Muslim Brotherhood fury over Egyptian poll delay

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The Egyptian parliament has endorsed a government decision to postpone local council elections for two years, in a blow to the leading Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been expected to gain more influence in them.

The Brotherhood made enormous gains in a general electionlate last year, and derives support because of its ability to deliver grassroots services to the poor.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders were infuriated by the government's move, which they said was aimed at stymying the Brotherhood after it increased its representation in the 444-seat Egyptian parliament from 15 to 88 last year. The Brotherhood said that the government of President Hosni Mubarak feared more Islamist gains after the recent victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections.

The ruling National Democratic Party used its majority in parliament to push through yesterday's vote extending the councils' mandate until April 2008. The government says the postponement is necessary to give legislators time to make constitutional amendments to decentralise authority, a shift which it says will increase democracy.

Mohammed Morsy, a member of the central organising committee of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "This decision is not to the benefit of the people, it is to the benefit of some individuals.The regime is telling people it is making changes to promote democracy, but we haven't seen any yet. Are we serious about these changes or not?" Egypt's upper chamber of parliament, the Shura council, approved the proposal by President Mubarak on Sunday night.

Other opposition figures yesterday joined Muslim Brotherhood members to present a 103-signature petition to the Speaker of the Egyptian parliament. But the move had no chance of success given the ruling party's two-thirds majority in parliament.

"Maybe the ruling party needs time to revise a lot of its tactics on the ground, especially since there is no opposition except the Muslim Brotherhood," said Dr Hala Mustafa, a director at Cairo's al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

She said that local council elections would provide the Brotherhood with a route to contest the next presidential elections.