Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, who has won four presidential terms in referendums where he is the only candidate, earlier congratulated new Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who beat six other candidates.

"The Palestinian people chose their president," said Husain Abd al-Raziq, spokesman for the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR). "I think the Egyptian people are not naive, and are capable of choosing from among many candidates."

He was speaking at a news conference called to announce that the EOHR would work with six other human rights organisations and four opposition parties in a campaign to change the country's three-decades-old constitution.

Demands for reform

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country and a key regional US ally, has come under increased pressure from activists at home and international organisations to carry out political and economic reform.

"The Palestinian people chose their president. I think the Egyptian people are not naive, and are capable of choosing from among many candidates"

Husain Abd al-Raziq,
spokesman for Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights

Government officials have said they engage opposition political forces in debate about reform but that changing the constitution at present would cause instability.

Among other changes, the alliance of 10 organisations called for amendments to 23 articles of the constitution dealing with presidential referendums and the president's powers.

They are also calling on parliament to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections.

One candidate

Under the current system, parliament, which is dominated by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, proposes one presidential candidate, who is then put to a referendum. There is no limit to how many six-year terms the president can serve.

Three prominent Egyptians have announced their intention to run for the position in a symbolic challenge to Mubarak. Another group has launched a petition calling on the head of the Arab League, Secretary-General Amr Musa, to put himself forward for the position.

Parliament is expected to nominate the 76-year-old president to run in his fifth referendum in September.