U.S. eyes Egypt Islamists as extremist fears fester
U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.
The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West. Al Qaeda is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, sought to play down fears about the Muslim Brotherhood this week, saying it “has eschewed violence and has decried al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”
“They have pursued social ends, betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera,” he told lawmakers on Thursday.
But unlike the militant groups that fought Mubarak’s rule in the 1990s, the Brotherhood is led by professionals with modern educations — engineers, doctors, lawyers and academics. The core membership is middle-class or lower middle-class.
President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged the group’s anti-American ideological strains but said the Muslim Brotherhood did not have majority support in Egypt. The group itself said on Saturday it would not seek a parliamentary majority or the presidency.