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Egypt's protests reveal deficit of trust in Muslim Brotherhood

Open defiance of Egypt's president in street protests shows how much the Muslim Brotherhood needs to leave Islam outside the door of democracy.

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A protester opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi throws stones towards riot police during clashes in Cairo January 29. Egypt's Army chief said political unrest was pushing the state to the brink of collapse.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

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Five days of protests in Egypt, with dozens of people killed and entire cities in turmoil, have revealed a whopping deficit of public trust in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic group that dominates the leadership of this young democracy of the Arab Spring.

In cities like Port Said, the protesters have displayed an open defiance of President Mohamed Morsi’s orders on a curfew and state of emergency. Egypt’s Army chief warns of the state collapsing. And indeed, many Egyptians now talk of splitting up the Arab world’s most populous state.

The triggers for this upheaval were the second anniversary of the fall of Hosni Mubarak and a court sentencing 21 people for the deaths of 74 people after a soccer match last year. But below the surface of this dissent lies a deeper struggle. It is one trying to define the source of legitimacy for Egypt’s new leaders, or the kind of sentiment that cements trust between a government and its people.

As it has slowly risen to power in the past two years, the Muslim Brotherhood has broken many promises about the role it would play in representative government. Its flip-flops and power grabs in forming a new regime have only added to a worry among democracy advocates that Mr. Morsi would define his authority from Islam, or sharia law, rather than from constitutional rights and secular pluralism.

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