Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood mutes its religious message for protests

LA Times

By Jeffrey Fleishman

Reporting from Cairo —

The medical students marched and sweated in protest.

“The fear is broken,” yelled Bahaa Mohammed. “We want freedom.”

“And Islam,” said his friend. “We need Islam.”

“Yes,” said Mohammed, hushing the young man. “But first freedom and the will of the people.”

The exchange in the streets of Cairo between the students, both members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, is a telling glimpse into the Arab world’s largest Islamic organization as it joins other opposition groups seeking to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood is muting its religious message amid a popular revolt that is not driven by Islam or politics.

The organization’s strategy became more apparent Sunday when it announced support for opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as a transitional president if the Mubarak government is toppled. The move was recognition that ElBaradei, a secularist with Western democratic principles, is the most potent symbol for change in a nation desperate for fresh voices.

“The revolution does not belong to any one group,” said Esam Shosha, a movement member. “We are one country. It’s not just about the Brotherhood, at least not now; it’s about all Egyptians.”

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