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New Brotherhood Head Says Group Not Against Mubarak

1/18/2010, 8:57 a.m. PST
Alaa Shahine
The Associated Press

(AP) — c ()-2010, Bloomberg News

CAIRO-The new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest anti-government group, says his movement doesn't oppose President Hosni Mubarak, a remark that may indicate the group's retreat from an overt political role.

In a letter published on the Brotherhood's Web site, Mohammed Badie put the "main goal" of the organization's work in the context of changing society, not the government. The letter didn't mention the group's previous opposition to the possibility that Mubarak, 81, may be grooming his son Gamal to run in next year's presidential election.

"With regards to our stance toward the Egyptian regime, we emphasize that the Muslim Brotherhood were never opponents of the regime," Badie wrote.

Badie, 67, was inaugurated on Jan. 16 as leader of the 81- year-old Islamist group after the retirement of Mohammed Akef, its top official since 2004. His election signaled domination of members who advocate organizational cohesion and religious values. The election of a 16-member policy-setting council also eliminated members who had campaigned for an active political role in opposing Mubarak's government.

"This means that there will be a withdrawal from the political field," said Amr El-Shobaki, an analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based research group.

Shobaki and other analysts say the Brotherhood is likely to field fewer candidates in this year's parliamentary election than in 2005 when its members won 88 seats, making them the second-biggest bloc after the ruling National Democratic Party. If the Brotherhood withdraws from politics it will reduce channels for activism at a time of rising public discontent among the poor in the most populous Arab country, Shobaki said.

The Brotherhood has turned inward "from a movement concerned about its role socially and politically in the wider Egyptian social fabric," Amr Hamzawy, research director and senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a phone interview from Beirut.

The Brotherhood has a long history of fighting both the pre-1952 Egyptian monarchy and the government of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was president from 1954 to 1970.

The Brotherhood, the model for Islamic political movements across the Middle East, played an active role in street protests demanding political liberties in 2004 and 2005.

After the 2005 parliamentary vote, the government cracked down on opposition groups, detained hundreds of Brotherhood and secular activists, prosecuted independent judges and newspaper publishers and jailed bloggers. Public protests and labor strikes demanding better wages still persist.

The Brotherhood is a model for Hamas and a supporter of the Palestinian Islamic party that rules the Gaza Strip.

Badie said in the letter that the organization "prioritizes" the Palestinian issue and spares no "effort to make this cause the first interest of ruling systems and nations until Palestine is free, God willing."

© 2010 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.