Muslim Brotherhood: We're totally not interested in a religious state

They’ve been waiting 80 years to take power, but now, on the brink of seeing the guy who’s had his boot on their neck overthrown, they’ve decided, “Hey, no biggie.”

Okay then.

“The Muslim Brotherhood are not seeking power,” Mohammed Morsi, a member of the group’s media office, said at a Cairo news conference. “We want to participate, not to dominate. We will not have a presidential candidate, we want to participate and help, we are not seeking power.”…

“We reject the religious state,” said Mohammed Katatny, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc…

Morsi also gave assurances that the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel will remain intact, though he said the Brotherhood questioned why the Palestinians have yet to gain a sovereign homeland.

The man to read on this is Lee Smith, who has a piece in Tablet today about the potential for a Khomeini-esque return to Egypt from Qatar by the Brotherhood’s “spiritual leader,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi. I’ve already explained why they don’t necessarily need a parliamentary majority to push parts of their agenda; democracy is their vehicle of legitimacy, so they’ll rely on public referendums for the more popular aspects of their platform, i.e. the anti-Israeli measures. Qaradawi, who’s endorsed suicide bombings against Israelis and is famous for his chat show on Al Jazeera, could prove hugely useful to them in building support for their program among Egyptian voters.

The problem for the Brotherhood isn’t gaining a parliamentary majority, it’s figuring out a way to keep the Egyptian army from cracking heads if/when their Islamist agenda becomes too inconvenient for the military’s own purposes. In fact, the AP is describing the rise of Omar Suleiman and several other ex-military officers to ministerial positions as a “soft coup” by the army while Mubarak twists in the wind. And the soft coup might be merely the prelude to a hard one:

Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former army general and chief of intelligence, issued a veiled threat that the army could go even further. He warned that an outright coup could take place if the protests by tens of thousands continue in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.

It was a strong hint that the military could move to impose martial law and snuff out the protests, which have grown since Jan. 25, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the implementation of sweeping democratic reforms…

The mention of a coup left the circle of editors in stunned silence, media reports of the meeting said.

He told reporters that he foresaw “the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people” if they don’t calm down, which probably explains why the State Department held a conference call today to make sure everyone understands that they’ve never said Suleiman was the right man to succeed Mubarak. As the protests turn into strikes, further paralyzing the Egyptian economy, we’re inching closer to a Suleiman-run crackdown that some observers already regard as inevitable. Which is bad news for the Brotherhood, given Suleiman’s longstanding antipathy to them, but bad news for a lot of well intentioned Egyptians too.

Speaking of which, here’s Wael Ghonim, the Google exec who was blindfolded and held for 12 days in solitary confinement after the protests broke out and who’s now emerged as a leader after his release galvanized demonstrators in Tahrir Square. He says a lot of people are prepared to die for the cause. Suleiman might test them on that.