Egypt Opposition to Boycott Parliament Vote, Mursi Talks

Egypt’s broadest opposition alliance said it would boycott the next parliamentary elections, clouding President Mohamed Mursi’s hopes of bridging a widening political divide.

The rejection, announced today by the National Salvation Front opposition alliance, came hours before Mursi started talks with parties that participants say aim to make recommendations to guarantee the transparency of a four-stage legislative vote that begins in April. The front said it refuses to take part in today’s talks.

Egypt has struggled to restore stability since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Mursi’s critics argue he has focused on cementing the power of his Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of the nation’s broader interests.

The political divide, underlined by regular street protests which have often erupted into violence, has thwarted efforts to revive the economy, making the government’s bid to negotiate a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan more urgent.

Mursi “can speak with himself” or anyone else he wants, Sameh Ashour, the head of the lawyers’ syndicate and a leader within the NSF, said at a news conference in Cairo. “Talks today are in vain,” he said, adding that the bloc will “not accept a dialogue on the bodies of the martyrs.”

New Constitution

Ashour listed the bloc’s grievances with Mursi, from his pushing through of an Islamist-backed constitution that sparked clashes to ignoring demands for a new national unity coalition and a committee to amend the charter. He accused the government of pressing ahead with its plans “without real acknowledgement that Egypt is greater than any one party.”

At the start of today’s talks, Mursi stressed his invitation to “everyone” and that he hopes that those who didn’t take part will join later. In comments carried on state television, he urged them to submit comments or recommendations to guarantee the vote’s transparency.

“We are all keen for these elections to be completely transparent,” he said, adding that the elections commission was awaiting recommendations resulting from the talks.

Mursi, who became Egypt’s first freely chosen civilian president in June, has stressed that the parliamentary election is key to achieving stability and rebuilding state institutions.

The parties that have so far responded to his call for dialogue on the vote have been mostly his Islamist allies. The NSF’s boycott may deepen divisions and raise questions about the legitimacy of the vote.

The April 6 youth movement said earlier today it won’t attend the talks on the grounds that Mursi’s invitation was not serious as “it came after the election date was already set.”

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