Snubbed by Cameron, Egypt Islamists signal intent

CAIRO Mon Feb 21, 2011 7:01pm GMT

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood said on Monday it will set up the "Freedom and Justice Party" to run in elections, underlining its move into the heart of Egyptian politics as it was snubbed by Britain's prime minister.

The Islamist group emerged from years of suppression by President Hosni Mubarak as Egypt's only real political force.

It has been playing an ever more assertive role since he was toppled from power on February 11. The United States, which has expressed concerns about "extremist elements" in the group, is keeping close watch to see what kind of clout it might wield.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who on Monday became the first foreign leader to visit the post-Mubarak Egypt, said he did not meet the group because he wanted young people to see there was an alternative to "extreme" Islamist opposition.

"My whole argument is that by opening up societies and having the building blocs of democracy and allowing greater participation, you actually give young people ... something else to believe in rather than a more extreme Islamic root," Cameron said when asked why he did not meet the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has gone out of its way to reassure Egyptians worried about its political strength, saying it will not seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority in the democratic elections the military rulers are promising to hold.

Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood has said its new party will be open to everyone, including members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. The movement says it is committed to a pluralistic, democratic Egypt.

Leading members of the group have said it could win up to 30 percent of the vote in a future parliamentary election.

ECHOES OF TURKEY

The name picked for its party echoes that of Turkey's ruling "Justice and Development Party," or AK Party. The AK Party denies the Islamist leanings attributed to it by some observers.

"The board of founders will be announced in the coming few days," the Brotherhood said in a statement. "The membership will be open to all Egyptians who accept the party program."

Like other Egyptians seeking to set up political parties, the Brotherhood are awaiting changes to laws that stopped them from doing so under Mubarak.

A former Brotherhood member on Saturday became the first Egyptian to secure formal approval for a political party since Mubarak was toppled on February 11.

Abou Elela Mady, who left the Brotherhood in the 1990s, had been trying to secure approval for his Wasat Party (Center Party) for 15 years but was thwarted each time by laws which gave Mubarak's administration tight control over political life.

A Cairo court on Saturday ruled in favor of the Wasat Party's appeal for official recognition.

The Wasat Party, which likens its platform to the AK Party, is one of the forces that could rival the Brotherhood for the support of pious, middle class Egyptians in the elections which the military have promised to hold within six months.