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Hunted down and persecuted for decades by Egypt’s various heads of state, the Muslim Brotherhood has achieved a goal it has pursued since its conception. It now controls the office of the Egyptian presidency.
Two years ago such a prospect would have been unimaginable, but on Sunday Mohamed Morsi was elected to lead Egypt. While his election, symbolic of the oppressed coming to lead, will challenge the status quo in much of the Arab world where leaders aren’t elected, it will also challenge Morsi himself.
Having been elected on a wave of support for curbing the military’s power, promoting economic growth and improving the welfare of all Egyptians, he cannot afford to renege on any of those promises. Nor can he display any tendencies to circumvent democratic processes should he wish to remain popular.
Nevertheless, the speeches he has given since being officially named the winner of the ballot have largely dampened those fears. He has even challenged the Egyptian military, saying, “No institution will be above the people.”
Along with his praise of both the Muslim and Christian revolutionaries who fought Hosni Mubarak’s police together a year and a half ago, the past week has truly been the birth “of the second republic” in Egypt.
Writing for Asharq Alawsat, an old pan-Arab newspaper based out of London, Amir Taheri analyzed the consequences of Morsi’s election. As a veteran reporter and columnist on the region, his analysis of Egypt’s new president is unrivaled. For the most part, he was largely positive in his analysis of Egypt’s future under a new president.
The military elite and its business associates have a record stretching back six decades. On balance, that record is a negative one. Under their rule, Egypt was condemned to under-achievement, to say the least.
The Brotherhood, on the other hand, has no record in government. It would, therefore, be unfair to condemn it on the basis of assumed intentions. Of course, once in government, the Brotherhood may well end up doing a great deal of mischief. However, it is fair to remember that they haven’t done so yet.
Mursi starts his presidency with several points of strength.
First of these is his democratic legitimacy. The elections were generally free and clean with the results accepted by all concerned. The election campaign, fought in two rounds, allowed for a range of views to be put on the market. Mursi won because he was able to produce a broader synthesis of those views than his run-off rival Ahmad Shafiq.
Mursi’s second point of strength is that his presidency comes in the context of a broader historic movement that is reshaping Arab politics across the region. In other words, his victory is not a freakish trick of history.
Finally, Mursi may have yet another point of strength: his moderate temperament and penchant for pragmatism. Judging by his statements over the years he seems to have learned a great deal from the Turkish experience in which a new generation of Islamists, led by Recep Tayyib Erdogan, developed the concept of coexistence between a religious society and a secular state.
Inevitably, Mursi also has points of weakness. The first is the narrowness of his victory.
In the first round of voting he collected around 25 per cent of the votes in a turnout of 42 per cent. In other words, only 11 per cent of the total electorate voted for him. In the second round he collected just over 51 per cent in a turnout of 51 per cent which means that he attracted only a quarter of eligible voters. In other words, 75 per cent of the electorate did not vote for him.
The narrowness of Mursi’s victory does not undermine his legitimacy. In political terms, however, it limits his options.
Mursi’s second point of weakness is the confusion that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the country’s interim authority, has spun around the function of the presidency.
It is in everyone’s interest that the transition presided over by Mursi succeeds. A stable Egypt in which the state and the people are not at war against each other would be in everyone’s interest. Mursi’s election offers a chance. It should not be missed.
Muhammad al-Khouli, an Al Akhbar English reporter, focused on the continuing plight of Egypt’s poor and their attitudes towards the recent presidential elections. They feel that neither the previous government nor the Muslim Brotherhood treated them as though they had rights.
Ordinary Egyptians do not expect the future to differ much from the past with the arrival of a new president. That seems to be the prevalent attitude among Egypt’s urban poor and residents of its teeming working-class districts and shantytowns. Their accumulated impressions of the two candidates in the presidential run-off – the military’s candidate Ahmad Shafiq and Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood – appear to have prevented them from supporting either in large numbers.
Egypt’s poor suffered badly under the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak, who Shafiq described as his “highest example.” His regime treated them as an undesirable burden at best, or simply neglected them.
Few were therefore rooting for Shafiq, despite his campaign promises to maintain fuel and bread subsidies, provide benefits to the unemployed, extend medical insurance to everyone, double the Health Ministry’s budget, and set a minimum wage. He also said he would build new towns to house the poor, increase the provision of clean drinking water, and write off small farmers’ debts. People did not believe Shafiq because they had frequently heard similar pledges from his role-model, Mubarak.
But neither did poor Egyptians greet the news of Mursi’s election with general rejoicing, nor vest high hopes in the fact that he hails from the Brotherhood, which treats the poor as deserving of compassion, alms and charity.
What Egypt’s poor want is recognition that they have rights which have been denied them, and that these go beyond occasional charitable handouts. The Brotherhood is well known for distributing food in working-class districts. It does so all year round, but increases the quantity ahead of any elections.
Few respondents in these neighborhoods thought the new president represented them, and many said neither of the contenders was the kind of president they wanted for the country after the revolution. Many expressed support for Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the first round and narrowly failed to make it to the run-off.
“People felt Hamdeen was the closest to them,” he said Muhammad Saad, who lives in the central Cairo district of Bulaq Abul-Ila. “But he didn’t have the money to match the financial resources of the Brothers, or of Shafiq who was backed by the fuloul – the “remnants” of Mubarak regime – and the military.”
