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Millions of Egyptians, understandably frustrated by their economic plight and the corruption of the ruling regime of President Hosni Mubarak, have taken to the streets to demand that the President step down and permit elections. With the Egyptian Army making clear that it will not use violence and the police having been swept aside by the power of the mob, Mubarak has no allies to turn to. The final blow came when President Obama’s handpicked special envoy to Egypt, former U.S. ambassador Frank Wisner, informed Mubarak that 30 years of American support for his regime was at an end, and suggested that he not seek re-election.
Mubarak soon went on national television and announced exactly that (no doubt swayed by the fact that while Wisner was delivering President Obama’s message in private, Obama was announcing it publicly to the world). It is unlikely that Mubarak will be able to hold onto power until the next election, scheduled to occur in eight months. Soon, perhaps within weeks, Egypt will have new leadership. There is every reason to fear what such a government will look like.
While Mubarak must shoulder the blame for the corrupt excesses of his regime, he has served Western interests well. As president of Egypt, he has maintained amicable relations with Israel, worked to suppress Islamism in his own country, co-operated with the West in the War on Terror and kept the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arabic Islamist political organization, in check.
The Muslim Brotherhood is politically savvy; they know not to conspicuously or publicly support terrorism and portray themselves as moderates. Many in North America and Europe have bought into their rhetoric of speaking for strict Islam but not Islamism. The Muslim Brotherhood have been similarly shrewd in Egypt: When a recent proposal by the Brotherhood to give Islamic religious courts veto power over all new laws triggered a popular backlash, the Brotherhood quickly backed down in the name of moderation — but still pressed for a law that would ban Christians and women from high political office. While they claim to have renounced all violence, many of their adherents aren’t so picky: Hamas, the fanatically anti-Israel terrorists running the Gaza Strip, is a branch of the Brotherhood that seems to have missed the anti-violence memo.
As an established organization with funding, leadership and boots on the ground, the Muslim Brotherhood will have a head start at preparing for Egypt’s transition to “democracy.” Therein lies the danger. The entire process has happened so fast that chaos will be the inevitable result, and moderate Egyptians — the very ones that the West would wish to see in power — find themselves afraid for their future. They have good reason to be fearful. Even under Mubarak, the Brotherhood was able to establish itself as a major political force in Egypt, and it has already shrewdly announced its support of the relatively moderate, but generally anti-Western, Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaredei. With Mubarak soon to be gone, one way or the other, there seems to be nothing in place that can stop the Brotherhood from becoming a major player in Egyptian politics.
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