CAIRO - The political rise of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood following the downfall of president Hosni Mubarak is sparking deep worries among the powerful group's members of jeopardizing its religious role.
"Our presence in parliament and trade unions has sapped a lot of our energy," Ashraf Abou-Zeid, a Muslim Brotherhood member in Cairo, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, April 29.
"Before the elections, we were present in the street and all our efforts were focused on social work and services.
But all of a sudden politics has taken too much of our strength, numbers and focus."
Long repressed under Mubarak, the Brotherhood emerged the biggest political force in Egypt after his ouster in a popular revolution last year.
The group has won most seats in Egypt's both house of parliament and has fielded a candidate for the country's presidential election in May.
But the group's political rise has irked many Egyptians, who accused the Brotherhood of seeking to monopolize power in the heavyweight Arab country.
Running a candidate "has affected our credibility," said Abu-Zeid, a 53-year-old doctor who has six sons and three daughters.
"The spirit that people had for us was somehow shaken."
Following Mubarak's ouster, the Brotherhood repeatedly said that it will not field a candidate for Egypt's presidency.
But in a U-turn that angered many Egyptians, the group fielded its deputy leader Khairat Al-Shater, a millionaire businessman, to seek Egypt's top post.
The group has also fielded the leader of its political arm Mohamed Mursi as a backup candidate to Shater.
"There was a strong media campaign to defame us after fielding a presidential candidate," Abu-Zeid said.
"There were about 20 television channels all moving against the Brotherhood and we could only respond through our one channel and one newspaper."
As Shater was disqualified from the race, the Muslim Brotherhood has thrown its full weight behind Mursi to become Egypt's first president after Mubarak's fall.
Mursi was dealt a blow on Saturday after Salafis backed former Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh for Egypt's president.
Abul-Futuh, known as a reformer within the Muslim Brotherhood, broke ties with the group last year when he decided to run for president, going against the group's initial decision not to run for presidency.
Politics Vs Religiosity
Many Brotherhood members opine that the group's political role has tarnished its image among Egyptians.
"We need unity, not an atmosphere where you're the majority and everyone else is against you," Osama Abdel Hadi, a Brotherhood member, told the Los Angeles Times.
It's not good for the nation and puts enormous pressure on the Brotherhood. If the country fails, it's all on them."
Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has been respected for its Islamic and social programs such as schools and clinics.
But the group earned the ire of many Egyptians over what they see as a drive by the group to monopolize power in post-Mubarak era.
"The Brotherhood has enemies because it hasn't been inclusive," said Abdel Hadi.
"This is not the time for the Brotherhood to exclude revolutionaries and activists."
The rift has widened between the Brotherhood and other revolutionary groups over the group's refusal to take part in anti-army protests.
The gulf widened after Islamists dominated a panel that was tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution. The panel was later dissolved by court.
"The Brotherhood's leaders are keen on survival," Abdel Hadi said.
"But it took a while for them to learn that you have to impose your own rules if you want the upper hand. They learned this after being burned by the military. That's why they decided to run their own candidate."
Observers say the pressures on the Brotherhood have prompted calls within the group to separate its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, from its religious and community works to save its reputation.
"The concurrent blunders of the Brotherhood have exposed its limited political skills," Khalil Anani, an expert on Islamist groups, wrote in the Egypt Independent newspaper.
"Not only have these mistakes distorted the movement's image but, more importantly, it weakened its position in the game with its contenders."
However, Muslim Brotherhood members are confident that the group will survive its current troubles.
"This is the identity of the country," Abdel Hadi said."The West shouldn't clash with this ideal, because this goal will be reached. It's who Egyptians are."