New Egyptian party set to split Islamist vote further

CAIRO Tue Jan 1, 2013 12:22pm EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Leading members of Egypt's hardline Islamist movement unveiled a new political party on Tuesday, pointing to new rivalries that could split the Islamist vote in an impending parliamentary election.

The creation of the al-Watan ('Homeland') Party is part of a political landscape that was dominated by a variety of Islamist parties in the last election a year ago, but is still evolving.

The polls, due to begin in about two months, will be defined by competition between the Islamists, many of them from the Muslim Brotherhood that propelled Mohamed Mursi to the presidency, and secular-minded critics who have closed ranks in opposition to him.

Al-Watan's founders include the former leader of the Nour Party, a hardline Salafi Islamist group that came second to the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in the last election.

The last parliament, in which the FJP and the Nour Party together won some 70 percent of the seats, was dissolved in June by a court ruling that found the election law had been flawed.

One of al-Watan's founders, Emad Abdel Ghaffour, was Nour Party leader until he quit last week following internal disputes over the role of clerics in decision-making and bickering over internal elections.

He unveiled the new party on Tuesday at a news conference alongside Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a popular Salafi preacher who said an Islamist party that he plans to set up would enter an electoral alliance with al-Watan.

Abu Ismail was a front-runner for the presidency until he was disqualified on the grounds that his mother had held U.S. citizenship.

Salafi Islamists had kept out of politics until the uprising that overthrew Mubarak, but have emerged as a potent force since his political demise. Their stated aim is the application of Islamic law, or sharia.

(Editing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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