Egyptians face a stark choice as they vote later this month in a run-off election for their first-ever freely elected national leader. While a narrow majority of voters cast ballots for more moderate options, the two biggest vote-getters offer radically different visions for Egypt’s future and that of the whole Middle East
Muslim Brotherhood insiders say that Mohamed Morsi, their candidate for president, is “more conservative than the conservatives” in the 84-year-old religious political organization.
Just how conservative is that? Well, when the Brotherhood first began to organize a political party in 2007, Mr. Morsi drafted a model platform. It called for restricting Egypt’s presidency only to Muslims and only to males.
“The state which we seek can never be presided over by a non-Muslim,” he said at the time, arguing the state should be both a tolerant constitutional democracy and an “Islamic state.”
In “a state whose top priorities include spreading and protecting the religion of Allah,” he argued, the duties of a president “can’t be carried out by a non-Muslim.”
Mr. Morsi’s model platform also called for a council of scholars to advise parliament on fidelity to Islamic law. But unlike Iran’s Guardian Council, he said, its findings would be nonbinding.
More recently, in an act reminiscent of the Danish cartoon controversy, Mr. Morsi led a boycott last year of an Egyptian cellphone company because its founder had “insulted Islam.” Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy Egyptian Coptic Christian, had circulated on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey Mouse in a long beard with Minnie Mouse in a full veil.
Born in 1951 in the eastern Nile Delta, Mr. Morsi grew up in a rural middle-class family. He studied engineering at Cairo University and reportedly performed his military service in the chemical warfare unit of the Egyptian army.
A dour, glum-looking man, Mr. Morsi seems devoid of all charisma and completely lacking in oratorical skills. Many of his own followers got up to leave during his massive final rally of the campaign, making it clear that it is the Muslim Brotherhood people support rather than the man.
He was attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood while at university and became a full-fledged Brother in 1979.
Interestingly, Mr. Morsi was a member of the secretive organization when he went on a scholarship to the University of Southern California in 1980, earning a PhD in rocket engineering. He stayed on in California for another three years, teaching at California State University until 1985.
After returning to Egypt, he was appointed head of the engineering department at Zagazig University where he taught until 2010.
In the recent presidential campaign Mr. Morsi wasted no time making his platform clear. “Some want to stop our march to an Islamic future, where the grace of God’s laws will be implemented and provide an honest life to all,” he proclaimed at his opening rally. He called on members of the puritanical Salfist movement to support him. “The Islamic front must unite so we can fulfill this vision,” he said.
He then led the crowd in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution, and sharia is our guide!”
On the sensitive subject of Israel, Mr. Morsi has called it the country of “killers and vampires,” but says that, as president, he would keep the 1979 peace treaty, although he would not meet with any Israeli officials. He warned that if Washington were to cease its annual aid to Egypt, the treaty with Israel could come under review.
“Egypt’s next president can’t be like his predecessor,” he said, referring to Hosni Mubarak, who was forced from office last year after three decades in power in which he was viewed as a responsive supporter of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. “He can’t be a follower who executes policies put to him from outside.”
Mr. Morsi said recently that in his presidency “no entity will be above the constitution” and that the military’s budget would, for the first time, be overseen by parliament.
Tough words, but many doubt he’ll have the clout to implement them.
A leading Salafist, explaining why he doesn’t support Mr. Morsi, described him as “good at following orders,” not giving them.
Under Mr. Morsi’s management, however, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party did win a landslide victory in the recent parliamentary elections, capturing more than 45 per cent of the vote.
If Morsi wins
Many groups will be disturbed by having a Muslim Brother as president: Christians, women, Sufi Muslims, secular Muslims, young revolutionaries. None of them, however, is likely to take to the streets in protest, preferring to appeal to the military leadership to protect their interests.
For its part, the military leadership also may recoil at the prospect of working with an Islamist president, and can be counted on to water down the powers of the president by influencing the makeup of the constitutional assembly and by maintaining many of the executive powers it now wields.
This could set up a showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.