- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Egypt’s Sept. 7 presidential election, lauded by the Bush administration, recently received a relative endorsement from an interesting source: the Muslim Brotherhood. The actions of the Brotherhood highlight the potential effects of the type of democratic reform that President Bush is supporting in the Middle East and beyond. While there will be long-term benefits to reform, groups that harbor relative hostility toward the United States could gain influence in the short-run.

Many observers expected the Islamic group to call for a boycott of next month’s vote. The Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition group, is officially barred from political activity in Egypt. Electoral rules for the presidential election regarding independent candidates in effect made it impossible for Brotherhood aspirants to run.

The Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, said earlier this week that Egyptians should vote all the same and “bear their responsibilities fully and practice their constitutional rights.” Mr. Akef also made clear that its members should not support Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled for 24 years and will be challenged for the first time in the upcoming election. “All the brothers should know that we could not support an oppressor or cooperate with a corrupt person or with a tyrant,” Mr. Akef said, without directly referring to Mr. Mubarak.

Members of the Brotherhood, who won about 20 seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections running as independents, and other opposition groups are expected to boost their representation in the November parliamentary elections, as frustration with economic stagnation and a heightened sense of democratic entitlement grow among Egyptians, as they watch Iraqis, Lebanese and Palestinians enjoying new freedoms.

According to polls, a majority of Egyptians favor a government with some kind of Islamic leanings. Many others support an Islamic theocracy. Egyptians are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and are angered by what they perceive as unqualified U.S. support for Israel. Real democracy in Egypt could give rise to a government that would distance itself from, or even be hostile to, the United States.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s and is seeking to create an Islamic state through peaceful means, will likely be focusing over the next few years on pushing for a democratic opening within Egypt, rather than trying to press for any major changes in foreign policy through parliamentary pressure. If they eventually achieve the former, though, they could also obtain the latter — to the detriment of U.S. interests.

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