Egypt's Brotherhood is no threat to West: Islamist

LONDON Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:13am EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Islamist rule in Egypt would pose no threat to the West because it would be more democratic and broad-based than President Hosni Mubarak's "dictatorship," a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday.

Speaking to Reuters as huge anti-government protests raised uncertainty about Mubarak's political fate, veteran of Egypt's main opposition movement Kamel El-Helbawy said the 1978 peace treaty with Israel might also be safe in Egypt post-Mubarak if Egyptians felt it delivered justice to all parties.

"A new era of freedom and democracy is dawning in the Middle East and Arab world," Helbawy, an influential cleric in the international Islamist ideological movement, said in an interview in London, where he has lived since 1994.

"That's more important than declaring that a 'new Islamist era is dawning', because I know Islamists would not be able to rule Egypt alone. We should and would cooperate -- Muslims, leftists, communists, socialists, secularists."

"Dictators like Mubarak have always told the West, wrongly, there is no difference between Islamists like the Brotherhood and some violent groups who are real fundamentalists."

Mubarak was clinging to power on Saturday amid protests by angry Egyptians complaining about poverty, unemployment and graft and demanding he end his 30-year authoritarian rule.

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The Brotherhood has promoted itself in recent years as a reformist group struggling against Mubarak's autocracy. Authorities call it outlawed even though its members, running as independents, have held sizeable minorities in parliament.

The Brotherhood places a major emphasis on sharia, Islamic law, and advocates applying Islamic principles to all aspects of life, from politics to foreign investment and education.

Secularist critics say its programmes discriminate against women and non-Muslims, and argue that this shows the group is still struggling to understand the modern world.

A member since 1952, Helbawy has long been a prominent member of the Brotherhood's overseas thinkers, working in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Britain.

In the mid-1990s he served as the Brotherhood's spokesman in the West, and helped create the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain.

Helbawy said that if change came peacefully he would return home for the first time since 1988. Egyptians from all backgrounds were fed up with "dictatorship, corruption, lack of proper freedom and lack of development," like Arabs starting to protest in growing numbers in other countries, he said.

"The West is always afraid that if the Brotherhood came to power it would end freedoms or do something (negative) with Israel. But I stress that the Brotherhood are among the people who defend democracy in full, and like to see democracy prevailing, because democracy gives them some of their rights."

The Brotherhood has said it would put the 1978 Camp David peace accords signed by then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a referendum if it took power.

Helbawy said the peace deal "is an issue that could be discussed" in a post-Mubarak Egypt. A key test of the landmark accords would be if they promoted justice, he said.

If they did, "then everyone should respect the agreements. But if there is an agreement that does not deliver justice it cannot be tolerated whether you are Muslim Brotherhood, leftist or anyone else."

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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