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Rhetoric and Reality: The Disparate Futures for Islamists in Egypt

As fears of violence lingered, the jubilant elation of Wednesday night remained in Cairo Thursday. Military jets buzzed over the downtown area in the early morning, leaving smoke trails of red, white and black, the colors of the Egyptian flag


One day after democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was pushed out of office by military forces, the chief justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court was sworn in as interim leader of the embattled country.

After taking the oath of office, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour said the Muslim Brotherhood was welcome to help "build the nation," state-run newspaper Ahram reported.

Mansour, who has presided over Egypt’s top court since January 30 — the same day mass protests erupted in Egyptian streets — also praised the armed forces and the Egyptian people.

The new leader's statements came as both the military and opposition forces appeared to be trying to set a tone of reconciliation. In a statement issued Thursday, the country’s military leaders vowed to protect Islamists.

“To Egypt's youth from all religious currents and orientations, no one in Egypt questions your patriotism and sincere dedication to this country,” Ahmed Ali, spokesperson of Egypt’s armed forces, said in the statement. He stressed that all groups would be included in Egypt’s political future.

The statement followed clashes that erupted overnight between security forces and Morsi supporters. Since Sunday, at least 50 people have died in the unrest.

As fears of violence lingered and supporters of Morsi continued a sit-in in Cairo’s Nasr City, on the streets of downtown Cairo, the jubilant elation of Wednesday night remained. Military jets buzzed over the downtown area in the early morning, leaving smoke trails of red, white and black, the colors of the Egyptian flag.

The National Salvation Front, Egypt’s main opposition block, also released a statement rejecting the exclusion of any political party as the country moves forward.

"We confirm our strong belief in the right of all political groups to express their opinions freely, and to form their own political parties,” the group said in a statement released early Thursday morning — which also denied that the military's takeover amounted to a coup. “We totally reject excluding any party, particularly political Islamic groups.”

As the military, opposition, and newly appointed leader seemed to be reaching out, Islamists — who have long accused the opposition of rejecting calls for national dialog before the former-President's ousting — appeared defiant. In a message posted to the website of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group said it rejected the invitation to work with “the usurper authorities.”

The tone of reconciliation used by the opposition and military, however, was at odds with several realities: Islamist-run media was closed down, rumors circulated that warrants were issued for top Brotherhood leaders, and deposed president Mohamed Morsi reportedly remained under house arrest.

“All these things are very antagonistic in themselves and will most likely push the Brotherhood away,” said Tarek Radwan, associate director for research at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

And while the hostile confrontation in Egypt continued, some feared hard-line segments of the former president’s Islamic base could turn to violence.

“The takeaway will be that Islamists are not allowed to govern, that even if they try to work with the system, they are blocked from holding power, even when they win free and fair elections,” said Shadi Hamid, a researcher at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“This is something that could provide considerable ammunition to extremists and radical movements, who have been arguing for years that the Islamist project must not be pursued through democratic means, that it must be pursued through violence.”

Still, hopes continue to run high in Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution.

“The best thing is that now the people are in control, not an organization, not an ideology,” said Mina Ezzat, a 23 year old dentist in the square. Ezzat said he had been highly skeptical of the military’s intentions prior to Wednesday night’s announcement.

“Any other president that comes will know what he will suffer if he doesn’t listen to the people,” he said.