Egypt Crisis Dominates Final Day at Davos

In the corridors of Davos, the fear was that Muslim Brotherhood would come to power with an extremist Islamic agenda.

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DAVOS, Switzerland - As the world's power elite began to wrap up the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum here, some experts and politicians began to warn that the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak could lead to more than instability - it could result in the country either facing a power void or even being taken over by Islamic or extremist forces.

And others, like the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), warned that the Egypt crisis could trigger dangerous economic consequences for the West. Already the price of oil is spiking and many equity markets are nervous about the uprising in Egypt.

Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, one of numerous delegates here who began opining Saturday on the situation in Cairo, said it was hard to forecast the outcome. But he made clear that those calling for a full and instant democracy after 30 years of authoritarian rule should consider what might come next.

"Be careful about what you wish for," he said. "You can say what is happening is profound, but the suggestion that it is easy to flip aside an authoritarian state and install a utopian democracy is dangerous," said Zedillo. "The biggest nightmare is for Israel to have the most populous Arab country on its doorstep in a state of instability."

In the corridors of the Davos proceedings, the fear being voiced by many was that the opposition Muslim Brotherhood could come to power, and that its self-perpetuated image of a moderate and charitable group focused on religious instruction and social services might mask a more extremist Islamic agenda.

This tactic is reminiscent of Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement that Israel has battled in Gaza. Hamas actually grew out of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood, experts here said, is also similar to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant political force in Lebanon, in the way it has shrewdly portrayed itself as a moderate force, dispensing largesse in the form of social aid.

The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, also known by counter-terrorism experts as an early inspiration of Osama bin Laden, on Saturday called for Mubarak to leave Egypt.

"Mubarak must give up his position and leave Egypt," he said in a speech that was broadcast on Al Jazeera. "There is no solution other than the departure of Mubarak. Go, Mubarak, leave these people!"

At Davos, another warning was issued by former United Nations deputy secretary-general and British foreign office minister with responsibility for Africa, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown.

"If Egypt goes then you have to ask if other Middle Eastern countries, like Jordan or Syria, are now in play," he told delegates here.

Presented by

Alan Friedman, a longtime Davos attendee, is chairman of FBC Media, a public relations and communications firm whose roster of clients includes foreign governments. He has worked as an economics columnist for the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. [This bio was amended to reflect the nature of FBC's work.]

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