Few images have been more powerful than those of demonstrators dropping to the ground to pray in the face of security forces. And while some have been inspired by the role of religious faith in the protests, there are definite worries that the banned Muslim Brotherhood is waiting in the wings, hoping for a chance to take over.
“You don’t just have a government and a movement for democracy,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair cautioned on Monday. “You also have others, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who would take this in a different direction. We need to be anxious to meet the aspirations of the people, but do it in a way that produces something better.”
Former Israeli diplomat Eli Avidar argues that elections put the militant Islamist Hamas movement in power in Gaza.
“President (George W.) Bush and (Secretary of State) Condi Rice pressured the State of Israel to allow democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority and what happened was that Hamas took over and these were the first and last democratic elections,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood could do the same thing in Egypt, he fears.
“If they go and take the leadership because of democratic elections, I believe that democracy will not continue in Egypt because the fact is, the second that they take power, they will not leave it,” he said.
But Egyptian analyst Mustafa Abulhimal says this is not the Muslim Brotherhood’s revolution.
“The Muslim Brotherhood are not behind the organization of the protests,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood are not inspiring the protests in the street. The Muslim Brotherhood are a small minority among those who are out on the street,” he said.
Islamists did take power in Iran 30 years ago, seizing control of a revolution originally backed by many different groups, including Communists and secular democrats.
But the situation in Egypt today is not comparable, Abulhimal argues.
“The Iranian revolution was taken over by an Islamist, a charismatic Islamist, (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini. Whereas in Egypt, the charismatic figures we have in the street today or yesterday were secular figures like Mohamed ElBaradei or Ayman Nour,” Abulhimal said, naming two key opposition leaders.
ElBaradei himself says he is willing to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, denying that they want to replicate Khomeini’s Iran.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group. They are a minority in Egypt,” he told CNN.
“I have been reaching out to them. We need to include them. They are part of the Egyptian society, as much as the Marxist party here,” he said.
He rejected the idea that Islamic fundamentalists are set to undermine Egypt.
“This is a myth that was sold by the Mubarak regime — that it’s either us, the ruthless dictators, or… the al Qaeda types,” he said.
Analyst Abulhimal is convinced Egyptians would not let the Muslim Brotherhood seize power — not least because the military would stand in its way.
“Neither the people nor the secular leaders would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take it, and more importantly the army would never allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take it,” he said. “If the army said, ‘We would support the people in the street and we would have a deal with President Mubarak to have an orderly transition,’ as the Americans said yesterday — this would definitely not include the Muslim Brotherhood.”