider running if these demands are met.

It is not clear how far the Brotherhood is willing to go in their support for Mr ElBaradei as the government is wary of him and is watching with whom he aligns himself. "We're always paying the price, you can say, we are paying in advance," said Essam el-Eryan, a senior member of the Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, who has been imprisoned several times in the frequent crackdowns on the group. However, he is not satisfied with the number of signatures so far. He wants to reach "one million to send a strong message to the officials and the president that the demand for change is real. It's not just an opposition slogan, but the Egyptian people want change," said Mr el-Eryan in a phone interview.

"As the political sphere is closed, We have no alternative for change, as giving in to the prevailing despair and frustration is destructive," he said. "ElBaradei is a hope, a symbol, and has become a role model, but we're working for Egypt, not for ourselves or any other personalities, and we are part of NAC, and not all those who are signing the petition are members of the Brotherhood," added Mr el-Eryan.

Mr ElBaradei is also calling for a boycott of upcoming legislative elections as well as the 2011 presidential elections if his demands are not met. The Brotherhood, which usually contests all elections despite the jailing of their leaders and hundreds of members as a result, is wary, however, of a boycott. Saad el-Katatny, the head of the Brotherhood lawmakers in Parliament and the group's representative in the NAC, said the Brotherhood hasn't decided yet to boycott elections, adding that such a decision depends on "a consensus among opposition groups and parties to boycott elections, as individual attempts won't have an impact".

The Al Wafd party, one of Egypt's oldest liberal parties has frozen its membership in Mr ElBaradei's opposition parties coalition over the issue of boycotting elections. Mr Elbaradei, who is outside the country, was not available for comment. nmagd@thenational.ae