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Analysis: Egypt's big turn under the Muslim Brotherhood

CAIRO, Egypt – The Muslim Brotherhood has won the presidency.  Will it bring a new Egypt?  I can’t see how it won’t.

This morning a Christian woman I’ve known casually for years came up to me and asked if I could help her seek political asylum in the United States.  Many Christians, women and moderate Muslims worry about the Muslim Brotherhood’s promise to bring Islamic Law.  It’s not a good sign if the day after elections that people are asking how they can escape the country.

Last night in Tahrir Square Muslim Brotherhood members were celebrating their victory, calling it not a win for democracy, but divine intervention.  They acknowledged that a free vote brought them to power, but saw God’s hand filling the ballot boxes.  

In an analysis piece last week I asked, if democracy brings a non-democratic party, is that a win for democracy?  Today some Egyptians don’t think so and have considerable buyers’ remorse, feeling the cliché, "be careful of what you wish for."

Egyptians face a new Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood

In Tahrir Square street vendors now sell badges with Mohammed Morsi's photograph.  Some Egyptians wear them to show support and solidarity, like wearing a U.S. presidential campaign pin.  I bought one.  It’s sitting on my desk now in Cairo.  The laminated badge also has the Muslim Brotherhood’s logo of two crossed swords with a Quran between the blades.  Beneath the swords is a single phrase, “And Prepare.”

It’s a quote from the Quran which in the light of the Brotherhood’s win deserves elaboration. 

“And prepare” comes from the Quran’s Chapter 8 on "the spoils of war."  The full quote is:

“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged.”

“And Prepare” means to prepare for battle against God’s enemies. 

When I think about the Muslim Brotherhood, I remember a hot, sticky evening in 1998 when I was working as a local journalist in Cairo.  I was in the lawyers' syndicate building in central Cairo. 

The syndicate was, and still is, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.  I had many contacts there and was a frequent visitor.  That evening, I sat drinking strong coffee with a group of about a half dozen members of the Brotherhood.  We spoke for hours. 

I remember the conversation vividly because I have had so many just like it.  The Brotherhood members mostly talked about Israel.  They were obsessed with the Mossad, Israel’s powerful spy agency.  According to them, the Mossad ran everything in the Middle East. 

They also said America was at war with Islam.  They told me Osama bin Laden was an American creation.  They talked about how Jews ran the world, and how the only group as powerful as the Mossad was the "Jewish Lobby" in Washington.  Jews and Israel, they said, used America’s muscle to dominate the Arab world through proxy dictators like Mubarak.  They told me how Israel was deliberately exporting chemicals that spread AIDS and cancer among Egyptians. 

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They told me the Americans people, whom they considered decent and God fearing, were ignorant of the games played on them by Jews and their lobby.  One Jewish-Israeli-American conspiracy rolled into the next.  

I remember thinking all those 15 years ago as I sipped coffee and looked around at the syndicate, I hope these guys don't come to power.  But even then I suspected one day it would happen – there were simply too many Egyptians who thought just like the people drinking coffee in the syndicate.  

They packed the universities and professional unions.  They wrote the little paperback books sold on blankets on Cairo sidewalks linking Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Bush family, the Jewish Lobby, Freemasons and of course the Mossad in elaborate plots against Egypt and Muslims.  

There are clearly many Egyptian free-thinkers and intellectuals -- lots of wonderful Egyptian artists and architects and scientists.  But the conversation I was having in the syndicate was much more common.

Morsi now talks about moderation.  Western diplomats hope he means it and that the Brotherhood will have to become more pragmatic now that it will have to actually run a government.  That could very well happen, but pragmatism seems unlikely to erase a mentality that is deeply ingrained and which will, especially in time of crisis, expose itself sooner or later.

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Morsi still has to battle with the military for power.  The military holds key authorities which it took through steps that were probably illegal.  The army’s position looks weaker now that the Brotherhood has won an election that was widely considered free and fair.

Egypt took a big turn last night.  I hope now the Brotherhood can move beyond a mentality of conspiracies and turn this country into a success.  If it can’t, the Middle East faces a tough road ahead.

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