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Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt Nobel Prize Winner, Forms New 'Constitution Party'

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MOHAMED ELBARADEI CONSITUTION PARTY
Egyptian pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of UN nuclear watchdog agency and Egypt’s reformist leader, talks during a presser in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011. AP Photo/Amr Nabil) | AP

CAIRO — Reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei launched a new political party Saturday that he said aims to unite Egyptians and save the country's revolution from a messy democratic transition.

The Constitution Party marks a return to public life for ElBaradei, who declared in January that he would not run for president and that a fair vote would be impossible during a muddled transition period.

His pullout four months before the start of the presidential vote dealt a blow to the liberal and leftist groups who were behind the Jan. 25 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office last year. The groups, many of whom had found in ElBaradei a rallying figure for their calls for democracy in Egypt, had been badly defeated at the ballot box in the first parliamentary elections after Mubarak.

Islamist groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the popular ultraconservative Salafi groups, emerged as the biggest winner in those elections, capturing nearly 70 percent of the seats.

The young activists were also subjected to an escalating crackdown by the country's rulers, including referral to military trials, arrests and media smear campaigns.

"The aim of this party is to save the great Jan. 25 revolution, which has been derailed, and is almost aborted and to restore our unity," ElBaradei told a crowd of supporters and journalists. "When this revolution started we never imagined the conditions we are and the tragic transition we are living today."

ElBaradei, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, said a new organized political group is necessary to unite Egyptians, and prepare the youth behind the uprising for a political future.

"We hope through this party...to start anew to build the country on the basis of democracy and justice," he said.

Fourteen months after Mubarak stepped down, the generals who took over are embroiled in a power struggle with the emerging Islamists. They dominate the parliament but complain the generals are obstructing them. Many of their rivals complain the Islamists are overreaching.

The presidential elections due to start on May 23 have been marred by the disqualification of 10 candidates, including three front-runners, and legal disputes.

In a major setback to the Brotherhood's bid for presidency, one of Egypt's most popular ultraconservative Salafi group, the Dawa Salafiya and its political arm Al-Nour party said they will back moderate Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. He is also popular among some liberals and youth groups who launched the uprising.

The leader of the Al-Nour party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, said the decision was taken to allay fears among many Egyptians about the growing strength of the Brotherhood and Islamist groups in general.

"We think Abolfotoh has a popular consensus, is more representative and will bring together the different groups," said Abdel-Ghafour.

The decision boosts the chances of Abolfotoh but highlights the split among the Islamist vote in the coming election. The Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, is being supported by a group of leading clerics while other Salafi groups have yet to back a candidate.

Morsi and Abolfotoh face competition from two liberal former regime officials, and the divided Islamist vote may play in their favor. Salafi leader Abdel-Moneim el-Shahat, from the Dawa Salafiya, told Al-Jazeera TV the divided vote will ensure an Islamist candidate will be in a likely runoff. If no candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff is to be held on June 16-17.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the ruling generals and political groups reached an agreement overcoming some key disputes on writing the new constitution.

The process of writing a new constitution, which would set the authorities of the next president, has been obstructed by fighting among secular and Islamist groups over the makeup of the assembly that will write it.

Abdel-Ghafour said the majority of the panel will be made up of people from outside the parliament, a reversal of an earlier panel, now dissolved, dominated by Islamists from within the parliament. Egypt's Christian churches will also be represented by at least six seats. Church representatives had walked out on the earlier panel because they were underrepresented.

Egypt's official news agency said the groups also agreed that voting on articles of the constitution will be through consensus, and if that fails through a two-third majority.

These developments should calm fears of liberals and secular groups who feared the Islamists would use a majority in the panel to push through controversial articles, particularly pertaining to Islam's role in the constitution.

ElBaradei said his party, which has not yet officially registered, aims to represent a moderate Egypt, and will be ready to work in two or three months.

ElBaradei has often been blamed by his supporters for being too aloof and for his low key approach to political action. His absence from street protests, his preference for quiet political negotiations, and his pullout from the race has also frustrated many.

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