Egypt liberals launch coalition to counter Islamists
CAIRO (Reuters) - Liberal political groups and a traditional Islamist party on Monday launched a coalition, "The Egyptian Bloc," to challenge powerful Islamists in a November parliamentary election.
Many Egyptians have voiced concern that Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood -- the country's best organized political force, may try to create an Islamic state if they manage to secure a majority in parliament.
"Our goal is to say very clearly that we believe that new Egypt has to be a civil democratic state," said Osama El Ghazali Harb, founder of the liberal Democratic Front Party, an opposition group under Mubarak.
The coalition of 15 groups agreed to work together to raise funds for the elections and to field one list of candidates and campaign together.
They have also endorsed a proposal by the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf calling for a "constitutional decree" that will prevent Islamists monopolizing the drafting of a new constitution if they win a majority in elections.
Analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah, of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the coalition was "a final attempt by the various political forces" to form an opposition group to stand against the Islamists in the elections.
"This alliance could have a chance if it acted quickly and used (to its advantage) the increasing public fears of the Brotherhood and their goals," he said.
As well as the Democratic Front, the coalition included Al Masreyeen Al Ahrar (Free Egyptians), a liberal party led by Christian telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the Farmers Syndicate and the Sufi Liberation Party, traditional Islamists.
The liberal Wafd party also joined the coalition on Monday after warning last week it may end its alliance with the Brotherhood amid differences over the new constitution.
Islamists and opposition groups have been reveling in unprecedented freedoms after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in February.
The Muslim Brotherhood is seen as the best prepared for the November vote and has already said it plans to run for 50 percent of parliament's 504 seats.
The November vote is Egypt's first after the ousting of Mubarak and it could be the state's first free vote in decades. Elections under Mubarak were often seen as rigged in favor of him and his party.
Founded in the 1920, the Brotherhood has over the years gained public support by offering poor Egyptians free social services. In the 2005 vote, the party known for its strong organizational skills, won a fifth of parliament seats.
Abdel Fattah said the Brotherhood were a major challenge to the new coalition. "It is still hard for the coalition to gain support, given the short time left before elections," he said.
The Brotherhood has said it wants a constitution that respects Muslims and non-Muslims alike but refuses to say exactly what it wants in the new constitution before parliament is elected. Parliament is set to assign a committee to draft the new constitution in its early sessions.
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh Editing by Sami Aboudi and Louise Ireland)
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