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NBC News' Richard Engel on Egypt, The Muslim Brotherhood and ElBaradei

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NBC News' Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel knows Egypt about as well as an American can. At the age of 22, he took $2,000 in cash and moved into a poor neighborhood in Cairo for four years.

Today, he is reporting for NBC from Cairo, and was kind enough to take a few minutes to discuss the developments in Egypt with me. We talked prior to President Mubarak's scheduled speech on Tuesday.

Engel predicted his opponents would immediately reject anything short of Mubarak's immediate exodus, but said the real test would be whether or not they would ultimately accept a compromise, such as Mubarak agreeing to not appear on the ballot for an upcoming election.

Perhaps more than any other reporter, Engel has focused on the increasing Islamic activity on the streets, which he says "has increased almost daily."

Engel tells me that having lived in Cairo, "I've had a positive experience with the Muslim Brotherhood . . . in Muslim Brotherhood neighborhoods, there was no crime, whatsoever."

The Muslim Brotherhood is a controversial group which has been in existence since 1928. Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian whose writings shaped the ideas that ultimately led to 9-11, was a member. Other members were suspected of involvement in assassination plots of past Egyptian leaders. The Brotherhood has long since officially renounced violence, but many observers are skeptical of their sincerity.

As Engel says, "A lot of Egyptians, themselves, are worried this movement could be hijacked by Islamic movements."

"This is not an Islamic Revolution," he cautions. "But if you're having true Democratic elections and you get a variety of political parties [the Muslim Brotherhood would be] anti-Israel, generally anti-American foreign policy in the Middle East, [and that] would become much more a part of Egyptian foreign policy."

Regarding Egyptian Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the popular moderate many Americans hope will replace Mubarak, Engel said: "People in the western media tend to have been giving him more importance than he is given in Egypt."

Engel added that he thinks ElBaradei might be accepted as an interim leader, but would not win an election if it were held today.

Engel is also sounding the alarm on U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. "I think what the western world is getting wrong about this is . . . how did the United States not see this coming? Where are our Middle East experts?"

"Since I've lived in Egypt," Engel added, "I've seen the embassies and diplomats retreating farther and farther into their buildings, and losing touch with feelings on the street."

Engel was in Tunisia recently, and flew to Cairo on Thursday to cover the unrest. The airlines lost his luggage, so he's been borrowing clothes for the last few days. Of course, he gets little sleep, considering his duties for NBC -- and the seven-hour time difference.

"Being on the point of the spear is the most interesting," Engle told me. "When you're in a country in turmoil -- or a country at war -- or a country in the middle of a political revolt, you are on the front line of history."

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I have watched Richard Engel cover the protests in Egypt and have heard him speak and read Arabic fluently. I was amazed at how fluent he is and how much he knows the culture and what the people there are feeling. I asked myself the same question, how did the US not see this coming? Even if the protests didn't take place the US knew full well that at 83, Mubarak was not going to live forever and he had not appointed a vice president. Perhaps in hopes of having his son take office. Since Egypt is so vital to peace in the Middle East, and so vital to our interests the US should have worked towards resolving this before any protests were even a thought! Of course the best solution now is that Mubarak stays until the end of his term and then a new election takes place. This way candidates have a chance of portraying their ideas and policies to the people and so that the people can make an educated decision. But do you really think this would happen in Egypt? This is not the US where we have elections and people are able to say their opinion without fear. Some sort of corruption will take place and the people will still feel cheated out of a leader and it will be a vicious cycle with no end. Perhaps having Gamal Mubarak take office was the best solution for Egypt...but maybe it should have been planned better. I don't know what the solution is for this but I do know that the US and the west have a big problem on their hands if Egypt is ruled by extremists.

February 02 2011 at 11:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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