Egypt’s Muslim Brothers “do not seek power”

The Muslim Brotherhood pledged Wednesday it does not aim to seize power in Egypt, in an apparent bid to soothe Western fears of an Islamist takeover amid massive protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

The Islamist movement remains Egypt's most powerful organized opposition but has taken a back seat in the demonstrations demanding the overthrow of Mubarak, which are led by Egypt's youth largely disillusioned with traditional politics.

"The Muslim Brotherhood does not seek power. We do not want to participate at the moment," senior leader Mohammed Mursi told reporters. "We will not put forward a candidate for the presidency."

Western and Israeli observers have expressed fear the officially banned but tolerated movement could seize power, replace a key US ally with an Iran-style Islamic republic and scrap Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

But Essam al-Erian, another senior member who spoke at the same press conference, insisted the group only wanted free and fair democratic elections.

"Why is there this fear of the Muslim Brotherhood? Nothing can justify this fear of Islam. We reject the idea of a religious state."

As for the peace treaty with Israel, Mursi said its future would be decided at the polls, according to whoever Egyptians elect to represent them in a post-Mubarak parliament.

He added that the group remained open to dialogue with the regime, but that Mubarak must step down immediately. "The president must leave his position. A new era should start," he said.

The group has participated in talks initiated by Vice President Omar Suleiman but expressed disappointment with their progress.

"The regime failed, but it looks like some people think this dialogue is a monologue," Mursi said.

Talks between the Brotherhood, several smaller opposition groups and the regime have focused so far on setting up a committee to look into changes to the most controversial articles of Egypt's constitution.

But the Brotherhood, and demonstrators across Egypt – many of whom say they have not been represented in the talks – have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands on a daily basis since January 25.

They want a concrete pledge that Mubarak will step down immediately, not in September when a new presidential election is scheduled.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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