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CAIRO: Egypt’s opposition attacked President Mohammed Mursi yesterday for calling elections during a national crisis, but face a test of unity in challenging Islamists who have won every poll since the 2011 revolution.
No sooner had Mursi called the parliamentary polls on Thursday than liberals and leftists accused him of deepening divisions between Islamists and their opponents. Some threatened to boycott voting which starts on April 27th and finishes in late June.
Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which backs Mursi, dominated the old lower house, which was dissolved last year by court order. The new parliament will face tough decisions as Egypt is seeking an IMF loan deal which would ease its financial crisis but demand unpopular austerity.
Mursi called the elections, to be held in four stages around the country, hoping they can conclude Egypt’s turbulent transition to democracy which began with the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak by popular protests.
Islamists hailed elections as the only way out of Egypt’s political and economic crisis. However, liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said holding polls without reaching a national consensus would further “inflame the situation”.
“The insistence on polarisation, exclusion and oppression along with ... the deteriorating economic and security situation will lead us to the abyss,” ElBaradei, a former United Nations agency chief, said on his Twitter feed.
Egypt is split between the Islamists, who want national life to observe religion more closely, and opposition groups which hold a wide variety of visions for the future. Across Egypt there were scattered protests in Alexandria and Port Said, while a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was muted as a sandstorm enveloped the capital.
Like the fractious opposition, the demonstrators had widely varying demands. Some called on Mursi to step down while others pressed for the military, which long backed Mubarak and his predecessors, to step back in to run Egypt. The National Salvation Front (NSF), which groups a number of parties opposed to the Islamists, said it would hammer out its stand on the elections.
“We will meet early next week to decide on whether we will boycott or go ahead with elections. But as you can see, the opposition overall is upset over this unilateral decision on part of the presidency. This was a rushed decision,” Khaled Dawood, spokesman of the NSF, said.
Dawood said Egypt should have other priorities such as changing the controversial new constitution produced last year by an assembly dominated by Islamists. “Solve these issues first then talk about elections,” added Dawood.
While the opposition can agree on attacking Mursi, previous boycott threats have fizzled out.