* Brotherhood seeks to reassure Egyptian people, new rulers
* Group to gain in a free Egypt, sees others emerging
* Leading member sees group winning up to 30 pct in free vote
By Tom Perry
CAIRO, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood is treading cautiously in the new Egypt, assuring the military government and fellow Egyptians that it does not want power and trying to dispel fears about its political strength.
The target of decades of state oppression, the Brotherhood wants to preserve the freedoms it is enjoying under the new military-led administration that took power from Hosni Mubarak.
So far, signs are encouraging for the Brotherhood: an eight-man judicial council appointed to propose democratic changes to the constitution includes one of its members.
But experts say the Islamists remain wary of the military. That partly explains why they have gone out of their way to say they are not seeking power -- a reiteration of a position they have long espoused to avoid confrontation with the state.
The Brotherhood has said it will not field a candidate for president and will not contest enough seats to clinch a majority in parliament.
The message, experts say, is partly aimed abroad, especially at the United States, which has expressed some concern over the role the Brotherhood might play in the post-Mubarak Egypt.
For now the Brotherhood is the only major political force left after decades of autocracy that suffocated secular parties, but its members say they expect other parties to develop and welcome a more pluralistic future political landscape.
The Brotherhood might win 25 to 30 percent of the vote in a free and fair election, said Mohammed Habib, a member of the Brotherhood’s Shura Council and its former deputy leader.
“The Brotherhood want to reassure the Egyptian people and the Arab and Islamic world that they do not seek power, or want to compete for power, as much as what matters to them is that there is freedom and democracy,” he said.
Abou Elela Mady, a former member who broke away from the group in the 1990s, said the Brotherhood is “trying to send messages of reassurance to many parties”. The Brotherhood is now the only group ready for an election, while other parties need at least a year to regroup, he said. [ID:nLDE71D2D8]
Throughout the revolt, the Brotherhood displayed the caution that long characterised its strategy in dealing with the Mubarak administration, initially saying it had no role in igniting the uprising before gradually joining it.
Experts on the group now see it displaying similar caution towards the new military leadership because it wants to avoid a repeat of the crackdown it faced the last time the army came to power in 1952.
“They share the hope of all Egyptians, but with their hope is a degree of hesitancy, concern and doubt,” said Mady.
Diaa Rashwan, an analyst and an expert on political Islam, said: “They have their traditional fear of the military, their traditional fear of clashing with the new power.”
Patience has long been a defining feature of the Brotherhood’s strategy, which is based on a bottom-up approach to promoting its vision of Islam in society. It does not support violence in pursuit of its goals.
Founded in 1928, its resilience is rooted in the deep presence it has in conservative Egyptian Muslim society. Its members typically include professionals such as doctors, teachers and engineers.
Where secular parties collapsed in the face of autocratic rule, the Brotherhood survived, banned but tolerated by the government. Now, the group is well positioned to emerge as a major winner in a new political system with greater freedoms.
Leading members of the group say the Brotherhood is not worried about the new era, having long sought political reforms like those the military leadership says it will carry out.
Today’s military rulers are very different to the ones that came to power in 1952, they say. Then, the military seized power in an outright coup; now the military took power as a result of a popular uprising whose goals the Brotherhood says it shares.
“We see that now is the time for national consensus, a time for unity, a time for solidarity and not the time for dividing up the cake,” said leading Brotherhood member Essam al-Erian.