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Muslim Brotherhood: 'We are not seeking power'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Muslim Brotherhood ready for democracy
  • The Islamist umbrella group says it will work to promote democracy
  • It does not intend to field a candidate for the presidency
  • It says the regime has been using the organization as a scarecrow
  • It has kept a low profile in the uprising but many question whether it will continue to do so

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Keeping with the low-profile it has adopted in Egypt's uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday it wants to promote democracy but does not intend to field a candidate for president.

"The Muslim Brotherhood are not seeking power," Mohammed Morsi, a member of the group's media office, said at a Cairo news conference. "We want to participate, not to dominate. We will not have a presidential candidate, we want to participate and help, we are not seeking power."

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Islamist umbrella group also sought to dispel fears that it would push for an Islamic state in a post-Hosni Mubarak era.

"We reject the religious state," said Mohammed Katatny, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc.

But fears that the Muslim Brotherhood could hijack Egypt's pro-democracy movement are real. It has been expressed by foes of President Mubarak like businessman Naguib Sawiris, part of the self-proclaimed Council of the Wise, as well as Mubarak's allies abroad, including the United States.

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The concerns were perhaps compounded by last week's remarks from Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khameni, who referred to the revolts in Egypt and other regional nations as the "Islamic awakening."

But Katatny said the Brotherhood was not responsible for statements made by others.

"The regime have been using the Muslim Brotherhood scarecrow to tell the world that the regime is the only one who can safeguard the country, but this is wrong and it is their way to try to ignore the people's demands."

Formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the revivalist Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, is the largest and most organized opposition movement in Egypt.

It is officially banned on grounds that Egypt does not recognize parties with a religious agenda and members were barred from making a bid for the presidency. But Brotherhood candidates ran as independents in the 2005 election and won 88 of 444 parliamentary seats.

Those victories prompted Mubarak to amend the Egyptian constitution to further restrict candidates outside the ruling National Democratic Party to vie for parliamentary seats, a move that lent credence to the strongman's critics who have accused him of using the Brotherhood's growing influence as an excuse to crack down.

Many of the Brotherhood's members have been part of the demonstrations that erupted last month -- Morsi estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the protesters were Brotherhood followers. But the group has been careful not to promote its agenda.

Khaled Fahmy, the chairman of the history department at the American University in Cairo, said in an article for CNN that some of the skepticism about the group is "well-founded but much of it exaggerated."

Detractors of the Brotherhood point to proclamations about using violence and that the organization does not believe in equality between Muslims and Coptic Christians or between men and women. They also connect the Brotherhood to extremist groups such as the Palestinian Hamas.

Some have even suggested that militants from other nations are among the crowds in Tahrir Square.

The group's spokesmen at the Wednesday news conference chuckled at the notion.

"These are silly jokes," said spokesman Mohammed Beltagy.

Morsi added that the idea was "an insult to all Egyptians."

"This is all rubbish talk and very insulting to say that Hamas, who is locked down in Gaza, can be behind organizing the uprising in Egypt."

Morsi also gave assurances that the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel will remain intact, though he said the Brotherhood questioned why the Palestinians have yet to gain a sovereign homeland.

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"Where are all these promises?" he asked. "Whether we agree or not, we need to ask what the Israelis have delivered so far.

"We don't want to force our beliefs on the parliament," he said. "If the parliament approved the treaty that (former President Anwar) Sadat signed, it is still valid and will still be."

Khalemy said Egyptian society must allow a place for the Brotherhood.

"A group with some hundreds of thousands of members and one that controlled some 20% of the 2005 parliament cannot be excised from the Egyptian political equation," Khalemy wrote. "Doing so would only lead to its increased radicalization and militancy."

But if change takes root in Egypt, many will question whether the Brotherhood will continue to practice restraint.

CNN's Saad Abedine contributed to this story.

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