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Democracy supporters should not fear the Muslim Brotherhood

The trappings of a determined protest movement - chanting, flags and raised fists - fill Tahrir Square, the hard-won enclave of those who seek a new Egypt. But some there fear an enemy in their midst.

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By Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Like Egyptians from all walks of life, we in the Muslim Brotherhood are taking part in the popular uprising to depose a repressive dictator. The overwhelming majority of Egyptians demand the immediate ouster of Hosni Mubarak and his regime.

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Once this basic demand is met, we seek to share in the debate sweeping the country and to be part of the resolution, which we hope will culminate in a democratic form of government. Egyptians want freedom from tyranny, a democratic process and an all-inclusive dialogue to determine our national goals and our future, free of foreign intervention.

We are mindful, however, as a nonviolent Islamic movement subjected to six decades of repression, that patent falsehoods, fear mongering and propaganda have been concocted against us in Mubarak's palaces the past 30 years and by some of his patrons in Washington. Lest partisan interests in the United States succeed in aborting Egypt's popular revolution, we are compelled to unequivocally deny any attempt to usurp the will of the people. Nor do we plan to surreptitiously dominate a post-Mubarak government. The Brotherhood has already decided not to field a candidate for president in any forthcoming elections. We want to set the record straight so that any Middle East policy decisions made in Washington are based on facts and not the shameful - and racist - agendas of Islamophobes.

Contrary to fear-mongering reports, the West and the Muslim Brotherhood are not enemies. It is a false dichotomy to posit, as some alarmists are suggesting, that Egypt's choices are either the status quo of the Mubarak regime or a takeover by "Islamic extremists." First, one must make a distinction between the ideological and political differences that the Brotherhood may have with the United States. For Muslims, ideological differences with others are taught not to be the root cause of violence and bloodshed because a human being's freedom to decide how to lead his or her personal life is an inviolable right found in basic Islamic tenets, as well as Western tradition. Political differences, however, can be a matter of existential threats and interests, and we have seen this play out, for example, in the way the Mubarak regime has violently responded to peaceful demonstrators.

We fully understand that the United States has political interests in Egypt. But does the United States understand that the sovereign state of Egypt, with its 80 million people, has its own interests? Whatever the U.S. interests are in Egypt, they cannot trump Egyptian needs or subvert the will of the people without consequences. Such egotism is a recipe for disaster. With a little altruism, the United States should not hesitate to reassess its interests in the region, especially if it genuinely champions democracy and is sincere about achieving peace in the Middle East.

Looking forward, the Brotherhood is just one group among a diverse array of growing political factions and trends in Egypt, soon to compete with mutual respect in fair and free elections. We have participated in the "political process" such as it was under Mubarak's dictatorship. In the decades of his rule, we have embraced diversity and democratic values. In keeping with Egypt's pluralistic society, we have demonstrated moderation in our agenda and have responsibly carried out our duties to our electoral base and Egyptians at large.

Our track record of responsibility and moderation is a hallmark of our political credentials, and we will build on it. For instance, it is our position that any future government we may be a part of will respect all treaty obligations made in accordance with the interests of the Egyptian people.

Because we are an Islamic movement and the vast majority of Egypt is Muslim, some will raise the issue of sharia law. While this is not on anyone's immediate agenda, it is instructive to note that the concept of governance based on sharia is not a theocracy for Sunnis since we have no centralized clergy in Islam. For us, Islam is a way of life adhered to by one-fifth of the world's population. Sharia is a means whereby justice is implemented, life is nurtured, the common welfare is provided for, and liberty and property are safeguarded. In any event, any transition to a sharia-based system will have to garner a consensus in Egyptian society.

The people of Egypt will decide their representatives, their form of democratic government and the role of Islam in their lives. For now, as we verge on national liberation from tyranny, Egyptians in Tahrir "Freedom" Square and all over the country are hoping Americans will stand by them in this crucial hour.

Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, the author of "A Witness to the History of Egypt's Islamic Movement," is secretary general of the Arab Medical Union and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He served on the group's guidance council for 25 years.

More opinion pieces on Egypt .


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