There is such a huge flow of news here in Cairo these days that Salah Abdullah, an Egyptian carpenter in his 30s, says he is not able to keep track of everything.
However, in the midst of all the coverage following the series of massive demonstrations against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the growing presence of Islamists among the anti-Mubarak demonstrators has caused alarm among Egyptians like Abdullah.
“Can they really rule Egypt one day?” he asked. “This will be catastrophic.”
Abdullah’s fear was reverberating strongly among Egypt’s intellectual circles earlier this week, as the demonstrators refused to leave Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the 11th day in a row.
Seeing the protests, which began Jan. 25, rock Egypt and weaken Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981, Egypt’s secularists, leftists, liberals, Christians and even some observant Muslims are gripped by fear at the prospect that their country might fall into the hands of the fundamental Islamist group know as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Adel Hamouda, a leading Egyptian political analyst, called the Muslim Brotherhood “the only political movement capable of action at the present time, particularly as Mubarak reaches his weakest point.”
The Brotherhood, which began as an educational charity movement in 1927 and keeps flashing the “Islam is the solution” slogan, has had a fluctuating relationship with successive Egyptian regimes since Gamal Abdel Nasser enlisted their help in ousting King Farouk in the Egyptian revolution of 1952.
Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood has suffered a complete political siege at times and superficial freedoms at others. Thousands of its members and affiliates have been sent to jail at times.
“Mubarak has given none of this country’s political powers any chance for political freedom,” said Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a prominent Brotherhood leader. “He has failed to present Egypt’s political powers with any practical solutions,” he added.
Perhaps Aboul Fotouh and his colleagues in the Brotherhood, who tend to be highly educated Egyptians who permeate the nation’s professional unions, mosques, and universities and whose utmost goal is to apply Shariah (Islamic law) in Egypt, see in Mubarak’s potential ouster one of these practical solutions.
As soon as Egypt’s security system showed signs of crumbling at the outset of the Jan. 25 demonstrations, the organization started to deploy tens of thousands of its members and sympathizers to protest centers so that they could make their presence strongly felt.
This has worried ordinary Egyptians like Abdullah. He expressed fears that the Islamists will hijack the revolution, which was started by the poor, the afflicted and the politically un-affiliated, but has evolved into a show of anger by all Egyptians against the corruption and the economic and political failure of Mubarak’s ruling party.
“These people want to take Egypt hundreds of years back,” Abdullah said. “If they reach the presidency, they will turn our life into mere hell.” Abdullah prays five times a day like all observant Muslims. He reads the Quran and pays alms, but finds the seeds of his fear in the platform the Muslim Brotherhood announced four years ago, when it applied for a political party license.
In that platform, the Brotherhood says it believes Egypt’s presidency should be a no-go area for both women and Christians, a reason that women might not welcome a Brotherhood rule.
More important still, Egypt’s Christians, which make up about 10 percent of the 80 million population, seem to also shudder at the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt. Some Christians have said that if the Brotherhood comes to power, they will be in for yet more persecution.
“This is a very sensitive issue for us,” said Fayez Girgis, an Egyptian Coptic Christian in his late 40s. “An Islamist rule in Egypt will naturally curb religious freedoms.”
Aboul Fotouh and other group members, however, are quick to reassure Girgis and fellow Christians that they have nothing to fear.
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