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Islamist groups, democratic nations cast watchful eye on Egypt

By Sarah Aarthun, CNN
Iranian men rallying Feb. 4 in Tehran in support of Egyptian protests hold up a picture of Presidents Mubarak and Obama meeting.
Iranian men rallying Feb. 4 in Tehran in support of Egyptian protests hold up a picture of Presidents Mubarak and Obama meeting.
  • Hamas, Hezbollah join with United States and the West in praising the revolution
  • They all are trying to play a role in influencing Egypt's future to their benefit
  • Islamist regimes will try to undermine democratic efforts, analysts say
  • Egypt
  • Hamas
  • Hezbollah
  • Iran

(CNN) -- As the announcement was made Friday that embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down, worldwide reaction widely praising the move poured in from democratic governments and Islamist regimes alike.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the sudden conclusion to Mubarak's 30-year rule was not "the end of Egypt's transition. It's the beginning."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy similarly hailed what he called Egypt's "historic moment" and paid tribute to Mubarak's decision to resign.

And joining those and other democratic leaders in their unanimous support of Friday's developments were countries and extremist groups who typically are at odds with the West.

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement issued a statement extending its congratulations to the Egyptian people for "their historic triumph in achieving this revolution," while the militant Islamic group Hamas called it a "victory" not only for Egypt but for Palestinians as well.

Analysts warn that while the West is pushing for democracy, Hamas and Hezbollah -- along with such Islamist regimes as Iran -- will try to suppress it, even while publicly exulting the change.

"If democracy wins in Egypt, there will be more of a threat to Iran," said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University.

James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, agreed, saying there will be institutions and people trying to undermine" the chance for freedom in Egypt.

"I think first among them will be Iran and Iran working with the Muslim Brotherhood the way they work with Hamas in Gaza," he said.

"We all have to do everything we possibly can to work with the forces of stability and change in a democratic and law-abiding direction in Egypt to help them economically, help them politically and see to it that this does not become an Islamist operation the way Iran has and Gaza has, and, I'm afraid, Lebanon may be on the way to being."

Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, likened the world reaction to a Rorschach test.

"Everybody is reading this differently," said Muravchik, author of "The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East."

"Iranians think this is going to turn into an Islamist takeover in Egypt and if they're right they will have cause to be happy, at least in the short run," he said. "I think they'll end up unhappy in the long run because I think it will end in an intra-Islamist struggle."

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Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said other countries in the region are also aiming to play a role in the transition.

"Every single state wants to have influence on Egypt," he said. For example, he said, Hamas hopes Egypt will be Islamist and allow it to send goods into the Palestinian territories, while Libya, which has strengthened ties with the West, would be worried about such a turn toward a more radical regime.

And even while the Muslim Brotherhood has claimed a more moderate political stance in recent days, Muravchik said Hamas and Hezbollah hope the Islamic umbrella group will gain power in Egypt.

"I would think a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt would be considerably more repressive and narrow-minded and belligerent toward the West," though not as extreme as Iran, he said.

Muravchik also speculated that the praise from Islamist groups is a result of the close relationship the United States has maintained with Egypt.

"Egypt is seen as America's most important ally in the region," he said, adding that Mubarak's fall could be seen as a "big setback" for the United States.

The United States and Europe, meanwhile, were forced to get behind the regime change even while distancing themselves from a longtime ally "to maintain their credibility," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The West couldn't be seen as standing in the way of a major popular movement, she said.

And though analysts have varying opinions as to who will gain the most from Egypt's transition, they all agree that Mubarak's resignation is only the beginning of a long, bumpy road toward a new Egypt.

"There will be a bunch of different efforts made to be the voice of the opposition and that's just going to take a while to shake out and see who can really represent that," Muravchik said.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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