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Analyst: Egyptian Protesters Want Democratic Secular Government

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq talks during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb.13, 2011. Egypt's military leaders dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution Sunday, meeting two key demands of protesters who have been keeping up

An Egyptian scholar said there could be potential problems for Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections due to what he described as a systematic destabilization scheme to weaken legitimate opposition groups during former President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three decades of rule.

Said Sadek, professor of political sociology at the American University of Cairo, also told VOA pro-democracy demonstrators made their intent clear by chanting their dislike of theocracy and dictators during the 18-day protests that forced Mr. Mubarak from power.

“If it’s a matter of the presidential election, you can have a secular president for sure. The (Muslim Brotherhood) does not have (a) powerful candidate and they promised from the beginning that they would not present any presidential candidate,” said Sadek.

“The problem is with the parliament. The parliamentary election, if we do not give the chance to more secular forces to emerge, the (Muslim Brotherhood) may win, but I don’t think they will win more than 15 or 20 percent. They have declared that they don’t want a majority in any parliamentary election because they don’t want to scare people away.”

Egypt's military rulers have appointed a retired judge to head a committee tasked with amending the constitution to allow for democratic elections later this year.

Former Egyptian judge Tareq el-Bishri will lead an eight-member panel, which also includes sitting judges, legal experts, and former lawmaker Sobhi Saleh of the officially banned Brotherhood. The panel held its first meeting Tuesday with the leader of Egypt's military council, Hussein Tantawi.

Pro-democracy activists, who met with the council Sunday, said it promised them the constitutional amendments will be drafted in 10 days and put to the public in a national referendum within two months.

Sadek said there are encouraging signs that demands of a secular democratic system advocated by pro-democracy protesters could finally be realized.

“There is a change in Egyptian political culture and, if you followed the Egyptian revolution slogan, they were saying openly, ‘No!’ to theocracy and ‘No!’ to military rule, and I don’t think anybody would be interested in replacing a secular…regime with a theocracy or a military regime,” said Sadek.

“Even with political parties that are weak, you still have very popular independent seculars who can win on their own merit. And, if time just passes by a little bit, you will have more seculars coming to the fore.”

A new constitution is one of the key demands of Egypt's opposition. The previous charter, suspended by the military, had provisions to keep Mr. Mubarak and his allies in power.

Opposition groups have called for democratic reforms that would enable more candidates to run for the presidency, impose term limits on the post, and enable more political parties to be formed.

The Muslim Brotherhood said Tuesday it plans to establish itself as a party as soon as the ruling military scraps a law that has outlawed their Islamist movement for years. The Brotherhood is the country's best-organized opposition group.