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Inside The Muslim Brotherhood’s Plans For Egypt’s Future

The Islamic organization's new chairman Dr. Badie, and another top Brotherhood official, tell La Stampa that Mubarak's ouster must be followed by a government finally chosen by the people. And if they choose an Islamic state?

Paolo Mastrolilli

CAIRO - "My husband would have been very happy to speak to you, but he's in jail." The wife of Essam El Erian, the spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, sounds distraught on the phone, but not desperate. Banned by the government, the Brotherhood and their families have gotten used to roundups by the authorities. "They took him on Friday, after prayers. I haven't heard from him since.If you want to speak to Mohammed Badie, the best thing is to go to the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in person."

We take El Erian's advice and head straight for the Manial district, and a beautiful residential street along the river, called El Malek El Saleh.Waiting for us at the top of the marbled front steps are two security guards dressed in black.We explain that we have an appointment, but they already know: a quick security search, and we find ourselves in the waiting room on the first floor.In a gentle Arabic cadence, a secretary lets us know that Dr. Badie, the new Muslim Brotherhood General Guide, is expected at a meeting of opposition leaders and will only be able to offer us a few minutes of his time.We head up to the second floor, where a carved wooden door leads to his dark offices.This organization is officially banned in Egypt, as President Hosni Mubarak's regime has equated them with Al Qaeda, thanks in part to their old links with Osama Bin Laden's deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri.Still, the nameplate on the door does not try to hide who they are: first in Arabic and then in English, it reads "Muslim Brotherhood."

Badie, 67, a trained veterinarian, who last year became the eighth supreme leader in the history of the organization founded in 1929, is said to want to focus the Brotherhood on more social activities. He hails from the more traditionalist wing of the organization.Bearded and wearing a traditional fez, he lays out their view on the unprecedented challenge to the Egyptian president's 30-year reign: "Our line is clear: the regime has failed and is now collapsing.There is only one way out: Mubarak must listen to the people and resign.Then the people will decide how they want to be guided."

We ask if the sudden swell of the protest has caught him off guard. "It does not matter.What counts is that it's happening and that we support it." Will the revolution be used to create an Islamic state? "This is something the people must decide." Before leaving for his meeting, Badie introduces us to Sherif Abul Magd, an engineering professor at Helwan University, who led the Muslim Brotherhood in Giza: "He speaks for me."

Abul Magd wastes no time, and in perfect English goes on the attack: "Mubarak is stupid, or he is getting bad advice.The regime is finished. The people on the streets are demanding his resignation, and what does he do? He names (Omar) Suleiman as Vice-President and (Ahmed) Shafiq as Prime Minister, two men from the military.Is this the message he wants to send?Doesn't he understand that to salvage the situation he should at least have chosen civilians?Anyway, these are his problems. For us, he's finished. "

For now, however, Mubarak is still in place.But as he shifts on the couch that faces out the window toward the river, Abul Magd explains the strategy: "Continue the protest until he resigns."The tanks worry him, but ultimately he believes that "the army will line up with the people, and against the dictator. In any case, the protest should not challenge the military: we do not want a bloodbath.The protesters should peacefully demonstrate every day to repeat their demands: the government will not hold on for long.What can he do?If tomorrow Mubarak blocks access to Tahrir Square, we'll go elsewhere. Stopping the demonstrations is easy, all he has to do is resign."

If this happens, the Muslim Brotherhood already has a plan in place. Abul Magd explains: "The Constitution states that in such cases the leader of the Parliament assumes the interim presidency.In our opinion, it is not enough. He should be surrounded by five highly respected judges from different backgrounds, to create a presidential committee.This committee should make changes to the Constitution in favor of more democracy, and then hold parliamentary and presidential elections within two months.At that point the power will be back in the hands of the people."

Before being arrested, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam El Erian had told us that the protests had caught the organization by surprise, a sign that it is not all-powerful in Egypt. "This should reassure the West," Abul Magd says.

But do they have the power to create an Islamic state?"We are convinced that Islam is the best model of life.Just look at our laws, 80% of which are inspired by Muslim principles," Abul Magd says. "The Islamic state is not in conflict with democracy, but it must be up to the people to choose it."And if you are chosen, will the peace process with Israel continue?"Why a peace process?Israel only wants to impose its will, with the help of the Americans and (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas. The PLO no longer represents the Palestinian people. Peace is impossible without an agreement with Hamas."

Abul Magd shrugs off the suspicion that the Muslim Brotherhood is an offshoot of Al Qaeda: "Al Qaeda no longer exists.Maybe it existed years ago, but now is just an invention of the CIA to justify the war on terrorism. "

It is time to leave, for Abul Magd to join Badie at the summit of opposition leaders, and he offers to accompany us in his car.On the way, we encounter a roadblock of vigilantes, who block the road with sandbags, "You see?This is the fault of the police, who have disappeared," he says. "They've also opened the doors of the prisons to send the criminals in the city.It is part of a plan of the Ministry of the Interior to terrorize the people, and give Mubarak an excuse for his crackdown."

Abul Magd says the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters will not be intimidated. "These leaders are traitors who deserve to face a court-martial. But meanwhile, our people already controls the streets."

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