Egypt’s Islamist parties have called, in a meeting initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, for a new national conference to discuss responses to a Nile dam being built by Ethiopia.
Attendees from several Islamist parties agreed to hold a “broad conference” Saturday, to which all national forces would be invited, in order to draft a set of recommendations regarding the Ethiopia issue to submit to the presidency, according to the statement released by the Islamist parties Wednesday following their meeting.
“We have agreed to form an organising committee that will be tasked with inviting the president and the prime minister to Saturday’s meeting,” said deputy of the FJP Mohamed El-Beltagy. “All political forces, including [opposition umbrella group] the National Salvation Front, will be invited to the meeting.”
Ethiopia began last Tuesday diverting the course of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile River’s two major tributaries, as part of its project to build a new $4.7 billion hydroelectric dam.
The move has heightened concerns in Egypt and Sudan, both dependent on the world’s longest river, amid criticisms of Ethiopia for going ahead with the project without taking into account recommendations of the technical committee tasked with studying the regional impacts of the proposed dam.
The meeting between Islamist forces was held at the Cairo headquarters of the FJP. Attendees included leaders of the Salafist El-Nour Party, the moderate Islamist El-Wasat Party, Al-Watan Party, and Gamaa Islamiya’s Building and Development Party.
The call for the Saturday conference comes after President Morsi met with a group of political figures Monday to discuss the report of the international technical committee tasked with studying the impact of the Ethiopia dam.
According to the joint statement Wednesday, the attending party representatives also underlined the “need” to hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible in order to appoint a parliament-backed government to “respond to the country’s internal and external challenges,” adding that priority should be given to drafting a minimum and maximum wage law once the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament) is elected.
A parliamentary vote was scheduled for April but was postponed indefinitely when an Egyptian administrative court ordered the cancellation of the poll on grounds that the president had ratified a new electoral law without referring it to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) for approval, as is required by the constitution.
The FJP, formerly led by Morsi before winning presidential elections in June 2012, held a majority of seats in the first post-Mubarak lower house, which was dissolved in July 2012 based on a verdict by the HCC that judged unconstitutional articles of the elections law that governed its election.
Furthermore, Islamist party leaders commented on planned opposition protests scheduled for 30 June, Morsi’s first anniversary in power, amid an emerging petition campaign, dubbed “Rebel,” to withdraw confidence from the president.
“We affirm the right to peaceful expression as an achievement of the revolution and a cornerstone of the constitution but we condemn any attempts to turn this right into a tool of violence, and justifying differences in viewpoints as a motive to infringe on popular will.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting, El-Beltagy told Ahram Arabic news website that if the Rebel campaign had really succeeded in gathering eight million signatures, which it announced last week it had, then it would be “admirable,” but that “withdrawing confidence from [an elected] president is done through ballot boxes, not protests.”
Organisers of the Rebel petition campaign earlier announced that they hoped to collect 15 million signatures and hold a mass sit-in 30 June, marking the end of Morsi’s first year as president. The campaign is calling for snap elections and forcing Morsi out of office.
Meanwhie, there have been on-and-off rumours about Islamists staging counter-protests on the same day. No indication was provided in the Wednesday statement to confirm or deny this.