There was widespread dismay in such districts at Sabahi’s defeat, and at being left with a choice between the Brothers and the fuloul. Those who went on to back Shafiq generally did not do so out of admiration for or confidence in him, but dislike of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Well-known Egpytian novelist and revolutionary Alaa al-Aswani was supportive of Morsi’s election, as it was the best display of the Egyptian public’s political awareness. Despite the diversions created by the military in the hopes of getting Ahmed Shafiq to win, the Egyptians still voted for Morsi, a huge feat in itself given the odds of winning against an entrenched system.
Over 16 months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces implemented a careful plan to abort the 25 January revolution – creating a security void, sparking sectarian incidents, intimidating Muslims and Copts, conjuring up day-to-day crises, working systematically to smear the revolution, and carrying out consecutive massacres against revolutionaries.
The plan was to heap pressure on Egyptians to make anyone believed to be able to restore security a more appealing choice. Thus the stage was set for Ahmed Shafiq, who was politically shielded from 35 documented corruption lawsuits and the Political Isolation Law, to announce his candidacy. When the result of the first round of the election pitted Shafiq against Mohamed Morsy, all indicators were in favor of Shafiq. The Brotherhood had lost all sympathizing revolutionaries for failing to stand up for the revolution, and large sectors of Copts.
In addition, former regime remnants spent millions to support Shafiq, who embodied their last hope of regaining control. All state apparatuses supported Shafiq, from senior Interior Ministry and State Security officers to ministries, government authorities and state-run media, which relapsed to their old ways of lying. Even businessmen-owned private media worked to promote Shafiq to protect their interests.
At this point, several people, including myself, decided to boycott the election to object to Shafiq’s candidacy. Shafiq’s victory was inevitable, we thought. However, we were in for a surprise.
The Brotherhood mobilized 5 million voters in the first round, but in the runoff an additional 8 million Egyptians who do not belong to the Brotherhood decided to go to the polls and endorse Morsy, having realized that the return of the former regime, represented in Shafiq’s presidency, would deal a blow to the Egyptian revolution.
Egyptians ruined the scheme to abort the revolution when millions voted for Morsy. Sensing looming trouble, the SCAF issued a supplementary Constitutional Declaration to curtail the powers of the president shortly after the polls closed on the final night of the runoff. Then the official announcement of the runoff result was postponed for a few days, raising concerns that something evil was cooking and prompting thousands to pour into the streets to curb any attempts at rigging the result of the vote.
History will one day reveal the details of what happened inside the Presidential Elections Commission before the result was announced. Scattered accounts emphasized that even though the Egyptian judicial system is subservient to the executive authority, we have independent judges who have the courage and conscientiousness to say the truth, whatever the cost.
Zakaria Abdel Aziz and other of judges formed the “Judges for Egypt” group to monitor the election and they confirmed that Morsy comfortably won in the election, with a margin of victory close to one million votes. Zakaria, whom I know personally, does not subscribe to the Brotherhood’s ideology, but he is an honest judge, who does not say but the truth. Their report was a brave initiative that challenged those who were accustomed to falsifying the people’s will.
The Egyptian revolution achieved a significant victory by bringing down Shafiq and electing Morsy. Regardless of my political differences with him, Morsy is the first elected civilian president in Egypt’s modern history. This victory for the will of Egyptians will also lend momentum to the process of change in Arab countries wishing to get rid of their dictators.
The Globe and Mail released an editorial shortly following Morsi’s electoral victory on June 26 stating that Morsi and Egypt’s generals would have to work together to ensure a better future for the country. Both sides, the Globe argued, will have to act as a moderating force to the other.
Mohamed Morsi, the president-elect of Egypt, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, ought to show each other mutual respect in the coming days; neither should claim a monopoly of power. On Sunday, after a pregnant pause that lasted a week, SCAF recognized Mr. Morsi’s narrow victory in the presidential election. The hesitation was unsettling, perhaps intentionally so.
No one before Mr. Morsi has ever been chosen president, king or – for that matter – pharaoh of Egypt in a reasonably democratic election. The generals, who are the heirs of the old regime, need to acknowledge the inherent authority of the Egyptian people to choose their leaders. Between the two rounds of this election, SCAF saw fit to promulgate an interim constitution, giving themselves greater powers than the future president. It would be disgraceful for the generals to treat Mr. Morsi, who has a mandate, as a mere puppet.
On the other hand, Mr. Morsi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. The depth of the Brotherhood’s allegiance to liberal democracy remains doubtful. Though Mr. Morsi has now resigned from the Brotherhood and the party leadership, his convictions can hardly have undergone a metamorphosis. His cabinet must include women, Christians and liberals (categories that often overlap).
For both Morsi’s opponents and supporters, his election to the Egyptian presidency signals the beginning of a new Egypt. But it is not one in which the sources and aims of the revolution have been resolved. Egypt’s economy continues to suffer from lack of business and investment as political uncertainty continues to plague the country. Only through cooperation will Egypt’s generals and new president create a social and economic order that will be beneficial to the Egyptian people and their governing institutions. If they do not cooperate, it is very likely another round of revolution could take place.
Saif Alnuweiri is a third-year journalism student studying at Northwestern University’s Qatar branch campus. He follows media and politics in the region, monitoring the course of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings as well as global politics more broadly. He has written articles and also served as the news editor of the branch campus’ student publication, The Daily Q.