CAIRO — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and best-organized Islamist faction in Egypt, announced Saturday the formation of its new political party and said it plans to contest half the seats in parliament in the first post-revolution elections scheduled for next fall.
The Freedom and Justice Party is the culmination of more than 80 years of struggle toward official recognition and full political participation for the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the group's founding in 1928, successive Egyptian administrations have outlawed the group and arrested its members.
"This party will be independent from the Brotherhood, but will coordinate with it," Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary general of the Brotherhood, told a news conference in Cairo.
The party will be led by Mohamed Morsy, who served in the Brotherhood's political bureau, along with other well known figures: Essam el Erian as deputy chief and Saad Katatni as secretary general.
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Under deposed President Hosni Mubarak's regime, the Brotherhood was officially banned and continually persecuted, but its members could run for office as independents. The Brotherhood is riven with internal differences — most notably between the old guard and a reform-minded wing — and even senior members claim to represent no more than about 20 percent of the Egyptian public.
The experience in organizing, however, gives the Brotherhood an edge over fledgling political groups that have emerged only since the fall of Mubarak in February.
While youth groups welcomed the Brotherhood's participation in the uprising, they're also poised to challenge any attempts by conservative Islamists to chart Egypt's path to democracy.
Morsy, head of the new party, addressed those concerns at the news conference: "The party will not be Islamist in the old understanding," he said.
The Brotherhood has said it wouldn't field a presidential candidate and wouldn't endorse any Brotherhood-linked member running on his own, according to the website. The group's officials said they planned to field candidates for "45 to 50 percent" of Egypt's 444 available legislative seats. Earlier, Brotherhood members had said they'd run for about 30 percent of the seats.
"What was announced today was the final decision of the (internal) council, which reflects the opinion of the movement," Katatni said. "Before, there were personal assumptions and speculation."
The Muslim Brotherhood typically is regarded as moderate on the Islamist spectrum; the group disavowed violence years ago. The group's offshoots include the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
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