Will the Brotherhood turn that way? The New York Times' account of the electoral outcome largely accepted that view. And it's true that the Islamists can now dispense with liberal forces if they want to. On the other hand, Saad el-Katatni, the party secretary general, has explicitly rejected an alliance with Al Nour, the main Salafi group. Marina Ottaway, an Egypt expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that during the campaign season, the Freedom and Justice Party tried to build an alliance with secular forces -- which ultimately formed a compact of their own -- and refused to join an Islamist alliance. "If I had to take a bet about that right now," Ottaway says, "I would bet they would form an alliance with the more secular parties and the more moderate elements."
Joshua Stacher, an academic at Kent State University who has studied the inner workings of the Brothers, views them less as an Islamic body than as a giant jobs program. Stacher doesn't think the Brotherhood will provoke a civil war with secular forces, but he also doesn't think they will stand up to the generals who have replaced President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood is no longer an opposition party, Stacher notes: "They're part of the political elite." He can imagine a scenario in which the Brotherhood backs Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief and right-hand man, for president -- a dreadful thought.
What is certainly true is that the prospect of finally gaining power has turned the Brothers into allies of Egypt's military rulers. While other forces stood up against the SCAF's brutality and called for a postponement of elections, the Brotherhood held its tongue and stayed off the street. In a recent speech, Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Brotherhood, known as the supreme guide, lamely explained that his members had declined to join the mass demonstrations -- which led to the deaths of at least 40 protesters -- out of fear of a "conspiracy" seeking "to lure the Brotherhood to the square" and then incite violence. Badie blamed the bloodshed on the ubiquitous "hidden hands" -- Israel, the United States, the CIA -- rather than security forces acting on behalf of the military.
On balance the Brotherhood might be less inclined to forge an alliance with the Salafis than it will be to serve as a facade and a prop for the military. (The same may be true of the PJD in Morocco, though it would be providing window dressing for the palace rather than the generals.) That would indeed amount to hijacking the revolution. But this is what democracy is for. Should the Brotherhood become an Islamist-accented version of Mubarak's old National Democratic Party, the Egyptian public won't stand for it. The Islamists could win one election, but lose the next. Of course there's the fear that they simply wouldn't stage another election. But the Brotherhood's own members wouldn't stand for that. "The era of 'one man, one vote, one time' is over," says Stacher.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama's administration has been reaching out to the Brotherhood. Last week, two midlevel State Department officials went to the organization's headquarters to meet with Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader and the party's vice chairman. With the apparent Islamist victory, Obama may be tempted to pull back and perhaps even reduce the pressure on the SCAF to hand over power to a civilian government. The United States has, after all, been doing business with military rulers in Egypt for 60 years. But that era, too, is over. Whatever threat the Islamists pose, to Egypt or to the West, pales before the threat of further clumsy and brutal military rule.