August 19, 2010 / 1:59 PM / 7 years ago

Egypt reform campaign says nearing 1 mln backers

<p>ElBaradei reacts during an interview with Reutes in Vienna's U.N. headquarters November 25, 2009.Herwig Prammer</p>

CAIRO (Reuters) - A campaign led by potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei has gathered some 770,000 signatures to press for constitutional change in Egypt, its members say, adding impetus to demands for political reform.

The National Coalition for Change began online, has taken to the streets and tied up with Egypt's biggest opposition bloc, the Muslim Brotherhood, helping it achieve a five-fold increase in signatures in one month and nearing its goal of 1 million.

"The response on the street has been unexpected and unimaginable. People are genuinely looking forward to change," George Ishak, founder of the Kefaya (Enough) Movement and one of the coalition's leaders, told Reuters on Thursday.

The petition lists seven demands including allowing independents to run for president, judicial supervision of elections and lifting three-decade-old emergency laws that critics say are used to stifle dissent.

The petition is unlikely to challenge the dominance of President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party yet analysts say rapid success could spur the formation of a wider movement that draws more scrutiny of Egypt's political system.

Mubarak, head of state since 1981, has not said if he will seek another term but analysts expect he will try to hand power to his son Gamal. Both father and son have denied such plans.

Supporters of Gamal, whose cabinet allies have pushed through business-friendly reforms that ushered in five years of rapid economic growth, have launched their own rival petition calling for him to launch a presidential bid in 2011.

The NDP denies any affiliation with the Gamal campaign.

"The most appropriate response to what is going on now in terms of signature gatherings is that President Hosni Mubarak got 6 million votes in the last presidential elections," one NDP official was quoted by local media as saying last week.

NOT TO BE DISMISSED

The signature drive by ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, stepped up a gear after the Muslim Brotherhood came on board and activated its formidable grassroots support base.

The Brotherhood, which campaigns for an Islamic state and is banned from mainstream Egyptian politics, has collected 550,000 signatures on its website, making it the driving force behind the reform campaign.

"I expect us to reach the 1 million mark in the next week or so," said Saber Abul Fotooh, a Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament. Each group member is targeting 15 signatures a day.

Analysts say that garnering 1 million signatures would bring the reform camp renewed credibility.

"It is not a number to easily dismiss," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, head of the al-Ahram Centre for Social and Historical Studies. "It is the reflection of a new socio-political movement forming in the Egyptian womb."

Parliamentary officials have ruled out any constitutional reform for the time being and the government says the current system is free and fair.

The Popular Coalition for the Support of Gamal Mubarak has been hanging posters around the capital, holding rallies in shanty towns and distributing T-shirts.

"There are a lot of people speaking on behalf of the Egyptian people saying they want constitutional reform. The Egyptian people don't want that, they want stability," said Marwa Hodhod, coordinator of the pro-Gamal campaign.

"If they think they can get a million, we can get five," Hodhod said, adding that the group would only back Gamal if President Mubarak did not seek a sixth term.

The pro-ElBaradei camp doubts the rival signature drive will have any impact on their movement.

"We are backing an idea, they are backing a man and the result will be profoundly different," Ishak said.

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