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Muslim Brotherhood eyes Egypt's parliament

CAIRO -- The once-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said Saturday its new political party will contest half of the seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections in September, revealing plans to become a major force in the country's post-revolution politics.

Egypt's largest Islamic group and the best organized opposition movement during ousted President Hosni Mubarak's three decades of autocratic rule sought to ease concerns that it is intent on bringing about an Islamist-dominated parliament.

"This is not a religious party, not a theocratic party," its newly named leader, Mahmoud Mosri, said Saturday. He described the platform of his Freedom and Justice party as civil but with an Islamic background that adheres to the constitution.

The popular uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11 was driven by broad swaths of Egyptian society, and secular-minded youth activists, in particular, watched with concern as Brotherhood supporters joined the revolution once it was clear it had momentum.

They fear it will forge alliances with other Islamic groups, like ultraconservative Salafists, to dominate parliament and impose Islamic Sharia law in all aspects of life, limiting freedom of expression and dubbing their opponents infidels.

The new party will test to what extent the Brotherhood is willing to moderate its rigid religious discourse to try to win broader political support.

It is well positioned to win big in September's elections. Having survived years of attempts by Mubarak's regime to suppress it, the Brotherhood is the best organized political force in the country now that the ex-president's ruling party has been disbanded.

The activists behind the uprising have yet to catch up and fear they will not be ready by September to rally large numbers of voters.

Mindful of the unease, the Brotherhood has adopted the motto "Partnership, not supremacy" and its leaders are careful to use inclusive political language when talking about Egypt's post-Mubarak future.

The group has also pledged not to field a candidate in November's presidential election.

"We are facing a critical challenge to transform from pharaonic rule to people's rule, with a free parliament and elected cabinet," leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Arian said.

However, the goal of winning half of parliament's 508 elected seats was unexpected after an earlier pledge by leaders to contest just a third of the seats.

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