The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, said Saturday it will contest up to 30 percent of the seats up for grabs in next month's parliamentary elections, shrugging off calls for a boycott and warnings of a government crackdown.
The group's decision to field as many candidates as it did in 2005, when it shocked the ruling establishment by winning a fifth of the seats in parliament, presents a defiant message to the government, which has vowed not to allow the group to repeat its strong showing.
Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie said the fundamentalist group has decided to take part in the November vote to encourage civic duty and to confront and expose vote rigging.
But Badie also urged the government to ensure a fair vote, warning that anything less will cast a shadow over the 2011 presidential election. President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled for nearly 30 years, is expected to run again, although there is widespread speculation that he is grooming his son to succeed him.
"We call on the ruling regime to show the maximum degree of responsibility in running the election process ... and to realize that any flaws marring these parliamentary elections will cast their shadow over every future election," Badie said.
The Brotherhood's unexpectedly strong performance in the 2005 race came despite reports of widespread vote rigging and intimidation by the government. At least 14 people were killed in election-related violence blamed on security agents and thugs.
This year, the Brotherhood said it would resort to peaceful means, such as protest and strikes, to combat fraud.
The Brotherhood, which is officially banned but is allowed to field candidates as independents, has faced a heavy government crackdown since its surprise showing in the 2005 elections. Thousands of Brotherhood activists have been arrested in recent years, including some of the group's leading members and financiers.
There are 508 seats up for grabs in the November vote, and another 10 are appointed by the president. Brotherhood officials said the group plans to field up to 15 female candidates. There are 64 seats designated for women under a new quota system.
Badie also said the Brotherhood would run under its usual banner of "Islam is the solution," despite warnings from election officials against the use of religious slogans.
The Brotherhood's decision to participate was taken unanimously within the group, Badie said, despite an ongoing national debate_ including inside the Brotherhood_ on whether political forces should boycott a vote that is heavily controlled by the government.
Egypt's leading democracy advocate, Mohamed ElBaradei, has called on politicians and voters to skip the polls because the conditions for a free vote have deteriorated since 2005. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says a boycott would deny the regime legitimacy.
But the Brotherhood defended its decision, saying the regime relies on force and not elections for its legitimacy. Group members said election season provides a chance to promote alternative ideas and expose the regime's lack of popularity.
"We participate for Egypt's sake," said Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Erian. "The problem is in the regime, which doesn't listen or understand."
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, returned to Egypt earlier this year to lead a budding reform movement that has worked closely with the Brotherhood to gather signatures for a petition calling for reforms.
The government has so far ignored the calls. ElBaradei has warned his group would resort to civil disobedience as a last resort. The Brotherhood said its election participation doesn't contradict its cooperation with ElBaradei.
Meanwhile, visiting Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael Posner said he has urged the Egyptian government to allow international observers to monitor the elections. Egypt has routinely rejected observer missions, saying they infringe on the nation's sovereignty.