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Muslim Brotherhood says it is only a minor player in Egyptian protests

The Egyptian government blocks Twitter after thousands of protesters took to the streets of Cairo to demand an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood "is an organization that for years has exercised strategic patience," Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Sunday. "There's no special advantage to being visible right now."

But Egypt has been changing, more rapidly perhaps than the organization understands. Mokhtar Nouh, a defense lawyer, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood - but prison changed him. When he emerged from detention four years ago, he says, he realized with a sudden clarity that the old group had fallen behind the times. "This organization was too slow," he said Sunday while standing with several thousand others in Tahrir Square. "I joined the streets."

In some ways, the Muslim Brotherhood, because of its nationwide reach and reputation, is only the most prominent of an array of political groups that have had to submerge their identities while rushing to catch up with the mostly young protesters on the streets. It will certainly remain a player in Egyptian politics, Bahgat said.

"But suddenly, now, we can think big," Bahgat said. "This is a very plural polity. This is the new reality. And I've never been so exuberant."

The 31-year-old activist said that he understands that politics is politics and that the organization is bound to have a resurgence. The Muslim Brotherhood will be, in his eyes, a potentially potent political force. In the past week, Egypt has at least caught a glimpse of new possibilities.

"I keep trying to savor these moments, because I know they will be the best moments of my life," he said.

The groups running the demonstrations have organized a committee of 10 to deal with the government; the Muslim Brotherhood is included. When its eight regional directors were arrested last week, it chose not to mobilize in their defense so as not to distract from the main goal - the departure of Mubarak.

When Sawi, its martyr, was buried, his funeral came to represent more than the grief of one organization.

"We've been unified under one banner," said Abdel Rahman Fares, an activist and blogger who was at Tahrir Square on Sunday draped in an Egyptian flag. "The funeral became like a funeral march for the regime itself."

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