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Muslim Brotherhood trying to build diverse alliance

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 28 2012 9:33 p.m. MDT

In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, President-elect Mohammed Morsi speaks to newspaper editors in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, June 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

Associated Press

CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood has stopped talking about its longtime dream of an Islamic Egypt and expelling Israel's ambassador to Cairo. Instead, President-elect Mohammed Morsi is hurriedly building a diverse alliance with leftists, liberals and Christians to bolster his battle to end military rule.

Those familiar with the group's inner workings say, however, that this may only be a short-term strategy that will give way later to a push for the stricter imposition of Islamic law. That could partly explain why the secular generals who took over from ousted President Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago will not relinquish their hold on most levers of power.

Less than a week after he was declared winner of a hotly contested runoff, Morsi has promised to name a woman and a Christian as vice presidents, held talks with liberal intellectuals, indirectly assured Israel that it has nothing to fear from him and told Washington that maintaining close relations with the U.S. is a priority.

Since qualifying for the June 16-17 presidential runoff, Morsi has made no mention of the Muslim Brotherhood's traditional positions, such as banning alcohol, forcing women to cover up in public or prohibiting bank interest as usury.

"The Brotherhood wants to take on the generals, but it cannot do that alone," said Khalil el-Anani, an expert on Islamic groups from Britain's Durham University. "It is a necessity for the Brotherhood to offer concessions to different groups."

But no one is taking Morsi's promises at face value. Some Christian and liberal groups have set up teams to monitor whether he keeps his promises.

"They will just have to work with him and the Brotherhood for now and hopefully try to organize a secular leftist front that will pressure the new government and new parliament to make sure the demands of the street are taken into account in the public policymaking process," said Azzedine Layachi, a Middle East expert at St. John's University in New York.

The "new" Brotherhood as embodied by Morsi has left many debating whether the group has had a genuine, long-term shift of ideology dictated by the demands of politics or was simply making the right noises to win allies and would shift back to its longstanding goals at the next opportunity.

Some analysts see Morsi, a 60-year-old, American-trained engineer, as a conservative Islamist who subscribes to a school of thought within the Brotherhood that advocated "Taqiyah," or secrecy, about one's true intentions until the most opportune moment comes for their implementation.

Others, however, see Morsi's outreach as the group's response to a dramatic drop in its popularity after it failed to turn its domination of parliament earlier this year into real political power. They also cite the group's lack of experience in governance to explain its need for allies.

Genuine or not, some of the group's actions in recent weeks appeared designed to allay fears of what many see as the Brotherhood's lust for power and readiness to make secret deals to secure it.

Having spent most of the 84 years since its inception as an outlawed group targeted by successive governments, the Brotherhood's keen interest in power — some call it an obsession — may be understandable.

But it may have over-reached, unleashing the fury of the generals.

It won just under half of parliament seats in elections held some six months ago even though it had earlier pledged to contest only 30 percent of them. It also reneged on a decision not to field a presidential candidate, and packed with Islamists a 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution.

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