- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2011

A leaderless uprising in Egypt rallied Sunday around Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, with the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, saying it will support him in negotiations with President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

“Political groups support ElBaradei to negotiate with the regime,” Essam el-Eryan, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera television as anti-government protests entered their sixth day on Sunday. The Muslim Brotherhood, which joined the protests after they were well under way, has begun to take a more active role.

Mr. ElBaradei, who had been placed under house arrest since his return to Egypt last week, joined thousands of protesters who defied a government curfew in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday. “What we started can never be pushed back,” he told them.

Egypt is the United States‘ closest Arab ally, and the threat to Mr. Mubarak’s regime has created unease in Washington and other world capitals over what will take its place if it falls.

“The presumption is that the strongest opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood … and that is something to be concerned about,” said Wayne White, a former deputy director of the Near East and South Asia office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

DEFIANT: Protesters march past an Egyptian soldier Sunday in Cairo as they move toward Tahrir Square during a sixth day of demonstrations against the government. (Associated Press)
DEFIANT: Protesters march past an Egyptian soldier Sunday in Cairo as they ... more >

“Washington has to expect that if there is a successor regime in Egypt because Mubarak has been forced out, it cannot count on that regime to be as friendly and supportive as Mubarak was,” he added.

In an interview Sunday with CNN, Mr. ElBaradei, a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Mr. Mubarak “should leave today and save the country.”

Mr. Mubarak, 82, has ruled Egypt for almost 30 years and shows no sign of heeding that call. Military jets screeched over Tahrir Square, and tanks rumbled through the streets.

The regime, which has shut down the Internet, social networks and cell phone service, extended its information blackout Sunday by blocking Al Jazeera news network’s coverage and closing its Cairo bureau.

Joining the bandwagon

The Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to implement Islamic law in Egypt, has been formally banned since 1954. Even as its members have run for office as independents, the absence of fair elections has made it difficult to gauge the group’s popularity.

Mr. Mubarak’s regime has effectively weakened all opposition except the Islamists, who have an agenda that the majority of Egypt’s secular public does not support.

Michael Collins Dunn, an Egypt analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the Brotherhood has not been a driving force behind the unrest.

“They didn’t join the bandwagon until after the bandwagon was clearly rolling,” said Mr. Dunn.

Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the protesting is not an Islamist uprising.

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