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Updated Monday, December 24, 2012 at 02:46 PM

Egypt ex-jihadi group: opposition used violence

By SARAH EL DEEB
Associated Press

The leader of a former jihadist group who is now a member of Egyptian parliament accused the largely secular opposition on Monday of using violence in the country's political struggle.

Another member of the same group, who served 29 years in prison for his role as a conspirator in the 1981 assassination of President Sadat, charged that opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi are trying to drag the country into a civil war.

The two - Safwat Abdel-Ghani and Tarek el-Zumor - are members of the Islamic Group, or Gamaa Islamiya, which was among militant groups behind one of the longest waves of violence against the Egyptian regime in the 1980s and 1990s. The group renounced violence while most of its leaders were imprisoned under Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Since Mubarak's ouster in February 2011 following a popular uprising, the group has formed an Islamist political party and its leaders have become important players in the new political scene, dominated by Islamists.

The accusations come amid a highly charged atmosphere in Egypt after a polarizing, monthlong fight over the Islamist-drafted constitution. The charter passed with 64 percent in a referendum, according to unofficial results.

Official results had been expected on Monday but did not come out. An official at the electoral commission said it is currently reviewing more than 400 complaints of fraud and violations by the opposition before announcing the results on Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Abdel-Ghani was speaking at a news conference to launch his group's initiative for a national dialogue aimed at bridging the deep rifts.

"There is no doubt that the opposition has failed miserably in achieving its goals. This failure has reasons," Abdel-Ghani told a news conference. "The first of these reasons is that it resorted to violence and used thugs to express its opinions."

Abdel-Ghani was detained in 1981 as a suspect in Sadat's assassination but was released a few years later and not charged. He served other prison sentences in a later assassination of the parliament speaker in the 1990s. President Mohammed Morsi appointed him over the weekend to the upper house of parliament, just days before the chamber assumes temporary legislative powers.

Islamist groups have risen to domination over Egypt's government in the wake of the uprising, and some of them have threatened to push their own vigilantes to protect them against violent clashes. Islamist groups also accuse former regime officials of using the charged political atmosphere to create chaos and undermine Morsi.

The opposition, made up of liberal and leftist groups, has accused Islamists of trying to clamp down on dissenting voices and spreading fear.

"We call on all political forces in Egypt ... to immediately give up all elements that almost led Egypt to civil war and for all those who participated in this to apologize," said el-Zumor of Gamaa Islamiya.

The recent flare-up of political tensions has turned deadly at times. On Dec. 5, clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of Morsi at the presidential palace, when Morsi supporters attacked the opposition. At least 10 people died, and the Brotherhood claims most of those who died were their supporters.

The offices of the Brotherhood and the liberal al-Wafd party were attacked.

Hossam Mounes, a member of the opposition National Salvation Front, said the accusations of using violence are "clumsy" and not based on evidence.

"The history of Islamist groups was based on bearing arms, and now they speak of democracy," he said. "Some of the Islamist groups are really feeling the tension against them and they can't understand that democracy is a practice and is not only a means to get to power."

Abdel-Ghani also said the opposition has failed because it campaigned against Islamic law, or Shariah, and relied on mobilization of Christians by the church to take part in protests.

With the referendum results expected on Tuesday, Morsi ordered parliament's upper chamber, the Shura Council, to convene on Wednesday.

The new constitution would give the council powers to legislate until the lower house is elected within the next two months. Morsi has held legislative powers for months now since a court disbanded the lower house of parliament.

Over the weekend, Morsi appointed 90 members to the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, in an attempt to make the body more representative. The 90 include at least 30 Islamists and a dozen minority Christians. The council now has a total of 270 members, two-thirds of them elected. Critics, however, say most of the representatives are either Islamists or their supporters.

The council was elected last winter in a vote with an extremely low turnout of less than 10 percent of Egypt's 51 million eligible voters.


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