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Reporters on the Job

A View from the Top: Staff writer Dan Murphy says he was given good access for today's story on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - at least at the top. He interviewed the current Supreme Guide, Mahdi Akef, and the man who's widely expected to replace him, in addition to a few other senior members of the organization.

But he was stymied when he tried to get a grass-roots look at the organization. He says the Brotherhood is a blend of openness and media savvy at the highest levels, but secret and committed to maintenance of party discipline lower down. "The question almost everyone asks about the Brotherhood is, 'How big are they, really?' " says Dan.

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The invariable answer is: "Nobody knows." Dan had hoped to get access to meetings in smaller Egyptian towns to see how the organization recruits new members and responds to the concerns of its constituency. He would get vague promises that "maybe something can be done," but in the end was turned down.

"They said this was largely due to the ongoing government crackdown on the organization. Anyone I talked to at that level would be in danger of arrest, whether I used their names in print or not," says Dan. "There's something to this, but after generations of executions and government crackdowns, they're also committed to secrecy. All this adds up to making the Brotherhood the biggest X-factor in Egyptian politics. If free elections were held here tomorrow, would they win an overwhelming majority, a slim majority, or perhaps just 20-30 percent? No one knows for sure."

David Clark Scott
World editor


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