* Polls will further inflame situation - ElBaradei
* Opposition grouping to consider boycott
* Polls are only way out of crisis - Islamists
By Marwa Awad
CAIRO, Feb 22 Egypt's opposition attacked
President Mohammed Mursi on Friday for calling elections during
a national crisis, but face a test of unity in challenging
Islamists who have won every poll since the 2011 revolution.
No sooner had Mursi called the parliamentary polls on
Thursday than liberals and leftists accused him of deepening
divisions between Islamists and their opponents. Some threatened
to boycott voting which starts on April 27th and finishes in
Voting is held in stages due to a shortage of election
monitors and Mursi's choice of dates upset the Christian
minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.
AlKalema, a Christian Coptic group, criticised the
presidency for setting the first round to fall on the
community's Easter religious holiday.
"This is total negligence of the Coptic community but an
intentional move to exclude them from political life," AlKalema
said in a statement. Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris made similar
statements criticising the vote timing.
Egypt's state TV Channel One and Nile TV said later in
separate scrolling news headlines that the presidency would
change the date of the parliamentary vote because it falls on
Coptic Easter holidays, in an effort to appease the Coptic
minority. But no official statement was issued by the presidency
to that effect.
Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which backs
Mursi, dominated the old lower house, which was dissolved last
year by court order. The new parliament will face tough
decisions as Egypt is seeking an IMF loan deal which would ease
its financial crisis but demand unpopular austerity.
Mursi called the elections, to be held in four stages around
the country, hoping they can conclude Egypt's turbulent
transition to democracy which began with the overthrow of
autocrat Hosni Mubarak by popular protests.
Islamists hailed elections as the only way out of Egypt's
political and economic crisis. However, liberal politician
Mohamed ElBaradei said holding polls without reaching a national
consensus would further "inflame the situation".
"The insistence on polarisation, exclusion and oppression
along with ... the deteriorating economic and security situation
will lead us to the abyss," ElBaradei, a former United Nations
agency chief, said on his Twitter feed.
Egypt is split between the Islamists, who want national life
to observe religion more closely, and opposition groups which
hold a wide variety of visions for the future.
Across Egypt there were scattered protests in Alexandria and
Port Said, while a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square was
muted as a sandstorm enveloped the capital.
Like the fractious opposition, the demonstrators had widely
varying demands. Some called on Mursi to step down while others
pressed for the military, which long backed Mubarak and his
predecessors, to step back in to run Egypt.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), which groups a number of
parties opposed to the Islamists, said it would hammer out its
stand on the elections.
"We will meet early next week to decide on whether we will
boycott or go ahead with elections. But as you can see, the
opposition overall is upset over this unilateral decision on
part of the presidency. This was a rushed decision," said NSF
spokesman Khaled Dawood.
Dawood said Egypt should have other priorities such as
changing the controversial new constitution produced last year
by an assembly dominated by Islamists. "Solve these issues first
then talk about elections," added Dawood.
While the opposition can agree on attacking Mursi, previous
boycott threats have fizzled out. It remains fractured and
disorganised, unlike the well-financed and efficient Islamist
election machines which have triumphed in votes for the
presidency and parliament.
"We face a difficult political decision and time is running
out. The opposition faces a test of its ability to remain
united," said Amr Hamzawy, a professor of politics at Cairo
University and former liberal lawmaker.
ISLAMISTS READY FOR VOTE
Islamist parties and groups welcomed the new elections and
dismissed the boycott threat.
"Elections are the only way out of the crisis. The people
must be able to choose those they see fit. The majority of
political forces will not boycott the elections," said Tarek
al-Zumor of the Building and Development Party.
Essam Erian, member of the Muslim Brotherhood's ruling
Freedom and Justice Party, said parliament would unite Egypt's
"The coming parliament will hold a variety of national
voices: Islamist, conservative, liberal and leftist. Everyone
realises the importance of the coming period and withholding
one's vote is a big mistake," Erian said on his Facebook page.
Islamists are likely to form coalitions and dominate the new
parliament as they did in the previous short-lived lower house,
which was dissolved after the Constitutional Court struck down
the law used to elect it.