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Threat from political Islam

The West, which has watched Tunisians and Egyptians direct their own political development, is concerned, however, over how much influence political Islam will have in the future there.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political group in Egypt. Many younger members insist they are moderates and pose no threat to democracy, although the organization was dedicated to holy war when it was created in 1928.

“A huge bogeyman has been made out of political Islam,” said Mr. Khalidi.

“As long as the basic constitutional, secular nature of the regime is preserved … as I believe will probably be the case in Egypt and Tunisia, if people chose to pray or not pray that is entirely their business,” he said.

Mr. Khelifa said he is worried about the Islamists’ potential showing in Tunisia’s elections. “Still, people are very aware that this revolution is theirs, and they would not permit anybody to hijack it and take it away from them,” he said.

As much as Tunisians and Egyptians are caught up with events at home, they are also closely watching to see what happens to the revolution they exported to other Arab countries.

In Libya, an uprising has descended into a bloody civil war, with rebels pitted against troops loyal to the regime. The inexperienced fighters hoping to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, now are backed by NATO air support, following a U.N. sanctioned military intervention aimed at protecting civilians.

If Col. Gadhafi falls, tribal rivalries could prevent a stable government from emerging, analysts said.

In Bahrain, the Sunni ruling family with Saudi troops in March crushed protests led by the majority Muslim Shia population. Since then, the regime has arrested hundreds of activists, fired workers from state-owned companies who took part in the protests and banned the main Shia opposition party, Wefaq.

Saudi Arabia was unnerved by the uprising in Bahrain, which it regards as its own backyard. The Saudi monarchy has placated potential domestic protesters with financial handouts.

In Morocco and Jordan, both close U.S. allies, protesters demanding free and fair elections and an end to corruption have won concessions from their monarchs.

In Yemen, the situation is far more fluid and uncertain. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has refused to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in April that would require him to step down.

Meanwhile, the protesters have continued to pour onto the streets, mistrustful of Mr. Saleh’s real intentions and angry that the agreement would grant the president immunity from prosecution.

The United States has long regarded Mr. Saleh as a key partner in the fight against terrorism. But analysts said there is now some alarm in Washington that al Qaeda, with a foothold in Yemen, could exploit any political chaos that might follow the president’s departure. Yemen is also the poorest country in the region.

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