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Muslim Brotherhood flexes muscle in rallies ahead of Egypt's election

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi hold a rally in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, May 20, 2012.

Fredrik Persson/AP/Fredrik Persson/AP

"This is the first time in 7000 years that we've been able to choose our national leader," said the man bubbling with enthusiasm. "It feels wonderful."

Indeed, one can imagine the excitement: The millenia of Pharaonic rule, the Greeks and Romans, the Arab conquest, Salahedin, the Ottomans, Muhammad Ali and his "royal" family, the military rule; now this, the people's choice.

The man, a general manager of an agricultural supply company, was lightly bearded, wearing an open-necked shirt, brown loafers and, like most of the thousands of people in Abdeen Park Sunday night, was unmistakably part of Egypt's professional or upper-middle class. Like almost every man in the crowd, he also was an ardent Muslim Brother.

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The Brothers, their wives, children, and close supporters had come to the quite spectacular rally being staged for the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi, a non-descript engineer, educated in California, and longtime member of the Brotherhood's ruling Guidance Council.

The rally, with more than 10,000 in the packed park, was being shown simultaneously on screens at Brotherhood rallies across the country. It was the last rally before the election's obligatory two-day period of calm before voting on Wednesday and Thursday, and it was fitting climax to the campaign.

Dr. Morsi, as they liked to call him (for he had a PhD in engineering and taught at a university) had been selected to run for the presidency after the organization's first choice, the charismatic financier and Brotherhood ideologist, was disqualified by the country's surprisingly strict electoral rules.

And the general manager was certain the movement's second choice still would win.

Why? "Because he's the best man for the job," he replied.

How does he know that, since the man has had a rather obscure career path until chosen, not elected, to be the chairman of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, the body that, since elections earlier this year, has the largest number of members in the national parliament.

"Because the leadership of the Brothers chose him," he explained, pointing out that those leaders were in turn chosen by regional bodies that had been chosen by local bodies etc. It was a trickle-up process that makes the once-ruling Russian Communists seem positively democratic in comparison.

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It didn't seem to matter that Dr. Morsi is a terrible speaker, shouting his lines in a 50-minute tirade that left even many of his backers yearning for the exit.

"They [the leaders at the top]know what is best," the general manager said with a perfectly straight face.

Now, this choice of the one who is best, is being put to the longed-for test of the people.

You could see the man wince at the thought of his movement's almost sacred choice being voted on by a population that includes a great number of illiterate, impoverished people, not to mention secular Muslims and Coptic Christians What if one of Egypt's secular candidates – former foreign minister Amr Moussa, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq or Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahy – should actually win? I ask.

"Then there'll be another revolution," he replied without hesitation.

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