Rising Brotherhood Darkens Democratic Hopes in Egypt

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Egyptian polls opened on Monday following days of unrest that has rocked Tahrir Square in Cairo.

The elections are being billed as the first free parliamentary elections in decades, but Israeli leaders are concerned about the outcome.

Most say the elections won't usher in the hoped for democracy. Many are concerned the elections could lead to an Islamist government and eventually the Muslim Brotherhood taking control of the biggest Arab nation in the Middle East. 

The voting process will finish in January and the military rulers are promising a transition of power by the first of July.

"Egypt is at a crossroads," Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, said. "Either we succeed politically, economically, and socially or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that."

Immediate End to Military Rule

Protestors in Tahrir Square are demanding an immediate end to military rule, which has been in place since the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak in February during the so-called Arab Spring.

They want an interim civilian administration to take its place.

"We reject any resolution taken by the military council -- except for the handover of power to an authority that we approve," protestor Samira Hosni said. "Then we (the people) will be making the decisions in Egyptian politics."

But that doesn't mean democracy is on the way in Egypt.

"The way out of the current situation is having the elections (on time) and for everyone to accept the results," said Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood Party).

"Then handing over power to those who have been elected by the people because that will guarantee the transition to a democratic life, despite the difficulties that will come after the elections," el-Erian said.

"Postponing the elections -- or not being satisfied with election results -- will lead to confusion and chaos," he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to win big in the parliamentary elections. The radical Islamic group is the godfather of Islamist movements and has spawned some of the deadliest terror groups in the world.

Israelis Troubled

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood troubles many Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is feeling the strain of what he called "the threats and dramatic geopolitical changes" sweeping the region.

Israel's 30-year treaty with Egypt has been on shaky ground since Mubarak's fall. Any change in the treaty would demand a major shift in Israel's defense strategy.

At a Muslim Brotherhood rally, crowds vowed "one day to kill all the Jews."

Rally organizers said the event was intended to gather Egyptian support for what they called the "battle against Jerusalem's Judaization."

On election day, unidentified attackers blew up the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel and Jordan for the ninth time since January.

Brotherhood Expanding

Egypt is not the only place where Islamists are making headway. In Morocco, political supporters celebrated the victory of the Islamist party, which won nearly twice the seats of its nearest competitor in parliamentary elections.

In Egypt, the Arab League voted to impose economic sanctions on Damascus over Syrian President Bashar Assad's failure to halt his bloody crackdown on the uprising against his regime.

While that might seem like a positive development, the largest opposition group to Syria's secular government is Islamic.

What seems certain is that hopes the Arab Spring would bring liberal democracy to the Middle East won't materialize and the alternative to toppling long-time dictators is the rise of Islamic organizations.

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CBN News
Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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