CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s ruling military council has amended election rules to ban the use of religious slogans, a move the Muslim Brotherhood said Sunday may prompt it to reconsider using its traditional campaign phrase “Islam is the solution.”
The Brotherhood was banned under the ousted President Hosni Mubarak but ran candidates as “independents,” who could be identified on posters by the Islamist group’s well-known slogan.
Many liberal politicians and Egyptians have been worried by the rising influence of the Brotherhood since the uprising. The group has sought to quell concerns by saying it wants a pluralist democracy and did not want to impose Islamic law.
“Electoral campaigns based on the use of religious slogans or on racial or gender segregation are banned,” a military council decree issued late Saturday said, adding violators could face three months in jail and be fined.
The election committee earlier said the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party could not use the slogan, prompting some members to insist it should be allowed. But Brotherhood officials took a softer line after the army decree.
“The slogan is a way of life for us but it isn’t necessarily an electoral slogan,” Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Freedom and Justice party, told Reuters after the decree.
“We might reconsider using it in the elections in light of the conditions and might replace it,” with other slogans, he said.
The Brotherhood has been more accommodating of the army than some activists, which analysts say is because it does not want to disrupt an election process that will strengthen its role and prevent a return to repression it faced under Mubarak.
Voting in a parliamentary election starts on November 28.
Egyptian law bars political parties based on religion, just as it did under Mubarak. But the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party won approval by saying Islam was a “reference” and it was a civil party that did not seek to impose Islamic law.
One Islamist group that sought to establish a party was barred. The parties’ committee said that was because it called for implementing Islamic law and also because one of its founders had been jailed over his role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, barring him from politics.
Despite saying the Brotherhood would reconsider using the slogan, Beltagy said it should be allowed under the article of the constitution that cites Islamist sharia law as the principle source of legislation.
The parliament will choose an assembly to draw up a new constitution. Liberals are concerned that Islamists will dominate parliament, which will influence the contents of a new constitution.
Analysts said the amendment to election rules reflected the military council’s eagerness for a civil state and worries expressed by those opposed to the Islamists.
“It indicates the rising concern of other civil streams who are concentrating their campaigns now,” said Hossam Tammam, an expert on Islamic groups.
Amendments to the election rules announced Saturday also outlined one to five-year prison terms and fines for anyone using force, threats, cash or other steps to prevent voters from casting ballots or forcing them to choose a specific candidates.
Rights groups said such tactics were common in elections under Mubarak whose now defunct National Democratic Party routinely secured sweeping victories.
The council said such punishments would also apply to those who published or circulated false information about candidates behavior with the intention of influencing voters.
Under pressure form political parties, the military council has also expanded from a half to two thirds the numbers of seats elected according to party lists, reducing the seats offered to individuals. Parties will be able to field candidates on lists or for seats open to individuals.
Editing by Edmund Blair