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

3 years ago
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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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