Egypt's top reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei has called for the formation of a broad coalition of political forces, including the Islamists, to contest the first elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Tuesday's call by the Nobel Peace laureate, whose supporters were credited as a key force behind Egypt's uprising, reflected growing concerns of liberal groups about a big win for the well-organized Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. That would give the Islamists power to control the drafting of a new constitution.
"We don't have the luxury today to enter into fierce competition between the different streams, especially when we are building the house from the start," ElBaradei told a news conference. "I talked today and before about the need for a national coalition. At this stage, there must be a parliament that represents all Egyptian forces."
No date has been set for parliamentary elections, but they are expected before the end of the year, followed by a presidential vote. The political factions and military rulers who replaced Mubarak in February are sharply divided over how to proceed with the transition to democracy.
A broad coalition of the political forces that worked to oust Mubarak could also be a response to growing fears that former regime figures may make a strong showing in the vote under a new election law which leaves room for vote buying.
ElBaradei, a potential presidential candidate, also appealed to the military rulers to reverse their rejection of international monitors for the elections.
"I don't know of any democratic country that rejects international monitors," he said.
ElBaradei has been meeting with various political groups to build a national consensus. He is advocating a broad-based alliance to ensure parliament fairly represents many of the new parties, dominated by younger activists. Such a coalition could lay the groundwork for a future power-sharing agreement that would be widely representative and prevent the return of former regime figures to politics.
The idea is already accepted by the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, which has already been working to form alliances with various parties. It may be a harder sell for the liberal and leftists parties who fear running on the same ticket as the Islamists may compromise their principles and will leave them with a small share in the parliament.
ElBaradei was meeting Tuesday with the liberal Free Egyptians Party. He has already met with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. A meeting between all the parties is expected next week to discuss the coalition idea, among other transitional issues.
He also wants the different groups to agree on how to select a constituent assembly to write the new constitution and a set of guiding principles for the document, which has become a divisive issue between Islamists and liberals.
In response to demands from protesters who worry about the influence of the Islamists, the military council agreed earlier this month to allow the drafting of guidelines for a new constitution that is to be written after elections.
Many Islamists worry that secular groups may try to do away with a provision in the constitution that says all law is based on Sharia, or Islamic law. Some Islamists view the new guidelines as a nod from the military to the liberal groups.
ElBaradei said the council has failed to set a mechanism for selecting those who will draft the guidelines and the criteria for the members of the future constituent assembly.
"Because off the lack of that mechanism, we find these divisions and disagreements," he said.
One thing all the political forces agreed upon is their rejection of the new election law approved by the military council last week. The law makes for a mixed election system that allows individuals as well as slates of candidates to contest parliament seats.
The political parties had unanimously asked the council to allow only slates of candidates to guard against vote-buying. They are now pressing the council to revisit the law.