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United Nations and government-to-government aid have proved irrelevant. Faced with staggering problems, the remnants of Egypt’s traditional elite and its new military strongmen have ruled despotically. Still, Egypt’s purchasing power ranks around 25th in the world. And the Mubarak regime has managed growth of about 5 percent annually. The recent violence has already torpedoed that, frightening off some 13 million annual tourists who spend $12 billion and support 10 million workers.

Paired with the shaky economy is a political culture susceptible to the totalitarian temptation.

Egypt has been the fount of modern Islamic fundamentalist violence. Its Muslim Brotherhood advocates returning to medieval church-state organization based on a primitive Islam. Plotters from a Brotherhood offspring assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981, an officer of peasant origin who broke off Nasser’s Soviet alliance, allied himself with Washington and made peace with Israel. Mr. Mubarak has walked in Sadat’s footsteps, however hesitantly.

Because of an off-again, on-again repression, no one is certain of the Brotherhood’s real strength. But it is clear the Brotherhood boasts the only significant political organization beyond Mr. Mubarak’s government of hangers-on and the military. Although splintered and lacking the charismatic leadership that was present in revolutionary Iran in the late 1970s, the Muslim Brotherhood’s “magic formula” - “submission” to the Koran to solve all social and economic problems - is as attractive to some today as communism and fascism were to so many in the 1930s.

Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He can be reached at