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What Role is the Muslim Brotherhood Playing in Egyptian Protests?

So far, demonstrators in Egypt have protested against poor living standards and authoritarian rule. But, as the New York Times is reporting, religion may soon play an increasingly integral roll in mobilizing anti-government forces:

With organizers calling for demonstrations after Friday prayer, the political movement will literally be taken to the doorsteps of the nation’s mosques. And as the Egyptian government and security services brace for the expected wave of mass demonstrations, Islamic groups seem poised to emerge as wildcards in the growing political movement. ...

Heightening the tension, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition group in the country, announced Thursday that it would take part in the protest. The support of the Brotherhood could well change the calculus on the streets, tipping the numbers in favor of the protesters and away from the police, lending new strength to the demonstrations and further imperiling President Hosni Mubarak’s reign of nearly three decades.

“Tomorrow is going to be the day of the intifada,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt’s second largest city, who declined to give his name because he said he would be arrested if he did. The spokesman said that the group was encouraging members of its youth organization — roughly those 15 to 30 years old — to take part in protests.

On Friday, Egyptian police authorities rounded up a number of members of the Brotherhood, including at least eight senior leaders of the group in anticipation of a larger nation-wide protest planned for Saturday.

A security source confirmed to Reuters that authorities had ordered a crackdown on the banned group overnight: "We have orders for security sweeps of the Brotherhood."

In addition, the Egyptian government has issued warnings to youth demonstrators not to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to use the protests to push their own "hidden agenda."

Also on Friday, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton offered his own thoughts on the precarious situation facing Egypt and the potential ramifications of the Brotherhood's involvement.

"I think what's clearly happened today [in  Egypt] is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamist party in Egypt has called it's supporters into the street," Bolton told Fox News.

"I think after the Friday prayers the Brotherhood brought its people out. That's why the protests are even more extensive today. That constitutes no doubt about it a direct threat to the military government, and I think the failure of the other security forces to bring the demonstrations under control also now explains the presence of the military."

"I think the question is whether and to what extent the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamists have infiltrated the leadership. If the military holds firm it's entirely possible, although bloody, that the government can hold onto power," Bolton continued.

"I don't think we have evidence yet that these demonstrations are necessarily about democracy. You know the old saying, 'one person, one vote, one time.' The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't care about democracy, if they get into power you're not going to have free and fair elections either."

One last thing…
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