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Muslim Brotherhood officially enters Egyptian politics

Egypt's interim government this week recognized the new political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, a formerly banned group that is seeking a prominent role in the new Egypt.

By Correspondent / June 8, 2011

Egyptian Muslim brotherhood Shura council members gather to be photographed outside the new Muslim brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, on April 30.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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Cairo

After being officially banned from politics for decades, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is charging into the political fray under its official banner, looking to become a major player in the post-revolution government.

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Egypt’s interim government this week officially recognized the group’s new political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, clearing it to participate in September parliamentary elections. The party has pledged to contest about half the seats, leading to predictions that the Brotherhood will be a dominant force in the new political landscape.

But it may be less formidable than it appears. The organization’s response to the new freedom in Egypt is exposing cracks in its facade. In particular, it has alienated some young members who participated in the uprising to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak, only to turn around and discover their own leaders wielding heavy-handed tactics.

While Brotherhood leaders say the Freedom and Justice Party is independent of the Brotherhood, they have appointed prominent members of their organization to lead the party and forbidden Brotherhood members from joining any other parties. They have also opposed the presidential run of a popular Brotherhood reformist, questioning members who have publicly supported him.

“We have a different vision for political reform in Egypt [than the Brotherhood does],” says Ali Abdel Hafiz, a young Brotherhood member who is particularly unhappy about the ban on joining other parties. “It's not a wise decision to just collect all these political ideologies in one party. Why don't you make everyone free to make their own parties?”

Rigid organization could lead to group's collapse

Mr. Abdel Hafiz, a cheerful graduate student in engineering, and hundreds of other young members considered leaving the Brotherhood and forming their own party. They have deferred that decision until later, but Abdel Hafiz is half expecting to be kicked out of the organization for his public support for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a Brotherhood member running for president against the wishes of the leadership.

Dr. Aboul Fotouh is a reformist who is well-liked by many of the Brotherhood youth. Brotherhood leaders have approached some of his young supporters and questioned them or asked them to choose between the organization and Fotouh, says Abdel Hafiz.

Such tactics might have worked when the group was suppressed by an authoritarian regime, but they will not help the Brotherhood succeed in the new, freer Egypt, says Ibrahim El Houdaiby, a former member of the Brotherhood who is now an independent analyst.

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