By Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish, New York Times, January 27, 2011
Demonstrators in Egypt have protested against rising prices and stagnant incomes, for greater freedom and against police brutality. But religion, so often a powerful mobilizing force here, has so far played little role.
That may be about to change.
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.
Reporters in Egypt said on Friday that, after rumors swept Cairo late Thursday that the authorities planned to throttle the protesters' communications among themselves, access to the Internet, text messaging services and Twitter was not possible on Friday morning in Cairo, Alexandria and possibly other cities.
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.
The United States and the Western world, it appears, will have to get used to the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to join the protests calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarek, after thirty-five years of one-man rule. A joke shared on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook, put the Egyptian government in perspectice: "There are more 'mummies' in the government of Egypt than in all the pyramids in the country."
If the West fears AlQaeda, and it should, there will be trembling in Foggy Bottom today and for days and weeks to come. (Foggy Bottom is the home of the U.S. State Department.)
A small terrorist group, albeit with arms, training and considerable motivating anger and some religious zeal, will seem like chili powder compared with states falling like dominoes into the hands of the awakened Muslim people, who have already declared that secularists like Mohamed El Baradei are unaceptable even as interim leaders. They want religious Muslims to lead their countries and so the potential replacement of dictators allied with the west with Muslim leaders, no matter how they are elected, will pose a significant threat not only to the stability of the region, but also to the interests of the west, including the U.S. and Canada.