Muslim Brotherhood walks fine line

Ascendance to power requires mix of pragmatism with ideology on Israel

CAIRO The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to maneuver its way between its fierce anti-Israel ideology and the realities of governing as it ascends to leadership in Egypt for the first time in its history and faces the key question of how to deal with the country’s peace treaty with the Jewish state.

The fundamentalist group’s stance on the accord - opposition but not renunciation - is a telling sign of its broader style of politics.

It can play down its hard-line doctrine in favor of short-term pragmatism as it looks to the long term, leaving its options open and engaging in a degree of double-talk to pave the way.

The stance also could reflect the group’s evolution. As a political party whose members will be involved in governing, it has to gradually distinguish itself from the hard line of the Brotherhood, an 83-year-old organization whose leadership worked for decades in a hivelike secrecy because of state repression.

“The Brotherhood is in a real challenge and real crisis. For the first time, they are in power, which forces them to be rational when it comes to foreign policy because any miscalculations might blow their gains,” said Khalil al-Anani, an Egyptian analyst on Islamic movements.

Brotherhood officials have assured the United States that they will abide by the 32-year-old Camp David accords, a major concern for Americans, who consider the deal a cornerstone of stability in the region.

Revoking the treaty, Israel’s top concern, seems firmly off the table because it would put the Brotherhood into what it sees as an unnecessary conflict with the West.

Instead, Brotherhood leaders say they want to renegotiate some provisions, particularly restrictions on the troops Egypt can station in the Sinai Peninsula.

At the same time, they denounce the accord as “unfair” to Egypt and have floated the idea of putting it to a referendum.

That may be an attempt to play to the group’s anti-Israeli base, but a referendum would open up the explosive possibility of the Egyptian public rejecting the deal.

Brotherhood leaders also say that their group will not recognize Israel and that its members will not meet with Israeli counterparts.

“Nobody can force me” to sit with Israelis, a top Brotherhood figure, Mahmoud Ezzat, told the Associated Press in an interview.

He said the Brotherhood would follow the Palestinian militant group Hamas in its attitude on the peace process - no direct participation. “Just like Hamas‘ way in dealing with Israel, it is elected by the people, it negotiates through mediators.”

“I have the right to act in a way that is consistent with my position without harming the other party,” Mr. Ezzat said.

In the short term, analysts say, the Brotherhood would stay away from ministerial portfolios that involve direct contact with Israel, such as the Foreign Ministry, and rely on an elected president to deal with Israel in the Middle East peace process.

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