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“Egyptians are not in the streets calling for Islamic theocracy. They are calling for democracy and freedom … and a mechanism by which to hold their leaders accountable,” said Mr. Cook, who was in Cairo at the start of the protests.

Analysts say it would be hard to exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from a genuine coalition, but that the Islamists would have a lot less support than they do now in a truly fair political system.

The group, which has the well-known slogan “Islam is the solution,” rejects the use of violence and supports democratic principles. It is viewed as an extremist group by some Egyptians largely as a consequence of the Mubarak regime’s efforts to demonize the Islamists.

“They are no way extremists. They are no way using violence,” Mr. ElBaradei told ABC’s “This Week” program.

“This is what the regime … sold to the West and to the U.S.: ‘It’s either us, repression or al Qaeda-type Islamists,’” he added.

Prison break

Mr. Dunn said the Mubarak regime has shrewdly controlled the Muslim Brotherhood’s political fortunes by allowing it to win a significant number of seats in a 2005 election because it wanted to neutralize U.S. pressure to reform.

“[The Mubarak regime] used that election as a way to tell the U.S.: ‘Don’t push us on reform or these guys will win,’” Mr. Dunn said.

The Mubarak regime has routinely blamed unrest in the country on the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned its leaders.

According to a Reuters news agency report, 34 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including seven members of the leadership, walked out of a prison 80 miles northwest of Cairo on Sunday after their relatives overcame the guards.

Mr. Mubarak has responded to the crisis by firing his Cabinet and naming key members of his regime to top posts. He appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as the country’s first vice president in nearly three decades and Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Fox News that the Obama administration wants to see an “orderly transition” to democracy.

“We also don’t want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy, but to oppression and the end of the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. ElBaradei told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the Obama administration “cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years would be the one to implement democracy. This is a farce.”

Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland in College Park, said the Obama administration would clearly like to support reform in Egypt but finds itself in a bind.

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