Jewish Journal

As the Mideast burns: Egypt on the brink

by Brad A. Greenberg

January 30, 2011 | 8:49 am

Egypt continues to be turned upside down by revolutionary protests and some ancillary violence. Things have only gotten worse this weekend as despotic Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak named his first vice-president in three decades and armed gangs freed thousands of prison inmates, including “hundreds of Muslim militants.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, which may or may not have ties to terrorism but certainly “seeks to Islamize societies from the ground up and compel governments in Muslim countries to adhere to sharia,” was founded in Egypt and continues to have a large following there. All that has raised questions about whether—like in Iran in 1979—a government that replaces Mubarak could be adverse to U.S. foreign interests.

None of that discounts the current human rights abuses in Egypt. It just all comes together for an uncomfortable calculus for U.S. diplomats.

A lot of news reports have missed the religion element in all of this, as Mollie notes at GetReligion. But this day three or four New York Times story delves into the Brotherhood’s involvement in the protests and how that differs from what some other Muslim denominations are thinking:

“Tomorrow is going to be the day of the intifada,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt’s second largest city, who declined to give his name because he said he would be arrested if he did. The spokesman said that the group was encouraging members of its youth organization — roughly those 15 to 30 years old — to take part in protests.

But Islam is hardly homogeneous, and many religious leaders here said Thursday that they would not support the protests, for reasons including scriptural prohibitions on defying rulers and a belief that democratic change would not benefit them. “We Salafists are not going to participate in any of the demonstrations tomorrow,” said Sheik Yasir Burhami, a leading figure among the fundamentalist Salafists in Alexandria.

Yes, but the Salafists and others are greatly outnumbered. Today, Haaretz is reporting that the Muslim Brotherhood is in talks with other oppositional groups to form a unity government—sans Mubarak:

Gamal Nasser, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, told DPA that his group was in talks with Mohammed ElBaradei - the former UN nuclear watchdog chief - to form a national unity government without the National Democratic Party of Mubarak.

The group is also demanding an end to the draconian Emergency Laws, which grant police wide-ranging powers The laws have been used often to arrest and harass the Islamist group.

Nasser said his group would not accept any new government with Mubarak. On Saturday the Brotherhood called on President Mubarak to relinquish power in a peaceful manner following the resignation of the Egyptian cabinet.

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