Islamists in Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood's long wait for power is over
Muslim Brotherhood candidates will get 40 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, early results indicate. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned by Mubarak for decades, will now move into power.
After waiting 83 years, the Muslim Brotherhood finally senses a chance to be at the centre of how Egypt is governed and the Islamists hope to lead the renaissance of a nation which has suffered a steep economic and political decline.Skip to next paragraph
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That ambition above all else will define the next steps of a group which owes its survival to pragmatism. The Brotherhood will likely carry on treading lightly, hoping to ease fears at home and abroad over its vision for the new Egypt.
A strong Brotherhood showing in elections which began this week has brought the country closer to a prospect unthinkable just a year ago: a government influenced and possibly even led by a group outlawed under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
According to preliminary indications cited by the Brotherhood and candidates running against it, the group could win 40 percent of the seats in the new parliament, though official results have yet to be released.
Headed by doctors, engineers and teachers, the Brotherhood's slogan is "Islam is the solution". Yet it talks the same language as other reformists when it comes to the need for democracy, an independent judiciary and social justice in Egypt.
Its critics say such language masks their goals of turning Egypt into an Islamic state by stealth, curbing freedoms for 80 million people who include some eight million Christian Copts.
At the group's office, a simple apartment building in a residential district on the Nile, one of the group's leaders outlines a political programme that has triggered comparisons with moderate Islamist groups elsewhere in the region.
"Now is the time for us to build a modern country, a modern state of law, a democratic state," said Essam al-Erian, a doctor who was a political prisoner when Mubarak was deposed in February, and who is also a leader of the Brotherhood's newly-founded political party.
He rejected a comparison between his movement and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, which has Islamist roots. "I hope we can give a different model," Erian told Reuters in an interview.
"We hope that when we build a modern democratic country in Egypt this will be a good example, inspiring others to build democracy," he added.
BANNED AND NOW EMPOWERED
Those are the long-stated aims of a group that was a vocal critic of Mubarak during his three decades in power. The president maintained a formal ban on the Brotherhood, routinely rounding up and imprisoning leaders such as Erian.
That reflects the Islamist group's turbulent relationship with the state since it was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, himself a teacher. Though the Brotherhood disavowed violence in Egypt in the 1970s, state suspicions lingered over its goals.
In the post-Mubarak era, it faces new competition from more radical Islamist groups that have emerged as rivals. Brotherhood leaders have spoken about the new Salafi parties with disregard, bordering on disdain. But on the streets, the groups cooperated in the run-up to the election that began on Monday.
That has only strengthened a view among secular Egyptians and a broader section of society that the Brotherhood shares the Salafis' appetite for tighter implementation of Islamic law.
Some wonder whether the group might ban mixed beach bathing or the sale of alcohol. Such measures would hit a tourism sector that employs one in eight Egyptians.
The 79-page manifesto of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party does little to ease such worries. For instance, it criticises Egypt's music scene for "stirring desires".
"Egyptian song must be directed towards more ethical and creative horizons that are consistent with the society's values and identity," the document says.