CAIRO (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday it would back a drive by former U.N. atomic watchdog head Mohammed ElBaradei to reform Egyptian politics after the group secured no seats in a vote to parliament’s upper house.
Egypt’s biggest opposition group, which controls a fifth of the lower house seats but none in the Shura Council upper house, said it would help ElBaradei collect signatures for change, a move bound to boost his efforts to gather a million names.
Tuesday’s Shura Council vote for a third of the seats was marred by abuses reported by rights groups and independent monitors, a common feature of Egyptian elections. Officials said the vote went smoothly and complaints were investigated.
“None of the Brotherhood’s candidates have won any seats in 2010 Shura Council elections, a blatant proof that vote rigging took place. Many candidates ran in constituencies which they won in the 2005 lower house parliamentary election,” said Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, who heads the Brotherhood’s lower house bloc.
Official results will be announced on Thursday and are expected to confirm that President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party swept up almost all of the seats.
While the overall outcome was not in doubt, Tuesday’s vote was being watched to see how much space the authorities would give the Brotherhood and opposition in the parliamentary election later this year and presidential race next.
“The Shura vote is a clear indication that there is a decision from the state to exclude the Brotherhood from upcoming elections ... for the People’s Assembly (lower house) where they hold a fifth of seats,” political analyst Diaa Rashwan said.
Katatni had said in April the Brotherhood broadly backed ElBaradei’s call for political reform but on Wednesday went further by backing the drive for collecting signatures for a petition to change the constitution and emergency law that critics say is used to stifle dissent.
“In a matter of weeks we will begin gathering signatures across the country and from the streets where the Brotherhood has strong presence,” he said, adding this did not mean the group would back a possible bid by ElBaradei for president.
ElBaradei has said he might run but constitutional rules make it almost impossible for an independent to get on the ballot. The government insists the system is free and fair.
Analysts say a petition may not lead to changing the constitution by the 2011 presidential race but could attract international scrutiny of Egypt’s sclerotic political system, which the government would not welcome.
The Brotherhood has by far the biggest grassroots network of any opposition group through health and other social projects that analysts say bolster its popular support.
The Brotherhood is officially banned but fielded its 13 candidates as independents to skirt the ban. It has previously said it did not expect to repeat this year its success of 2005, when it won 88 of the lower house of parliament’s 454 seats.
Rights groups and observers cited a range of abuses during Tuesday’s vote, including saying security forces and ruling party backers blocked many opposition voters from casting ballots.
A Reuters witness saw uniformed police barring some opposition supporters entering a polling station. Officials said this complaint was investigated and voters were later let in.
Some monitors with permission to watch voting said they had been turfed out of polling stations.
The Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house, reviews laws before handing them to the lower People’s Assembly for a final vote.