Brotherhood Role Rising in Egypt

Published February 17, 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian youth leaders moved to set up a new political party on Thursday as the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood played an increasingly important role in preparing for post-Mubarak elections promised within six months.

Life in Egypt is still far from normal six days after the momentous overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, 82, with tanks on Cairo streets, banks closed, worker protests and demonstrations given voice by revolutionary fervor and schools shut down.

"We are in a test that we have yet to come out of. Are you pleased by the strikes, sit-ins, the closed factories, the banks that are not working?" army spokesman General Ismail Etmaan said on state television late on Wednesday night.

"The Higher Military Council will put matters back on track, but help us," he said. "The armed forces do not have future ambitions and want to hand power to the civilian parties when they are strong so that they don't collapse."

The Brotherhood has a member on the constitutional committee, is also on a council set up by activists to protect the revolution and has said it will set up as a political party as soon as laws are changed to let it and others do so.

The Brotherhood's spokesman appeared on state television a few days ago, a first for the Islamist movement which was banned in the Mubarak era.

The Brotherhood is viewed with suspicion by Washington but is seen as the only truly organized bloc in Egypt and reckons it could win up to 30 percent of votes in a free election.

Having been timid in the early days of the revolt, it clearly thinks it is safe to come out.

Pro-democracy leaders plan to bring one million people out on the streets for a "Victory March" on Friday to celebrate Mubarak's ouster, and perhaps remind generals of the power of the street.

The Higher Military Council that took over after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, 82, was under pressure on Thursday from activists demanding the immediate release of political prisoners and the lifting of emergency rule.

ONE LESS HEADACHE

The cancellation of plans by two Iranian naval vessels to pass through the strategic Suez Canal removed on Thursday a potential foreign policy headache for the military.

Its top priorities after suspending the constitution are restoring law and order and reviving the economy, which was damaged by the 18-day revolution, but the issue of the Iranian warships had threatened to become a distraction.

Israel's foreign minister had called the proposed passage a "provocation," and its go-ahead could have put Egypt, a key ally of the United States which has a peace treaty with Israel, in an awkward diplomatic position.

An ailing Mubarak, holed up with his family in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, is still coming to terms with the tumultuous uprising, vowing to "live and die on Egyptian soil."

The revolt that ended 30 years of iron rule by Mubarak has sent shock waves around the Middle East. Bahraini police stormed a protest camp in Manama on Thursday, killing three people.

A committee, which includes a member of the Brotherhood, Sobhi Saleh, as well as legal and constitutional experts, was meeting on Thursday as the military dismantles the mechanisms that kept Mubarak's autocratic rule in place.

Saleh said on Wednesday the military council had pledged to lift emergency laws before elections are held.

Some secular leaders fear that racing toward elections in a nation where Mubarak suppressed most opposition activity may hand an edge to the Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak.

The military council has already dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution and now the committee must hammer out new amendments, likely to shorten presidential terms and ensure fair election rules, that must be ready in 10 days.

As part of a transition to democracy and civilian rule, the nation will vote in a referendum on the amendments prior to parliamentary and presidential elections which the military says it hopes to hold within six months.

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

Uncertainty remains over how much influence the military will seek to exert in reshaping a corrupt and oppressive ruling system which it has propped up for six decades.

Members of the new pro-democracy Council of Trustees of the Revolution said on Wednesday its goal was to unite ranks, protect the revolution and open a dialogue with the military.

Existing registered parties are mostly small, weak and fragmented. The Muslim Brotherhood, which under the now suspended constitution could not form a party, may be the best organized group, but its true popularity has yet to be tested.

And with no clear leaders, the youth movement that was pivotal to the revolution due to its use of social networking to organize protests is seeking to overcome splits and expects to announce a timetable for a new political party on Thursday.

(Reporting by Marwa Awad, Edmund Blair, Alexander Dziadosz, Shaimaa Fayed, Andrew Hammond, Alistair Lyon, Sherine El Madany, Tom Perry, Tom Pfeiffer, Yasmine Saleh, Patrick Werr, Jonathan Wright, Dina Zayed in Cairo, Amena Bakr in Saudi Arabia, William Maclean in London; writing by Peter Millership; editing by Myra MacDonald)

Written by <P>By Sherine El Madany and <A id="/controller/search.action?type=entity&amp;entityId=http%3A%2F%2Fd.opencalais.com%2Fpershash-1%2F5956f7d2-9b17-384c-bc06-6b3a9d52b8f4&amp;display=Patrick%20Werr" class="cite" onclick="loadEntitySearchResults('/controller/search.action?type=entity&amp;entityId=http%3A%2F%2Fd.opencalais.com%2Fpershash-1%2F5956f7d2-9b17-384c-bc06-6b3a9d52b8f4&amp;display=Patrick%20Werr')" href="javascript:void(0)" t="Person" c="Count: 2">Patrick Werr</A>, Reuters</P>

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