Ayman Nur has put himself back at the centre of opposition to President Mubarak
By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party keeps a tight grip on power by ensuring that its political opponents stay weak but recently opposition forces have shown fresh signs of life.
"People usually unite in times of crisis and Egypt is going through a crisis," says leader of the Ghad party and former presidential candidate, Ayman Nour, who was released from prison earlier this year.
Last week groups from across the political spectrum gathered at his headquarters in downtown Cairo to demand democratic reforms and oppose any moves by the ageing President Hosni Mubarak to pass on power to his son.
With loudspeakers blaring out speeches to the busy square below, a new campaign was launched called "Mayehkomsh," literally meaning "he will not rule" in Egyptian Arabic.
The expression is used colloquially as an appeal to God when faced with authoritarian behaviour.
"Our constitution is for a republic not a kingdom," Mr Nour announced. "We must confront this irregular state where a president-in-waiting is practising all the duties of a president already."
Although both men deny it, it is widely believed that President Mubarak, 81, is lining up his youngest son, Gamal, head of the NDP's powerful policy secretariat, to be his successor.
Mr Nour, jailed on what were widely seen as trumped-up forgery charges after running against Mr Mubarak in 2005, hopes international pressure will restore his right to participate in the next presidential vote.
Loyalist police and supporters often clash with opposition protesters
Other opposition parties have also begun suggesting candidates for the 2011 race, with the liberal Wafd party calling on the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, to run.
At the same time, plans are being laid for the parliamentary election expected in November 2010.
"We are ready for the next elections," insists Farid Ismail, an MP from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest and most organised opposition group.
Although the Islamist organisation is officially banned, in 2005 its members took one-fifth of seats in parliament running as independents.
"We have no problems selecting our candidates," Mr Ismail adds. "The Brotherhood MPs already have strong national positions and are addressing the problems of the Egyptian public. They play a very good role monitoring the government's performance."
The Muslim Brotherhood would again like to contest one third of parliamentary seats, showing it is not attempting to win power. However, it remains to be seen whether that will be allowed.
Hundreds of the group's members have been imprisoned in the past few years as part of a security crackdown.
It was in effect blocked from elections for the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, and local government.
Constitutional changes along with the Brotherhood's inability to participate in these votes would make it virtually impossible for it ever to put up a presidential candidate.
Legacy of mistrust
Yet analysts say that tough licensing and regulation rules prevent political parties being formed that could dent the Brotherhood's powerbase.
The Muslim Brotherhood are largest opposition bloc in parliament
Despite the challenges political activists and bloggers are keen to stress that the opposition still has a voice.
"We are in a continuous battle with an oppressive, merciless regime which is trying to harness all laws to its own interest," comments Ahmed Maher, general coordinator of the April 6 Movement.
His group, which helped in efforts to organise a general strike in 2008 protesting against the high cost of living and low wages, now tries to promote political awareness.
"We have our presence felt on the internet and we are trying to spread the word among the youth in the street," Mr Maher says.
The April 6 Movement has joined the Mayihkomsh campaign along with other activists, intellectuals, the Muslim Brotherhood and small political parties.
But while they are presenting a united front at present, there are legacies of mistrust between opposition figures who have ideological differences and competing political agendas.
For its part, the NDP, which faces renewed Western pressure for reform, insists it wants to hold free and fair elections.
"It's still early to talk about it but I hope they will give the opportunity for opposition parties to have bigger representation in the Egyptian parliament," says NDP Shura member and political science professor Mohamed Kamal.
"In order for the National Democratic Party to be a strong, effective party, there has to be a strong opposition."