As vote nears, tensions flare among Egypt Islamists

CAIRO Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:28pm GMT

Pharaonic figurines are pictured as protesters, who oppose Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shout slogans during a demonstration against him and members of the Muslim Brotherhood at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Pharaonic figurines are pictured as protesters, who oppose Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shout slogans during a demonstration against him and members of the Muslim Brotherhood at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Mohamed Mursi's decision to fire a hardline Islamist as an adviser has laid bare rivalries between Egypt's two biggest Islamist groups as parliamentary elections approach.

The sacking of Khaled Alameddin of the Salafi Nour Party on Sunday has led his movement to step up criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood that propelled Mursi to power, narrowing the already slim chances of the two movements working together in the election.

Alameddin broke down in tears during a news conference on Monday, saying he had been accused of abusing power. The presidency has yet to issue a statement on why Alameddin was dismissed.

"I formally demand an apology from the president. I won't accept an apology less than that," Alameddin said. Another of Mursi's advisers from the Nour Party, Bassam El-Zarka, announced his resignation at the news conference, apparently in solidarity with Alameddin.

The Nour Party, which emerged from the ultra-conservative religious movement Daawa Salafiya, came second to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's last parliamentary elections, the results of which were overturned by a court ruling last June. New elections are due to begin in April or May.

Since the last legislative vote, the two movements have both cooperated and clashed.

Nour backed a Brotherhood rival, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, in the first round of the presidential election. But it swung behind Mursi in the second-round run-off against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister.

Mursi employed several Nour Party members as advisers. The groups cooperated to drive through an Islamist-tinged constitution approved in a December referendum, deepening a national divide between Islamists and their opponents.

WIDENING DIFFERENCES

But in recent weeks the Nour Party has sought to distance itself from the Brotherhood, whose popularity has been dented by a deepening economic crisis and a stand-off with political rivals who say it wants to monopolise the institutions of state.

The Nour Party did not take part in a pro-Mursi rally called last Friday by another hardline Islamist party.

"The Brotherhood has become more radioactive from the Nour Party's standpoint now," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "They (Nour) want to present themselves as the pure Islamic alternative."

Nour has sought to defuse tension between Mursi's presidency and Egypt's liberal and leftist opposition, an apparent attempt to burnish its image as a responsible, mature political player.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has poured cold water on the initiative.

The FJP, which won about 40 percent of seats in the last elections, said last week it aimed to secure an outright majority in the next parliament.

Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar said Alameddin had been dismissed without proper investigation, and took a stab at Mursi over accusations that his family had recently benefited from connections by securing state employment for one of his sons.

A media furore over the appointment of Omar Mursi at a firm affiliated to the civil aviation ministry forced him to forgo the job on Sunday.

Hamid at the Brookings Doha Center said there was no "natural affinity" between the two Islamist groups. "There has always been a tense relationship," he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Perry and Tom Pfeiffer)

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