- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

CAIRO — Abu’l-Ela Madi, jailed nearly 10 years ago when he proposed creating an Islamic party in Egypt, seems closer than ever to achieving his dream.

If Mr. Madi’s al-Wasat party is approved, it will start a new experiment in incorporating Egypt’s powerful — but long banned — Islamic fundamentalist forces into politics at a time when the government is promising greater democracy.

After Mr. Madi spent a few months in jail for seeking to establish his party in 1996 and two subsequent rejections by the committee in charge of licensing new political parties, a State Council court panel in June recommended approval for al-Wasat. An appeals court is to rule on Oct. 1, but the court has never reversed such a recommendation.

“I never lost hope,” Mr. Madi said. “Anyone with a cause has to have a huge reservoir of hope and optimism to change a black reality.”

Although the approval would come too late for al-Wasat to field a candidate in the Sept. 7 presidential election, the party could participate in parliamentary elections set for November.

The road to legal status for al-Wasat has been rough. Mr. Madi was opposed both by the government of President Hosni Mubarak and former colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood, thought to be the country’s most powerful opposition force.

The brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and biggest fundamentalist group, is still banned, despite renouncing violence in the 1970s.

An engineer by training and a devout Muslim, Mr. Madi will shake a woman’s hand, which many religious hard-liners refuse to do.

He says al-Wasat — which means “the center” in Arabic — is secular and, like mainstream Egyptian society, includes Coptic Christians, a minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, as well as unveiled women.

The group says that Shariah, or Islamic law, is open to interpretation. It stresses tolerance and equality between the sexes and does not forbid women or Christians from a leadership role.

Mr. Madi, 47, started in politics with the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, or Islamic group, but left when it espoused violence and before it assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

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