February 22, 2011

GOTTA KNOW YOUR ALLIES:

Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Special report: The Brotherhood’s role in Egypt's revolution (Charles M. Sennott, February 21, 2011, Global Post)

On Friday, Feb. 4, as the protests picked up in size and intensity, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were streaming into the square from all directions.

To avoid violent clashes brought on by Mubarak supporters spoiling for a fight, the Muslim Brotherhood established a series of checkpoints designed to keep everything under control.

The movement developed a quietly assertive role in organizing security inside the square. And it provided the muscle on the frontlines in case there were any clashes with Mubarak supporters.

Mohamed Abbas, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement and a leader in the square who worked with secular counterparts in the early planning before Jan. 25, saw a young man flashing his pocket Koran with the Muslim Brotherhood symbol of two crossed swords before a FRONTLINE camera.

Abbas gently pushed the young man’s arm down and said, “For God’s sake, don’t hold up your Koran. Hold up an Egyptian flag. For God’s sake. That’s not for the media.”

Later Abbas explained the confrontation, saying in halting English, “Egyptians don’t want to make this revolution into a Muslim Brotherhood show.”

He explained that he told the young brother, “Don’t show the ideology to the press because this is so bad for this revolution.”

Even at this point more than half way into the revolution, the brothers saw no gain – for the country or their own movement – in allowing Mubarak to paint the surging protests as inspired by the Brotherhood.

Their self-stated goal was to avoid confrontation and to execute a plan to keep the square occupied. They brought food in across the barbed wire. They strung plastic sheeting for tents. They printed huge banners depicting the martyrs who’d been killed by the police and loyal thugs of the Mubarak regime. They distributed wool blankets and set up a first aid clinic. Significantly, they also set up the first microphone and speaker tower, thus controlling the message in the square. They were doing all this without any public display that it was the Muslim Brotherhood.

"They're taking over"

But to some of the young protesters, their pervasive role was changing the revolution.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a 21-year-old law student, who answered the first Jan. 25 call from Facebook to come to Tahrir Square, felt the Brotherhood was “taking over.”

He is from an affluent and Westernized part of Cairo. His tie-dye shirt and expensive jeans made him stand apart from the young Muslim Brotherhood crowd, who wore the cheap knock-offs of 1980s Western styles sold in street bazaars in poorer Cairo neighborhoods such as Imbaba and Shobra, from where many of them hail.

Mohamed Abbas, 26, the young Muslim Brotherhood leader who had shown us around the square and offered a glimpse of how they controlled it, was an example of this more working class crowd. [...]

Mohammed Abbas emerged as a young leader of the Muslim Brotherhood through the 18 days of the revolution. And we asked him about Abdel-Rahmans' concerns that the Brotherhood was “taking over.”

He explained that a lot of the youth inside Tahrir Square were getting to know each other for the first time and that misunderstandings were common.

“You know the regime kept us apart. This is one of the best things of these demonstrations is that we have a chance to come together. I will talk with him at some point. He shouldn’t feel that way,” Abbas said, referring to Abdel-Rahman who was sitting nearby and sharing some orange soda with a group of young friends who’d stopped by his tent.

“We do not want to take over. Just the opposite. We only want to be a part of this, not control it,” said Abbas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2011 5:50 AM
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