CAIRO (Reuters) - The new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday government efforts to squeeze Egypt's biggest opposition group out of politics would only spur on "deviant" and potentially violent Islamic movements.
Mohamed Badie, 66, told Reuters the group would campaign in this year's parliamentary election, but a state crackdown would likely prevent a repeat of its success in 2005 when it secured a fifth of the seats.
The government of President Hosni Mubarak, whose predecessor was gunned down by Islamic militants, is wary of any group with Islamist leanings, including the Brotherhood which long ago renounced violence and insists it seeks peaceful reform.
Since 2005, the authorities have gradually pushed the officially banned Brotherhood out of mainstream politics and regularly rounded up its members. The Brotherhood secured its seats in parliament by fielding candidates as independents.
"The Muslim Brotherhood, which carries the banner of moderate Islam, must be given the chance to teach Egyptian society to benefit the nation and its people," Badie, picked as the group's new leader this month, said in an interview.
"When we were prevented from playing the role of spreading moderate Islam, thorns sprouted in Egypt's soil and so did terrorism," he said, adding he rejected "deviant and 'takfiri' ideology", referring to groups that declared people infidels.
Analysts see no sign of a return to the 1990s when al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, a group spurned by the Brotherhood, took up arms in a bid to set up purist Islamic state in Egypt. But they say pushing the Brotherhood out of politics may leave a gap for militants to fill and could lead to sporadic violence.
Badie echoed those comments, saying Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party had monopolised decision-making.
"If the channels are blocked, then this room we live in will become full of gas ... In a charged atmosphere, in a room full of gas, if you strike a match, the place will explode."
In 2005, the group secured an unprecedented 88 of parliament's 454 seats, even after rights groups and observers said Brotherhood voters were often blocked from casting ballots. Other opposition groups secured just a handful of seats.
Badie said the Brotherhood should have secured as many as 135 seats at the time were it not for election abuses. But he added that, although the group would contest this year's vote, state suppression made the outcome far from clear.
"If the pressure continues in this way, I doubt that we will reach that level (of seats in the 2010 election). But we will not surrender our right to participate in parliament," he said.
This year's parliamentary election will be followed in 2011 by a presidential poll. Mubarak, 81, in power for almost three decades, has not said whether he will seek another six-year term. Many Egyptians speculate he is grooming his son, Gamal.
Badie said the Brotherhood would not be fielding a candidate in the presidential race, an election where rules make it almost impossible for any independent candidate to run.
Badie also repeated that the Brotherhood would not oppose Gamal, 46, as a candidate provided he ran "like any other Egyptian" and that the vote was not stacked in his favour. He rejected the idea of Gamal "inheriting" power.
"We don't mind who is ruling, we respect whoever comes forward to compete legitimately. We do not have a Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate," he said.
Badie's election was announced after an unusually public row in the Brotherhood between conservatives viewed as wary of stepping up political activities that have triggered state repression and those, mainly of a younger generation, seeking more political activism.
Badie, seen by analysts as a conservative, dismissed the idea of a rift in the group and said differences of opinion were "proof of vitality and there is absolutely no conflict of generations within the Brotherhood".