Egypt’s biggest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, said on Saturday it would take part in a parliamentary election next month that is seen as a test of government restrictions on political opponents.
The group, which skirts a ban on religious groups taking part in elections by running candidates as independents, will field candidates for 169 of the 508 parliamentary seats on offer, Mohamed Badie, head of the Brotherhood, told a news conference in Cairo.
Egyptian authorities have squeezed the Brotherhood out of mainstream politics and detained some of its senior figures.
Its best election result came in 2005, when it put forward 165 candidates in a legislative poll and won 88 out of 454 seats. Observers and rights groups cited widespread abuses and violence against voters. The government said the vote was free and fair.
Next month’s election in the Arab world’s most populous country comes before an uncertain presidential vote next year.
“We ask all Egyptians to stand firm against any attempt to rig the elections and we call on the government to ensure a fair election,” Badie said, warning that an unfair ballot would bode ill for next year’s presidential vote.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has not said if he would stand for a sixth six-year term. If he does not, many Egyptians expect his son Gamal or a member of the country’s political and military establishment to stand for president.
The US government called for international observers to monitor the upcoming election and said it was worried about more restrictions on criticism of the authorities ahead of the vote.
“It is the position of the United States government that ... both national Egyptian observers and monitors as well as international observers ought to be allowed to participate and to observe the scene,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Democracy Michael Posner said in Cairo.
He said an emergency law in force since 1981, which allows indefinite detention, and other measures that rights groups say are used to silence government opponents, should be lifted or allowed to expire.
The Brotherhood said it would announce a final list of candidates for the parliamentary election in a few weeks’ time.
Analysts had speculated that the state would prevent the group from contesting as many constituencies this time around.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is a big group and if we wanted to compete for the biggest number of seats, we could have,” said Mohamed el-Katatni, head of the movement’s parliamentary bloc.
“However, we see that the regime opposes the Brotherhood and this causes political uncertainty which we want to avoid in the coming period,” he added.
The Brotherhood has built a support base by attacking official corruption and providing health, social and other projects in poor neighborhoods to become Egypt’s largest opposition bloc by far.